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Exploring Steampunk and Murder with 'The Brokenwood Mysteries'
January 6, 2020  | By David Hinckley

The Brokenwood Mysteries
, a New Zealand crime detective series, opens its sixth season with a surprisingly educational exploration of Steampunk.

A quick glance at Wikipedia describes Steampunk as "a retrofuturistic subgenre of science fiction." TheBrokenwood Mysteries, whose new four-episode season becomes available Monday on Acorn, humanizes it.

Okay, it also positions a Steampunk gathering as the site of a murder because that's what murder mysteries do. But as the subsequent investigation unfolds and the layers of the murder are peeled back, it simultaneously paints a reasonably intricate portrait of Steampunk life.

We see much of this through the eyes of Brokenwood's main man, Senior Detective Mike Shepherd (Neill Rea, top). Mike is minding his own business dog-sitting a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Willie for one of his ex-wives when he gets the call that a portable bathroom at Brokenwood's annual Steampunk festival has blown up with someone inside it.

That someone, Lionel Bridges (John Leigh), is quite dead, and the suspects include pretty much everyone who, like Lionel, was in attendance.

Lionel was one of the organizers, and the crowd includes co-organizer Alden (Andrew Grainger). It also includes younger folks like Bart (Dan Weekes), who works in Lionel's model train shop, and the cute couple of Cleo (Zoe Robins) and Poppy (Beth Alexander).

That's just a sample. The point is that the Steampunk crowd is admirably diverse in its ethnic, gender, and racial composition, as well as the problems various individuals bring to the event.

Steampunk is portrayed as an escape, a fantasy world that provides relief and pleasure to people who are having problems in their regular world. And indeed, who can't relate to that?

At first, it seems like a collegial group. But the investigation by Shepherd and his two associates, Detective Kristin Sims (Fern Sutherland) and Detective Constable Sam Breen (Rick Sampson), abetted by forensics from medical examiner Gina Kadinsky (Christina Ionda), uncovers a whole smorgasbord of potential motives to knock off Lionel.

Few of these motives have much to do with Steampunk. They have more to do with traditional issues like overprotective mothering and ill-advised decisions to borrow money from the wrong people. We also see the potential problems rippling out from Internet chat groups that draw people who feel sorry for themselves and are reassured to find others in the same situation.

The Brokenwood Mysteries wraps all this up in one episode since it's another series whose season consists of several stand-alone movies.

It's also a show that has become more popular as it has gone along, with New Zealanders and others finding considerable charm in the good-natured Shepherd and his colleagues.

Shepherd has some serious personal issues but wears none of them on his sleeve. Sims is a little more open about hers. But neither lets those issues weigh them down, so there's a breeziness to the show that wears well as time goes by. It's also a plus that while Shepherd is the lead character, Sims is, at this point, pretty much an equal partner.

And what other show, really, has told us this much about Steampunk?

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