Murdoch Mysteries: The Un-Breaking Bad


I’m so glad Breaking Bad is finally over.

I never watched a minute of it.

I try to avoid drug-centered movies and television programs.

It doesn’t matter if these productions are supposedly “anti-drug” — the very act of filming and screening any story about any subject automatically glamorizes it, because cinema itself is glamor.

So I’m relieved that I no longer have to overhear people in the “straight” world chatting pseudo-knowledgeably, and with barely concealed emotional arousal, about the manufacture and consumption of meth just because they binge-watched Breaking Bad.

Besides, as I’ve said since the program began, besides being tediously “dark” and “edgy” (yawn…) the series was premised on an absurd conceit:

That a public school teacher in 21st century America wouldn’t have health insurance.

While seemingly half the planet was counting down the minutes to the Breaking Bad finale on Sunday night, I was looking forward to Monday evening, and the seventh season premiere of one of my favorite shows, Murdoch Mysteries.

It’s awfully out of character for me to watch any Canadian-made television program, especially one broadcast on the state-run CBC.

But I started watching Murdoch Mysteries in reruns earlier this year. It was the only interesting show airing around here at 7 p.m.

In spite of myself, I got hooked on this series, which is set in the Victorian-Edwardian Toronto of the 1890s, when one of today’s most multicultural cities on earth was still majority white, British-born, and “Orange” (that is, Protestant.)

The hero, Detective Murdoch, is a devout Catholic, however; he gravely crosses himself whenever he stumbles across a body — which he does quite a bit.

(Come to think of it, the murder rate in this fictional “Hogtown” seems only slightly lower than that of the modern one I live in…)

Detective Murdoch is an outsider in other ways.

He’s a kind of steampunk MacGyver-meets-Agent Mulder-meets-Dr. Spencer Reid:

A preternaturally handsome and exquisitely mannered genius who, you see, was the real inventor of fingerprinting, the fax machine and loads of other modern technology — it’s just that, being Canadian, he was too modest to take credit for them.

He’s aided in his quest for justice by Dr. Julia Ogden, the coroner and the (chaste) love of Murdoch’s life; his rough-around-the-edges boss Inspector Brackenreid; and the lovable and overly imaginative Constable George Crabtree, who also proposes such futuristic wonders as “a giant potato cooking room in every home,” i.e. the microwave oven.

Murdoch Mysteries also features “cameos” from famous personages of the day:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Nichola Tesla, Houdini, Emma Goldman and Annie Oakley, to name a few.

In one cheeky episode, Liberal Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier stops by the police station where he is rudely rebuffed by a clueless constable played by… real-life Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is a big fan of the series.

(The joke is that Harper doesn’t recognize his predecessor, but then, I didn’t even recognize the low-key Harper, which was awfully Canadian of all of us…)

And make no mistake:

Despite its uncharacteristically handsome production design, Murdoch Mysteries is a “Canadian” show, unable to shake the urge to crowbar earnest “eat your spinach” lessons about history, tolerance and do-goodery into most episodes.

However, unlike almost any other Canadian program I’ve ever seen, Murdoch Mysteries doesn’t take itself too seriously:

Some of the anachronisms are a little too corny, self-conscious or even lazy — a secret government facility is called “Concession 51,” and I bristled when Dr. Ogden opined that a crime victim’s relative “needed closure” — but the show knows that you know about a future which the characters can only speculate about, and has great fun with that “meta” stuff:

Arthur Conan Doyle: What you’re looking at is the future of policing, dare I say it, entertainment. Books, theater, so on, so forth.

Murdoch: Forensics? Too dull and gory I should think.

Doyle: Quite the opposite. I suspect the public has an endless appetite for this sort of tale.

Murdoch Mysteries exists primarily to delight and entertain. The main characters are extremely well drawn and likeable. The bad guys get caught.

So far we’ve not been subjected to tragically heroic and misunderstood transsexuals or heavy-handed AIDS metaphors or clumsy allusions to the invasion of Iraq.

If a program that might just as easily be called CSI:Steampunk sounds like something you’d enjoy — and you need a break from exploding meth labs in Albuquerque — you can watch episodes of Murdoch Mysteries online via Amazon Instant Video.