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Midsomer Murders Set 6
The British tradition of the murder mystery has always required a certain suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer; otherwise how do we account for the success of amateur sleuths like Miss Marple? Along the same lines, Midsomer Murders takes place in a slightly alternate version of reality, one in which the death toll in "idyllic" English villages must rival that of the big cities. After all, Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby is kept hopping with new murder cases all the time (many of them involving multiple bodies in a single episode), yet it's all taken as a matter of course. So if it's strict realism that you're looking for, Midsomer Murders isn't where you'll find it. On the other hand, if you accept that this is fiction above all (and who wants strict realism all the time? For that I'll read the newspaper) then Midsomer Murders is a quite respectable offering in the genre.
I've been following Midsomer Murders on and off for several seasons on DVD, and I'm noticing something in its favor: unlike many successful series that either get into a rut, or change dramatically from their origins, Midsomer Murders manages to stay true to the original feel of the program while also developing enough variety that Season 6 feels actually a bit fresher than, say, Season 2 or 3.
The central theme of Midsomer Murders is, as the title indicates, that it's a murder mystery show. As I've commented before, that circumscribes the writing substantially, as we never get any non-fatal plots here. In Season 6, though, the stories handle this quite well by weaving different types of criminal plots into the murder investigations. It's nice to see the writers stepping outside the box of well-worn motives like jealousy or blackmail, and the slightly more complex plots make the abundance of characters more relevant to the story.
"Painted in Blood" is one of those examples of a nicely interwoven non-murder plot that (of course) ends up intersecting with death. Here, Joyce Barnaby joins a watercolor painting group, only to find one of the members stabbed to death. Oops. As it happens, the investigation draws in the National Intelligence Squad, and there turns out to be more than meets the eye to victim and suspects alike.
"A Talent for Life" is a more typical Midsomer Murders story, with two deaths to start with, and an apparently clear perpetrator... but of course Barnaby's not convinced, which leaves him to untangle murky motives and a large assortment of suspects to find the truth.
"Death and Dreams" gives Barnaby and Troy a bit of a complex plot to unravel, as an apparent suicide (are there any real ones in Midsomer County?) turns out to be just the first of several more suspicious deaths. That's a similar plot on the outside to "Birds of Prey," in which a suicide and one other suspicious death call Barnaby's attention to the estate of a millionaire inventor. In the actual development of the two episodes, though, they end up going in different directions, and both plots are complicated in reasonably interesting ways.
We also get "A Tale of Two Hamlets," which opens with the death of a young film star and continues with the discovery of an ongoing (and perhaps deadly) feud between two villages.
In all the episodes, John Nettles continues to fill the shoes of Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby quite well; he's not a particularly flashy or dramatic detective, but rather exactly the sort of person you'd hope would be assigned to your case (assuming you're not the perpetrator, of course). Presumably if you're interested in the sixth season of Midsomer Murders, you're a fan, so you can be assured of a consistent performance here. Viewers should note that this season marks the last featuring David Casey as Barnaby's assistant Troy.
Midsomer Murders: Set Six contains all five episodes from the show's 2003 season. Each episode is in its own plastic keepcase, inside a glossy paperboard slipcase.
The episodes are presented in anamorphic widescreen, at the show's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, giving the episodes a nicely theatrical feel. The image quality is satisfactory, with bright and natural-looking colors, but also a fair amount of grain and some shimmering effects. Contrast is a little too hard at times as well, but it's a decent transfer overall.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack captures the dialogue in a clean and clear manner, with all the elements of the soundtrack correctly balanced.
We just get the normal minor assortment of text features: production notes, cast filmographies, a biography of author Caroline Graham whose novels inspired the series, and a map of Midsomer County.
If you're a fan of Midsomer Murders, it's an easy decision to make: of course you'll want to add this set to your collection, as it continues the appeal of the series with some good stories, and offers a decent widescreen anamorphic transfer. It's also a reasonable set to dip into if you haven't' seen the series before, but you're interested. Recommended.
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