I'm going to start doing an erratic and occasional guide to TV mysteries I watch, because I've wanted to do this for a while. Most of these are available (or were available) on Netflix or www.acorn.tv
Martha's Guide to TV Mysteries Part I
Defining my terms:
snuff porn - showing murders in such loving detail you want to report the producers to the police.
women in jep - spending what feels like hours, or maybe days, watching women being stalked by the killer or held prisoner instead of watching people solve mysteries. For example, The Fall with Gillian Anderson is highly rated but the first ten minutes were such an egregious example of woman in jep I turned it off.
I try to avoid things with animal harm. To the point where if a potential murder victim has a pet animal I'll preemptively turn off the show. Some things may slip by me if it's quick and not drawn out (see snuff porn).
Miss. Fisher's Mysteries - This is set in the 20s, in Australia, a woman whose family inherited money and a title after WWI returns to Australia and ends up becoming a private detective. It's a good series, and very well acted, but it's from a long-running book series by Kerry Greenwood, and the tv version is whitewashed. In the book series, the main love interest is Lin Chung, who Phryne meets in Ruddy Gore and is her lover for the rest of the series, though he isn't in every book. (Their relationship isn't exclusive. Lin has to marry to please his family and Phryne has other lovers.) In the books, Jack Robinson is an older married man, and he and Phryne are only friends. So I watch it, but this pisses me off, and the books are better.
Copper - This one is centered around an Irish police officer and friends in 1860s New York, and it doesn't sugarcoat the violence and brutality and racism of the time period. In the first episode, Ato Essandoh, who plays a doctor, John Freeman, one of the main characters, is moving out of town because members of his wife's family were lynched in front of their house in a race riot. Characterization develops slowly but dramatically, terrible things happen to main characters, main characters do terrible things to other main characters (including murdering each other), people you think are good are gradually revealed to be something else entirely (usually murderers), trauma doesn't magically go away at the end of the episode. It's good, but we're talking a more realistic Game of Thrones level violence here, people. After a murder spree in the first episode of the second season, I had to stop watching because my nerves couldn't take it.
Wire in the Blood - is from about 2002-2008 and set during that time, in the UK, where Dr. Tony Hill is a criminal psychologist who helps DI Carol Jordan (for the first 3 seasons, then it's DI Alex Fielding) catch a wide variety of bizarre serial killers. It's pretty grim throughout, but with only a few exceptions it focuses on the detectives trying to find the killers, and doesn't spend much time in snuff porn or women in jeopardy storylines. (I think there's one real women in jep episode in a later season, but that's all I remember.) Also, the actress who plays Carol Jordan is awesome. It isn't a perfect series but I liked this one a lot, and it specializes in genuinely scary scenarios and character drama that works with the mystery plot. I would watch it again if Netflix ever puts it up again.
Waking the Dead - this is a modern-day one about a special forensics cold case team. Who yell at each other a lot, especially in the first season, and make some seriously odd decisions. It was okay and does get better later, but I didn't find the stories that gripping, though the acting was very good.
Miss Marple - there's old Miss Marple and new Miss Marple, with three different actresses playing Miss Marple, and it's all good. My favorite is probably the first three seasons of new Miss Marple (or Agatha Christie's Marple as it's called), played by Geraldine McEwan. McEwan plays a Miss Marple who is funny and fluffy and utterly without mercy. There's a line in one of the books where Miss Marple says something like "I'm going to enjoy knowing that he's going to hang," and McEwan is playing that Miss Marple.
Poirot - Poirot is awesome, new and old, played by David Suchet. I especially love the moments where we see that for all his affectations, Poirot is an implacable force.
Luther - One of my favorites. John Luther is played by Idris Elba, which is probably all I need to say. It's set in modern day London, violent and grim, especially the first season, but it has one of the most terrifying/awesome female serial killers as a recurring character. It doesn't use her very effectively in the second season, but she comes back for an episode in the third that is probably my all time favorite. Luther himself is also less tortured in the third season, where he's recovered from what happened in the first, and is using his abilities a lot more effectively, I thought.
Broadchurch is on Netflix and I highly recommend it. Make sure you have eight hours or so free before you start watching the first episode. It moves fast, is very intense (but has no onscreen violence). It's about a small vacation town on the coast of the UK, where an eleven year old boy is found murdered on the beach. Alec Hardy (David Tennant), a recently arrived DI and Ellie (the DS who should have had his job) have to investigate the case, and the town is so small Ellie finds herself having to investigate her own friends and people she's known all her life. There's going to be a sequel series in March, but this first 8 episode series is a complete story. (ETA: I've just remembered, they do show the murder at the end, but that's about it, I think.)
Con News and Mystery Guide
July 10th, 2014