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.

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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.