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For a Little Easily Digestible TV Morsel, Try ‘Murdoch Mysteries’
December 25, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Television on Christmas Day doesn’t tend to be the focal point it can become on Thanksgiving when there are parades and dog shows and football games.

But if the family wants to sit down and take a break with an entertaining story, Acorn has the perfect offering: Murdoch Mysteries, a Canadian police procedural whose 13th season becomes available Wednesday.

Fun fact: This season has 18 episodes, a startlingly large number for a series from outside the U.S.

That number is a tribute to how well Murdoch Mysteries handles the basics. Like Law & Order, perhaps its closest counterpart from American television, Murdoch Mysteries features interesting and sometimes quirky characters but stays laser-focused on the case of the week. It’s all about what happened and how our good guys figure out the how, the why, and the who.

Based on the Murdoch detective novels by Maureen Jennings, the TV show stars Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch, who works for the Toronto police department around the time the 19th century is becoming the 20th.

Murdoch is polite, well mannered, and almost always impeccably dressed. More to the point, he’s also a progressive when it comes to police investigation techniques.

His inventive mind sometimes baffles his boss, Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), who doesn’t necessarily grasp the potential of forensic notions like blood evidence and fingerprints.

Happily, Brackenreid isn’t from the old “bash a few heads” school of investigation, but he does nicely represent the skepticism of the old guard in almost every profession.

Murdoch’s assistant, Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), is always eager to help even when he doesn’t understand exactly why he’s doing this or that.

Murdoch has usually found his most sympathetic partner in his pathologists, first Dr. Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy) and then Dr. Emily Grace (Georgina Reilly). This season takes a slight turn when he meets a new coroner, Violet Hart (Shanice Banton), whom he can’t immediately read.

He also gets a black colleague, Special Constable Robert Parker (Marc Senior).

One hallmark of Murdoch Mysteries has been its frequent immersion in the actual socio-economics and socio-politics of its time, and that continues with the opener of the new season.

The first episode revolves around a bombing at a program/rally organized by suffragettes lobbying to get women the right to vote. The obvious suspects, as often happens, don’t turn out to be the perps, and much of the fun in the episode is watching Murdoch and his team figure out just where the misdirection lies.

Murdoch Mysteries isn’t filmed in a particularly slick or high-tech way. Visually it often resembles police shows from 40 or 50 years ago, with short, almost clipped scenes that move the story forward.

That’s not a bad thing. There’s room in TV storytelling both for contemporary crime dramas that plunge us into the deep psychology of tormented crime fighters and more straightforward, mystery-focused tales like Murdoch.

You could call Murdoch a light snack on the TV menu. And sometimes a light, refreshing snack is just what you need.

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