Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Box Set Blues: Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries

We like a good procedural cop show in our house, even if they're increasingly all the same. One is a cop, one isn't, but has a wacky side skill! They Fight Crime!. Gruesome murder, red herrings, it's usually the second character you're introduced to, job done. The joy, then, is the casts rapport, the quality of the gimmick and how much you enjoy spending time the company of the show. We've watched quite a few, and generally enjoy them, and they make a nice relaxing hour before bed sort of show for us, so we've usually got one on the go, and keep an eye out for more. Our most recent obsession has, surprisingly, not been set in modern-day America, but rather 1920s Australia, Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries. 

Under normal circumstances I'm not sure we'd look at the adventures of a Lady Dillettante in inter-war Melbourne, mostly because historical dramas, with the cars and the costumes, and so on, don't usually do it for me. They often smack of sepia-toned nostalgic revisionism, erasing a lot of the complexity and diversity of the past. One the face of it, Miss Fisher looks to fit in that mold, with the posh-car-driving socialite from the big house, teaming up with the stoic detective, with a couple of working-class equivalents to follow them around and have things explained to them. But the thing is, that impression is almost completely wrong

What the show seems keen to do, and something that genuinely surprised me, is to show a historic Australia as a changing, diverse place, and Melbourne as a city full of emigres and immigrants from all walks of life. Sure, it follows a case-of-the-week format, but those cases are made different and interesting by the avenues through which the flow of murder takes them. This is a Melbourne bustling with all the ethnicities that made Australia their home, and all the social problems that beset the period. It would be easy, I suspect to write the show as a different drawing room murder every week, but divisions of Race, Gender, Sexual Orientation and Class all take their turn as avenues to murder, always with complex and well drawn characters at their centre. 

It also helps that the main cast are really, really fun to watch. Phyrne Fisher, our eponymous heroine, may be a touch too modern in many of her views, but she's also a sparkling, irrepressible centre to the show. Her main foil, Police Detective Jack Fisher, quickly moves into a wryly amused, deadpan companion to the action. The remain core cast members - Phryne's companion Dot and Constable Hugh, quickly become more than just sidekicks with a properly sweet romantic subplot and some smart characterisation that lets demonstrate some range and depth. 

OK, so mechanistically speaking, this is another odd-couple crime procedural under the hood, and there is no getting away from that. But it's a great use of the setting, turning historical diversity into criminal variety without ever feeling gimmicky. But even without that, it's enormous fun to watch, and well worth looking into.