By EDEN LITTRELL ’14
Netflix Instant has a lot of content, which is a mixed blessing. Some of the entertainment available is terrible, some is worth watching and every so often a diamond in the rough comes along. “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries,” a television show from the Australian equivalent of the BBC, definitely falls in the last category.
Adapted from a popular series of novels by Kerry Greenwood, the show follows the adventures of the Honourable Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis), an aristocrat who solves murders in 1920s Melbourne, Australia. Miss Fisher confronts murderers and misogynists swathed in period clothing and charm. Davis refers to her character as a female James Bond, noting her ability to charm men, pilot airplanes and practice judo with ease.
The first episode of the series sees Miss Fisher returning to Australia after many years abroad, some of which were spent as a nurse in World War I and a painter’s model in post-war France. The episode introduces us to a woman who is extremely clever, well-dressed and utterly unconcerned with convention in a world that is alien to our own. The rest of the series flashes by in a delightful blur of wonderful clothing, interesting characters and elaborate murders. Once Miss Fisher is on the case, she will use her determination and pearl-handled revolver to track down the murderer, no matter the risk to life and lingerie.
Miss Fisher is an engaging protagonist, but it is the supporting cast of characters that adds depth and heart to the show. Dorothy “Dot” Williams (Ashleigh Cummings) lends contrast to the freewheeling Fisher as a traditionally Catholic ladies maid, enamored with Protestant police constable Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt). Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) provides the unresolved sexual tension that seems to be written into the DNA of crime shows, but that tension doesn’t prevent Miss Fisher from having casual sex with attractive guest stars.
Other memorable characters include an orphan pickpocket-turned-ward, a woman doctor and two cab-driving communists. Together they are more than a match for the admittedly stock standard antagonists. The best fun of the show is watching the main cast interact; actual detective work is throw in between amusing exchanges.
The loving reconstruction of 1920s Melbourne penetrates beyond the costuming. Ideological battles involving Zionism and communism abound, while the trauma of World War I is always lurking under the surface, clashing with the opulence and optimism of the era. And just because homosexuality is criminalized doesn’t mean it isn’t practiced. The show, while not shackled by an exact adherence to history, does highlight elements of the past that are often forgotten.
A few weaknesses are quickly evident to the discerning Netflix binger: the quality of the episodes are uneven and, while the show is expensive for public broadcast television, the budget is nowhere near what audiences in the US are used to seeing. Regardless, the costuming and a strong performance by Davis more than make up for the lack of fancy sets and the occasional stumble in writing.
The show light fare, so crime aficionados looking for grit are well advised to look elsewhere. All in all, “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” is a fresh addition to a landscape of crime shows primarily set in the contemporary U.S..