Review – Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – ABC1 – 8:30pm Friday – AUS
Episode 1: Cocaine Blues
The ABC have made a lot of noise about how in 2012 they would be making a renewed effort to deliver Australian drama after some very lean years. So far this year the ABC have launched two comedies (Outland and Woodley) and a drama series (The Straits) to nothing more than middling ratings despite all three shows being better than the average Aussie series. Now you could say that this is because these shows aren’t your typical ABC fare, so the true test will be with whether the ABC can turn Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries into a success. If they can’t transform this delightful new mystery series into a hit despite it being a ‘classic’ ABC show then there are some serious problems in their marketing department.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries stars the always enjoyable Essie Davis as the Honourable Phryne Fisher, a lady detective in 1920s Melbourne who has a knack for solving crime and having fun. This first episode finds Phryne on the hunt for the killer of a murdered businessman who may have been dabbling in the world of cocaine. Davis is joined in the cast by the equally enjoyable Miriam Margoyles (the Harry Potter series) as her Aunt Prudence, Ashleigh Cummings as Phryne’s newly hired assistant Dot and Tammy McIntosh as her physician pal Dr. Mac. All of these actresses are fun to watch and the show gets a lot of mileage out of pairing up the free-spirit Phryne with the stuck-up Aunt Prudence.
There’s a lot to like about Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries most notably how great the whole show looks. If we compare it directly to that other 1920s set Aussie drama, the drab Underbelly: Razor, Miss Fisher is the exact opposite; so filled with colour and life. Whereas Razor seemed to exist in a world made up of a back alley, two apartments and one oft-frequented corner, even in just this first episode we see that Miss Fisher’s world is far deeper. While that show made the 20s feel gloomy and uninteresting to look at Miss Fisher is just so bright, especially Phryne’s ever changing wardrobe. This means that even if the mystery plot gets a bit bogged down, as it did a couple of times in this first episode, the show will remain enjoyable to look at.
As with any star of a mystery series these days Phryne comes with a dark secret in her past. Her sister Janey was murdered and she is determined to see Mr. Foyle (Nicholas Bell) pay for it. Foyle sits in prison like some kind of 20s Hannibal Lector waiting to die but he has never admitted to killing Janey. Phryne’s need to solve the crimes around her stems from how she was unable to save her sister all those years ago, which isn’t exactly new territory. Murdered sisters or wives or fathers are always there to give main characters a reason to do what they do, but even though it’s a fairly obvious trope it still worked for me – especially the well shot sequence in the prison when Phryne faced Foyle.
The mystery of the first episode was fairly standard issue mystery filler, with the murderer explaining their motives before locking Phryne in a sauna to die a slow, sweaty death. Why somebody who has already quite happily killed another person would just leave Phryne and her companion locked in a room with ample opportunity to escape is one of those questions you’re best not to ask of murder mystery shows. The mystery itself wasn’t terribly interesting but what was interesting was how Miss Fisher tied the mystery into Phryne’s life. Whether it was a pair of communist taxi driver witnesses who ended up helping Phryne solve the crime, or the murder suspect maid who Phryne hired as her assistant, the show found interesting ways to make elements of the mystery more than just red herrings and exposition delivery systems.
Whether Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries can continue to tie every mystery into Phryne’s life in future episodes we’ll just have to wait and see. Even if it can’t and each week just finds Phryne solving random cases it should still be an enjoyable series thanks to the cast, the costumes and the set design. This show deserves to find a big audience on the ABC, even if the dopey tagline ‘Who says crime doesn’t play?’ seems to be designed to actively drive people away from the show. What does that tagline even mean? Maybe that’s a mystery Phryne Fisher could get to the bottom of, trying to find the person responsible for all these silly taglines – probably the same person who thought ‘sex, lies and magistrates’ was clever.
Good, Alright, Bad Or Ugly?
This review is part of Change The Channel’s episode by episode coverage of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The full list of episode reviews can be found under Series.