The British know how to do good crime television, and Murder Investigation Team is no exception. Series One, consisting of eight episodes each about fifty minutes long, is a police procedural spun off from long running series The Bill. MIT is a gritty drama, focusing on the work and methodology of investigating violent death, and is a solid show, even if a bit frenetic.
The show focuses on two women, DI Vivien Friend (Samantha Spiro) and DC Rosie McManus (Lindsey Coulson). Vivien is the head of the eponymous Murder Investigation Team, and their first featured case is the drive by shooting of Sgt Matthew Boyden a regular character on The Bill. In the first episode especially, the number of characters introduced is a bit dizzying, and it isn't until at least episode two that the viewer gets really comfortable with who everyone is. After that, there's little problem keeping track of who's who, and what they're doing.
The show is solely focused on the procedural aspects of the investigation, and we only get to know about the personal lives of the characters through implication or fleeting references, never even seeing the spouses or children of the married characters. Despite this, the individuals are well sketched, and have a feeling of depth and personality. The actors are universally superb, and false notes or moments of awkwardness are nowhere to be seen. Humor is used sparingly, but is effective when it is. But this is a serious show, about weighty topics. The cases themselves tend to the darker side of things. Drug use, incest, necrophilia, child murder: all are dealt with here. The seedier side of human nature is on full display, and while it's not terribly graphic, what we do see is quite realistically portrayed. Another note of realism consists in the fact that they don't always get their man. Matters are left open or ambiguous a couple of times, and at least once there is the strong implication that the guilty party will in fact get away with it. One imagines that this is a fairly common and very frustrating aspect of real police work.
In the midst of all the grit, the characters are all presented as real human beings, with a variety of methods for coping with the stress, disgust and anger that go along with the job. All of this commitment to reality causes the producers to jam a staggering amount of information into each episode, at times sparing only a few moments to a scene and bouncing back and forth over a wide range of material, cutting away anything not vital to moving the story forward. This can be a bit disorienting and a little frustrating, but is a small niggle. The stories flow smoothly, and overall the show is a success.
Below is a list of episodes, with short descriptions provided on the disc menus:
Episode 1: Moving Targets
The MIT team investigates the murder of one of their own: Sgt. Matthew Boyden, who was hiding a double life far more complicated than anyone suspected.
Episode 2: Daddy's Little Girl
A girl's body is found three years after her disappearance, perfectly preserved in concrete at a building site. Forensic evidence suggests an open-and-shut case, but DI Friend suspects there's more to uncover.
Episode 3: Rubbish
Sifting through clues takes a keen eye - and a strong stomach. The team conducts a painstaking search through the rancid decay of a Thames refuse barge after the discovery of a child's body among the trash.
Episode 4: Reading, Writing and Gangbanging
A vagrant is beaten to death and a respected teacher commits suicide. These seemingly unrelated deaths are inextricably linked, and the MIT team must connect the dots, revealing along the way marital strife and a devious motive.
Episode 5: Read Heads
The investigation of the murder of abductee Penny Wake is disrupted midstream when a second kidnapping victim, Kathy Monroe, is found wandering the streets drugged and disoriented. The only apparent connection: both are redheads.
Episode 6: Lambs to the Slaughter
A pedophile recently paroled from prison is murdered. Vigilantes are suspected, and no tears are shed. However, a deeper look into the criminal's past reveals a cold trail. Was the victim's persona a painstaking tangle of lies?
Episode 7: Models and Millionaires
Glamorous model Natasha McKay had married well - and died horribly, turning the suspicions of DC Rosie MacManus to McKay's nouveau riche husband. But for the first time ever, DI Friend finds herself questioning MacManus's motives in her pursuit of the truth.
Episode 8: The Bigger the Lie
A gangland killing seems textbook - except the victim was an investigative journalist on the verge of a career-making scoop. At the heart of the story lies a community fraught with racial tension and bitterness, resulting in tragic consequences for the MIT.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks pretty good. This is obviously a production on which great care was taken, and it shows on the screen. The image is always clear and bright, with rich colors, but looks very much like real life, not an idealized television version of it.
The audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and works very well. The dialogue is always easily audible, and no hiss or other interference can be heard. English subtitles are included, but no alternate language track.
Aside from some Acorn trailers (for Taggart, Midsomer Murders and Acorn releases generally) there are two major extras. They are:
Commentary on Episode 1
This is the only commentary included, and series creator Paul Marquess and former DCI Jackie Malton (also a consultant on the show) are the ones commenting. And it makes for some fairly entertaining audio. They both go into the origins of the show, the desire for realism, and a lot of other interesting tidbits. Marquess states that MIT is told rigidly from the point of view of the police, and the viewer is only given information as the police get it. Both Marquess and Malton are very engaging, and the commentary as a whole is worth the time.
Michael McKell Interview
Included on disc 3, the entirety of the twenty five minute interview is with Michael McKell, who plays Ds Trevor Hands. McKell is certainly a character, and spends the entire interview with a cigarette in his hand. He talks about the directors, fellow actors, and the consultant, Jackie Malton. McKell initially got the role because he had worked previously with Lindsey Coulson, who plays MacManus. He's very interesting, and gives a fun interview.
One more in a long line of excellent British crime drama, Murder Investigation Team is top shelf police procedural. It isn't interested in delving into the personal lives and relationships of its characters, except in the most incidental ways. If that's what you are looking for, then avoid it. But for straightforward drama that keeps the viewer engaged, and doesn't insult their intelligence, this is just the thing. Highly recommended.