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TV Waffle - Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (Series 1)

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is a dramatic series broadcast on ABC1 in Australia.  The first series premiered on February 24th of 2012 and ran for 13 hour length episodes.  The show stars Essie Davis as Miss Phryne, pronounced Franny, Fisher and Nathan Page as Detective Inspector John (Jack) Robinson.




This is a historical series set in Melbourne, Australia in the 1920s, which is based upon the series of 'Phryne Fisher' mystery novels by Kerry Greenwood. The first series' episodes, with the exception of the final episode, are each based upon one of the novels. The series benefits from input from the author herself as she reviewed all of the episode scripts before shooting began. While largely episodic in format, the series does have the now standard character continuing story arcs that include a good number of the supporting cast as well.
The series opens with the episode 'Cocaine Blues', which introduces us to Phryne Fisher upon her arrival in Australia, where she meets with her Aunt Prudence and explains that she will be staying in Melbourne for the foreseeable future. With this bit of brief exposition out of the way we are immediately thrown into a murder-by-poisoning of a family friend. It is through this story that we meet the remainder of the regular cast as she encounters the family's maid Dorothy (Dot) and the local police detective Jack Robinson, with his trusty constable Hugh Collins in tow. The detective, given the time period, is understandably irritated by Phryne's continuous intrusion in the case but it is she who ultimately solves the mystery, upon which she decides that she will be setting herself up in Melbourne as a private investigator. Detective Robinson is not amused.
 Each episode of the series is a self-contained murder mystery in a format that strongly parallels pulp era style detective stories. Being a huge fan of this style of literature, I really enjoyed watching this series. This also makes the series easy to revisit as you can just throw on an episode when in the mood for a quick detective story. The period feel of the series is spot on but, given the literary style they are following, the focus is, of course, on the characters themselves. Our hero Phryne is your standard multi-talented and wealthy individual. She is also a woman with a much more modern perspective but, at the same time, is also a very charming individual, which, along with her exceptional crime-solving skills, tends to smooth over any ruffled feathers on the part of the male police force. At the same time, Phryne is also a very sensitive individual who harbors a deep personal scar, which is the driving force behind her pursuit of justice. The credit for all of this goes to Ms. Davis' acting abilities as she totally owns this character. In addition, all of the other characters are extremely well acted and even the most secondary of regular characters is given some piece of personal story line for the actor to work with.
While the series doesn't pull many punches with respect to some of the darker aspects of the time period, it also does a good job of holding back on the violence level, which is a refreshing change from most modern TV series. Being a detective series, there are plenty of murders to go around but the shenanigans are not always shown to us. Having said this, there are still some rather unpleasant murders, which, while we only hear them, can actually be worse to anyone with an overactive imagination. Even with this, the violence level is well below that of most shows these days.
As I mentioned earlier, the final episode is not based upon any of the existing novels and this is probably because it is a wrap up story for the first series. We get some closure for an incident in Phryne's past but, fortunately not enough to stop her continuing with the detective work in the future. The second series has already begun airing in Australia and I am very much looking forward to its release on DVD but it wouldn't surprise me if the show is ultimately picked up by a cable channel in America. I would highly recommend 'Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries' to anyone and especially to fans of detective/mystery dramas.



Nick Sauer
For more from Nick, visit his site 'Fantastic Television'