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guest dvd review: Detective Work North of the Border

Photo of Darwyn Carson By Darwyn Carson | Leonard Maltin July 12, 2011 at 2:27AM

Guest Review by Darwyn Carson - Murdoch storylines, mixing equal parts historical fact and plausible fantasy, are structured around cases which inevitably employ some newfangled invention in the solving of the crimes.
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by Darwyn Carson


Happily, the third season of one of my favorite Canadian television shows is available through Acorn Media on Blu-ray and DVD. Based on Maureen Jennings’ best selling detective novels, Murdoch Mysteries is a whole lot of fun; a turn-of-the-century forensics show with Montreal native Yannick Bisson (Sue Thomas F.B. Eye) starring as the attractive and curiously inventive detective William Murdoch.

The mystery storylines, mixing equal parts historical fact and plausible fantasy, are structured around cases which inevitably employ some newfangled invention in the solving of the crimes. Timelines and specifics are toyed with. For instance, celebrated figures of the period show up, like a brash, young, not-yet-widely known Harry Houdini who,—

—while in town for an engagement, makes use of his still-developing skills to help Murdoch solve a case. Later, a slightly depressed yet still rambunctious Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arrives in Toronto, as part of his exploration of the occult, and becomes enthusiastically entrapped into deciphering clues with Murdoch, to track down a murderer.

Being set in the 19th century, the writers have reams of material from which to draw as forward-thinking technological concepts and modern-day machinery, commonplace to us now, were either being explored or invented during this era. Everything seemed fresh and on-the-brink, as does this series.

You can find the first three seasons on Acorn’s website, for DVD purchase or digital download. Bisson and his ensemble cast of supporting players are quite impressive, so starting from the beginning will take you on a delicious ride as you experience the relationships between Murdoch and Dr. Julia Ogden, Murdoch and his hot tempered, burly superior, Inspector Brackenreid, and Murdoch and his would-be protégé Constable Crabtree. To delve more into the series itself go to www.murdochmysteries.com.


More good news is that the show’s been picked up in Canada for a fifth season. Season four is playing there now. Here in the States, we have to hold our breath till next spring’s DVD release, but after you catch up with the first three seasons, I hope you’ll agree it was worth the wait.

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I want to take this occasion to give a shout out about another Canadian show I uncovered a while back. Intelligence, created by Chris Haddock (known in the States for the very popular, long-running Da Vinci’s Inquest) ran on the CBC for only two seasons. Starring an always on-target Ian Tracey as Jimmy Reardon and the solid Klea Scott, it delves into the world of digital intelligence-gathering in the war between drug lords and the organized investigation teams who want to bring them down, no matter the cost. Lines between good, not so good and downright evil frequently blur, so much so that rooting for the main bad guy who’s trying to clean up his act often seems the right thing to do.

There was a lot of speculation as to why the show was canceled and the talk of a possible feature never led anywhere, but there’s no doubt this highly-regarded series ended much too soon. If you like your crime drama gritty and noir-like, you’ll love Intelligence. Thanks to Acorn Media, it remains available as a DVD set; you can also purchase individual episodes for downloading. But be forewarned: at the end of season two, you’ll be wishing there were more. Click HERE.

Darwyn Carson is managing editor of Leonard Maltin’s Annual Movie Guide and a hardcore mystery and science fiction movie buff.

This article is related to: DVD Reviews, Television, Acorn Media, Canadian TV