This reviewer hasn't seen the first three seasons/series of Blue Murder, but judging by Acorn Media's Blue Murder - Set 4, a two-disc collection of six one-hour episodes from 2008, the ITV crime drama/mystery series/police procedural appears entertaining enough but unexceptional. It's basically a warmed-over Prime Suspect: like that show's Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren), Blue Murder's protagonist is a similarly middle-aged Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) trying and not succeeding all very well to balance her private life with her male-dominated profession. Where Jane Tennison was a lonely, alcoholic single woman drifting in and out of sometimes unhealthy relationships, Janine Lewis (Life Begins' Caroline Quentin) is a single mom with four children who tend to passively-aggressively resent her time away from home.
The series is decent enough across the board, with good performances, productions values, etc., although some of the individual mysteries play awfully mechanical, with obvious red herrings and highly predictable "twist" endings. It's good "comfort food television" (as TV history scholar Stephen Bowie likes to call it) but, frustratingly, nothing sets it apart from other British shows of its type.
The series is set and filmed in Manchester, now an overused location with too many detectives shows based there: Cracker, Life on Mars, and Prime Suspect, to name three others. Janine's team includes DI Richard Mayne (Ian Kelsey), a handsome, thoughtful investigator - "Janine's fiercely loyal second in command and erstwhile romantic interest" according to the packaging. In the shows, however, theirs seems to be primarily a flirtatious relationship; maybe I missed something. (Apparently early in the show's run Janine's husband abandoned the family and now lives in Spain.)
Detective Sergeant Tony Shap (Nicholas Murchie) is a wiry, quick-to-judge, and sometimes rogue streetwise copper, who gets into hot water in this set's first episode. He's often paired with the more methodical DS Ian Butchers (Paul Loughran), a beefy, more humanist detective, making the two an obvious Mutt and Jeff pair.*
Like Prime Suspect, the program leans toward a woman's perspective - not just Janine and her position but also women figure prominently in other ways. One of the show's most interesting characters - in some respects more so than Janine - is DC Kat Skerton (Belinda Everett), a tough and intensely professional but sensitive young black woman, new to the force. She's all business where her colleagues often take time to screw around. She's clearly out to impress her superiors that she's on the ball and thinks proactively. Where Janine is a slightly homogenized Jane Tennison, Kat is a fresh and interesting character, a young woman determined to succeed.
Additionally, two of the three directors of Series IV shows are women (Juliet May and Sue Tully), as are three of the five writers (series creator Cath Staincliffe, Susan Oudot, and Elizabeth-Anne Wheal). Guest stars in this set include Siobhan Finneran, Mark Benton, Lee Boardman, Anthony Flanagan, Chris Coghill, Brendan Coyle, Sylvia Sims and Kieran O'Brien.
As mysteries the shows are pretty hit-and-miss. The two-part "Private Sins" finds DS Shap trying to investigate the murder of a Belarusian immigrant on his own for no clear reason, which is over-milked and his motivations revealed too late in the story to make as much of an impact as was perhaps intended. "Tooth & Claw" and "Having it All," the latter about the murder of a cheerleading team coach, are no better than average, and both it and "This Charming Man," about the murder of a local rock band personality, feel like they were recycled from other mysteries. But "Inside," which alternates its narrative between Richard going undercover to unravel the mystery behind the murder of a prisoner, and Janine's crisis when her eldest son is involved in a serious car accident, plays well.
Video & Audio
Blue Murder - Set 4 is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. The transfers are good, up to contemporary television standards. The six episodes are presented over two single-sided, dual-layered discs, which each show running about 45 minutes. The Dolby Stereo audio likewise is up to current standards. There are no subtitles; the Manchester dialect may be difficult for some American viewers to follow. There are no Extra Features, excepting some pretty useless abbreviated cast filmographies.
Blue Murder is modestly Recommended for fans of British crime dramas. There's nothing really special about the show, nothing that sets it apart from the glut of competitors, but it's well-made and moderately entertaining.
* Wikipedia bizarrely lists iconic American comedian Jerry Lewis in the cast, as "Lawyer Dawson." Methinks someone is having a little joke.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, Japanese Cinema, is due in stores this June, and on sale now.