110 of 116 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Midsomer County is oddly rife with peculiar mysteries and creative demises, but DCI John Barnaby is as gifted with powers of keen observation as his cousin, retired DCI Tom Barnaby. Sykes, John Barnaby's expressive dog, is also welcome! Neil Dudgeon, as the new DCI Barnaby, is an excellent addition to Midsomer, with his capacity for nuance; humor and seriousness shadow his countenance. The Barnabys are an old Midsomer family; in this verdant environment there are often recurring family resemblances (recall the funereal duo in first Midsomer mystery, "The Killings of Badger's Drift"). An amorous "look-alike" gardener was featured earlier in Midsomer, likely DCI John Barnaby is also good with plants. As always, the intrepid Jason Hughes is a wonderful foil as Detective Inspector Ben Jones, his wry humor adds another level of complexity to the series. The U.K. boasts many fine, underrated actors. Catch Dudgeon as a WWI vet/chauffeur in The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries - Series 1 (Speedy Death/The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries), which, despite the confusing title, is the complete set (no need to order a separate "Series 2."). We love the weird, unique Midsomer music, indicating that beneath Midsomer's quaintness, benign as a quivering vanilla blanc mange, danger lurks. Note the badger emblem on the police cars. In the U.K., coziness is often leavened with the macabre, like a doily blotched with tea, darkness lurks at the edges. And we love it. Brits have knack for mixing classic stories with ghoulish humor and sharp observations of the flawed human character. Historically, penny-dreadfuls were published at Christmastime, as in Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens. The denizens of the dangerous environs of Midsomer county inflict and suffer numerous creative malaises.
The four episodes in this collection are each 90 minutes long, and have helpful subtitles. But several have missteps, no fault of the cast, that may disappoint dedicated fans. The first episode, "Death in the Slow Lane," is a somewhat disorienting introduction to DCI John Barnaby. Producer Brian True-May inflicts shrill drug taking schoolgirls on viewers. Where is screenwriter Tony Horowitz when you need him? Later, the third episode, "Echos of the Dead," panders to graphic CSI style, featuring a dismembered female corpse, with a saw placed on her bare rear-end. This gratuitously lacks the dry humor of Midsomer classics, as in the memorable murder via trebuchet and wine bottles.
Death in the Slow Lane
DCI John Barnaby, a cousin of our original curmudgeon, is wonderfully played by Neil Dudgeon. And he has a dog companion, the emotive Sykes; England, this blessed plot, rife with delightful dogs and detectives. Midsomer's classic formula features charming villages with a high body-count. But this episode, written by Michael Aitkens, despite moments of great dialogue, is off-kilter. The trite titillation of chattering schoolgirls is a malformation of Midsomer, straining to be topical; a poor way to meet new DCI John Barnaby at work! Barnaby's relationship with DI Ben Jones (expertly played by the wry Welsh-humored Jason Hughes) is off to an uneven start. All is not well at a girls' boarding school. Was a past death really suicide? There are hints at some form of incest, a relatively (pun intended) common Midsomer sin. A local DJ is stabbed by a gorgeous red sports car prior to his judging a classic car show. His body being rolled-away on a gurney, weapon wobbling, is classic Midsomer. A humorous aspersion is cast at redheads/ginger, "they are all sex-mad and ill-tempered." The best scenes involve Barnaby being greeted as "Tom," meeting his overly-friendly neighbors, and enjoying delightful conversations with his precocious dog.
This episode, again written by Michael Aitkens, again features quaffs of incest on the menu. But "Dark Secrets" boasts the classic Midsomer oeuvre viewers expect, with a rambling old manor amidst gorgeous English countryside The mansion is inhabited by eccentrics, William Bingham (Edward Fox) and his wife Mary (the wonderful Phyllida Law). They rattle about, subsiding on tea and pizza delivery. Our DCI John Barnaby's wife, Sarah (Fiona Dolman), arrives in Midsomer to find that her husband has neglected to unpack. She is the new head teacher at Causton Comprehensive, and receives an unenthusiastic welcome, though she finds a clever way to unpack. Meanwhile, after the body of a social worker is found floating in a river, the reclusive Bingham couple come under police scrutiny. Barnaby and Jones unearth scandalous family secrets, and decipher astronomical charts to discover the murderer. This episode continues a Midsomer theme: a generation went wrong in the 1960/70s, threw off Edwardian sensibilities, and replaced repression with indulgence, to the harm of future generations.
Echoes of the Dead
Despite beauty of Midsomer village Great Worthy, this episode, written by Peter J. Hammond, is like spoiled clotted cream. Producer Brian True-May goes awry with the second murder's exploitative, graphic ugliness; it has none of the macabre humor true to Midsomer's spirit. You know things are off when the dialogue descends to discussing "butt-plugs." Newly single Dianne Price is discovered strangled, dressed like a bride, and laid out in a bath. A lipstick-written warning is scrawled on the bathroom mirror. At first, all seems like vintage Misdomer. The incident spurs copycat wedding-themed murders. Barnaby and Jones investigate a host of suspects, including a corrupt ex-colleague of Ben's, an cop who runs a pub with a former brothel madam, who happens to be his wife. But (yet again) religious fanatics are the worst culprits. The detectives realize that the cases have eerie similarities to past notorious murders. If only they resembled Midsomer's infamous, but charming, macabre heritage.
The best of the lot; sharp dialogue stands out in this last episode, written by reliable Midsomer vet David Hoskins. The opening scenes wonderfully depict the world from a dog's eye-view. John Barnaby takes his dog Sykes for a ramble along a path, passing other dogs being walked along the way. Later, forensic medical specialist David Bollard (John Barnaby once called him bullock) asks Barnaby to help find Lucy Oliver, a daughter of his friends. She went missing after becoming involved with a secretive new-age cult, the Oblong Foundation, located at Malham Hall. Long-suffering DI Ben Jones is forced to forgo his vacation to go undercover among the cultists. Finally, viewers see his old humor and charm return (the prior episodes turned him dour). He discovers that the accidental deaths involving the previous owners of Malham Hall may have been murder. Jones copes with several eager females, while navigating the Oblong Foundation's philosophies ("be a tree") promulgating free-love. He discovers money-laundering, and a secret relationship between an Oblong Foundation leader and the missing girl. Fortunately, Ben is intrepid and fast on his feet! And Sykes make some new friends.
Hopefully Midsomer will hit its stride, providing an exceptional cast with more worthy material. I also highly recommend the gritty Northumberland, U.K., mystery series, featuring the wonderful Brenda Blethyn: Vera and Vera: Set 2.
69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Midsomer Murders used to provide a mystery to unravel at a slow, leisurely pace amid the lovely setting of an English village and its eccentric inhabitants. Murder was the propelling force for action, but the real focus was on characterization, personal interaction, the setting and the culture of the English village as interpreted in the series. In particular, the viewer normally faced with the carnage of popular movies and television could find respite with a cerebral journey as Barnaby and Jones unravelled the mystery of the day. Enter Season 21 of Midsomer and the gruesome visage of a dismembered body in Echoes of the Dead and giggling, invasive school girls in Death in the Slow Lane. Dark Secrets fared a little better but salacious elements, gratuitous sex and incest, occupied center stage too readily and too much. I have not viewed The Oblong Murders yet, so perhaps all is not lost if it contains some saving grace.
Ironically, the formidable acting skills of Neil Dudgeon as Chief Inspector John Barnaby and Jason Hughes as Detective Ben Jones are apparent, but the characters they play are not the Jones of yore or the new Barnaby introduced before the departure of John Nettles. They are strangers. They are not the Midsomer inhabitants we have come to know. The medical examiner, Dr. George Bullard, played by Barry Jackson also suffers character misalignment. In Series 21 he seems be less inquisitive and now ready to accept any answer. His rhetorical bantering formerly appreciated by viewers is lost. The close family unit of Joyce (Jane Wymark), Cully (Laura Howard) and Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) that gave warmth and gentleness in the world of law enforcement and crimes has disappeared. The caring between John Barnaby and his wife seems real, but it is more visceral than the warm fuzzies of Tom and Joyce and the love of child and parents.
I do hope the writers and producers reexamine the best elements of previous Midsomer series and reinstate what made the series so well appreciated by viewers---the caress of the camera on the scenery, the uniqueness of quirky inhabitants, the caring and interaction of the characters, the culture of the village life and the humanity of all. It was decidedly NOT gratuitous violence and sex, gruesome visuals and intellectual sparsity.
88 of 101 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
After being fans of this series for over 10 years, we sat down to watch this eagerly anticipated set/21 starring the new Inspector Barnaby. We couldn't have been more bored. It was lacking the usual charm, absorbing murders/stories, and, all 4 episodes were just plain boring. Two were remakes of similar stories from several years ago. No chemistry, yet, between any of the characters including between Barnaby and his wife. We liked her in the episode she was mainly featured, but there was just something lacking. All 4 stories just plodded along. Barnaby and his sidekick seemed to have good rapport and the series could improve over time, but do I want to waste more money waiting to see if that happens. The fact the new inspector has a background in psychology didn't add any pizzazz. So many familiar actors appeared in these 4 stories, previously seen in other episodes, but not even they seemed to be interested in acting out the stories! Not sure we will be interested in any future series. So sad, after this has been a great series for so many years.
Clarify further: Amazon is absolutely the best deal. If you can wait 3 months longer for a Midsomer set to be released rather than purchase from AcornOnline, which I did and paid $60, then wait. I have previously waited and purchased from Amazon. Read the AcornOnline reviews (and Amazon reviews). Over 100 viewers loved this new series/set 21 with Neil Dudgeon, who is a fine actor. But we were disappointed. Maybe our expectations were too high!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I wanted to love the new Barnaby and this series so much! I tried, I really did. But, yikes! It's not the actors fault by any means. Neil is a fine actor and Jason Hughes is wonderful as Jones. Nope, it's the producer, director and writers that are the problem. Midsomer has always been tongue-in-cheek bizarre, featuring every deadly sin and vice you can name. But the personal morals and beliefs of the powers that be and writers were never so shoved down the viewers throat as they have become the last few series. (Okay, John Barnaby is a man of science and hates God with a passion, how many times does he need to tell us this??!!) Wow, what they do to religious faith is just ugly, prejudiced and unnecessary. Even the non-religious have been commenting all over forums about the overt and vile attack on religion (particularly Christianity). Start at the very beginning with the first episode and work your way through...you'll see an obvious downward spiral in recent years especially. While the show has always dealt with incest, adultery, sexual fetish, and more...it was at least done in good taste (for the most part). These last few episodes just made me squirm with discomfort and embarassment for the poor actors. I've been a long time fan and am just sick at what has become of one of my favorite shows. In short, they've jumped the shark and have lost their way. I've abandoned ship and started watching Inspector Lewis. Good stuff, let's see how long that lasts before suits and writers destroy it, too.
On a side note: I just read that Jason Hughes has quit and has a project in America. Good for him! The idiots in charge should have made Hughes the new DCI and brought in a new actor/underling for him to train. That would have been interesting.