The Netflix Queue: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

It’s not really a secret that I love historical romances and historical stories; they’re pretty much always a fascinating glimpse into a different time. I also enjoy mysteries. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian TV series based on a book series by Kerry Greenwood, is so far up my alley it’s not even funny.

Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis)

Miss Phryne Fisher

Set in Melbourne, Australia in the late 1920s, Phryne Fisher is returning to her home city after years abroad. She’s got an ulterior motive for coming back, though: she’s looking to solve her sister’s disappearance from years before. But in the meantime, she decides to become a private detective, and her path regularly crosses with the uptight Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, much to his chagrin and her delight.

Phryne collects an assortment of people as part of her household in a variety of ways. There’s Dorothy, her companion, a lady’s maid who loses her job and is accused of committing a murder and comes to Phryne for help. There’s Bert and Cec (short for Cecil), two cabbies who end up helping Phryne with some of her field work by going where she can’t. Mr. Butler is, as his name suggests, the butler, and he runs a very tight household and is perfectly willing to roll with Phryne’s eccentricities. Jane is an orphan and Phryne’s ward, and though Phyrne isn’t particularly maternal, she cares about Jane very much.

I don’t think words can adequately express how much I love Phryne. She’s a “modern woman,” which means she’s unmarried, has loads of sex with any number of willing men, and uses birth control. She was with an ambulance service during World War I and spent several years after in Europe. She loves to drive (and drive fast). She’s multilingual, intelligent, observant, and an excellent actress, all of which are great assets when she decides to start her detective work. Phryne suffers no fools, but she’s also kind and generous to those who need her help. She’s an utter delight to watch on-screen.

Phryne and Jack and a boatload of UST

Phryne and Jack and a boatload of UST

Phryne also has LOADS of sexual tension with Jack, who dislikes her at first, but quickly comes around when he realizes how truly helpful she is. Once Jack and Phryne start working together with regularity, the show really takes off, because they balance each other so well and their verbal sparring is so much fun to watch.

It’s also interesting to see how Phryne and Jack are balanced by the secondary couple, Dorothy Williams (Phryne’s companion) and Hugh Collins (Jack’s right-hand man and constable).

Dorothy is a devout Catholic who isn’t nearly as liberal as Phryne, but what I love is that she doesn’t try to change Phryne and Phryne doesn’t try to change her. Dorothy does change because of her association with Phryne, but it’s her own choice to do so. Dorothy finds out she really enjoys working with Phryne to solve crimes, something she never expected, and she really blossoms in her role.

Constable Hugh Collins and Dorothy Williams.

Constable Hugh Collins and Dorothy Williams.

Dorothy and Hugh also have the sweetest relationship. Watching them shyly court each other is an absolute delight.

One of the other points I appreciated was how Phryne was treated as a more modern and forward-thinking woman in an era when women were still in fairly restricted roles. She has the funds and the privilege to be able to live the way that she wants, for the most part, but still faces a lot of pushback from others around her. It’s interesting to see how she defies expectations, faces the issues head-on, or slides her way around them.

The show also has wonderful visual designs. The costume and set designers deserve some awards for how well they bring the world to life and how spot-on their costumes are for the characters. Phryne’s hats alone deserve a post all to themselves. It’s such a rich world, it’s easy to get sucked into, and the jazz music all helps to perfectly set the tone.

Jack and Phryne.

Jack and Phryne.

Overall the series plot is handled really well. Each episode is based around a single murder, with an overarching plot that goes through the entire season, which (as you may recall) is my preferred format for television shows. You can pick up and watch any of the episodes in just about any order without getting too lost, which makes it easy to get into when you don’t have time to binge-watch the whole thing.

The first two seasons are my favorite, both with the plots and the way they handle the characters. The third is still very enjoyable, but it stumbles a bit in a few ways (how it handles Hugh’s character in particular), and being a few episodes shorter than the other seasons doesn’t help.

Despite that, the series ends on a high note, and personally I was very satisfied (though I would obviously be so very here for it if they ever decided to do a fourth season). Some people felt the ending was a bit cliffhanger-ish; personally, I liked it and felt that we did get a resolution that had been a very, very long time in coming.

This series is amazing, and I’ve watched the whole thing twice through on Netflix already (and I’ll probably do it a third time, if not more). If you like mysteries, snappy dialogue, and wonderful characters, then you really, really should give this show a watch.

As of this post, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is still available for streaming on Netflix.

The Netflix Queue: White Collar

As you may have noticed, my reviews of TV shows tend to be less reviews and more “here is what I love and why you should watch it as well.” And admittedly, most of the shows I like are usually over and have been for years. Even now, I can count the number of currently airing shows I watch on one hand: Castle, Doctor Who, and The Big Bang Theory.

Now I get to add another show to that list: White Collar.

As I don’t get cable, I haven’t seen any of season 3. However, the first two seasons are on Netflix Instant Watch, and I talked my roommates into giving it a try back in January.

Since then, we’ve watched the entire thing twice and are more than halfway through our third go-round. To say that we like it is putting it mildly.

In fact, I may be a little obsessed. As I’ve mentioned.

White Collar cast - Mozzie (Willie Garson), Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), Elizabeth Burke (Tiffani Thiessen)

Just a little.

Premise: Neal Caffrey is a convicted bond forger who is also suspected of numerous other crimes, such as counterfeiting, racketeering, and art theft, just to name a few. He cuts a deal with the FBI to come work with them as a consultant, and he’s put under the care of FBI agent Peter Burke, head of the white collar crime unit and the guy who caught Neal in the first place.

Now, a few reasons you should be watching:

6. It’s a show about heists and cons.

Do you like The Sting? Catch Me If You Can? Ocean’s 11? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels? If those movies top your favorites list, then this is the show for you.

I love heist movies. Having an entire show devoted to cons and heists, either breaking them up or engaging in your own, is like candy.

5. The dialogue

Oh my gosh, the dialogue. It’s rapidly reaching the super-quotable state, wherein I am no longer allowed to watch the show around people because I can’t help but say the lines along with the characters, or repeat said lines while giggling madly.

It’s not quite Joss Whedon level, but it’s so much fun, and all the characters get in some great lines.

An example (and one of my personal favorite exchanges):

(As Neal is examining a plate of the U.S. hundred-dollar bill)
Peter: “I’m not comfortable with this.”
Neal: “You’re not comfortable? I’m the one with the Men in Black bobsled team breathing down my neck.”
Peter: “Those are U.S. treasury agents, and you look like a twelve-year-old who’s just discovered the lingerie section of the Sears catalog.”

4. The clothes

I knew guys looked good in suits. I was unaware quite how good. Thank you, White Collar, for educating me.

White Collar - Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) and Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) - photo credit NBC Universal

I mean but damn.

3. Short seasons, no heavy serialization, and a light tone.

Since I’ve talked about all these before, they’re under one heading. Heavily serialized shows, like Lost and Heroes, turn me off very quickly because if you miss even one episode, you’re completely lost until you can catch the whole thing on DVD. It’s like skipping a chapter in the middle of the book.

I by far prefer the shows that are more like picking up a book in a series. Yes, you’re going to get more out of it if you watch it in order, but if you accidentally get started on book two or three, you’re not going to be completely out of your depth.

Thankfully, White Collar is similar to Doctor Who and Buffy in that while there is a story thread that runs through each season, the episodes themselves are fairly standalone. There are maybe 4-5 episodes per season that deal, heavily, with the overall arc.

Plus, the shorter seasons leave me wanting more. Like I said earlier, we’ve watched every episode available twice, and some of them three times.

Overall, the tone of the show is pretty light, as they’re dealing primarily with white collar crime. And sometimes, that’s all you really want: something fun that makes you laugh. No apocalypse, no “we must save the world,” just something simple. White Collar delivers.

2. Mozzie and Elizabeth

In order for a show to be really good, the supporting characters have to be just as good as the main ones. Fortunately, Mozzie (Willie Garson) and Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) fit the bill perfectly.

Mozzie is one of Neal’s oldest friends, a fellow criminal who peppers his speech with his favorite quotations and has conspiracy theory down to an art form.

He is Neal’s man on the street, bringing back information that Neal can use as part of his deal with the FBI. And, despite vociferous protests, Mozzie helps out the FBI himself more than once. (The scene where he very first sets foot in the FBI offices, in the second season, is a highlight of its episode.)

Elizabeth is Peter’s wife of ten years, and she’s a very good match for him. She’s very patient and perceptive, good traits when Peter has to call and beg off their plans for the night because of a case. She even helps him with work from time to time. Watching her help him flirt with another woman while he’s (sort of) undercover is HILARIOUS.

(Side note: My inner 8-year-old is PSYCHED to see Kelly Kapowski on TV again. She was my favorite character on Saved by the Bell.)

1. Peter and Neal

Really, the two biggest reasons to watch this show?

Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) and Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) - the reasons I can't concentrate when this show is on.

These guys. Right here.

Yes. They are just that awesome.

Neal is smart, suave and outrageously charming, all traits that have served him well in his life as a con man. He also has a taste for the finer things in life: good wine, good espresso, and custom suits. His ability to charm people gets him into almost as much trouble as it gets him out of, but the sheer chutzpah he has just makes him a ton of fun to watch.

Peter is probably one of my favorite characters ever. Yes, he’s the straight man in the duo, but it’s his steadiness that keeps Neal (mostly) on the right side of the law. Plus, he’s willing to follow Neal into certain grey areas…or at least, allow Neal to roam them a little more freely in the interest of justice.

I was concerned, during the first episode, that they were going to make him into the stereotypical workaholic agent who completely neglects his wife, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they didn’t go that route. They also take the time to show that he and Elizabeth really work as a couple, which is a nice change of pace.

And the one thing that bugs me: The product placement

I would bet my next three paychecks that Ford Motor Company foots a large part of this show’s bill, based on how many up-close shots and references we get to Peter’s Taurus. (Yes, I know what kind of car the character drives. The last time I knew what kind of car a character drove, it was a Delorean.)

For the most part, I can let it slide (although it does get giggle-worthy occasionally). However, there are a couple of times when it’s really shoehorned into the story, especially in tense situations, and that’s irritating.

I’m already suspending my disbelief that the FBI lets Neal get away with as much shit as he does, okay? Don’t push it with crappy car talk.

But, let’s face it. I’m willing to tolerate a little more product placement if it’ll keep the show on the air.

So, yes. Those are six reasons I love this show, and why season 3 is my “Yay! You made your goals!” bribe to myself for this month.

Have you seen White Collar? What do you think? And are there any good shows you’ve been watching lately?

Pictures are most likely copyright the USA Network.