Everything about Murdoch Mysteries, eh?

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 5.49.37 PM

Interview: Murdoch Mysteries loses two characters

No one could have seen that conclusion coming. Monday’s episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “What Lies Buried,” featured the return of William Murdoch’s nemesis, Inspector Giles (Nigel Bennett). He, along with Brackenreid, were among the suspects after the body of a fellow police officer, Constable Finch, was discovered buried under the station house.

Fun facts from Brackenreid’s first days on the job as a copper–he met future wife Margaret when he arrested her and his nickname was “Tommy Two Cakes”–took a decidedly dramatic turn during Murdoch’s interrogation of Giles. It was there–under sparse lighting–that the two men exchanged secrets: Murdoch confirmed he’d helped Constance Gardiner escape from the jail and Giles revealed he was gay. That was shocking enough, but the uppercut to Giles’ initial jab was the realization Constable Hodge (Brian Kaulback) had killed Finch out of loyalty to Giles.

Giles’ outing meant he’s off the force and will no longer be part of Murdoch Mysteries. As for Hodge, well, we may see more of him yet according to the episode’s writer, Paul Aitken.

Why did you decide to cover homosexuality in this episode?
We’ve actually dealt with homosexuality several times throughout the series mostly because it existed. Even people at the time knew it was a thing and it existed. How they dealt with it then is very different with how we deal with it today and it’s always interesting to see the differences between now and then in terms of how homosexuality was understood.

Monday’s episode was what we call a bottle show. It was an episode that had to be filmed quite cheaply because we find ourselves in a situation–at least once or twice a season–where we have overspent or are concerned about overspending, so the whole episode was contained within the station house. To do that, of course, you need to have a mystery that is absorbing enough, so we came up with someone being buried beneath the station house and we had to build a mystery on that. I can’t remember who it was but someone came up with the very bright idea of Giles be very much involved in the original crime. There was always a suspicion amongst the writers that the character of Giles was possibly homosexual, and it could be just the way in which [Nigel Bennett] played him. It was a natural fit and once you introduce that into a character–him being a homosexual–then you become aware of the challenges that they face. You can build a whole twist on them wanting and needing to keep it a secret. We came up with that idea because it served the function of the episode.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 5.29.35 PM

The scene between Giles and Murdoch was very powerful. Two men admitting secrets to the other with just two spotlights over them in the darkened interrogation room. It was very effective.
At the end of Season 4, Murdoch has the secret of Constance and Giles knows about it. He can’t catch Murdoch at it so you have this cat and mouse thing and I’ve always wanted the confrontation scene. We were very happy with the idea of having these two things come together. Giles’ guilt caused him to do things by the book and defined him because of this great secret that he carried, and from then on he became very rigid in his adherence to how things should be done. That was why he was so hard on Murdoch. We see that come completely undone in the scene and I was very happy we were able to do that.

It was a very difficult scene for the actors because that was the first scene shot for that episode. There was very little preparation time, you couldn’t build up to it and it was a lot to ask, especially of Yannick, who is in most scenes in most episodes and doesn’t have a lot of time to prepare. I think Yannick was a little peeved at me before that scene was filmed, but everybody realized after it was filmed that it was an exceptional scene.

How will this affect Murdoch’s Roman Catholicism in the coming weeks?
We don’t know. I think this has been evolving since the series began. Over the seasons we’ve seen the effect Dr. Ogden has had on him. I think he is less rigid than he used to be and he is more forgiving. Obviously that exists within Catholicism, there is a capacity for forgiveness. I think we’re constantly seeing the clash between his faith and his scientific impetus and we’re seeing a different side of him when it comes to the law with Constance Gardiner.

Does this mean Constable Hodge is no longer going to be on the show?
Well, we don’t know. We gave ourselves an out at the end of the episode. Giles is gone because he is a homosexual and will pay the price for that. But Hodge … it could be argued that it was an unintended killing and it’s possible he won’t do much time. He’ll never be back as a constable but maybe he’ll have a bar. We don’t know. Brian gave a standout performance. We were very happy with it and I think he was happy too.

Talk about the Brackenreid’s back story. Last night was the first time we learned he and Margaret met when he arrested her. Was that in important piece to put in there to tie in more revelations about Margaret?
It was a completely fun addition, but you’ve just given me an idea. [Laughs.] Every time you do it you create a bit of history and hopefully you remember it so you can build on it later. We never thought about it before this episode and I kind of liked the idea that he was attracted to her because she was a spark plug.

How do you go about your writing process? Do you shut yourself off in a room and write? Are you superstitious and use a certain pen or have a certain drink?
Everyone has their different writing style preferences and I like to write in the room with everyone else. I don’t like to miss anything, so I’ll often write the script while I’m in the office. One thing that’s nice about writing in the room at work is that I can always try out different lines with people or ask the room if it’s working. It’s very helpful. I don’t think anybody writes a script totally by themselves, least of all me. I’m always seeking outside help in just about every scene I write.

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

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 1.08.08 PM

Interview: Murdoch heads to Manhattan

Murdoch and Julia’s wedding ceremony was pretty unorthodox–they almost skipped the whole thing to solve a crime–so it really should have come as no surprise that their honeymoon would veer off the beaten path as well.

“Murdoch Takes Manhattan” found the pair embroiled in a plot to assassinate President Teddy Roosevelt in New York City while back home Brackenreid and Emily were tasked with solving the murder of a man found run over on a Toronto street. Not to be outdone, Crabtree, Higgins and Jackson invested in a car and tooled around the city on a quest to impress. The offbeat, more lighthearted episode contained some very funny moments, including what may be the most outrageous case of double entendre ever used on Murdoch Mysteries, and uttered by the show’s normally staid lead character.

I spoke to Simon McNabb, the episode’s writer, about everything that went down.

How did you decide to have William and Julia go to Manhattan for their honeymoon? Was that figured out in the writers’ room or when you were writing the script on your own?
Simon McNabb: The idea of William and Julia going to Manhattan was something that came out of the writers’ room. Obviously we needed to do something that was exciting, unusual and something they had never done before for their honeymoon and we wanted to do something a little more grand than going to a nice hotel in downtown Toronto. New York seemed like the place that two cultural people of that era would go if they were taking their first vacation together. The step in the thought process was, ‘OK, how do we do it?’ So we came up with something that was set in their hotel. A bit of a Manhattan Murder Mystery scenario.

Because William and Julia were in Manhattan, that left Brackenreid and Emily to solve the “hit and walk” crime. That was a nice change of pace, especially their dialogue. He’s the old guard and she’s the new.
SM: The advancing of society and social mores is something that the show has always dealt with but it’s something that we’re really tackling a lot this year. You’re going to see that even more as the Suffragette story that we introduced in the two-part premiere advances this season. We’ve been cognizant of keeping that alive throughout. In terms of the characters, I love it when we put Emily and Brackenreid together because they are complete opposites. Emily is the most progressive and youngest of the clan, and Brackenreid is sort of the one character who is allowed–because of his gruff affability–to embody what most people at that time actually felt. He’s the guy who gets to say that women shouldn’t be driving, that things are better when left in the hands of a capable man. And when you throw one of our more progressive-thinking, feisty characters up against that I think it’s a lot of fun and does allow us to make a bit of a commentary on the time and how far things have come.

Putting Crabtree, Higgins and Jackson in that car together was brilliant. It made total sense that these three would buy a car together and hope to appear cool.
SM: That was an idea that came out of the writers’ room as something fun that we wanted to do. Something that had to do with a road trip; how much fun would that be? So when that idea was first batted around we didn’t know how it would fit or if it would even be a case. Maybe it would just be a fun C-story jaunt. We weren’t really sure. At some point the idea of carbon monoxide as a murder weapon came up and that’s when it all kind of tied together. The road trip would become an element of the case.

Sudz Sutherland is no stranger to Murdoch Mysteries. He’s directed several episodes. What does he bring to the table directing an episode like ‘Murdoch Takes Manhattan’?
PM: Sudz is fantastic. He’s a unique director and a unique talent. He directed the wedding episode as well. The way we work is that we shoot two episodes simultaneously, going back and forth from scene to scene. He had his work cut out for him because they’re both big episodes. He has a great sense of humour and is incredibly funny. He knows what the jokes are and where they all are and he also knows where to let his actors play. We have a cast, to a man and a woman, who can be very funny. He also identifies humour in spots where maybe you don’t write in on the page, just in a passing background actor or in a performance from a day player. Casting had a lot to do with it, but finding the bellboy brought a lot of energy and humour to  that storyline. When I wrote it, I thought the road trip would be hilarious but I didn’t think of the other storyline as being particularly comic, but Sudz found a lot of humour in the Manhattan Murder Mystery storyline as well.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 1.08.31 PM

Yannick doesn’t really get to flex his comic muscles that much. Murdoch is supposed to be fairly stoic, so to see his facial expressions in that scene with the bellboy was hilarious.
SM: Because we have a main case of the week that Murdoch has to solve, usually when we have the chance to do something funny and fun and light it ends up in a B-story and in someone else’s hands because Murdoch is busy solving a crime, which is a murder and usually pretty serious. So in this episode, although there turns out to be a murder in it, he doesn’t know there’s a murder at the beginning of it, so there is this framework that he and his wife are off on this fun journey together. So it opened up some more comedic things to do with him. Everyone in the writers’ room is acutely aware that Yannick can be very funny and he nailed it with his reactions. He always delights us, usually with his reactions to Crabtree. In this episode we got to do more of it and he ran with it.

That leads into my favourite line of the night, but before we get to that, can you tell me who wrote the following lines from the episode? ‘Drunken stupor.’
SM: Drunken stupor came from our showrunner, Peter Mitchell.

‘Beside driver.’
SM: That was me.

‘Ontario is ours for the discovering.’
SM: That came out of the fact that we’re doing a behind-the-scenes series sponsored by the Government of Ontario, so that came out of the writers’ room somewhere. I don’t think it was my idea. But whoever said it, it was very funny.

And finally: ‘It’s so big, but it goes in quite easily and reaches into the perfect spot.’
SM: [Laughs.] Yes, that was Mr. Yannick Bisson. That scene in particular was when he was able to run with the comic vibe of the whole storyline and started ad-libbing. I was not on-set for the entire shooting of the scene and he may have consulted with Sudz Sutherland a little bit, but I do know that it didn’t come out of my script or the writers’ room.

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

Link: Can the dark Strange Empire ever touch the cozy success of Murdoch Mysteries?

From Kate Taylor:

Those British TV shows in which Miss Marple solves the case or Inspector Morse fingers the wrong guy are often known as cozies. Even when set in the present, they are nostalgic productions with bucolic settings from which a few not-too-gruesome examples of violence are eventually expelled. Gore, corruption and ambivalence rarely intrude. Continue reading.



Comments and queries for the week of Nov. 7

I literally jumped up out of my chair and applauded when Inspector Brackenreid laid down the law [on Murdoch Mysteries]: no leaving the church until the ceremony was complete. Finally! Now to get Crabtree & Edna Brooks together.–Sue

It seemed to me like they played the wrong music for Julia’s walk down the aisle. The one played was Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” which is usually played after the ceremony. But I loved the show!–CW

In a series where Murdoch’s faith seems to be an integral part of his actions, it struck me as extremely bad writing to have them talk all the way through their vows and tell the priest to hurry up! I could see them realizing who the culprit was and leaving the church in haste after the ceremony and everyone in the dark as to why they left, only to reappear at the reception with it all solved and taken care of.–Merle

Got a comment or question about Canadian television? Send it to greg@tv-eh.com!

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 3.54.52 PM

Interview: Murdoch Mysteries ties the knot

It took eight seasons, but Murdoch Mysteries fans got the storyline they wanted. After what felt like an endless string of will-they-or-won’t-they moments Dr. Julia Ogden and Det. William Murdoch finally tied the knot in front of friends and family in a ceremony that wasn’t without hiccups. Script writer Paul Aitken threw one more wrinkle at the pair by having them realize who the real culprit in a murder case was while kneeling at the altar. Cracking the case caused the pair to stand up and make ready to depart the proceedings … until Inspector Brackenreid ordered them to say their vows and make the wedding official.

In what I hope will become a weekly column with Murdoch‘s writers for the rest of the season, I spoke to co-executive producer and writer Aitken about Monday’s landmark 100th episode and the wedding we’d all be waiting for.

After teasing fans for so long, it was fun to have that final twist where it looked like William and Julia would forgo their vows one final time to solve a crime.
Paul Aitken: We came up with the wedding idea before we even came up with the central plot. And we wanted them to do exactly that; run away from the altar and then have Brackenreid stop them. We built the rest of the episode kind of around that moment. What we didn’t want to do was what they did on Bones, which was essentially to devote the last act entirely to their kind of gushy wedding. We wanted to basically play a bit with our fans who have been expecting, I think, something to go wrong and immediately set that right.

Was there a point when everyone decided the wedding would happen this season and during the 100th episode, or did it happen that way as a happy coincidence?
PA: It was entirely a happy coincidence. Because the wedding was going to be a special episode and the 100th was going to be a special episode, we had actually planned for two special episodes out of this. The original plan was to have the Murdoch origin episode, which was written by Maureen Jennings, be the 100th episode. But we found it was difficult to work the present mystery into the origin mystery so we couldn’t solve that in time. So we defaulted to the wedding being the 100th episode, and in the end I think it was the right decision.

Did anyone on the team want to wait and perhaps have the wedding at the end of this season or even push it to future seasons. Or have them never get together?
PA: No. Never having them get together was never an option. We’ve been promising the audience pretty much from the get-go that these two belong together and you simply can’t end the series without them ultimately being together. We would have absolutely kept them apart if we could think of a single reason how. Without stretching plausibility to the breaking point. Everyone is a little nervous that they’re married now and there won’t be the same dramatic kind of thrust to the show and we’ll see what the audience thinks. We may lose some audience, but we simply could not maintain it dramatically and have it be at all believable.

Do you have those same fears?
PA: Not too much. Ultimately we’re a murder mystery. We always tell good mysteries and our return audience will always be there. I think those that were in the show only because they were waiting for Murdoch and Ogden to get together, we may lose some of those people. I don’t think they were our main audience base and I don’t think people tune into our show to see a soap opera. They tune in to see a mystery that has elements of soaps and of characters and of continuing storylines.

How did the writing of this script go? Did Peter weigh in with some notes or did you have carte blanche because you’ve been with the show for so long as a writer and producer?
PA: This is true on almost every episode; it’s a room-based story. The writer goes away and does a draft and the writers’ room weighs in with notes and it’s very much a product of several different hands and several different voices. It’s very collaborative and this was no different. We broke the story in the room and then I went away and wrote the script and then I got notes. This is the result of all that.

The audience wanted more Margaret Brackenreid [Arwen Humphreys] and you gave it to them. She was great as the frenetic wedding planner.
PA: Arwen is great and I love the character of Margaret Brackenreid. I’ve written her several times and I take particular pleasure in writing her because she is the only person who tops Brackenreid. Brackenreid is the boss of everybody, but she is definitely the boss of Brackenreid!

Is there anything that you’re particularly proud of, looking back over these past 100 episodes?
PA: I’m very proud of the show. I think we hit the sweet spot right out of the gate. We had great characters and great actors playing those characters. As actors do, they bring something to the role that ignites our interest as writers, so we tend to write to that. That happened very quickly. It’s largely luck as much as anything. I feel an enormous amount of pride about the whole enterprise and am very happy that we’ve kept it going as long as we have. When we first started I said, ‘We can only go two seasons because that’s as many ideas that I can come up with!’ I come into every season with zero ideas and somehow it works. Somehow we come up with the ideas as we go through. As long as the audience sticks with us we’ll come up with ideas.

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