Blu-ray Review: Midsomer Murders (Series 16 & 17)



Too many police shows in America are based around sleek techno cops hunting for clues in urban wastelands. Where’s the visual fun in that? Just because there’s a killing on the screen doesn’t mean the viewers can’t look around the body and see the perfect location for their next vacation. Midsomer Murders is perfect for people who like their Whodunit mixed with real estate they’d catch on an HGTV exotic home hunting series. Midsomer Murders has been gaining an audience over the last few years thanks to a PBS audience looking for episodes to hold them over until the next season of Downton Abbey. Those who had been following the episodes via home video have noticed that a lot of the episodes are put out in “sets” that don’t quite correspond with actual seasons or “series” as they are called in England. Acorn is correcting that discrepancy by reissuing previous episodes in proper series sets. Midsomer Murders: Series 16 & Series 17 gives us something old and something new from the land where the homicide count grows as tall as the estate bushes.

The good news for fans is that Series 16 was originally released as Set 25 on February, 2014. This means if a new fan to the series doesn’t need to worry about what’s inside the boxset. If you previous bought Series 15, you’ll be missing no episodes. The set marks another change on the long running show.

Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) is back working the homicides that crop up in the quaint Midsomer county. Among the traditional English countryside is a lot of treacherous locals. Sometimes it is hard to tell the local color from raving psychopaths. There is a new face on the force with the arrival of Detective Sergeant Charlie Nelson (Gwilym Lee). He’s a younger guy with a bit of a beatnik style with his light beard and sweater look. He arrives just in time for the holiday homicide of “The Christmas Haunting.” Excited folks are ghost hunting in the witching hour. They’re looking for the ghost of a blacksmith’s daughter who is supposedly looking for revenge. Somebody dies and DCI Barnaby isn’t going to pin this on the ghost. The only thing that haunts him is the memory of his old DS. But Barnaby gives Nelson a chance to prove he can adapt to countryside crime where you can’t overwhelm the murder room like an episode of CSI. They quickly realize the victim had enough living suspects that wanted him dead. There is quite a bit of home action for Barnaby since his wife is in the final months of her pregnancy.

“Let Us Prey” brings a touch of the Spanish Inquisition to England. Turns out a sweet church has had some rather gruesome old frescoes in a crypt. That’s normally just historic weirdness except some local is reenacting the tortures depicted in modern times. Making matters worse is a major weather event that might wash away the suspect’s trail. “Wild Harvest” features a farmer that has been mauled to death by a wild boar. Normally this isn’t a homicide and just reasoned as nature being nature. However the farmer is dripping in truffle oil. Wild Boar aren’t known for their seasonings. This scent leads Barnaby to a famous chef nearby. This does sound like a murder pot concocted by Anthony Bourdain. “The Flying Club” opens when a parachute doesn’t work for the owner of a small airfield. Who made this birdman drop like an egg? Could be the older residents who hate the sounds of airplanes messing with their country life. There’s also dark secrets involving the the victim and his soaring past.

“The Killings of Copenhagen” is the celebrated 100th episode. A man in a Copenhagen hotel gets a tin of cookies that’s been mailed to him. Within a few minutes, he is dead. How could he die so quick? Turns out the tin was coated with strychnine. How does this tie back to Midsomer? Turns out that the dead guy owned a cookie company back in England and the tin was mailed from home. This leads to Barnaby and Nelson investigating the biggest English-Danish homicide event since Hamlet. Making matters more pressing for Barnaby is that his wife is about to hit her due date. The Danish investigative crew are part of their version of The Killing.

Midsomer Murders: Series 17 contains the four episodes that made up the most recent series that aired on ITV at the start of the year. The main investigators are still DCI John Barnaby and DS Charles Nelson. The duo are working off a fine chemistry. Barnaby is coming to grips with having a newborn in his house so he’s less up for babying Nelson on cases. The four movie-length episodes are equally absorbing as they find those topics that make small towns in England so charming. They’re places to make wine, write your novel, sing your folk song and join a cult.

“The Dagger Club” is a murder mystery about a murder mystery writer who may or may not be dead. Someone with his discovered lost novel gets fried when playing a roulette wheel that showed up in the mail. The book’s reveal was going to be a major part of a literary festival in the small town. There’s also a lot at stake with the return of the manuscript. It’s more desired than collaring the real killer. “Murder by Magic” answers the question of what if Criss Angel hit the set of Doc Martin. His big stunt turns him into a slice of cheese. Turns out wires were sabotaged. Who would kill him? Turns out the neighborhood pagans aren’t happy at their sacred sights being used by a third rate mind freak. “The Ballad of Midsomer County” has a folk festival get messed up when the director is drowned in a bowl of eggs and eels. Why? Because this is a clue that has to do with a song about the area. There’s quite a few suspects since the guy wasn’t well loved and had announced the festival was moving closer to London. The episode really does feel like it was filmed at a folk festival. “A Vintage Murder” proves there’s treachery in the wine making business. First a local critic hates the latest batch from the local winery. This gets worse when a few people die from the vino. It’s up to DCI Barnaby to save the industry.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The 1080p resolution really brings out the charms of the English countryside and the manors. The audio is 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The sound levels transport you into the tranquility of the well kept gardens. The episodes are subtitled.

Gwilym Lee Interview (9:07) lets him discuss entering a show that’s distributed around the world. He seems awed and comfortable being a part of a show that has hit 100 episodes. He senses the popularity of the show is the landscapes and manor houses.

Behind the Scenes (23:06) focuses on the changes on the show as it nears 100. They talk of creating the character of DS Nelson.

Celebrating 100 Episodes (17:08) covers the history of the series through out the year. It’s a fine primer for new fans.

Photo Gallery (2:02) is a montage of production stills including the cast going to Denmark.

Acorn Media presents Midsomer Murders: Series 16. Starring: Neil Dudgeon and Gwilyn Lee. Boxset Contents: 5 Episodes on 3 Blu-rays. Released: September 15, 2015.

Murder By Magic – The Actors (9:14) covers the huge cast that makes up the small county population in the episode.

Murder By Magic – The Trick (7:26) allows Dudgeon to talk about the pagan cult and the trick they didn’t like. They break down how they made the illusion work on the shoot.

Behind the Scenes (10:25) give the details of “The Ballad of Midsomer County.” They talk about using the music to drive the murderous plots. Dudgeon admits he can’t play an instrument so that couldn’t be part of way he solves the case.

Acorn Media presents Midsomer Murders: Series 17. Starring: Neil Dudgeon and Gwilyn Lee. Boxset Contents: 4 Episodes on 2 Blu-rays. Released: September 15, 2015.

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