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Murdoch Mysteries’ Michelle Ricci scores with “Bend It Like Brackenreid”

With an episode title like “Bend it Like Brackenreid,” it was no surprise Monday’s new episode of Murdoch Mysteries focused on the good Inspector and his favourite game. And the murder of star player Robert Semple meant it was all hands on deck on the soccer pitch, with everyone working together—Rebecca was outside the morgue for the second week in a row!—to solve the crime.

Murdoch dipped back into Canadian history for Monday’s tale, recounting the pivotal match between the University of Toronto and Galt that sent the latter team to St. Louis for the Olympic Games. Once there, the team captured gold, meaning John and Thomas return to Toronto as Olympic medalists. We spoke to the episode’s writer, Michelle Ricci, about the storyline and got a sneak peek at what’s to come next week and the holiday episode, “Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas.”

I really liked “Bend it Like Brackenreid” for a couple of reasons. First, knowing the Inspector would be involved in it and that the game featured was the one that decided the team going to the Olympics in St. Louis that year.
Michelle Ricci: The game was a bit of a fudge because there wasn’t actually a game that decided who was going to the Olympic Games. The way it worked back then was, if you had the money, you could just go and compete. There was no qualifier, which is really funny when you look at it today and that’s why there were only three teams in the 1904 Olympics. It’s awesome to say Galt won the Olympic gold but there weren’t really playing anyone. I think there were something like four Canadian teams that were going to go. Two of them couldn’t raise the funds and the third one was the University of Toronto team. They were going to go and they played Galt in these two exhibition games before the Olympics—one in Toronto and one in Galt—and U of T tied one game and lost the other one. After they lost the second game, they were like, ‘Why should we bother going to the Olympics? We can’t even beat Galt!’ So, they didn’t go.

When I referenced them, I called them the Porridge Eating Galt Invincible’s, and that was really their nickname. They didn’t win another Olympic medal, but they won everything over the course of the next, five or six years.

It’s ironic, with the sponsorship deals teams have now, that Canadian teams couldn’t go back then because they didn’t have the money.
I know. Well, train tickets were expensive then. I think they were $20. When Galt decided to go and enter the competition, Grand Trunk offered a special fare anyone going to specifically watch soccer specifically, and I think it was $8—a huge discount and incentive—and a ton of people went, which is pretty cool. A trip at that time was a pretty monumental undertaking and would have been pretty expensive.

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Were you involved in the writing when it came to the actual soccer match on the pitch? How did that work?
I wasn’t there the day they were filming, but I did talk a lot to Cal Coons, the director, and our director of photography about how that would work and they gave very specific directions to the art department about the field, because the lines on the field were a bit different. The 1904 game is very close to our modern game and the guys on the field, including the victim, are actually semi-pro players. That’s why the action looks really good. We didn’t bother with all of the rules because it would only matter to die-hard fans like myself.

Oh, you’re a soccer fan?
I totally am! It was hilarious when the idea for this episode came up because I’ve been pitching a soccer story for years and everyone has said, ‘Soccer is boring!’ And then this year, because Galt won the Olympics, we thought Brackenreid should be in it. I said, ‘Well, I want to do that one.’ And they looked at me and said, ‘You do?!’ I said, ‘How do you guys not know me by now?!’

You must have a blast coming up with tongue-in-cheek references, like John Brackenreid only being able to bend his kicks … which wasn’t a good thing back then.
We had so much fun coming up with something Brackenreid could come up with for the sport. Normally when we do a sports story, Murdoch comes up with some innovation, and when we talked about what did and didn’t exist, the wall came up as the coolest thing to invent. When I looked into it, I couldn’t find any reference to a wall being formed until the 1950s. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen before that, but before that the rules didn’t call for a need for a wall. And so when we came up with Brackenreid inventing the wall, we came up with the modern way of defeating the wall and playing off Bend It Like Beckham.

Rebecca took another step forward, as she explained the soccer player’s cause of death rather than Julia doing it.
We’re looking to give Rebecca a way forward. She can’t stay Ogden’s mentee forever. We’ve got no great plans for her to take over the morgue anytime soon but we certainly want to keep progressing her and moving her forward and giving her a bit more to do outside the morgue as well.

One part of the storyline dealt with sexual assault, with Robert taking advantage of Harriet. How did you tackle that story?
Doing an episode like that is a little tricky because you want to balance it properly and not short-shrifting the seriousness of the crime, but you also don’t want to short-shrift the fun of the football and Brackenreid’s day in the sun. It was really a question of making sure both stories were given their proper due.

So, Brackenreid returns to Toronto as a gold medal winner?
That’s right! It starts him on a different path altogether and a different sort of idea about what he may want out of life. That will take him on an adventure we have never seen before.

What can you tell me about the holiday special that you co-wrote with Paul Aitken and Carol Hay?
It is a different Christmas adventure for our gang involving the imagination of George Crabtree come to life and how that affects the entire city of Toronto. It all ends at an amazing, gorgeous, sumptuous Christmas banquet that we shot at Casa Loma.

What can you say about Episode 7?
It’s called ‘Painted Ladies,’ and it’s a thrilling and dangerous ride through the world of female beauty.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and partner at TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
Greg David
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