Thursday, 24 March 2011


Midsomer Murders - Series 14, Episode 1 (Death in the Slow Lane). A charity car show must take place at Darnley Park Girls School, where the remains of famous racing car driver Duncan Palmer were found 40 years after he was thought to have drowned in the Lake District. Headmistress Harriet Wingate asks new DCI Barnaby, John, to keep an "eye on things". For the enjoyment of DS Jones, who's a car enthusiast.

After the uninspired and controversial words of Midsomer Murders producer Brian True-May on "the last bastion of Englishness" (1) comes the first episode of a new era for the ITV1 crime drama, with Neil Dudgeon as DCI John Barnaby. The successor to John Nettles was cleverly introduced at the beginning of the previous series in The Sword of Guillaume, where Nettles's DCI Tom Barnaby teamed up with his cousin John in Brighton. Then Dudgeon appeared during Tom's birthday/retirement exit scene. Directed by Richard Holthouse, Death in the Slow Lane is written by Michael Aitkens - who wrote The Sword of Guillaume.

DCI John Barnaby has a guided tour of his new playground thanks to DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes). Jones appears to be a living encyclopedia about evey citizen in murder county and is a little frustrated he wasn't offered the job of his boss after years of enduring "the other Barnaby". The tour is the occasion for an odd involuntary echo to the recent race debate ignited by Brian True-May when a lady says the previous Barnaby "wasn't really one of us". Maybe producer True-May, who will step down at the end of the current series, knows his show too well. Then we get a bizarro crossover with St Trinian and, yes, shades of the real world!

Apparently there's a whole universe outside Barnabyverse, and a bloke in an estate watching something on telly where a sharp eye can spot a cute black newborn. The first certified victim is a local DJ (the ubiquitous Luke Allen-Gale) who tries hard to impersonate Jody Latham - or is it BGT's DJ Talent? Don't expect the usual gruesome pantocrime in this episode and nobody really cares about the endless story, which is just a pretext to make the new Barnaby familiar. Anyway the true star of this episode is John's dog, Sykes, who even appears in the Thinkbox ad aired during the many (many) breaks of the evening (2).

The legendary David Warner - who does what you expect him to do - and Samantha Bond guest star. With a more urban setting and less panto, Midsomer Murders looks like Lewis minus the Oxfordian intellectual refinements but fans can suspect (hope?) next week's episode will be more "traditional". Death in the Slow Lane, and probably the next one, are part of a cautious transition process for Midsomer. The global hit series, produced by Bentley Productions (an All3Media company) for ITV, is sold in over 230 countries and it's certainly not social realism which made its international success since 1997.


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