Not to be confused with a same-named Australian miniseries from 1995, or the 2001-2004 Canadian crime drama also called Blue Murder, Acorn Media's Blue Murder - Complete Collection is the simple repackaging of four sets (previously released individually) of a 2003-2009 British crime series, this one starring Caroline Quentin as Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Janine Lewis, a single mother of four children. The packaging quotes the San Francisco Chronicle's assertion that DCI Lewis is "the most fascinating British female cop since [Prime Suspect's] Jane Tennison. (Indeed, the character's name is like an amalgam of Jane Tennison and Inspector Lewis.)
The twist here is that while Janine grapples with many of the prejudices Jane Tennison faced on Prime Suspect - though this is played down considerably here - she also has a turbulent home life a la Cracker, with needy babies, lonely children, and troubled teenagers to contend with, many of whom are resentful of the all-consuming attention she gives to her job. In this sense the show is virtually identical to a "dramedy" Quentin starred in concurrent with Blue Murder's five-series run, the three-series Life Begins (2004-2006). As in that series, Janine's unfaithful husband abandons (but doesn't divorce) her and the kids for a younger woman though he eventually takes on some responsibility for their care. However, the demands of Janine's job seriously cut into quality time with the kids and this leads to problems at home. The series seems to want to rule in Janine's favor, that she can have it all, but she doesn't come off terribly sympathetic and even irresponsible at times.
I reviewed Blue Murder - Set 4 back in 2009 and was under-whelmed. Watching the series in order, I can now appreciate its achievements a bit better, though it's still only slightly above average. The crime-beat/home-beat angle, even when its scripts draw obvious parallels, never mesh very well, and the show works better as Taggart-like comfort food TV.
DCI Lewis's investigation team consists of the usual types, mainly Detective Inspector (DI) Richard Mayne (Ian Kelsey), an old-flame and almost-but-not-quite new boyfriend. Their awkward relationship - she as his former and perhaps future/current lover but also "Boss" raises the expected authority/over-familiarity conflicts. Detective Sergeant (DS) Tony Shap, a wiry and wise-cracking old school detective with more balls than brains, and DS Ian Butchers, an overweight, farsighted leg man make a perpetually sparring, Mutt and Jeff-like pair. Rhea Bailey is quite good in several episodes as a less-experienced constable learning the ropes, and near the end of its run beautiful Saskia Wickham was added to the cast, but it's just another day at the precinct as these shows go.
Part of my lukewarm reaction to Set Four (consisting of Series Five shows) may have had to do with Blue Murder's multiple format changes, and which may have finally killed it. The first episode, from 2003, is a 140-minute story presented in two 70-minute parts. When Blue Murder resumed a year-and-a-half later the six shows of series two (as well as the four 2006 shows and three 2007 shows) each ran 68-70-minutes, which suited Blue Murder best. However, for the fifth series in 2009, those six new episodes had 45-minute running times and are easily the weakest of the bunch. (Similar format changes likewise seriously damaged Taggart.)
Blue Murder's quality rises and falls almost solely on its scripts. Like other British crime shows it's well produced and uniformly well-acted*, but later shows like "Having It All," about the murder of a cheerleading coach, or the two-parter "Private Sins" (another would-be Taggart-esque episode) aren't up to the smart (or at least smarter) writing found in earlier shows. "Hit and Run," a good example, intertwines the murder investigation of an illegal immigrant lap dancer with the hit-and-run accident involving a small child, at Janine's school, and which Janine herself witnessed.
"Fragile Relations" is another interesting, moderately ambitious show drawing parallels between Janine's strained relationship with her teenage son (who is secretly bringing girls home for the night), multigenerational issues among Manchester's Muslim community, as well as the racist right threatened by an arson-murder investigation.
One side note: This may come off as extraordinarily sexist, but Acorn Media's packaging for Blue Murder, nearly identical on The Complete Collection and each of the four sets, is outrageously deceptive. The half-in-shadow face suggests an exotically beautiful star along the lines of, say, Sophie Marceau. Caroline Quentin is a fine actress, but an exotic beauty she ain't. To be fair, the series itself frequently comments on her stocky features and advancing middle age; along with DS Butchers she's often seen chowing down chips and other starchy snacks, making her a kind of working-class Cannon.
The British DVD cover art for the series, where Quentin is better-known, is much more honest.
Video & Audio
The entire run of Blue Murder - Complete Collection is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. The transfers are good, up to contemporary television standards. The 19 episodes are presented over nine single-sided, dual-layered discs, with a total running time of about 19 1/2 hours. The Dolby Stereo audio likewise is up to current standards. There are no subtitles, though sets 2-4 are closed-captioned.
Included is an entertaining 45-minute television documentary, Blue Murder - Behind-the-Scenes, filmed during production of the fourth series. It's well made and informative, if self-promotional. Also included are a smattering of text interviews and highly abridged cast filmographies.
This is an okay but not great series that's grown on me, gradually, though there's little to distinguish it from other British (and, for that matter, American) crime-solving shows. Pricey but Recommended.
* But no, despite what Wikipedia laughably claims, comedian-filmmaker Jerry Lewis does not appear as "Laywer Dawson" on any episode of the series.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.