Over the years, I've made it a rule to avoid trying to jump into television series if I've missed more than one episode. And luckily, when you consider DVD, Netflix, and DVRs, this belief in respecting the creative vision of those behind the series has been fairly simple to maintain.
Or at least my rule was easy to follow before I became acquainted with British programming through companies like Acorn Media and the BBC. After this auspicious event, everything flew out the window as new concepts like “standalone episodes,” six to eight episode sets and series became a fixture in my life. And it's one that has continued to hook me until I couldn't help but agree to jump right on in to a series like Midsomer Murders over a decade after it hit the air.
As previously described, the series is a cross between Murder, She Wrote with a Stepford twist. Set in an idyllic village, as the title connotes, murder and mayhem lurk around the shrubbery and behind the tea kettles on a fairly regular basis. While the constant connections to Jessica Fletcher's personal life were a bit hard to believe in Murder, She Wrote, everything about Midsomer works as it's become one of the UK's most popular exports since Monty Python, gaining new fans and vicarious residents with each new release.
Counting everyone from Johnny Depp to Her Majesty, The Queen as devoted viewers, I myself became quite caught up with the most recent sets of the series from Acorn Media which introduced me to our likable working class hero with a gentlemanly manner, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and his partner, Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes).
Originally inspired and indeed based on the series of novels by Caroline Graham, the series paradigm is easy enough to grasp as we often discover our initial victim along with the inspectors before more bodies and secrets come tumbling out of Midsomers' woodwork, usually centering on mistakes from the past.
Surprisingly kinky and macabre underneath its pleasant surface-- having felt like I'd gotten the series down pat, it was quite a surprise to me to experience the differences evidenced in the whopping seventeen mysteries included in this nineteen disc edition. Barnaby's Casebook contains the same cases released earlier on Acorn DVD as Sets 4, 6-8 as the company received the rights in a different order than the way they'd been originally broadcast in the UK.
Following up the first Early Cases mega-set, Barnaby's Casebook provides a more definitive version of Midsomers' early years. And for relative newcomers like this reviewer, it was a thrill to meet Barnaby's two previous partners prior to Ben Jones, which I experienced for the first time via this collection. Likewise, the fact that Barnaby's Casebook arrived in between the latest installments from the newest episodes of Midsomer made it all the more enjoyable to contrast and compare sidekicks.
Since Jones was one of my first "allies" in the series as a viewer and perhaps because we're always stunned to learn just whom is hiding what or whom from everyone else, he's still my personal favorite. This being said, I still appreciated the different personality defining characteristics in all three from the slightly Dudley Do-Right, good-natured air of the bad driver but unfailingly loyal Sergeant Troy (Daniel Casey) as well as the intelligence of the arrogant city boy Sergeant Dan Scott (John Hopkins) who takes an episode or two for viewers-- as well as Barnaby-- to warm up to during the series.
While structurally speaking, the Midsomers plot paradigm hasn't changed all that much throughout the seasons but the style of mysteries have as these episodes marked a more innocent and closer tie to Murder, She Wrote than the later shows do possibly because the emphasis isn't quite as focused on some kinky twists and outright character revealing shocks as if some of the residents were all playing roles at a masquerade ball.
And while again, they're still twist and body-filled as ever as one corpse leads to the next like a wicked game of dominoes, I couldn't help but appreciate the fact that I was less lost in some of the cases in the collection and at times, able to not only intuitively guess the culprit(s) but also uncover exactly what kind of weapon Colonel Mustard used in which room and for what purpose as well a la Clue.
While normally this would be a shortcoming, in this series it isn't at all as the cases still thrill and manage to engage your intellect several times over with a few downright standout surprise twists that I won't reference so as not to tip you off. Yet nonetheless it was nice to feel a bit more involved in some mysteries which weren't as convoluted as some of the most (in)famous episodes of current day that would even baffle Hercule Poirot working alongside Sherlock Holmes instead of Mr. Watson.
Although I've purposely avoided spoilers in this review, you may want to be extra careful as you watch, avoiding the bonus features until you've seen the collection through as a few secrets do come tumbling out in the documentary of the first decade entitled Super Sleuths and also when actor John Nettles leads you on a tour of the fictitious setting and shooting locations.
Originally released around the holidays, in my eyes and with my Agatha Christie loving mom in mind, I'd say that the scenic beauty, gentle humor and complex crimes that you may need to view twice to fully unravel as easy as knocking down that stack of dominoes make Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Casebook a great choice for Mother's Day since even the Queen Mum would no doubt have it on her wish list.
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