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Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Casebook
Acorn Media // Unrated // January 5, 2010
List Price: $159.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
I reviewed Acorn's first large collection of Midsomer Murders shows back at the beginning of 2008 and have been anxiously waiting for the second installment ever since. Luckily the wait is over and they've put out the next mega-set of 17 episodes, Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Casebook. If you enjoyed the first set, this one is a no-brainer. Containing another great collection of cozy British mysteries with bizarre murders that take place in quaint picturesque villages, the set is a lot of fun.
The story hasn't changed much from the first seasons. Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) lives in the city of Causton, but his jurisdiction covers all of Midsomer County. To first appearances, Midsomer is a typical, quite British county nestled in the countryside. Whenever someone turns up dead, Barnaby and his long suffering partner Sergeant Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey) (later Dan Scott played by John Hopkins) investigate and discover that beneath a town's quiet demeanor lay some unexpected secrets including incest, pedophilia, blackmail, wife swapping, and psychopaths. The show has all the trappings of a cozy British mystery and the plots often revolve around small-town English customs and activities including a competitive church bell-ringing group whose members start to drop dead with alarming regularity, a boarding school with a secret society, a town feud, and other trappings often associated with British crime fiction, but the crimes (which are almost all off camera) and solutions are a bit more twisted (and interesting) than the locale would lead viewers to believe.
Firmly a mystery show, Midsomers Murders adds a nice dollop of very dry humor to each episode's mystery that really helps to drive the series. There are several running gags that work well since they aren't overdone; Sgt Troy's horrible driving skills, Joyce Barnaby's (wonderfully played by Jane Wymark) wretched cooking, and Barnaby's total obsession with a case ("[When] we got married it was a registry office and you're father was in the middle of a case. He didn't say 'I do' he said 'I've got it' and that was the last I saw of him until the honeymoon.") They also sprinkle in quite jokes now and then too. When a thief is released by a judge, Barnay remarks "Maybe the judge was right; give the boy one more chance. Oh, look. A squadron of pigs over Causton." This isn't Monty Python humor, but subtle and quite jokes that are all the more funny because of they are down-played.
While the show does have its humorous moments, the cast of characters, both leading and supporting, are what makes people tune in show after show. Barnaby is an old-school copper, who is intelligent but not uppity. Small inconsistencies will get him thinking and he doesn't stop pondering a case until it's solved. He's very down to earth and easy to identify with; he'd rather have a steak than a fancy French meal and is perfectly happy puttering around the house on his days off. Sgt. Troy, the young and inexperienced officer, is just as enjoyable with his striving to please. He's a good foil for Barnaby's dry humor and also the person who voices what the audience is thinking. "But couldn't this be a simple accident?"
The big change in this set is the departure of Sgt Troy and the addition of a new leading character, Sgt. Daniel Scott. Scott isn't a clone of Troy, he's a totally different person and at first I didn't really like him. He's a smug pretty boy who looks at the transfer to Causton from London as an insult. He's brusque when interviewing witnesses and looks down at most of the people who live out in the country. He is very charming when he wants to be however, and his has a gift for getting people to talk when he wants to. Barnaby quickly realizes this and will often set Scott on to a particularly reluctant suspect. The new Sergeant does grow on you as time goes on. By the end of the set I had accepted him as a good addition to the cast, though I still preferred Troy just a bit.
This collection presents 17 wonderful mysteries that are quite entertaining and enjoyable. The murders don't necessarily occur at the beginning of an episode, so it's just as much fun to play 'who's going to snuff it' as it is to play 'who dunnit.' The mysteries still involve colorful and unique characters that were the trademark of the original novels and the early episodes, but the kinky sex twists are not as frequent. They do turn up however, often in the most unexpected places. (The twist in The Fisher King took me totally by surprise and made it one of the better shows in this set.)
One of the things that are surprising about this show, after having been practically weaned on American cop shows, is that they do things very differently in England. There were several times that Barnaby and his sergeant enters a dangerous situation without drawing their side arms. Of course they don't have them, but I had to continually remind myself of that. In another episode a man is threatened with arrest because he let his son use his rifle.
These shows come on 19 DVDs, with one hour and a half (roughly) episode per disc. They are housed in a nice multi-page book, with one disc on each side of the page. The discs appear to be identical to the original releases. These shows originally appeared in sets 4, 6, 7, and 8.
These shows come with a stereo soundtrack that fits the show well. Being dialog based, there isn't a lot of use of the soundstage and the show is never flashy in the audio department. Still, the discussions are easy to understand and that's the important thing. There are no subtitles.
The shows are presented with a 1.78:1 picture that is anamorphically enhanced. The image is never stunning, it's soft throughout and the colors are a bit drab, but the show looks adequate. I was expecting a bit more definition to the picture but I can live with it. There are only minor digital defects, a little aliasing in a scene or two, but nothing dramatic. Overall this is an average looking disc.
Each disc comes with a few minor bonus features. There's an actor's filmography and a map of Midsomer County.
There are two bonus discs that contain a pair of featureetes. Since they both run around 45 minutes they could have easily fit them both on one disc, but I suspect that they split them up so that there wouldn't be an empty 'page' in the book-like DVD case. The first disc contains an episode of the TV show Super Sleuth, that looks at the series first 10 years. They interview the cast and crew and even talk with the author whose books inspired the series, Caroline Graham. They discuss the guest stars, the settings, and of course the sometimes bizarre murders that take place in the show. It's a nice look back and well worth watching, though it was also included in the earlier collection "Midsomer Murders - The Early Cases."
The second bonus disc is taken over by a 45 minute featurette Map of Midsomer Murders. Hosted by series lead John Nettles, this special takes a look at the actual towns and villages used to create the fictional Midsomer County. They point out some interesting facts, like when location have been used more than once, and it's would be a great guide for anyone wanting to take a trip to see the actual setting.
I enjoyed this set just as much as the first one, even with the departure of Sgt. Troy. This is a fun and enjoyable series. Filled with odd and likeable characters, some crackin' mysteries and a nice dollop of humor, mystery fans will have a great time watching the early episodes of this wonderful series. Highly Recommended.