April 10, 2013
Miss Fisher, about the comely cocky ball-busting sleuth, is a detective series from Australia - a sort-of knock-off of the Sherlock Holmes homestead with Dr. Watson and house keeper Mrs.Hudson, only the three roles switch genders.
The storylines stab at evoking Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote - but with classroom-writes replaced by bedroom-romps.
Essie Davis portrays a seasoned worldly woman living in an uptight Melbourne society in 1928. Free-spirited Miss Fisher unfetters punctilious TV.
She smacks her lover's bare derrière, poses full-frontal for a nude portrait, and strokes more chest hair than Dian Fossey's gorillas.
She cruises for clues from bars to boudoirs, coquetting and copulating for fun and info. As such a brazen tease, her impromptu romancing does get uncomfortably creepy.
"I can never commit myself to any man," is her braggadocio response to a marriage proposal. Finished with the nooky, dressed in her nighty, she turns down a man soon to be married to someone else.
Thus she reiterates her resolve to boink any man she wants - except her often-foe and sometimes-flirt, detective Jack Robinson, with whom she sluggishly moves towards coitus consumatus as their relationship saunters through thirteen episodes.
The show filters post-Victorian attitudes - like their laissez-faire perspective on domestic violence, child abuse, homophobia, racism, war, poverty and religious discrimination - through Phryne's more modern sensibility.
But venereal disease is missing from this laudable list - an issue needing Miss Fisher's rapt attention. With her propensity for spontaneous quickies, she seems not as liberated as she is recklessly horny. And it's downright scary to consider that she flings her promiscuity without a hint of caution or condoms, (which, by the way, have been documented back to 1642).
And there is an inexplicable undercurrent of homosexuality since Phryne beds so many effeminate men. Meanwhile, her best chum and confidante, lady-doc Elizabeth "Mac" Macmillan, seems more butch than Phryne's lovers.
Miss Fisher, for that matter, could have been written as a male, (albeit not dressed in the most elaborate silky couture from the period). She swaggers with a macha mentality - disparaging of men even as she courts and screws them. She owns a car, flies a plane, scales walls, heaves a hearty punch, packs a deft pistol and always runs faster in heels than her gumshoe peers.
On the downside, the episodes are often cartoonish resulting from embarrassing casting, exaggerated acting, and automated plots. Lots of silly guessing and serendipitous luck in solving murders. The early episodes showcase many amateur actors, some of whom mature as the season progresses and others who mercifully never appear again.
Her housekeeper/helper Miss Prout is a pietistic pretty-prissy-missy. Mr. Butler, the butler, is borrowed from bland period novels, while Bert and Cec, two working-class communists, often attempt to contribute a redeeming political accent to the plot.
What grounds the series as serious television is the production: the creative, sophisticated cinematography, the judicious choice of music, the detailed set design and the elaborate costumes. Reputedly a single episode costs a million dollars per (including the use of costly period cars, trains, airplanes, buggies and backdrops).
From the onset, the crew elevated the show, while the ensemble cast in front of the camera was still evolving. The prime characters have settled in with comfortable performances but the pool of extras still urgently needs replenishing.
Is it romantic comedy with a conscience? Is it titillating TV for an enlightened audience? Is it anachronistic parables for a modern world? Or is it light entertainment? It seems to aspire to a panorama of missions.
After 706 minutes of Episodes, there are only 36 minutes of behind the scenes features to peruse. Whereas the Extras' production was sometimes primitive, the content does underscore the sophistication and accomplishments of the series.
As a biased Bonus fanatic, and as an under-educated spectator of down-under television, I appreciate the background information covering the striking historic Melbourne architecture, the rare Hispano-Suisa town car, the Steam engine train operation, the 1920's kitchen, the fabric and period accessories, to name a few...
Kerry Greenwood, author of widely read and wildly popular Phryne Fisher Murder Mysteries books, appears, as do members of the cast and crew. Women inspired, wrote and directed most of the shows. However, the men behind the production, particularly cinematographer Roger Lanser, deserve most of the kudos for Miss Fisher.
Cast: Essie Davis, Nathan Page, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Ashleigh Cummings, Miriam Margolyes, Nicholas Bell, Miranda Otto
Length: 3 discs, 13 episodes about 50 minutes each
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
2.0 DTS HD Master Audio