Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Brokenwood Mysteries

Neill Rea as Mike Shepard.
Premise:  With a senior sergeant on the verge of retirement, Detective Inspector Mike Shepard (Neill Rea) arrives in the small New Zealand town of Brokenwood to investigate an apparent suicide. Shepard is a quirky individual that listens to country music (on audio cassettes!), drives a 1971 white Holden Kingswood, and sometimes talks with dead bodies (a colleague dubs him "the corpse whisperer"). He also confesses to having "three or four ex-wives." His eccentricities aside, the savvy veteran detective excels at recognizing the importance of minor details that could prove to be invaluable clues. At the end of the first episode, Shepard requests a demotion to Detective Senior Sergeant so that he can remain in Brokenwood. His less-experienced colleagues include Detective Kristin Sims (Fern Sutherland), Detective Constable Sam Breen (Nic Sampson), and Russian medical examiner Dr. Gina Kadinsky (Cristina Ionda). Shepard's neighbor, Jared Morehu (Pana Hema Taylor), provides invaluable information about the town and its residents. Jared is elusive about what he does for a living ("a little bit of this, a little bit of that"), though he works part-time by tending Shepard's vineyard.

Running Time: 90-99 minutes.

Status:  Three seasons of four episodes each have been broadcast since 2014. The first two seasons can be streamed on Acorn TV now and the third season will begin on December 5, 2016. The first two seasons are also available on DVD in the U.S.

Production Notes: In a 2014 interview in The New Zealand Herald, star Neill Rea described The Brokenwood Mysteries: "It's not a show about a detective who is a twisted genius with dark secrets. He's not Cracker, he's not an alcoholic, he's not Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. Mike's got a few secrets, a few ex-wives, but he's not a really dark character." By the way, Mike Shepard's car, the Holden Kingswood, was manufactured in Australia from 1968 to 1984. It was a family car priced between the entry-level Holden Belmont and the luxury Holden Premier. It's used mostly for comic relief in The Brokenwood Mysteries.

Our Review: The Brokenwood Mysteries has been compared to Midsomer Murders and there are some similarities: the brightly-lit scenes, the dark humor, and the high number of homicides per capita. Certainly, some episodes--like "Sour Grapes" in which victims are drowned in wine vats--are very reminiscent of the beloved British series. However, Brokenwood has a different vibe with its coastal town setting, headstrong residents, and, of course, New Zealand accents. It's a mystery series that is understandably still finding its voice after a handful of episodes. Its greatest asset is Neill Rea as the likable, easygoing sleuth. It would be easy to make Shepard quirky for the sake of quirkiness, but Rea never forces his hand and keeps one watching to find out what his detective will do next.

Grade: B+.

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