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Review – Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

February 24, 2012

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.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. Riga permalink
    February 24, 2012 12:57 pm

    I know that this was set in the 20s, but did the ‘special’ effects have to resemble a poor attempt at matte painting from that era? The ‘cardboard cutout’ ship was hilarious, but not quite so funny when they showed it a second time, after which I just couldn’t forgive them. So I turned over for some non-cardboard Cornish scenery on 7TWO.

    Look, I’m all for giving the work experience kids a go, but please allow them to use Photoshop next time, not just a packet of crayons!

    • pdjones permalink*
      February 24, 2012 1:08 pm

      I didn’t think the CGI was that bad – it was obviously CGI but it could have been a lot worse I thought.

  2. February 24, 2012 2:32 pm

    i really dislike ALL period dramas. I don’t even know why…just have never EVER liked them. Judging from how popular Downton Abbey has been, I bet “Miss Fisher,” will be well received by tons of viewers.

  3. Rosemary O'Grady permalink
    February 24, 2012 11:52 pm

    Agreed – it does Look good – well, the costumes do. Miriam M looks embarrassed with the heavy-going lines she’s got – but copes heroically even brilliantly.
    Fancy wasting a talent like MM in that way. That’s our ABC. Narcissistic.
    The script is a mess – the plot is – well, – “plot”? – the whole thing is set to run for weeks and weeks….. and must have cost heaps and heaps…and it’s just not enough to LOOK good – it’s what’s inside that counts.

  4. Kat permalink
    February 25, 2012 9:11 am

    I love the books – so was bitterly disappointed in this show. They changed to much of the story. Dot just became annoying instead of endearing, what the hell with Sascha’s sister – stopped watching after 15 mins. Maybe if I hadn’t been such a fan I would have been able to get into this.

    • Rosemary permalink
      February 29, 2012 3:40 am

      Agreed Kat. My thoughts too!

  5. matt from perth permalink
    February 27, 2012 4:22 am

    I was really looking forward to this.

    Recorded it while watching for a second viewing.
    But I found it quite amaturish, the detective, the distressed wife etc, they all just walked through their cliche charactor roles.

    Miss Fischers “I like a man with a plan” type lines were old hat even by the 1920s.
    If its trying to show her fun and “sensual frission” it came across as corny…

    I will try it again for few weeks, but for this episode, I fell asleep before the end and deleted the file whith no intention of going through that again…I mean in the end who cared?

    But i still hope….

  6. Uncle Vanya permalink
    February 27, 2012 10:56 am

    What a shame, despite a good line-up of actors, the script was awful, the characters one-dimensional (like the cardboard scenery) and the plot risible, at best. Is this really the best that ABC can do? They would be better spending their money on decent drama made elsewhere eg Sherlock or the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, both wonderfully multi-layered and beautifully scripted and directed, whose characters are wholly believable.

  7. Angel permalink
    February 27, 2012 11:44 am

    As a fan of the books I couldn’t get past the age difference. Phryne Fisher is in her mid to late 20′s. The actress could not carry off the young coquettish directness of the character, I cannot see her doing stunts on the wing of a plane. Having read Cocaine Blues they completely ruined the plot and made it a boring tangled mess. Why did they seem to have her at the Windsor in some scene’s and in a house in others ? I was really looking forward to this but won’t continue to watch it. Such a disappointment !

    • Rosemary permalink
      February 29, 2012 3:42 am

      See Kat’s comment, Uncle Vanya’s and others … sure sign of disappointment – that so many are writing – in to say that the series is definitely not up to the standard of the novels, which is not a very high standard when you come to think of it but is pacey, racy, and Fun.

    • May 11, 2012 1:46 am

      Totally agree. Essie Davis is forty-something and no way is she convincing as a 28-year-old. They’ve destroyed the books (like introducing a nonexistent murdered sister and nonexistent aunt). It was rubbish.

  8. ray ford permalink
    February 27, 2012 10:06 pm

    Why wasn’t this show premiered on a sunday night? Surely that will give it more bang for buck.

    Mrs Fisher’s is off to an excellent start, and know doubt if it maintains its quality, a big audience is in-store.

    My only real concern is not to let the lightheartedness dominate the drama. To have great television it needs to be the other way round.

    Oh; and put it on a sunday night.

  9. Marion permalink
    March 4, 2012 6:50 am

    I can live with the cardboard cut out scenery. In fact I think Auntie has done a pretty good job with costumes, sets, props and music. I think Phryne is well cast. I am disappointed with the casting of Dot who is too well spoken, almost childish; nothing like the solid bodied practical sort we read of, and Jack should be more mature. I’d like them to comply with the characters represented in Kerry Greenwoods books.
    Did anybody else cringe at ‘gotten’ in the first episode?
    I’ll keep watching but live in hope that the next episodes follow the original plots more faithfully.

  10. March 4, 2012 3:22 pm

    I so wanted to like this and while Essie Davis puts in a sterling performance, the scripts are less than enthralling, the supporting cast is often strangely wooden, even pretentious and I just can’t help it…though I fought against obvious comparisons with the excellent Miss Marple and Poirot series, both seamless vintage detective dramas, in the end..well I just couldn’t avoid it. The comparison is not good. Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries is gratingly self-conscious, rather than seamless. Somehow it lacks the requisite charm.

    Oh and I don’t want to get Freudian but I hate the gun.

  11. Frank Whitlock permalink
    March 10, 2012 12:28 am

    This episode is set in mid 1920s. So I was surprised to see her reading Lady Chatterley’s lover which written in 1928 and first published in 1929 in Italy.

    She was obvious reading it before it was written.

    I love watching this series to pick out errors. wait for episode 3.

    Thank goodness the production do not do research as that would deprive the series of any interest to me

  12. Helen permalink
    August 30, 2012 11:36 am

    You Aussie’s are sharp critics! The entire show is meant to be campish! Kind of like two old British TV Series: Tommy & Tuppence, and the show Raffles. Not high drama, but campish humor, which you will either like or dislike. Loved the costumes and Phryne’s style.

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