I am an unabashed detective story/crime drama/mystery fan. Whether these tales are being told via novels, comics, movies, or television series, I’m usually all aboard. I love that as a genre the basic story - a crime is committed and somebody, whether a detective, a journalist, or even a dotty old priest, sets about solving it - remains more or less the same whilst allowing for more creativity to occur within the characters and the way the story is told. There is comfort in how the skeletons of these stories are similar while still allowing for interesting things to happen in the particulars.
Not all crime stories are good, of course, a great many of them are downright terrible. This is especially true of television series as the demands of making up to 20 episodes a season for many, many seasons leans any series towards mediocrity. But when done right, a crime series can be sublimely entertaining. Fans of the genre, like myself, know that some of the best crime shows are being produced outside of the U.S. Britain, Norway, and the rest of Europe are making terrific crime series, as is, apparently, Canada. Unfortunately, these series aren’t always easily available in the U.S. but thanks to Acorn Media and their streaming service more and more of these series are readily available right inside your own home.
Murdoch Mysteries is a Canadian series that I’d heard about for ages. It is a show that constantly pops up when I’m looking for a good crime show to watch, but for one reason or another, I’d never bothered to watch it. This is partially because there are just too many other similar-looking shows out there to watch, and because when I first heard about it, the show was already well into its 13-season (and counting) run. Trying to jump into a series with that many episodes is daunting and, let's be honest here, when a show gets into double-digit seasons, you can expect the quality to drop considerably. Generally, I’d rather watch a show that has three or four great seasons than one that keeps plodding along, year after year, regardless of how bad it gets.
But when Season 12 showed up on my doorstep ready to be reviewed, I decided I might as well give it a go and see what’s what. I gotta admit after the first episode, “Murdoch Mystery Mansion” I was not impressed and let out a deep sigh knowing I’d have to watch over a dozen more episodes for my review. But then I watched the second episode “Operation: Murder” and I started to get onto the show’s wavelength. I developed an understanding of who the characters are and how they related and it began clicking for me. By the time I got to Episode #5 “The Spy Who Loved Murdoch,” I was no longer dreading watching the rest of Season 12 but ready to order the first eleven and give my life over to Murdoch.
The series takes place in Toronto during the late 1800s. It follows Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) as he solves crimes using very modern (for the times) methods of detection and his wife, Dr. Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy), who was the city's coroner but became a surgeon presumably sometime before the last season ended. They are helped in their crime-solving (and let's be honest here, as with most of these sorts of series the crime is almost always murder) by a large cast of police, doctors, and an eclectic group of historical figures.
It works best when it lets the standard procedural aspects take a back seat and instead opts for something more esoteric and goofy to come to the forefront. Like the delightful Halloween episode “Sir. Sir? Sir!” in which little alien bugs from the sky, causing everyone to turn into Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like pod people. This is even more exquisite when you realize that it is a moment when one of Constable Crabtree’s (Johnny Harris) many conspiracy theories has finally become true. Or “The Spy Who Loved Murdoch” in which the detective pretends to be a French spy in order to keep save the entire planet from world war.
But even the more a-typical murder mystery episodes contain moments of whimsy and oddball humor. Like when someone is trapped inside of Murdoch’s potato cooker (installed inside his new house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) and literally explodes. Or when Murdoch and Nikola Tesla (Dmitry Chepovetsky) invent television (or tele-vision as they call it) in order to catch an invisible man in “Murdoch and the Undetectable Man”.
As you can tell, there is a lot of playing around with history. This season is full of famous guests and references to historical events and inventions. It is mostly harmless fun as when Murdoch invents the Roomba (which then promptly attacks him) but it all too often feels a little contrived and quickly grows tiresome.
Coming into Murdoch Mysteries knowing nothing about it, I wasn’t too hopeful. Especially so knowing I was entering into it as Season 12. But after a few episodes in which I got my bearings, I found it to be an absolute delight. It is not a murder mystery show that takes itself too seriously. There is murder and the solving of which garners its share of drama, but mostly it's goofy, funny, and enormously entertaining. Knowing I have eleven more seasons to catch up on is a newfound joy.
Extras include a short making of featurettes and the very fun Murdoch Aftershow for several episodes.