I should never doubt any of the British crime dramas that are set back in the past. Because of that I nearly overlooked this new series.Set in Australia, it features one of the sassiest, most opinionated female detectives you’re likely to ever meet.
Normal is all Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) expects on her return to Melbourne – she’s reunited with family and friends, and is ready to settle into a quieter life now the war is over. But as luck would have it, that isn’t in the cards. No sooner has she set foot on Australian soil than she learns a dear friend has just lost her husband – and what initially looked like a natural cause of death is soon reversed to one with suspicions. Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) is called in to investigate. He finds Phryne’s curiosity and clever ability to spot clues a thorn in his side – the kind that refuses to leave!
When the young maid of the house, Dorothy (Ashleigh Cummings), is named the prime suspect in her employer’s murder, Phryne makes it her business to clear the young girl’s name. Also playing into Phryne’s first case is a shady abortion clinic and a drug trade, all of which Phryne boldly investigates with Jack one step behind – trying to prove her speculation right (or wrong!), all while keeping the feisty lady out of trouble.
Not since Foyle’s War have I met a group of crime-fighters that worked so well together. These characters are far from boring – from Miss Fisher to the unlucky cab drivers she recruits, and of course, the lovable Dot, this cast leaves a lasting impression and doesn’t let go. Many of the actors are unknown to American viewers, yet each of them play their respective parts very well. Davis is brilliant as the titular character – she's a warm, kind-hearted woman whose household is living proof of this. The only quibble I have with her are the lose morals she practices – the constant romantic liaisons she’s a part of are unfortunate. Counteracting her flings is the fun, chemistry-fueled relationship between she and Jack; if I had to wager a guess, their relationship is going to continue to solidify but unfortunately morph into the never-ending stream of a will-they-or-won’t-they potential.
The opulence of the era makes up for any minor personality trivialities. From the rush of motor car rides to the exquisite costumes and the spot-on “mood,” every set effects the right frame of mind. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is smart and snazzy. The 13-episode span is over all too quickly and though it doesn’t insult us by ending on a cliffhanger, it still beckons our return for its eventual second series.
References to homosexuality come into various cases, including two friends of Phryne’s coming “out.” There are multiple “morning after” scenes with Phyrne and a lover; episode one has a “steamy” foreplay scene. There are some sexual innuendoes – a young man courting is given a book that illustrates various sexual acts or how to “seduce” a woman, he later “practices” (he attempts to imitate a photo of a man kissing a woman’s arm). There are some instances of nudity (including a painting of Phryne that we see several times and flashbacks to when it was being painted); a man takes advantage of a young maid.
There may be a British slang or two.
Victims die in numerous ways; poison, decapitation, hangings and the like.
One episode involves an abortion clinic (everything happens off-camera) and there are references to drugs.