Crime Diary - When good shows go bad, et tu Murdoch?

I have always been a big fan of murder mysteries. I get this from my mom with whom I used to watch Columbo when I was but a wee lad.

One of the great shows of all time is Murdoch Mysteries. Frequently when discussing Canadian productions, we use the disclaimer ‘Canadian,’ as in: “It is one of the great Canadian shows of all time.” This is a recognition that the standard for Canadian content may not necessarily be on par with the offerings of more populace nations where production budgets are much more generous.

That is not the case with Murdoch, however. It holds its own on the international front. Or at least it did.

A couple of seasons ago, it started to get slightly uneven. Last season was hit and miss.

This season, honestly, it has become a parody of itself. Monday night’s Christmas episode was almost unwatchable, as were the previous two.

When shows get long in tooth, they often become prone to navel-gazing. This was evident from the two-part season premiere in, which almost focused more on the characters’ subplots than the mystery

Shows that have perhaps overstayed their welcome also tend to start relying too heavily on the tropes that made them great.

Murdoch’s charm and character was in its unique tropes: the detective’s ahead-of-his-time homemade crime-solving gadgets; tongue-in-cheek cultural references; cameos by public figures; recurring characters; historical figures as characters; fanciful flights of imagination; and homages to classic literature and film.

There is utility in these things, but also grave danger of taking them too far. It’s like using heroin. The term “chasing the dragon,” refers to the ever-escalating craving and increased usage resulting from the desire to recapture the perfect high.

As an example, Episode 9, called “Excitable Chap,” sees the return of James Pendrick, a great character, whose tragic flaw is a penchant to blindly trust brilliant, beautiful women. Unfortunately, every time you revisit the needle, you have to up the dose. Eventually that leads to overdose as it did with Pendrick’s invention of a fountain of youth serum that turned him into a costumed Jeckyl and Hyde character. Ugh.

Just as disappointing was Episode 8, an homage to the classic comedy “Weekend at Bernies,” in which the constabulary uses a witness’s corpse to try and trap a murderer, came off as just bad.

In general terms, the erstwhile lads of Station House 4, are now more Keystone Kops than simple foils to Murdoch’s genius.

The humour has gone from clever to forced. The subplots, such as Constable Jackson’s terrible Christmas choir in the latest episode, distract instead of enhance.

Christmas episodes should be avoided like the plague, in any event.  At best they tend to be maudlin. This one was ridiculous.

An homage to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it never worked from the opening scene of Constable Crabtree inventing the graphic novel to the orphans that were more caricatures than characters, to the masked crusader with his  implausible gadgets based on Crabtree’s comic, to the Ebenezer Scrooge-inspired “Ice King” who was more Batman villain than anything else and whose icy heart was instantly melted by a completely unbelievable police rebellion against doing their jobs, this episode was seriously gag-worthy.

I hate to see great shows go bad, but if the producers of Murdoch don’t seriously up their game over the next couple of episodes, I may have to abandon the show despite my nine-and-a-half year investment in it.

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