Before I begin, let me just say how nice it is to have Midsomer Murders available on the Blu-ray format. Coupled with a high-def television, it is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. The show has been that way for the seventeen seasons it has been on the air, shot in the most beautiful and bucolic areas in Britain, as a backdrop for some very sinister murders.
Set 25 is the most recent, and it contains five episodes that originally aired in the 2013-14 season, including the 100th installment. Most television shows record upwards of 20 episodes per season, and reach the magic 100 mark sometime in their fifth year. Things are different with Midsomer, where a normal season is generally five 90-minute mysteries. It only took them 16 years to get to number one hundred, “Death in Copenhagen."
Like American classics such as Perry Mason or Columbo, the premise of Midsomer Murders is pretty basic. A murder has occurred in the (fictional) well-to-do Midsomer County, and Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) and his new Detective Sergeant Charlie Nelson (Gwilym Lee) must solve it. The circumstances are invariably bizarre, as are the wealthy people who the two must interact with to do their jobs. For fans of eccentric Brits, there are many memorable ones in Midsomer. And the mysteries abound on the gorgeous grounds of the various estates.
“The Christmas Haunting” opens the set, and in it we meet DS Charlie Nelson (Gwilym Lee), who replaces the promoted DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) Nelson is a bit scruffy, but certainly knows his stuff in this odd tale of misguided civic pride. As the title “Let Us Prey” indicates, there is some trouble in the world of religion in the second mystery. “Follow the money,” someone once said, and it is apt advice for this tale of murder in the church.
Truffles are the object of desire in “Wild Harvest.” This one opens with one of the most shocking Midsomer murders I have seen. A man was tied to a tree in a wooded area of the county, after having been sprayed with truffle oil. When the local wild boars catch wind of him, he is eaten alive. Gruesome stuff for sure, although it all happens off-camera. As so often happens, another murder is committed to cover up the first, and another after that. All in the name of unrequited love as it turns out.
“The Flying Club” is described early on by DCI Barnaby as being “Very Top Gun.” True enough. There are two hot-shot pilots, and one very attractive woman who work at the local airfield. Midsomer is full of secrets and lies, and during an air show, the situation becomes dire as one of the fuel lines has been cut. To make things even more suspicious, the two pilots had traded planes at the last minute, just to keep things interesting. The young lady’s father absolutely detests the man she intends to marry, but there are many other suspects in this story as well.
“Death in Copenhagen” is Midsomer‘s 100th episode, and there are a few firsts in it. One of the county’s early local success stories is that of Calder’s Biscuits (cookies), which ship all over the world carrying the message “Straight from Badger’s Drift.” When Mr. Calder travels to Copenhagen on business, he receives a tin of his own biscuits, delivered to his room. Unfortunately, the cookies were poisoned.
For their first international case, DCI Barnaby and DS Nelson travel to Copenhagen, where they meet up and work with a couple of very attractive (and age-appropriate) female detectives. As it is with nearly every case, the motives behind the murder are rooted in misunderstanding, this time with a child born out of wedlock. “Death in Copenhagen” marks the first time Midsomer Murders has ever left England.
A running theme throughout the five episodes of the three-disc Blu-ray set is the pregnancy of Mrs. Sarah Barnaby (Fiona Dolman). Fittingly, she goes into labor while her husband is on his way back home from Copenhagen. But all is fine, and we get to meet baby Betty Barnaby for the first time at the end of the show.
The extras are certainly worth a look. The first is a “Behind the Scenes” (23:06) segment which concentrates on the 16th season of the show, in which these episodes are drawn from. There is also an interview with the new kid on the block Gwilym Lee (9:07). The final major piece is “Celebrating 100 Episodes” (17:08), which spends much more time on the filming of “Death in Copenhagen,” rather than the historical summation I had expected. Each disc also contains short, two-minute photo galleries from the programs.
I have been a fan of Midsomer Murders for many years now, and the good news with Set 25 is that it continues to delight and surprise. Staying this fresh and unique is really saying something for a series which has been on the air since 1997. I generally wrap every Midsomer Murders review I have written with a recommendation to check it out. And so it goes. Midsomer Murders is one of the greatest unsung (in the U.S. at least) television mysteries currently on the air. My recommendation? Check it out.