Murphy's Law is one heck of an inconsistent crime show/undercover cop series. I didn't much care for the program's second series, which I found well made but also awfully despairing and, at times, even repellent. But then I was extremely impressed, bowled over even, watching series three, which has many of the same qualities as the great (and in many ways similar) American program The Wire. I was so taken with that season's shows that I went back and looked at the first season of Murphy's Law, which I also liked though not as much.
Murphy's Law - Series 4 + 5 (2006-07) is again schizophrenic. Each season consists of three 50-minute, serialized episodes with a single story arc. Series 4 has a couple of really interesting, fresh ideas but overall those shows cover ground done better before. However, Series 5 is just fantastic, almost but not quite approaching the greatness of Series 3. That set of three shows deviate just enough from the usual format to be edgily unpredictable, while star James Nesbitt, obviously having settled into the part, delivers some of his best acting yet.
Presented on two single-sided, dual-layered discs, one for each season, Murphy's Law looks and sounds great, with very strong 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfers and excellent, highly directional Dolby Digital stereo. The only extra this time is extensive text notes by Nesbitt about his character and the show's evolution.
In Series 4, intense, existentialist undercover cop Tommy Murphy (Nesbitt) infiltrates the crime world of exiled Irish siblings - hothead racist Billy Johnston (Brian McCardie), whose pride and joy is his gaudy strip club headquarters; and older, more methodical gangster-brother Drew (Liam Cunningham), whose conversion to Islam and impending marriage to the daughter of a prominent Pakistani businessman rattles Billy's cage. Meanwhile, Murphy's mother has advanced Alzheimer's disease, leaving him and his father little choice but to institutionalize her.
In Series 5, Murphy supervises two officers working deep undercover. Detective Sergeant Mitch Kershaw (Tim Dantay) and DC Kim Goodall (Andrea Lowe) are investigating identity theft while posing as low-level intermediaries based in a rat-hole of a caravan (trailer home). They lack Murphy's experience and their operation appears on the verge of unraveling. Mitch has been mysteriously slipping out at night, refusing to report his movements to Kim. Kim, meanwhile, in attempting to stay in character, may have developed a cocaine addiction. Then both Mitch and Kim disappear, with obvious signs of a struggle. Murphy becomes obsessed with finding them before they're murdered.
Series 5 is immensely dark along the lines of Series 2 - don't watch these if you're planning a vacation to Britain or Northern Ireland anytime soon - with Murphy's investigations leading him to a massive criminal enterprise specializing in human trafficking, prostitution, and underground pornography, including child porn. But Series 5 has a strong teleplay (by Russell Lewis) that's neither exploitative nor fashionably nihilistic, as was the case with some Series 2 episodes.
It's worth noting also that Series 5 features three of the more memorably slimy TV villains in recent years. Michael Klesic is Clockwork Orange-level repellent as Milos, a soulless procurer of hapless illegal immigrants, while Christopher Fulford, also excellent in several episodes of Cracker, is coolly taunting and casually cruel as Milos's English boss. Meanwhile Ian Redford is very good as the self-serving Chief Superintendent that keeps threatening to blow the entire operation.
Though it gets a bit melodramatic (but not illogical) near the end, Series 5's story and its characterizations are extremely well crafted and the acting across the board is superb, especially James Nesbitt. His character's sardonic humor has been reined in a bit, and he now impressively expresses much with little obvious effort.
Series 4 is okay and the concept of a career Irish gangster undergoing a heartfelt religious conversation to Islam is certainly intriguing, but the story containing this and a few other interesting elements (such as the circumstances leading to Murphy's cover being blown) isn't as strong.
Video & Audio
A word of caution: Some sources claim these 50-minute episodes of Murphy's Law have been edited down from 60-minute broadcast versions. I haven't been able to confirm this but the shows don't have the choppy quality of a cut-down program, and all the profanity, nudity, and graphic violence appear intact, so for now I'm withholding judgment. The shows certainly look and sound great, presented as they are in 16:9 enhanced (1.78:1) widescreen with excellent Dolby Digital surround accompanied by optional English subtitles.
The only supplement is text notes by James Nesbitt discussing his character and some of the developments with Series 4 and 5.
Though it runs hot and cold, when hot Murphy's Law is one of the best, to say nothing of one of the grittiest crime/cop shows in recent years. Series 5 may be the program's last. It aired in October 2007 and there've been no new shows since, but here's hoping more might yet follow. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.