TV on DVD: Midsomer Murders -- Set 13 (2006-2007)

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Read Jen's Review of Set 12

Obviously one could argue that nobody leaves the deceptively old-fashioned English country village of Midsomer without stumbling onto a corpse in the this beloved long-running TV series. However, in the American debut of the four episodes contained in the newly released thirteenth set of Midsomer Murders, we discover that "nobody leaves this place without singing the blues" either. Yet, we're quick to ascertain that a ditty about Elisabeth Shue's Adventures in Babysitting just isn't going to do the trick.

For in the last standalone mystery included in the slim-packaged set, we learn that even our traditionally wise, soft-spoken and gentlemanly hero Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) hasn't quite outgrown the glory days of hard-drinking guitar hero axe-men who epitomized the rock 'n roll lifestyle. Yet Barnaby has to leave his fandom behind when Barnaby and his sharp, young sidekick, Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) must get involved with the music world in a professional capacity after one member rocks until she drops onstage. Soon Barnaby's favorite musicians quickly begin to see the blues of their ways when their unnatural body count increases now that they're out of tune and in the deadly village of Midsomer.

Although the old mystery cliche has always been that everyone is a suspect, in Midsomer Murders, this is a particularly significant truism as often, one body or disappearance evolves into a deadly spree, usually wrapped up with a few motives and accomplices in each roughly one hundred minute release. In this edition, we're treated to four more twist filled, highly complex and offbeat village mysteries that at times seem to give Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot a run for their money with their epic turns of events one hardly sees coming.

The set consists of the first half of the tenth season which hadn't been previously broadcast in the United States and once again Acorn Media's strikingly cinematic installment comes complete with beautiful transfer quality, a 16x9 widescreen aspect ratio, excellent Dolby Digital sound and SDH subtitles.

Inspired by the novels of the dubbed "modern master of the English village mystery," Ms. Caroline Graham, the perennial hit garners additional fans of all backgrounds with each set release and season as more than ten seasons and sixty-five full-length standalone episodes have been produced. Likewise as Acorn's release cites, Her Majesty, the Queen of England "never misses an episode" and when Johnny Depp was filming Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, he became an ardent fan as well.

Aside from our main detective heroes and Tom Barnaby's loyal family including his wife and grown daughter whose plotlines never significantly change enough so that newcomers would be lost in their initial visit to Midsomer Murders, there's a revolving door of new characters and A-list actors who show up throughout the many ghastly and surprising crimes.

Yet despite a recurring undertone that finds the root or themes behind the crimes stemming from kinky impulses and perverse affairs, the style of the show is always bright, inviting, and addictive without fixating too heavily on gore or the nearly inevitable sordid details of a victim or criminal.

Appealing to audiences of all ages with extensive red-herrings and subplots, Midsomer Murders thrives when it's making your Poirot like "little gray cells" work overtime in assessing which ones simply add to the confusion and which are extremely revealing and may therefore lead to the solution.

The first episode Dance with the Dead cleverly calls up the psychological wounds of World War II during the contemporary investigation of the disappearance of an enigmatic and unlikely femme fatale whose peculiarly alluring existence seems to have deeply impacted the life of every resident.

While in that particular case, we're absolutely flooded with suspects, the set's standout second title The Animal Within is much more subtle and opens with an irresistible set-up as an eccentric old man vanishes on the very same day that his American niece-- whom all the locals believed had been killed three years earlier-- arrives to visit the uncle she's never officially met face-to-face.

Unlike the first episode which pushed you away from a majority of the characters, Animal draws you in as we keep hoping certain endearing individuals aren't somehow involved with the eventual death of the uncle as Barnaby and Jones focus on his circle of family and friends.

Family is at the heart of the overly Hamlet inspired third film King's Crystal which centers on the anger a son has when his mother weds his uncle far too soon after his father's death and malicious behavior ensues when he makes the decision to stage Hamlet, taking Midsomer Murders into an uneven and far too obvious literary homage.

Yet it bounces back with The Axeman Cometh, the strongest offering after Animal as the festival of blues greats morphs into the days the musicians died, however, this one feels like a more natural plot change than the Shakespearean twist, due to our need to once again break down the walls of our leads and be let in a bit as well as suddenly baffled by one truly well-written twisting and turn-filled screenplay.

Although it does ask us to suspend logic a couple of times regarding police procedure (and common sense) in the complicated denouement which moves from one setting to yet another in a handful of times, it's a satisfying finish to another intelligent selection of Midsomer cases.

Still, admittedly I'm unsure just how long the cast and writers will keep this series going since the detectives never really get the chance to have a multi-episode arc and one wonders when the writers will begin running out of surprisingly malevolent characters and motives that often come from the villain and victims' past. Yet luckily the quality is still high for now and Midsomer hasn't started singing the blues yet, even if they must be running out of cemetery space by this-- the tenth season-- and thirteen set.

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