Ashley Spurgeon is a lifelong TV fan — nay, expert — and with her recurring television and pop-culture column "And Another Thing," she'll tell you what to watch, what to skip, and what's worth thinking more about.
You know, I just can’t stop watching British murder shows these days. Maybe it’s the damp-leaf weather, the algorithm finally realizing how boring I truly am and that I will never, under any circumstances, watch Ted Lasso. Mostly it’s because British murder shows are awesome. If I haven’t totally sold you on the genre yet, I’m going to give it one last shot, something with a little different flavor from the rest. The series I’m flogging this week is Midsomer Murders and, now that the internet-ordained “Spooky Season” has officially begun, I think we can all take a moment to enjoy its theme tune, a jaunty little theremin waltz through an English village stuffed to the eaves with corpses.
Oooh, how chilling!
Unlike your Marples and Poirots and Father Browns, these village murders are solved by actual law enforcement officials — I’m not going to pretend to care about the minute differences between British and American police, because you only need to know two things: One, they obviously have different laws about search warrants than we do, and two, they use entirely too many words for all their titles over there. From 1997 to 2011, the Midsomer murders were solved by Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and assorted “Detective Sergeants.”
They work for the make-believe Midsomer Constabulary to solve very strange, very macabre murders that happen all around fictional Midsomer County, Rural England. This fictional county is not unlike Cabot’s Cove, the old stomping grounds of one Miss Jessica Fletcher, amateur sleuth and novelist. Both settings have had hardcore nerds crunch the numbers, showing that if such places were real, the murder rate per capita would be something along the lines of Egyptian firstborns right before Exodus.
Midsomer Murders is simply one of the funniest shows about darkness there is. The theme tune is a pretty big hint that the action within will be equal parts tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top. Hey — did you like Edgar Wright’s 2007 cop parody Hot Fuzz? Then you will love Midsomer Murders, where they did the “Oh my heavens, there’s a bunch of killings just before the Best Village competition!” plotline a full seven years before — just sayin’. And, just like the climax of Hot Fuzz features Timothy Dalton hilariously impaling his jaw on model-village architecture, so too does Midsomer Murders lean into high-camp gore. Hey, wanna see Orlando Bloom get impaled by a pitchfork? I know you do:
“Best Midsomer Murders Deaths” is a content subgenre of its own, because the well is just that deep. Pushing 130 episodes (Series 22 is currently airing in the U.K.), we’ve seen death by cheese wheel, death by tampering with a stage prop resulting in an actor slicing his own throat in front of an audience, death by shootings, stabbings, bludgeonings, bombings, poisonings, and, of course, the ol’ hatpin-through-the-ear trick.
One of my favorite episodes, still, is the first: “The Killings at Badger's Drift.” It sets the scene admirably and, because it’s 1998, Detective Sergeant Troy (Daniel Casey) sports a primo late-’90s butt cut — watch the early seasons for his hair alone. All of the elements that create the perfect are already here: Villagers so eccentric they cross over to bizarre (but are they suspects?), an escalating series of killings, and motives so twisted you feel the need to double-check this isn’t a Ryan Murphy show.
Something I’ve always found relatable about the small English village stereotypes is just how close they are to the small Southern town stereotypes. No, our churches aren’t as historical, our gardens aren’t as stately; our wealthy old land-owning families aren’t anywhere near as inbred. But still, no matter where you live in the world, country life is country life, and Midsomer Murders is more than happy to work with all the stock characters and bucolic ephemera. , religious quarreling and your general malignant atmosphere of secrets, lies and devastating backstory.
More than anything, though, this show is really dedicated to the murders. Our cast of detectives has changed, through necessity, over the past two decades. (When Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby left, he was replaced by DCI John Barnaby — a character they decided was his cousin, the absolute madlads. And Barnaby II is played by Neil Dudgeon, who formerly appeared on the series as a randy gardener. TV is fun!) So even though we know a bit about personalities and home lives, the crime solvers aren’t the real focus, but the crimes. Midsomer Murders is a true whodunit, and the “it” is probably going to be pretty darn fun to watch.
And yes, of course — the traditional candlestick has also been used as the weapon of choice.