22 August 2022

In Defense of Midsomer Murders

As I’ve learned by reading literary novels, it is fashionable for highbrow British connoisseurs of film and television and noiristas everywhere to consider the long-running TV show Midsomer Murders the epitome of whatever they consider naff (Britspeak for tacky), fit only for whatever group they designate the hoi polloi—whether it’s nursing home residents, the working classes, drinkers of something called stewed tea with milk, or readers of Agatha Christie. Snobbery is nothing but a relish for contempt, and Midsomer Murders has survived it for 22 seasons (series in Britspeak), with another on the way.

I've been re-watching the earliest episodes of the show with John Nettles as the original DCI Tom Barnaby, not for the first time, and I'm noticing how firmly the show's collective tongue (writer's, presumably director's and producer's, and certainly those of the ensemble of fine actors) is in cheek. It's not just cozy mystery set in the picture-perfect imaginary Midsomer County. It's brimming with verve and stylish in every detail. Nor is it lacking in wit.

The thought that it's so commonly misunderstood as silly and even as pitched for unintelligent viewers reminds me of the misconception of that brilliant satirist Jane Austen's work as "sweet." Intellectuals would never make that mistake, of course, scholars having long since canonized the Austen oeuvre. Indeed, it's taken movies and Elizabeth and Mr Darcy murder mysteries and mashups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to remind us Austen's characters are also also fun and playful. But I digress.

The TV show is based on only seven excellent mystery novels written by Caroline Graham. Anthony Horowitz wrote the scripts for the first two, The Killings at Badger’s Drift and Written in Blood. Each episode serves up with glee a splendid stew of crime and detection, humor, English village life in idyllic surroundings, and the grotesque. Cottages are thatched. Village dwellers ride bicycles, if not horses, depending on their class and means. From cottage to stately home, every dwelling has a glorious garden. And the police are always offered a cup of tea.

Burglars and murderers invariably wear black wash leather gloves. When about to be murdered, the victim has invariably come downstairs to investigate a suspicious noise, saying, “Hello?” or “Who’s there?” or opened the door to someone we can’t see, exclaiming, “You!” or “What are you doing here?” But it’s all in good fun, like the audience yelling, “Look behind you!” at a pantomime in London at Christmas. The village characters are beyond eccentric, and some of the means of murder downright hilarious.

Some critics think the show has long since jumped the shark or has been disappointing since DCI John Barnaby took over for his cousin Tom many seasons ago. But for a cheeky yet nostalgic look at the perfect English village that never was, where you can always count on several murders and a solution at the end—and light relief from reality, which all of us need once in a while these days—you can’t go wrong with Midsomer Murders.


  1. Elizabeth, you made me smile this morning! I think perhaps Morse started the whole Brit-murder thing, but Midsommer cemented it. I like to think of it as 'good clean murder' - something I could watch with my grandmother, were she still here. When so many crime shows focus on the degradation of women through human trafficking, it's a relief to be able to watch a show that takes the art of murder down to simplicity: one human wanting what another has, for the most part.

  2. Thanks for "good clean murder," Melodie. I plan to steal that line. Morse certainly left his mark, but don't Miss Marple and the domestic episodes of Poirot deserve the credit for originating Brit-murder on TV?

  3. I shamelessly love Midsomer Murders. It is indeed "good clean murder", with wit, and I always enjoy it.

  4. Glad to hear it, Eve. I also enjoy Brokenwood, the New Zealand equivalent, on Acorn.


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