". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Again, Canadian Television for the Win - Murdoch Mysteries

         This time it's Murdoch Mysteries, which began it's first season on Canadian television in 2008.

Constable Crabtree, Dr. Ogden, Det. Murdoch,
Inspector Brackenreid
Prior to that there were made-for-Canadian television movies, though featuring a different lead. These and the series are based on a book series by Maureen Jennings. The series has run for 9 seasons so far, and seems to still be going strong.

    . . .  First, a Netflix complaint. All summer I've waited and waited for the things I really wanted to watch out of my dvd queue to show up and they never did, series seasons for such as Borgen, Vera, DCI Banks, Scott & Bailey I'm STILL waiting for. War & Peace did arrive in July finally, just as we took off for Pennsylvania, Orphan Black's 4th season came last week . . . followed by Borgen, MONTHS after entering it into my queue. Borgen's 1st disc was supposed to arrive last Thursday. But it did NOT. However, the two next discs did arrive, on Saturday, but what use are they, since I don't have the first three episodes? Monday the first disc finally does get here -- BROKEN! So it needs to be returned an another shipped in its place. Considering how long it took for it to get here in the first place after first requesting it, who knows how long it will take for the replacement.

This is my one real dissatisfaction with Netflix. So many things one wants to see are offered in their DVD d catalog -- but either they aren't available so you must "Save" them until they do get acquired, maybe or it's a Long Wait which means who knows? or a Short Wait which can often be what a reasonable customer would consider a Long Wait. If Netflix wouldn't list these titles as available, I wouldn't ask for them and be disappointed. I can't figure out what their strategy is here.

Without what I was counting on watching, really, really, really wanting to watch on dvd there's been nothing really I wanted, including streaming, since the second season of Marco Polo and the first season of The Last Kingdom arrived streaming (both of which were seemingly made for my tastes -- they're both terrific historical fiction television series).

    . . . . Kept poking around on Netflix, of course, looking for something new instead of going back to old favorites, whose entertainment quotient has been used up by now.

Enter . . . Murdoch Mysteries.

I watched the first episodes of Murdoch Mysteries first season some years back, via Netflix. I can't remember if I saw them streaming or via dvd either. But now the series is certainly streaming from Netflix. This time the series's charm reached me. Why it eluded me in the first place I cannot say.

In other words it has all the qualities viewers seem to have responded to so strongly in long-running favorites of comfort television such as Morse, Midsomer Murders, Foyle's War, Lewis, Doc Martin and so on.

So much so that these favorites easily, seamlessly negotiate changes in the ensemble cast members, without audience recrimination. These are comfortable series, though all feature serious crime and murders, often quite grisly. With Foyle's War, there's also a stark realism in many ways that are not part of, say, as examples, such as Midsomer Murders and Lewis, with highly convoluted plotting on the part of the murderer, frequently connected to ancient mystical practices, generational vengeance and suggestions of the supernatural. Most of them, including Foyle's War's Hastings, Sussexare located in areas in which the beauties of the scenery are as much a part of the ensemble as the characters. Some of the locations such as Vera's Yorkshire, are breathtaking, or, as with Midsomer, portraits of centuries of cultivated and gardened communities, exploding with English gardens, fertile field crops, and fish-filled rivers. A significant portion of the comfort of their continuity is that, despite the grisly homicides, the primaries and their attachments themselves are generally not in personal danger, and one's knows they are not going to die -- quite the opposite of, say Happy Valley, or Broadchurch, for instance.  Though the tension of the suspense for some of the characters' fates can occasionally reach almost unbearable levels -- because we're so invested in the characters.

Issues of the day make it into Murdoch Mysteries.
Murdoch Mysteries share all of this, substituting Toronto's 1895 turn-of-the-century, still gas lit (not historic that -- Toronto's electrification of street lights and so on was already going in the 1880's). However this is something that the other series don't do: often the 1890's Toronto is given to us in what seems like sepia photography and / or the very early 'moving picture' shorts, recreated from actual historic photos and moving pictures, that then morph into colored action scenes featuring our primaries. There are quite a few innovative ways of moving story-lines, explicating character and narrative that are technologically more imaginative than the usual police mystery series.*

In some ways this mirrors the period in which the series takes place, and the character of Detective Murdoch himself. Murdoch's deeply versed and well read in the science and technology of his period, like so many really were, before the world insisted on professional specialization.  He tinkers.

   He builds devices to help himself and Dr. Julia Ogden, the forensics expert, based on the prototypes of technology that were being tried out in the day, including but not confined to lie detectors and x-ray machines. Dr. Ogden is deeply learned in her chemistry and medical science. She loves her work.

   Detective William Murdoch grew up essentially orphaned, child of mother suddenly dead and an alcoholic father who abandoned him.  He was raised in a Catholic school taught by Jesuits. Despite such a background, he doesn't carry the weight of his past as an angst-ridden moody self-destructive fellow. He doesn't drink, but he's not puritanical. He doesn't resort to the brothels that fill Gilded Age Toronto, but he's anything but a woman-hater -- though he is awkward at times. He does have a sense of humor. He's quite young. And, of course brilliant.

Nevertheless, Murdoch is a man of his time.  As forward thinking as he can be in many ways, particularly scientifically and technologically, and even with class issues, when it comes to women he seldom can understand them wanting something other than what society has already decreed they should want, how they should behave and think,  Nor does he believe they should.  Recall -- he's a member of the Catholic Church, in Canada, in Toronto, in the 1890's. Women's reproductive equality, sexual expression and choice, for him are not matters of women's personal choice. Even if other kinds of revelations of human behavior may make him doubt his faith's decrees, this matter does not.  There may be individual women who can be exceptions is as far as he can go. But for the general population of women what his faith decrees is unquestionable. That he is a man of his times, and not that exceptional fellow who thinks as we think now -- in some ways this is the best part of the series, deepening and broadening the scope of his character and the series beyond the same old.

Of course, the characters also have opportunities to dress up in gorgeous period costumes.
As observed above some of these long running BBC and Canadian comfort series include small suggestions of supernatural pressures.  In keeping then, here's Our Murdoch, who, it seems is suggested possessing a wee Gaelic capacity for clairvoyance quite  like Orphan Black's Sarah's Caledonian daughter, Keira.** (Canada, let us keep in mind, is filled with Irish and Scots, as well as French and English).

Another element integral to this series' formula is the frequent appearance of  celebrities of the era showing up in Toronto. Naturally they become mixed up with Murdoch's cases. Conan Doyle is present twice, in the first season alone. Houdini opens the second season.  There have been story-lines that are based on this early era of bone-hunters -- dinosaur archeology, the excitement of the canals discovered via telescope on Mars and even crop circles.

Detective Murdoch's primary mode of transportation to crime scenes.
Like another of my favorite Canadian series,**Lost Girl, Murdoch Mysteries refuses to take itself too seriously, which adds even more to its high entertainment quotient. That light touch is not as easy to achieve as one might think. Morse, though endlessly popular, never possessed it, and its prequel, Endeavour, was positively dreary and dull in its gloom.

Murdoch Mysteries is a pleasant, comfortable, entertaining series, which even includes comic moments that emerge out of the situational context of the fine ensemble of interesting looking actors who play interesting characters. It has the added incentive as the episodes are generally only about 45 minutes long, making it perfect watching while getting dinner ready.

However, keep in mind I've only seen sp far 1 & 1/2 seasons of Murdoch Mysteries' nine seasons, with the 10th one beginning its run this fall.

*  Though it does seem to me, after watching so many of these long lived British and now these later Canadian series, that all along, though not trying to draw attention to it, the directors and photographers have always done a great deal with with their cinematic techniques to keep the narrative unfolding on screen lively and nimble.  This includes the scoring.  There's a great deal of talent displayed in these series, beyond that of the actors.

**   See Orphan Black Season 4 -- No Spoilers,  here.

*** These highly recommended Canadian series, from my perspective anyway, would be, in no order of liking or excellence: Continuum, Lost Girl, Orphan Black, and now Murdoch Mysteries.

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