'Midsomer Murders' Series 1 and 2, TV Review

"Midsomer Murders" is one of the most enduring TV mystery series ever created. The series was created by Anthony Horowitz (who wrote most, if not all, of the screenplays for the first two seasons) and Douglas Watkinson, based on the books by Caroline Graham. The pilot appeared in 1997, the first season in 1998, and the series is - as of 2021 - in its 22nd series (although most of the actors have changed).

List of episodes:

  • "The Killings at Badger's Drift" (pilot, 1997)
  • "Written in Blood" (season 1, 1998)
  • "Death of a Hollow Man"
  • "Faithful unto Death"
  • "Death in Disguise"
  • "Death's Shadow" (season 2, 1999)
  • "Strangler's Wood"
  • "Dead Man's Eleven"
  • "Blood Will Out"

Each episode runs about 95 minutes. The main character is Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, played by John Nettles. The other major recurring characters are Detective Sergeant Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey), Joyce Barnaby (Barnaby's wife, played by Jane Wymark), and Cully Barnaby (their daughter, played by Laura Howard). Barnaby is responsible for solving crimes (always murders) across the several small villages of the fictional English county of Midsomer.

The series comes complete with a number of problematic "features:"

  • The theme song, which was mediocre at best when I first heard it. You always get tired of the theme for long-running shows, but this one particularly wore on my nerves.
  • The show is (in)famous for the murderer's always ending up killing more than one person, almost always to cover their tracks from the first murder.
  • A friend who's seen ten seasons worth says "there are no happy marriages ... unless one of them is about to die." This is proving true, with the notable exception of Barnaby and his wife and child who are an almost idyllic marriage shown in every episode.
  • Every episode features a dozen red herrings. I'm quite willing to believe that police often end up chasing down incorrect leads, but that every murder should involve so many as appear in this series beggars belief.
  • There's a noticeable shortage of innocent people - the red herrings are people who are running scams, cheating on spouses, blackmailing, thieving, etc., etc., all trying to hide their activities and thus muddying the waters. And that's pretty much ... everyone.
  • They're fond of Barnaby having a realization and rushing to stop one last death near the end of the episode.
  • Continuity isn't a big deal: one episode included a comedic sub-plot about Barnaby's weight, with his wife and daughter making him meals that Troy had to make him eat, but at the end of the episode he had "lost enough weight" and that problem was never mentioned again.

All(? certainly most) of the episodes in the first couple seasons say "Screenplay by Anthony Horowitz" - the man who went on to create and run "Foyle's War." So it was interesting to see Honeysuckle Weeks in a role in "Blood Will Out" in the second season. As a bizarre side-note, that was also the episode that introduced me to the word "didicoys," which dictionary.com defines as "(in Britain) one of a group of caravan-dwelling roadside people who live like Gypsies but are not true Romanies." That was a new one to me.

Despite my list of complaints and mis-"features," the series is generally both charming and entertaining, and has made passable pandemic viewing. It also made me consider what my favourite TV Mystery series are, and that was fairly easy: "New Tricks," "Foyle's War," and "Elementary."