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Midsomer Murders Set Two
In "Dead Man's Eleven," Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby (John Nettles) tells his wife that he doesn't want to live in the country: too much murder, blackmail, sexual deviancy, and the like, he tells her. He wants to live in the town, where it's safer. It's an ironic nod to the conventions of the murder mystery genre, where there's a crime around every corner, and where the protagonist always happens across more than his fair share of devious and fascinating cases. Midsomer Murders is set in the English countryside of Midsomer County, where the villagers seem to kill each other off at an amazing rate... and in remarkably creative ways, to boot.
Midsomer Murders: Set Two follows the same principles of selection as Set One, which is to say, slightly odd ones, with the four episodes taken out of order. "Dead Man's Eleven" comes from Season 2, while "Blue Herrings," "Death of a Stranger," and "Judgement Day" all come from Season 3. The final episode of Season 3 actually appears on Set One, strangely enough. This wouldn't be a big deal except that the episodes do have a small amount of continuity with the characters, and seeing them out of order is a bit disconcerting.
One problem that I noticed in the Set One episodes and that continues here is that the stories follow a formula. It doesn't happen to be exactly the same formula as every other mystery series, but once you cotton to it, it's as plain as day. Here's how to find the culprit in a Midsomer mystery: make a list of all of the characters who seem to have some plausible connection with the crime, or who act in any sort of suspicious manner. Then cross them off the list as possible suspects. The culprit will be a character who seems to have no logical relation whatsoever to the crime, but who will be revealed to have "done it" because of some far-fetched connection that is revealed in the last part of the episode. As the saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me": it's fine to pull this trick every now and again, but it wears thin very quickly.
I wanted to like Midsomer Murders a lot more than I ended up liking it, and I know exactly why. The stories themselves are fairly cleverly plotted, and I could live with the predictable elements if it weren't for the fact that the episodes are simply too long. A story that could have been told concisely in an hour is puffed out to an hour and forty minutes... and the episodes do feel puffed. Conversations go on longer than they need to, secondary characters are given scenes that don't advance the plot, the camera work in general is very slow, and often we get overly long flashbacks to events that we're already familiar with. A mystery that could have been quite intriguing in a well-edited, briskly paced hour becomes flaccid when stretched out nearly twice as long.
The four episodes here each run 100 minutes in length. In "Dead Man's Eleven" Barnaby is called in to solve a murder in the family of a cantankerous, widely hated businessman; "Death of a Stranger" has him investigating the suspicious "accidental" death of a tramp; a series of sudden deaths at a nursing home raises concerns of foul play in "Blue Herrings"; and "Judgement Day" finds the village of Midsomer Mallow trying to downplay a vicious murder in the interests of winning the "Perfect Village" title.
Each of the four episodes is packaged in its own keepcase, with all four DVDs enclosed in a glossy paperboard slipcase.
Viewers will pleased to find that the second set of Midsomer Murders is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image is anamorphically enhanced, and looks satisfactory overall. I did notice a touch of grain and what appeared to be some compression artifacts, but apart from that the print is free of flaws. Colors are natural-looking, and the well-lit scenes look clear and reasonably detailed. However, contrast suffers a bit in darker scenes, and edge enhancement is present as well.
Rather oddly, the menu screen is in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, even though the episodes are in anamorphic widescreen.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is satisfactory for this mainly dialogue-driven series. The dialogue is generally clear and clean-sounding. The theme music is sometimes a bit overly loud, but never enough to make me fiddle with the volume levels.
A few text supplements are included: a map of Midsomer County, cast filmographies, a biography of Caroline Graham (whose novels inspired the series) and production notes.
On the whole, the episodes of Set Two have some entertaining elements, but they're too drawn-out and formulaic for my tastes. I'd suggest renting this (or catching a few episodes on A&E) before buying.
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