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Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3(TV) (2010)
Set in Toronto in the 1890s, Murdoch Mysteries explores the intriguing world of William Murdoch, a handsome young detective using radical forensic techniques including fingerprinting and trace evidence, to solve some of the city's most gruesome murders. Though his unconventional approach elicits ridicule from fellow officers and scepticism from his boss, Inspector Brackenreid, Murdoch is often the only one who can crack the case.
For more about Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 and the Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 Blu-ray release, see Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on May 23, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Yannick Bisson, Thomas Craig, Jonny Harris, Hélène Joy
» See full cast & crew
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 Blu-ray Review
Forensic investigation, Victorian style.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, May 23, 2011
Between Bones, CSI, NCIS, their many spin-offs, and—until recently—Law & Order, there's been no shortage of TV shows about detectives plying the grim trade of forensic science to crack cases. It's a crowded genre, so each new series needs, if not at a gimmick, at least something to help it stand out from pack. Canadian series Murdoch Mysteries definitely has a unique, and alliterative premise: it's a period piece police procedural—not something you see everyday. Set in Toronto during the late Victorian era, the show takes us back to a time when the all-new field of forensics had just started to revolutionize criminal justice, when performing autopsies and dusting for fingerprints were still novel ways to solve a crime. While Murdoch Mysteries features the same kind of formulaic, episodic storytelling that is the bane or boon of its genre —depending on who you're talking to—the show leaves a favorable impression because of its likeable characters and unlikely setting.
I should admit, up front, that I've never seen the first two seasons of Murdoch Mysteries. Also, besides Slings & Arrows—which I reviewed earlier this year—and a brief, single-episode run-in I had with the Trailer Park Boys once, my experience with natively Canadian TV shows in general has been severely limited. Still, I thought I had a good idea what to expect when the screener for Murdoch Mysteries: Season Three showed up on my doorstep—a mannered, good-natured and mildly entertaining series that made the most out of its relatively low budget. What I got was that, and then some. I usually don't warm to the forensic TV genre—unless we're talking about X-Files or Fringe—but Murdoch Mysteries grew on me. It's fun, cleverly written, and more distinctly Canadian than a hockey puck made of frozen maple syrup.
The show stars Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch, an out-of-the-box thinker and master of deduction who has clearly learned a few tricks from Sherlock Holmes. (As a not-so-subtle wink, Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, actually makes an appearance in one episode.) Murdoch is handsome and mildly eccentric, drawn to all the latest gadgetry and techniques in the nascent science of forensic crime scene investigation. His hot- headed boss, Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), is usually wary of these newfangled advances—he's more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy when it comes to police work—but by each episode's end, he's inevitably impressed by Murdoch's unorthodox methods. Murdoch's key ally—and on- again-off-again love interest—is Dr. Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy), a quick-witted pathologist who knows her way around a corpse. Victorian romantic ideals keep the two from expressing their love for each other outright, but it's clear that they're meant for one another, and their timid relationship provides one of the show's ongoing subplots. Also aiding in each case is Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), the comic relief, who makes up for his intellectual dimness with puppy dog loyalty, admiring Murdoch as a mentor. The characters are likeable—if not exactly dimensional—and the actors have invested plenty of personality into their roles.
Most of the 45-minute episodes function as standalone whodunits that open with a murder and close with the reveal of the killer. One of the few exceptions is the season premier, "The Murdoch Identity"—a clear play off of The Bourne Identity—where our titular hero awakes in Bristol, England, with no memory of who he is or why the police are chasing him. This action-packed episode was actually filmed in Bristol too, setting it apart from the rest of the season, which deals with crime in Toronto right before the turn of the century. Often, the show uses then-current cultural events and social attitudes of the time as thematic touchstones. In "The Great Wall," Murdoch confronts the casual racism of his fellow officers when a policeman is murdered in Toronto's Chinatown. "Victor, Victorian" evokes gender inequality in a story about a suspicious death inside a Masonic temple. "Me, Myself, and Murdoch," puts a split-personality spin on a case with similarities to the infamous Lizzy Borden ax murders. There are even episodes about a traveling freak show circus and the hush-hush world of Victorian pornography.
Midway through the season, a continued storyline eventually does emerge, tying together several of the later episodes. Murdoch finds a new potential love interest in Sally Pendrick (Kate Greenhouse), a rich—and married—society woman whose husband, John (Peter Stebbings), an inventor and architect, seems to have had a hand in a few of the recent murders. Secrets gradually come out that recontextualize the relationship Murdoch has with both Pendricks—and that they have with one another—and this is enough to give season three a solid narrative backbone. Of course, there's also the matter of Murdoch's feelings for Julia, which continue to be muddled, complicated, and—as with all Victorian emotions— repressed. It all culminates in "The Tesla Effect," where the great inventor himself shows up to help Murdoch track down a killer in possession of a microwave death ray capably of frying victims through walls. There's a slight steampunk vibe here—Victorian era meets cutting edge technology— and although the science on display in Murdoch Mysteries stays within the realm of historical fact for the most part, the excitement and awe over how these new advances might be used to solve crimes is one of the show's greatest charms.
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 Blu-ray, Video Quality
This is the first season of Murdoch Mysteries to arrive on Blu-ray—courtesy of Acorn Media—and, for the most part, I have no qualms about the show's 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation. Shot natively with digital high definition cameras, the show has a sharp, clean look that transfers easily to Blu- ray. Of course, there are a few quibbles to be found—highlights can occasionally look overexposed, blacks are never truly inky, and the image has that flat, distinctly video-ish quality—but there's nothing here that distracts or detracts from the content. Although clarity wavers somewhat in darker scenes, most of the show is keenly resolved, displaying more than adequately fine detail in the actors' faces and period clothing. Skin tone can veer into overly reddish territory at times, but color is relatively strong too, with a palette heavy on neutrals. There are traces of banding and slight compression noise in the image, but nothing to be concerned about. Overall, the picture probably looks better here than it did during its TV broadcast, and that's the most that fans of the show can ask.
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Although a 5.1 mix would've certainly added to some of the show's more effects-heavy scenes, there's nothing wrong with the 2.0 Linear PCM stereo tracks that accompany each episode. Obviously, the rear channels are out of service, so there's no sense of immersion or involvement, but the presentation from the front speakers has more than enough oomph to carry the show's limited audio requirements. The opening theme song is probably as loud as the show ever gets, and the music sounds just fine, with low-end anchorage and no upper-register tinnyness. Effects have about as much punch as you'd expect from a show of this caliber—they're serviceable, but nothing wow-worthy. Where it counts, though, the track delivers; dialogue is impeccably reproduced, with no hisses, crackles, or muffling. The disc also includes optional English SDH subtitles in easy to read white lettering.
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I was surprised by Murdoch Mysteries. I'm not usually fond of the police procedural/forensic investigation genre, but the combination of an unusual setting and characters worth liking make for a pleasant—if not exactly mindblowing—viewing experience. I'm actually tempted to track down seasons one and two to see what I missed. Fans of the show will be pleased by the solid A/V presentation, and curious newcomers shouldn't feel hesitant to jump into the middle of the series. This is primarily episodic TV, so you should have no trouble picking up on the characters and the gist of the show. Recommended.
Murdoch Mysteries: Other Seasons
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