Midsomer Murders Set 21
Recurring character(s): DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon), DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), Dr. Bullard (Barry Jackson), Sarah Barnaby (Fiona Dolman)
Original air date(s): UK: 03/23/2011, 03/30/2011, 04/20/2011, and 05/25/2011
DVD Date: 01/08/2013
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 372 minutes
Note(s): Episodes in this series are based on characters created by crime novelist Caroline Graham.
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Review: This set of four episodes from the popular murder mystery series are the first to feature DCI John Barnaby as the new "Barnaby" of Midsomer County, Tom Barnaby having retired in the last episode of the previous set. John is Tom's cousin and though the character had been previously introduced to viewers (in "The Sword of Guillaume"), quite a bit of screen time is spent re-introducing him here. And while no doubt everyone involved tried to make the transition a smooth and seamless one, it is still something of a jolt.
Part of the problem is that the first couple of screenplays are really weakly plotted, giving John Barnaby little to do. Granted, he's the new kid on the block and the local area residents — as well as DS Jones — aren't shy about telling him so. Here's a quick recap of each episode in this set with my opinion of each.
Episode 82: "Death in the Slow Lane". DCI John Barnaby’s relationship with his new partner, DS Ben Jones, is off to a rough start after the older detective belittles Jones’s enthusiasm for a local classic car show. When one of the show’s judges is found dead near a vintage car, the two detectives are forced to cooperate before the killer can strike again. The setting here is at an exclusive girl's school, which makes for an odd backdrop to a classic car show. (It's done for charity.) The murder mystery plot doesn't generate much interest in part due to the pacing of this episode, which is at best glacial. (The first murder itself doesn't take place until almost half-way through.) The writers are clearly trying to contrast the methods of the new Barnaby versus the old, but it doesn't quite work: Tom Barnaby comes off as more aloof than intellectual. Not a promising start for the character.
Episode 83: "Dark Secrets". After attempting to pay a visit to a reclusive couple, a social services investigator is found dead in a nearby creek. Barnaby and Jones race to unravel a series of long-standing secrets and scandals in order to find the killer. Meanwhile, Barnaby’s wife arrives in Causton, where she receives a less-than-enthusiastic welcome. This is another really slow, poorly plotted episode. I guessed at the whos and whys early on — Barnaby and Jones should have as well — so really wasn't engaged in their investigation. And I was apprehensive about the arrival of John Barnaby's wife. I was never a fan of Tom Barnaby's personal life storylines, mostly because I really never warmed to Tom's wife Joyce or their daughter Cully. But Sarah, John's wife, is a breath of fresh air in this series. She has only a minor role in this and the subsequent two episodes in this set, but I enjoyed the energy she brings to the series.
Episode 84: "Echoes of the Dead". Newly single Dianne Price is discovered drowned in her bathtub and staged to look like a bride. When more murders follow, the detectives realize that the cases bear eerie similarities to notorious murders from the past. Barnaby and Jones race to catch the copycat killer before the body count rises further. This case is more of an intellectual exercise for Barnaby, but still on the weak side. The pacing is more rapid here — the first murder is announced in the opening scene — though the backstory isn't all that credible … or interesting, for that matter.
Episode 85: "The Oblong Murders". Barnaby and Jones are called in to investigate when a member of the Oblong Foundation, a new-age cult, disappears. Jones must skip his vacation to go undercover among the cultists, and the detective soon learns of prior deaths that may not have been accidental. The best by far of the episodes on this set and a first-rate episode in its own right. A murder takes place before the opening credits and is not mentioned again until near the very end, leaving one to wonder how it fits in to everything else that is going on. Crisply written, nicely paced, and a solid whodunit.
Midsomer Murders Set 21 mostly suffers by comparison to the previous sets in this series. The fact that it includes one superior episode demonstrates that the writers haven't lost their touch, and the "new" Barnaby is capable of delivering a strong performance (when given something to do). I'm far from giving up on this series — it remains one of my favorites — but I have to admit that all but one of these episodes probably don't rate in the top half of those produced to date.
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