Recently, I've been watching Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.
Despite all the rave reviews it's received, I was a bit reluctant to watch it. I'm not really a murder mystery person. I'm not a fan of procedural dramas or those shows where witty old ladies single-handedly tackle the frightening number of murders in their small English villages. It wasn't going to be my thing. But everyone was really, really enthusiastic about it, so I figured I'd at least give the first episode a try.
Thank god I did. This show is a joy. Everything about it is fantastic.
Our heroine, the heiress Phryne Fisher, is a private investigator in 1920s Melbourne, specializing in particularly unusual murders. With her pearl-handled pistol, her fabulous dresses and her cutting wit, she fights injustice, solves mysteries and adopts her own little band of misfits from around the city.
It's fairly common to see the plucky young female investigator, or the retired older woman in the sleepy village of Murderton, England, but Miss Fisher is a more unusual sight. A stylish, independent, flirtatious private investigator in her 40s doesn't exactly show up often in fiction; any female character in her 40s is unusual unless she's "the mom." Even more surprisingly, Phyrne has been aged up from the books the series is based on, where she's 28, and it's really good to watch a fun and fantastic show about a character who is, gasp, middle aged and fabulous.
Phyrne is joined by a great cast of characters, especially female characters. There's Dot, her sweet Catholic companion and protegee, Doctor Mac, her lesbian doctor friend, Phyrne's ward, the classical history-loving young troublemaker Jane, and, of course, Chief Inspector Jack Robinson, who is definitely unimpressed with Phryne interfering with his cases. 100% disapproving. Doesn't like her at all.
Most of the time, the show maintains quite a light and frothy tone, despite the darkness of the murders, thanks to its jaunty music and its showcase of Phryne's daring costumes. But it does get dark, especially when it digs deeper into its overarching plotline about Phryne's younger sister, who disappeared when she was a girl. It has fun mysteries, but it has some twisted and troubling ones too.
Which does lead into one potential criticism of the show. As a friend pointed out to me, a rather large number of the murder victims in the show are women, on top of the extended plot about the kidnapping and murder of young girls. I'm in two minds about this. On the one hand, yes, the majority of murder victims are female characters, which seems a bit predictable and tropey. But on the other hand, the show often uses the stories of these victims and those close to them to explore deeper issues, from ill-treated factory workers to illegal abortion. This isn't always the case, and the show probably is a bit "dead girl" heavy, but the awesomeness does plenty to balance it out. And there are quite a few complex, scheming murderesses as well.
Overall, it's a show with lots of fantastic female characters, a great slow-burn romance, a fun sense of humor, and the ability to always put a smile on your face. It's just so fun, pure enjoyment in a 1920s murder mystery show. If, like me, you've been dragging your heels on watching it, you should definitely give it a try.