by Deborah Harter Williams
They come from a place down under –
Aussies bring style, humor and talent to the crime scene.
Thank you TV creators of Oz–first and foremost for the treat that is the Miss Fisher Mysteries. Bringing Kerry Greenwood’s Phrynne (pronounced Fry-knee) Fisher to the screen is a marvelous accomplishment. If you turn the sound down and just watch the scenery and the costumes you will be well entertained, but then you’d miss out on the stories that are well-crafted, based on intriguing history and well-acted.
Set in Melbourne in the 1920s, Phrynne is a woman of inherited means and title but with a childhood of poverty. She enjoys her wealth but hasn’t forgotten the past. At every chance she challenges limitations set on women. She flys a plane, drives a Hispano-Suiza with speed and skill, and is a veteran of a French ambulance unit, though she also worked as a model in Paris.
Essie Davis plays the lead with panache – climbing over fences and through windows, with a gun in her purse or a knife in her garter. This is a lady who takes her detecting seriously and the men in her life less so. Thoroughly modern our Miss Phrynne.
Her only remaining blood relative is Aunt Prudence, respectable and grumpy. But Phrynne’s expanded family includes two adopted girls and Dot her maid/secretary/junior investigator. Adding to her posse are Bert and Cec (wharfies/cab drivers and jacks of all trades) plus the Butlers (consummate servants, unruffled by midnight visitors, last minute trips to the country or a spontaneous party – and yes, a butler named Butler). Phrynne’s relationship with police detective Jack Robinson is deliciously prickly and flirty. His respect for her skills clashes with concern for her safety and mixed feelings about her intruding into his cases (and solving them).
All the characters are multi-dimensional, hinting at multiple back-stories of their own. The fact that author Greenwood has provided twenty books to draw on must help. (She also writes a series about baker Corinna Chapman, as well as stand-alone novels, in addition to her day job as a solicitor. Worth checking out.)
Mr. and Mrs. Murder provides laughs with its dead bodies. Nicola and Charlie Buchanan (Kat Stewart and Shaun Micallef) specialize in crime scene clean up, which gives them a great excuse to investigate, and to walk around wearing white rubber boots, jumpsuits and goggles. They affectionately banter back and forth, dropping humorous comments with straight faces. A recent episode introduced me to a slang term for upper arm flab that had me chuckling for days – picture “Bingo arms” or “Hello Helens.”
Unfazed by gore, which is their stock and trade, they have a group of erudite friends who can stop mid-party to discuss the amount of ketamine that would kill a person. Charlie may also stop mid-investigation to take fetching snaps of his wife. Their niece, Jess, reminds me of the long-suffering Saffron from AbFab. She is regularly drawn away from her serious MBA studies to go undercover or otherwise aid and abet her Aunt and Uncle in their unsanctioned investigations. The crimes take them from fashion runway to horse stables, art gallery to yacht. The cop here is a little bit dim but quite smitten with Nicola.
My current favorite Aussie actor is Robert Taylor who stars in A & E’s – Longmire series. Hunky and chiseled in a Harrison Ford I’ve-got-a-few-miles-on-me style, he is quite believable as a Wyoming sheriff. You wouldn’t necessarily know that he worked for years on Australian stage and television after jobs on an oil rig and as a miner. His big break was playing Agent Jones in the Matrix (though you may not recognize him there either, beyond the mole on his face.) His first audition for Longmire was via a mailed in video and he was both surprised and delighted to get the part, which now suits him to a tee. You can see him in his native guise on Mr. and Mrs. Murder – “Flare for Murder” (Season 1, Episode 8) where he plays the prime suspect.
There are many Aussies gracing American TV series that you may not be aware of including Portia DeRossi – Ally McBeal, Arrested Development, Julian McMahon (son of a former Prime Minister) – Nip/Tuck, Charmed, Poppy Montgomery – Without a Trace, Unforgettable, Anna Torv – Fringe and Simon Baker – The Mentalist. Crikey, it’s a bloody invasion and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Thanks mates.
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