January 25, 2008 Jill

MurdochMurdoch Mysteries, which premiered in Toronto last night and around the country on other nights this week, knows just what kind of a show it is and shares that information with us right up front in the teaser.

The opening episode “Power” written by RB Carney, is a typisode; just an ordinary episode of the series with no setup elements. But we don’t need them to understand exactly what this series is.

The first shot is of a man is juggling lightning bolts. A carnival atmosphere surrounds him. Smoke and flares wow the crowd in their hats, ties and long dresses. We know immediately we’re in for some light-hearted entertainment. Leave your cynicism back in the year 2008. Murdoch Mysteries is gentle, old fashioned series in which the era (late 1800s) is a pervasive and satisfying story element.

The opening has a great lick in which we are led to believe that a dog is about to be killed. The lovely wide-eyed Edna pleads with police officer George Crabtree to help her save the dog’s life. Alas, George’s hands are tied and the dog is lead onto stage where the demonstration of alternating current is designed to electrocute the poor beast.

The stakes are a dog’s life. He’s going to be killed before our very eyes. It is very compelling; you can’t help but move to the edge of your seat and worry.

And the switch is thrown. The dog is still alive! A moment of relief, until we notice that the beauty queen who threw the switch is writhing and twitching, unable to let go of the handle.

She is the one who has been electrocuted.

She is the one who has died as we watched.

It’s an incident we’ve never seen before.

The story has already given us two sharp turns and we’re not even out of the teaser. We have also already been introduced to all the major players in the episode as well as Nikola Tesla, the Serbian electrical engineer who demonstrated wireless communication way back in 1893.

The teaser immerses us in the story elements that make the show: science, mystery, romance and the peculiarities of life at the turn of the last century.

In terms of the mystery element, there is no greater master of the art of creating the mystery than Murdoch showrunner Cal Coons who has fashioned dozens and dozens of television mystery plots in his day. The series is styled in the tradition of Agatha Christie, offering up a whodunit that we can try to solve along with Murdoch. If Murdoch falters in his investigation it is only because the writers are giving us a chance to catch up.

An old fashioned solve-along murder mystery always offers up the suspects early and so does Murdoch. In this first episode, there are three possible murderers. We meet all of them in the tease. In the acts that follow, suspicion falls on one after the other as new evidence comes to light. We can play along, guessing what each new piece of evidence means and developing our own theory of the crime. The mystery is very accessible and is written to invite us in, to play along and figure it out with Murdoch, who always shares his reasoning with us.

The science is cool and quirky. Science as a story element is in no way novel these days. CSI and mysteries of the a similar ilk have immersed us in cutting edge science. But Murdoch has it’s own unique take on science. It views it from a historical point of view. And the science at the turn of the last century is actually even cooler than it is now. Tesla was a man way before his time and his appearance in this first-to-air episode lets the science geeks among us know this show is for them.

But not just for them.Because the romantic story line that plays quite prominently in this episode draws a quite different crowd to the screen. There is a beautiful sequence when Edna opens her door to find George Crabtree standing there with a pot of violets. She rebuffs his advanced until he tells her that the flowers aren’t for her. They’re for her dog. He invites the dog for a walk and begs Edna to come along as chaperone. This charming and original scene is enough to hook any fan of the chick lit genre.

And there’s one more story element in Murdoch that’s sure to please. That’s the era. The setting, in the late 1800s, infuses every element of the story. It’s not just in the costumes. The plot itself revolves around the move from direct to alternating current; an event of the time period. The way the characters interact is rooted in the time. The series seems to be written with a wide-eyed optimism; a kind of turn-of-the-last-century cheerful confidence that anything is possible and everything will turn out well. Even the dialogue has been shaped to convey an old fashioned ness.

Seeing how communication and transportation are achieved back then is pretty fascinating. In the same way we’re wowed by cutting edge science and technology in a CSI, Murdoch’s 19th century methods are really intriguing, but also funny. We can’t help but laugh when we see Murdoch on his bike. We need to know how he will accomplish ordinary tasks without his cell phone. How is a romance conducted when the doors to a young lady’s boarding house are locked at 10 pm?

From a screenwriting point of view, I suspect the era is a real challenge and a lot of fun to work with. Murdoch certainly makes it fun to watch.

Murdoch gives us a real wealth of story elements in an anthology format. Between the science, romance, mystery, history and humour we have every reason to go back to this show week after week.

Comments (16)

  1. Helen Derry

    I thought the show was really well done. You learn some historical facts and witness stereotyping that was totally ok at the time. Well acted and great sets. Very enjoyable!
    Thanks for some thought provoking entertainment.

  2. Susan A.

    I have been a follower of Maureen Jennings Murdoch Mysteries books and have read them all to date. I know this first episode of the new series that aired on Thursday, was not based on any story line from of her novels, and I was surprised, but found it very enjoyable. There is a lot of story that has to be stuffed into an hour’s programme. I was under the assumption that this was to be series of hour long episodes but was disappointed to see in this week’s Toronto Star TV programming, it was not listed at the same time on this coming Thursday evening. I hope this series will continue on a regular basis.

  3. Elaine A

    The series is on a regular basis… some clerk at the broadcaster made a error when he submit the schedule… As for the show it’s based on the character of Maureen Jennings it’s not the novels made for the series.

  4. admin

    There was indeed a tv guide screwup with the air dates and times. Murdoch Mysteries is airing in the Toronto region tonight (Thursday) at 10 o’clock.

  5. Janelle Farnham

    Is there any way that we can see this series in the U.S.? It sounds like a very intriguing show, and I’d love to see it. If there is a way, someone please post a reply. Thanks.

  6. drsquid

    Has anyone seen Life on Mars ,the British cop show…
    It seems that Murdoch Mysteries has blantantly lifted certain elements wholesale from the show….even certain scenes are almost identical….yes the period the shows are set etc and plot lines of the cases that are solved are totally different, but the dynamic between Murdoch and his boss, the character of the boss, the fact that Murdoch has the 2 allies in the woman and the inexperienced cop….

    And if in doubt just try typing in ‘Murdoch Mysteries and Life on Mars’ in google..you’ll find the blog of the husband of the author of the books that the show is based on admitting that he gave the producers the Life on Mars DVD box set to watch and that

    ‘loved Life On Mars so much she has now made it required viewing for all the writers on the Murdoch series. Our show is set in Victorian Toronto 1895, and Life on Mars is set in Manchester UK 1970’s. No comparison. But the tone of the show is what she wants to capture.’


  7. lorenne

    Why cant they air the show in America too?
    Many of our shows air in both Canada&America,so why cant this one?I really am dying 2 c it!let me know please

  8. yannick fan

    does anyone know if Murdoch Mysteries has been renewed for another season?

  9. admin

    Yes, Murdoch was renewed and the writing team is together right now creating more shows for our viewing pleasure.

  10. Gina Tober

    I really enjoyed this show as did my son and husband. Love this period piece, the actors, and the storylines. I’m so relieved to hear it has been renewed and the writers are busy creating new shows. Can’t wait! Any idea when they will starting airing them?

    Also — it REALLY doesn’t hurt that Yannick Bisson is Murdoch.

  11. Ray Johnson

    The men’s costumes are a pale imitation of how men dressed in that period. Murdoch wears soft floppy collars in the show, which look very out of place with the rest of his outfit. All men wore high stiff detachable collars, usually so heavily starched that they gleamed. I never understand why these big productions pay so little attention to details like this. There is always soe costume fanatic who will notice.

  12. Louise

    Could you please tell me when season #2 for Murdoch Mysteries will air? Thank you.

  13. Racquel

    Murdock mysteries is a refreshing change from the constant barage of american reality shows.hollywood has forgotten how to make great TV.Canada has not.Cheers to one of the best kept secrets on air.Murdock Mysteries.Cheers a fan for sure.

  14. B Keene

    just watched the latest episode on alibi what on earth are the script writers up to?
    Murdoch has just thrown Dr Ogden over for a widow!
    Having only recently become a convert I hope this doesn’t set the scene for the rest of the series
    someone who has actually read the books please let me know!

  15. Julia--17

    does anyone know when series 3 starts in the uk? my tuesdays are not going to be the same without my dose of murdoch! so glad he threw Enid out thr door! in comparison to Dr. Ogden? pah! they’ve got the chemistry that makes your heart melt!
    [huge murdoch fan] =)

  16. Pat

    So glad to find this page with good comments as well as your insightful article, Jill. I too am a big Murdoch fan and am currently going through the throes of wishing Julia would say tohadeswithit and decide to leave town, and guessing Murdoch will be able to adopt progressive attitudes to match his keen pursuit of new science. Love the way Julia teases him; Helene Joy is perfect in the subtleties of her part. Brackenreid and Crabtree just get better and better, and Murdoch has that special quality of good actors who can express their thoughts with their eyes. To sum up, MM has the touch of genuine humanity that’s missing from so many shows today. Great balance of “sense and sensibility”!

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