Thursday, May 17, 2018

Midsomer Musings

DCI Tom Barnaby and DS Jones

I just got through binge-watching 20 full seasons of Midsomer Murders, a mystery series set somewhere in central England in a fictitious county called Midsomer. I won't tell you how long it took me to watch because it would shock you. Deeply. I was even so engrossed I was willing to PAY for Acorn TV so I could get the 20th current season, which Netflix doesn't carry. Luckily for me, though Acorn was lousy at streaming (at least on the first ep), I discovered that I was already paying for Britbox, which is where Season 20 is also located.

Joyce, Tom and Cully

A recent article compared the TV communities of Midsomer, Cabot Cove, Maine, and Melbourne, Australia, to see which one had the most murders. Midsomer came in with a rate three times normal (what, only three?), while Phryne Fisher's Melbourne was positively on target. Jessica Fletcher's little village easily won the day with the most bloodshed. USA! USA! That doesn't mean that Midsomer doesn't TRY.

Midsomer falls under the supervision of Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, who is married and has a daughter. But there are TWO Barnabys. Back in 1998 it was Tom, played by John Nettles. His wife, Joyce, had the by-god ugliest hairdo I've ever seen, and maintained it for the time she was on the show, though eventually someone puffed it up with a tad more volume. Their grown daughter, Cully, also had an awful hairdo similar to Mom's, but she grew out of it. She was an actress (often between gigs) who somehow managed to know the details of the neighborhoods Tom didn't have access to. When Cully wasn't around it was up to dull ol' Joyce to join the proper charity so she'd know when to add the right hint that would trigger Tom to crack the mystery.

DS Nelson, Dr. Kam Karimore, and John

Season 13 briefly introduced us to Tom's DCI cousin John (Neil Dudgeon) from Brighton, and in season 14 he moved to Midsomer to take over when Tom retired. John's wife Sarah had a lovely hairdo, I'm sure you'll appreciate, and at first her occupation in the school system didn't add much to the plot but by the end she was discovering odd pieces of useful information like crazy. The new Barnabys came with an adorable dog, Sykes. Sykes had already been a star in British commercials about dog shelters, but easily took up the role as a Dog of Mystery. But the 19th season began by showing us Sykes' grave in the Barnaby's back yard. The actual dog had merely retired, but the TV Barnabys acquired Paddy. In addition, somewhere in there the actress playing Sarah had become pregnant, so the Barnabys were blessed with little Betty.

DCI Barnaby, whichever one, has had assistants come and go. There was also a policewoman computer whiz who eventually became a detective, and of course there are the various pathologists, all of whom can do precise organic detection that stretches belief regularly. "Why yes, the victim died four hours and thirteen minutes ago due to this rare Oriental poison which no one has heard of for three hundred and five years (and nine minutes), plus this ouchie under his 124,065th hair follicle which only our electron microscope can detect."

Along with OTT characters, there are imaginative plots, crazy plots, strange plots, and almost all come with holes of various sizes. Sometimes I beat on the arms of my La-Z-Boy and scream, "No! No! That's ridiculous!" but no one on screen hears me. There've been times when I've Googled and found that it's almost impossible to die from ground glass. If it's big enough to kill you, you'll notice it in your mouth and spit it out. If it's ground so you can't feel it, it won't harm you. So that one guy shouldn't have died after all. Do they listen to me? Nooo...

Sarah, Sykes and John

Watching the series does give one a solid feel for life in typical England. Here are the things I've learned.

• Action can take place outside a house at midnight, in the pitch dark. When characters then immediately move inside to the drawing room, bright daylight can come through the window. Must be those crazy solstices over there.

• British weather can change in a nanosecond. It can be pouring rain on you as you look at a dock on the river. But a different angle at the same moment from that dock will show a lovely, sunny day. It can also be bright sun but raining buckets... though the next scene will reveal an overcast, drizzly day.

• All British houses have lots of shrubbery surrounding them. The populace is required to skulk in it and watch the houses, where drapes are either left open or missing altogether.

• British houses come in three types and three types only: The historic mansion, sprawling and ancient. The modern mansion, not quite as sprawling and boxy with lots of large, floor-to-ceiling windows and minimal interior design. The cottage or row house, which seems like a claustrophobic cave with tiny rooms and ceilings that everyone has to bend over to fit under while trying to work their way around parlors stuffed with far too much dowdy furniture.

• Though almost everyone drinks and drinks and drinks, British pubs are always on the verge of bankruptcy.

• When calling at a home, one is always immediately offered tea. This is served from a fancy tea service, which includes a tray and often delicious snackies that have been waiting. Really, people seem to keep such stuff on hand and don't have to make a special Twinkies run. Despite all this tea drinking, tea rooms are always about to go bankrupt.

• Come to think of it, EVERY business in England is about to go bankrupt.

• All Brits have done at least one thing that leaves them open to blackmail.

• The nobility are scum. The rich are scum. Kids who go to private school are scum. More than half of British priests are scum.

• Druids overrun the nation. Religious conservatives who might as well be carrying torches and pitchforks appear in equal numbers with their pagan counterparts. Both camps are fervid in their beliefs and unwilling to accept anything later than 17th Century ideas into their minds.

• All Brits are required to take midnight (or later) walks. In the middle of the night village streets experience pedestrian logjams as folks stroll about for various "medical reasons" while peeking into neighbor's windows and keeping track of everyone else's movements. From behind the shrubbery, of course.

• Villages keep a full calendar of rinky-dink "fayres" for people to attend, buy knickknacks, dance around not-necessarily-Maypoles, and be murdered at.

• The populace get around more on horses and bikes than cars. When they do drive cars, they are often sporty types.

• Roads in England are crap. I saw this when I went over. There'd be one lane to service two directions of travel. One blinks one's lights to indicate that oncoming traffic will be granted right of way. On Midsomer, this means backing up out of the way and having the car fall into a deep ditch. Every. Time.

• Towing services must be the one business in England that is NOT on the verge of bankruptcy.

• Brit murderers are skilled. They always know EXACTLY where their victim will be standing/walking/flying when their chosen Method of Execution is timed and aimed to go off. Precisely. To the millimeter. I mean, if the person hesitated or wasn't exactly on the path they thought they'd be on... (That guy who got auto-remote-controlled machine-gunned in front of his garage saw the gun shooting a path towards him. Luckily he was standing at precisely the center of the garage door so the bullets could kill him. If he'd been to the side, or had even stepped out of the way...)

• Many English people are insane. Many, many English people. When plots need a crazy person to do the job, that doesn't mean that the same episode can't bring in another crazy person who has nothing to do with the murder. Or bring in entire families (including extended members) of coo-coo ca-razy people who foam at the mouth but whom others in the community have never guessed are anything but completely sane.

• Theramin theme music is instantly recognizable. It is also missed when some directors decide against using it. Bad directors. Bad!

• Brits can't move sideways. They are physically incapable of it. They see a deadly force approaching straight-on at a reasonable speed, and they don't take a step to the left or right. They stand there or sometimes even walk toward it, and thus -- SPLOIT!!!

• Brits are required to own black hoodies. And black gloves. Black wellies to be kept in the boot of their cars if at all possible. All midnight skulking must be done in these outfits.

• Upon hearing a strange noise coming from downstairs (or someplace similar) in the middle of the night when there should be no one there, Brits refuse to phone the cops but rather rise out of bed, move toward the noise, and say, "Hello?" to announce themselves. Usually followed by, "What are YOU doing here?" SPLOIT!!!

Dr. Fleur Perkins, the current pathologist, gets
a kick out of dissecting murder victims.

• Unlike America (as seen on TV), England has people who are experiencing a variety of ages. They have babies, children, young adults, middle-aged adults, older adults, and ancient adults. Of both sexes. How weird!

• If Brits feel the need to kill someone, they ponder it a while and perhaps bend the laws of physics to do so. It comes from having too much time on their hands. For example, one midnight a woman injected her lover (no longer needed) with horse anesthetic (to implicate the local vet) to make him drowsy. Then she loaded him into the back seat of a car. A cement mixer just happened to be sitting next to that car, not churning away to keep its load from setting because after all, hey, this was midnight and the work day was far behind it. So she sets up the mixer to fill up the car halfway with cement that hadn't set yet even though it apparently had been sitting in the truck for HOURS. Her lover is still partially awake as the cement rises halfway up his chest, asphyxiating him. Just imagine: she could have merely increased the dose of the anesthetic to off him. Or bonked him on the head, like most MM murders happen. ("What are YOU doing here?" BONK!!!) (Granted, in those cases it's more: BONK!!! "What arre youuuuuu... ugh.")

• Until fairly recently, England saw a great many cases of incest. Not so much these days, thankfully.

• Until fairly recently, England was an all-white nation. Suddenly in 2011 people with brown skin moved in in sufficient numbers to make things look normal. Wonder where they'd been before that?

• Thank goodness there are strict gun laws in Britain, or the entire population would have killed each other by now! Guns are kept locked in safes and are registered within an inch of their lives... Although Great Uncle Shamus sometimes has passed an unregistered gun down through the generations...

• Since it's difficult to use a gun, murderous Brits think imaginatively. They pick up the nearest deadly thing: poison mushrooms, poison frogs, various weapon artifacts like spears, candlesticks (yawn), arrows, Neptune's trident, vats of soup, rounds of cheese... Guns are so passé! And of course ONE murder isn't enough. You must do two at least. Three is excellent. Four might be pushing things.

John, Paddy and DS Winter
And most importantly:

• British TV is only made watchable by the use of subtitles. Even then, one might have to pause the broadcast and Google to find out why Bob's your uncle.

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