Is it the end for Midsomer Murders?

It's the crime show the critics love to laugh at - so where's all the fun gone, asks Jacqueline Wheeler

Ever heard the one about the body count? The one where you tot up all the murders in the Midsomer area since the series began? I’ve heard it lots of times (let’s add them up) but for all the silliness of the show, it’s got roughly five million viewers, and I’m one of them.

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So why was last night’s episode so dull?

Like a good Agatha Christie, vintage Midsomer has a dark side. You go to the village fête, you marvel at the unspoilt loveliness of it all and then, suddenly, you notice there’s blood trickling out from under the fortune-teller’s tent.

It’ll obviously seem a bit daft to fans of The Wire but the characters are weirdly true to life. Just spend some time in the country.

The amateur pagan, the obsessive local historian, the lonely old lady who’d kill to protect her cat – they’re all out there in their quaint little cottages, nursing their esoteric passions. Midsomer Murders just asks what would happen if you gave one of them a knife.

It’s nice but it’s also a little nasty. It should make you reconsider your friendship with that matey old bloke in the pub. He could be sacrificing sheep in the cellar, for all you know.

But maybe the recent off-screen racism row has sent the writers into retreat? The Sleeper under the Hill felt terribly bland. Are they worried about causing offence?

I’m not referring to the disembowelled farmer in the middle of the stone circle, or the bent copper who got drowned in a wooden barrel. What I missed was the usual Little Britain-like line-up of suspects.

The middle-aged druids were disappointing. Tubby, pillar-of-the-establishment types who enact seedy rituals after dark are the very stuff of Midsomer Murders.

Instead we got a lecture from Barnaby on not believing what you read on the internet about cults. The druids were OK. It was narrow-minded to judge them.

This only left the adulterous wife, the retired historian and the policeman. It had to be the policeman because, oddly, he wore those creepy white gloves seen only on clowns or Michael Jackson.

No one had a good alibi but it didn’t matter. John Barnaby must be the most laid-back detective on TV. He smiles, he chats and, if pushed, he makes an arrest. But you know he’d rather give the murderer a community order.

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Five suspects, three deaths – small numbers for Midsomer Murders. It can’t be nice being the butt of so many jokes, and negative publicity around the show has been a PR disaster, but toning the drama down isn’t the answer. Without the caricature, the mischievous sense of fun, the show’s not really there at all.