Reviews, Television

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

It’s been a while since I’ve written an obsessively enthusiastic recommendation of a TV show (I believe the last one was Hannibal, which is currently in its second season and continues to be amazing), and I think it’s high time I revisited the genre. And it just so happens that I have the perfect show to recommend. Without further ado, may I present:

Prhyne Fisher, may I please bear your children?

 

8 reasons you should be watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (first season available on Netflix). 

1. Phryne Fisher

Any series is only as good as its protagonist, and Miss Fisher is the best. She’s a 44-year-old proud spinster who gets all the tail (here’s an NPR interview with the actress, Essie Davis, on playing a “sexually liberated Superhero”). She’s witty, highly intuitive, tough as shit and she solves most of her cases using her understanding of interpersonal relationships, which is a refreshing change from the usual socially-idiotic genius detective trope.  She is very much her own person, and answers to no one, but she’s compassionate about it, and doesn’t ever trample over other people’s feelings and needs in order to get her way. Basically, if James Bond and Miss Marple had a baby, it would be the Honorable Phryne Fisher, and every second she is on screen is pure gold. Oh, did I mention that she’s also titled and stupidly independently wealthy? Which means…

2. The Style

As a wealthy socialite in 1920s Melbourne, it should come as no surprise that Phryne Fisher has good taste, but this show really outdoes itself with the fashion and interior design. Phryne herself wears gloriously gorgeous outfits that make me wish it was still the 20s if only for the fashion, and her house is a thing of beauty. Everywhere you look there are exquisite paintings and ornate curtains and decorative statues like they’re all living in a damn museum, and none of it feels awkward or out of place. Design aesthetic = A++

3. Dorothy “Dot” Williams

Phryne might be the main attraction, but her supporting cast comes dangerously close to eclipsing her at times, not because she is bad but because they are so good. Chief among them is her maid and personal companion, Dot, who has one of the most well-written slow-burn female empowerment character arcs I have ever encountered. Dot starts the show meek, mild, and woefully under-educated and naive about the world, and her contact with Miss Fisher helps her to discover herself. Unlike many “meek girl turns tough” character arcs, where it feels like the character underwent a complete personality replacement operation, Dot comes into her own without every betraying her values. She also has an adorable romantic subplot, which compliments but does not over-ride her personal development. I just. Ugh. Such good writing.

4. Gender Equality!

In addition to Dot and Phryne, there are three other fascinating and carefully individualized female characters on this show, meaning that women make up half the regular ensemble cast and not a single one is typecast. Every single episode passes the Bechdel Test without breaking a sweat, and even though the show often brushes up against sexist ideas (it’s the 1920s–you can’t really ignore it), it is always careful to break them down and refute them. Phryne’s overt feminism is echoed across the show, in bright neon colors accompanied by a marching band. There’s no mistaking it.

5. Addresses Social Issues

I won’t pretend Miss Fisher is perfect on race and gender issues, but it’s clear that the writers of this show are intensely conscious of social issues and attempting to address them as much as possible. The show includes plots featuring both a male gay couple and a female gay couple (one half of which is a regular recurring character), an inter-racial marriage, anti-Asian racism, anti-communist sentiments, anti-Semitism, class struggles including poverty and prostitution, abortion access, post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic abuse–the list goes on. Basically, this is not a show that shies away from hard issues. My one caveat here is that they have yet to address any Aboriginal issues, which is a pretty glaring omission when you set a show during the height of the Stolen Generation. Get on that, guys.

6. The Hats

I know I already talked about the style on this show, but I had to come back again for Phryne’s hats, because they are that important. Seriously, this lady’s style deserves a TV show all its own. The costume designer has won multiple awards for it, and fans of the show are so devoted to the fashion that they’ve begun donating their own expensive, vintage clothing from the era for use on the show, so some of the costuming is even authentic. On a related note: if you want to play Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: the drinking game, the first rule is drink every time you see a new hat. Godspeed.

 

 

7. The Accents

Did I mention that this show is set in Australia? Because this show is set in Australia, which mean Australian accents. It’s an Australian show, too, which means that the accents aren’t fake bullshit imitation accents. They’re the real deal. If you’ve ever wanted to develop an ear for high vs. low, city vs. country Australian accents, and maybe learn a little jargon while you’re at it, this show can help you out. Plus, there’s an episode case involving two “American” actors, so you also get to hear Australians try to imitate Americans, and it. is. hilarious.

8. These Assholes

As adorable as Dot’s romantic subplot is, it’s really the ongoing flirtation between Phryne and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson that steals the show. Despite never doing literally anything sexual, they somehow manage to be the sexiest couple I’ve ever seen depicted on television. Innuendo, witty banter, impassioned arguments about both cases and one another’s safety–you could fry up the tension and serve it on toast. I swear, if I don’t get a third season in which hours of making out between these two happens, I might scream. The best part is that while Phryne has this emotional connection building with Jack, in lieu of an actual commitment to him she still openly courts physical relationships with other men, and Jack is fine with it, staking no claim on her. They are actual adults treating sex like adults treat sex, which shouldn’t be nearly as refreshing to see on television as it is.

There you have it. Why you should be watching this fabulous show. And I didn’t even talk about any of the mysteries. I trust you’re smart enough to figure that part out for yourself. As of today, the show has not so far been greenlit for a third season, which is a travesty that I desperately hope sees resolution soon, because this is a show that deserves as many seasons as they have story for.

Fashionably yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“I’d never presume to judge a woman on the basis of her morals. I’m only interested in solving a murder case.” -Miss Fisher

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9 thoughts on “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”

  1. I’ve watched a few of these. Not that Essie isn’t lovely, but there was something about the show that struck me as strange. I had sort of an “oh!” moment when I found out that Fisher is 15 years younger than miss Davis. It probably shows my own age-ism that I picked up on the nuance of a sexually liberated middle-aged woman playing the part of a sexually liberated 20-something. What society expects of women of those ages, liberated or not, is significantly different. Makes me wonder if Fisher in the show is actually supposed to be Essie Davis’s age; if so, it makes her an even more interesting character, because it makes her character even more subversive of the norm,.

    1. I don’t think Phryne’s age is ever explicitly stated in the show (it might be in the books–I haven’t read them), but she is definitely referred to as a spinster more than once, which leads me to believe that the character is at least viewed as too-old-to-be-still-unmarried by normal standards. It’s a sad fact that actresses past the age of 30 have a great deal of difficulty finding any role that isn’t “someone’s mom,” so even if the character is suppose to be much younger than Davis, I find it super refreshing to see a early-middle-aged actress in such a glamorous and sexually liberated role. More, please! :)

      1. As I said, it fundamentally changes her character, I think, but that’s not a bad thing! Usually, the opposite happens.

        I read once that Agatha Christie came up with Miss Marple because she was upset to see one of her older female protagonists being played by a much younger woman in a stage adaptation. Her idea was to create a female lead so old that people couldn’t get away with casting her as some sweet young thing.

        1. I hadn’t heard that, but it makes sense! I really do need to read more of Miss Marple. She’s so great. And since I don’t have a third season of Miss Fisher to watch yet… :)

          1. I’ve only read a little bit of Miss Marple, but what I have is a lot of fun. I’ve really been enjoying the BBC Marple series, except some of the more recent adaptations of the non-Marple stories have got so lazy that you can tell right away it wasn’t a Miss Marple story and they’ve just shoe-horned her in in the most awkward and implausible ways. The last one, in particular, would’ve been better if they hadn’t included her at all. Still, most of the adaptations are different enough that they won’t necessarily spoil the books.

            1. Do you mean the BBC series from the 80s? Or the 2004-2008 one? Because I have only just discovered both are on Netflix, and I intend to watch all of them as soon as possible.

              1. The new BBC series. It’s actually been ongoing; the last episode only came out maybe a month ago or so. Style-wise, they’re closer the Phryne Fisher series than the older movies. Much quicker paced than the old 80s BBC, with a slicker, more polished feel.

  2. True confession: Watched the first five episodes; got so frustrated about the sexual tension between Phryne and Jack that I had to go watch that episode of Torchwood where Jack makes out with his old time agent buddy.

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