“Sunshine makes the best bleach.”
To begin, let’s go ahead and differentiate between some of the terminology used in designating the Midsomer Murders collections. They are considered Sets and Series. A “Set” refers to a release which contains part of a season’s collection of episodes, usually about half. “Series” refers to what we in America call a season, and when one of the collections is released as a series then it’s the assembly of all the episodes which comprise that season. It can be confusing, so let’s simplify things. For the purposes of this review Midsomer Murders: Set 24 is the last three episodes from Series 15, which first aired in 2012.
Linking all the episodes is the setting of each — the English countryside, specifically the mythical Midsomer County region. There are likewise three characters inspired by Caroline Graham’s crime novels who tie the episodes together. Leading the trio is DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon, The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries), the mild-mannered boss who works out cases with a twinkle in his eye and a bit of a droll sense of humor. Next up is his partner, DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes, Dead Long Enough), who has evolved into an ever more competent detective over his run on the show and who shows a nice amount of respect and deference to his boss while occasionally being a bit cheeky. Lastly we have Barnaby’s wife, Sarah (Fiona Dolman, Ultraviolet), who tries to keep John from turning their house into the pack rat’s heaven John would love, while serving as his sounding board and intermittent yoga partner.
The defining trait of Midsomer Murders is also its most contentious element: the lack of pomp and circumstance. There are no flashy montages of forensic analyses set to the latest pop or techno beat, no fast swipe cuts or high speed chases. Instead there are interviews, trips to look at crime scenes, and glimpses into not only the investigators’ lives but also those of the potential suspects/victims. Set 24 once again features three episodes with any number of suspects along the way and only within the last 15 minutes do we understand every element of the crimes.
* “Written in the Stars” — When an amateur astronomer is killed during a public viewing of a solar eclipse it sparks a series of events including a psychic’s revelation she predicted the astronomer’s death.
* “The Sicilian Defense” — A hated chess player’s murder is somehow linked to an attack a year previous which left one person missing and another in a coma.
* “Schooled in Murder” — A non-traditional mom causes a ruckus at a parent-teacher meeting mere hours before her murder, leaving behind the secrets she threatened to expose.
The writing and acting are high caliber, to be sure. This is an enduring English crime drama for good reason and it is easily accessible for a variety of viewers, so long as you enjoy a good murder mystery. It’s easy to recommend, though I do understand the limitations offering merely half a season at a time places on the consumer, especially the completists out there like me.
As with the other sets, there is virtually no color timing, leaving the video transfer with a natural palette favoring pale earth tones. The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer fills the screen nicely and there are none of the little annoyances like compression artefacting which can plague a set. That’s due in large part to the placement of each episode on its own disc. The Dolby 2.0 audio track would normally be a little soft, but isn’t here. The lack of music cues and an ever-present soundtrack means the dialogue is given room to breathe, as is the ambient noise of the countryside. Their absence is definitely to the track’s benefit.
The lone special feature is a biography on Sykes, the Barnaby’s dog. It’s a couple pages you can click through.
Whether or not you make a purchase will be determined by how patient you are. Can you wait for Series 15 to be released on its own? At the rate the studio is going it will be 2017 before that happens. What about wanting the series on Blu-ray? That day is far off as well. So if you want these episodes now and don’t want to stream them, go ahead and purchase Midsomer Murders: Set 24, especially if you’ve already picked up Set 23. Otherwise cool your jets and wait for the edition and format you really want.