Murdoch Mysteries fans have clearly been good little girls and boys this year. Not to mention patient. I was perusing the CBC’s media site so that I could start prepping for Season 14 previews and interviews and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but brand-new cast images! Please enjoy them, courtesy of CBC.
I thought Daniel [Maslany] was brilliant in this episode [of Murdoch Mysteries]. When he first started on the show I thought he was obnoxious. The seasons have passed and the backstory of Watts’s life have filled in, a sister, two brothers and finding out that his religion is Judaism. He has adjusted so well. The notebook is gone (I think), he has friendships and support in the station. I agree with him about his way of preparing for the show, give him time with the script. Let him find his way with it. Congratulations to everyone on a spectacular show, one of my favourites. —Jan
The episode was brilliant and the performance given by Daniel Maslany was exceptional. Definitely CSA-worthy. —Fatima
This was a great episode, and bravo to Daniel Maslany! —Lloyd
He was absolutely stellar in this episode. His non-verbals were superb and quite instrumental in fleshing out both the character and the experience. The continuation of both is why this is my No. 1 television watching choice. —Ingrid
Maslany has been a wonderful addition to this show; when he first appeared, I thought that maybe he was slightly Aspergers-like, with his high intelligence but lack of social skills and filter. So, kind of endearingly quirky, for sure, and very Colombo-like. Hope he’s included in many more episodes to come. This was a good one—I figured I knew who the murderer was from the outset, but the twists and turns as the episode progressed made me doubt myself, thanks to the convincing acting by Maslany—good job! —D Mac
Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched Murdoch Mysteries’ latest instalment, “Brother’s Keeper.”
Back in 2016, Daniel Maslany was part of another CBC series. Four in the Morning featured Maslany as Bondurant, part of a quartet of twentysomethings who stumbled their way into odd adventures in the dead of the night in Toronto. Four in the Morning was cancelled after just one season—I think it was just a little ahead of its time—but it freed up Maslany to play Detective Watts on Murdoch Mysteries. In fact, if it wasn’t for Four in the Morning‘s outrageous production schedule he might not have been hired for Murdoch at all.
“I’d been up the previous night until five in the morning and then had the [Murdoch Mysteries] audition the next day,” Maslany remembers. “And I think it actually really helped. He’s a little bit more grounded and lazy and sloppy, and so, my exhaustion just from shooting the night before really helped.”
That sloppy—yet brilliant—detective has been part the series for three seasons. On Monday night, viewers were treated to Watts’ backstory. We spoke to Maslany to get the scoop on what makes the man tick and what it’s been like being part of the show.
So if you hadn’t been super tired and had that experience on Four in the Morning, Watts might have been totally different.
Daniel Maslany: I mean, Watts might have been someone else. I think there’s so much luck in this business, and I’ve … I can count all the different kind of serendipitous things that fall into place when I did a role and a lot of it is out of my control.
People have said a lot that Watts reminds them of Columbo. Are you seeing that? Was he an inspiration?
DM: In the writing, Columbo was actually written in the original breakdown for the character. It was a reference I didn’t know. I didn’t grow up watching Columbo, so I watched some clips to get some ideas, and then it sort of veered in its own … anything that goes through the filter of someone else, it becomes their own, so yeah, I had that as a reference point, but also so much had been in the script from Simon McNabb in that first episode. Norma Bailey was the director and she was always really encouraging me.
That became sort of a game in that first episode, and I honestly was happy with that being the character and would have been happy to play him in that realm for the rest of these three seasons. I found that really fun world to play in as a foil to Murdoch and be sort of his opposite.
But then I started getting these episodes, especially in Season 11 where it was taking Watts to a more human, emotional place, and that was really exciting to sort open him up in that way.
Your speaking voice with me right now is very different from the way that Watts speaks. What was the inspiration for the language choice?
DM: I think some of it had to do with the fact … we talked about being tired in the first episode and having to wake up earlier, and that kind of thing. I think it was also the most maybe grown-up role I’d ever played? So I kind of felt like I had to play it as grown-up/adult a little bit. So it’s kind of like a false … a false grown-up voice to it, which I think is appropriate, since he’s a really young. He’s a young detective, and he’s filling some big shoes, and he’s playing cops-and-robbers with all these real grown-ups. I feel like he plays a bit older than himself.
When Watts first came on to the scene a lot of fans said, ‘Who is this guy? Why is he coming onto this show? Is he going to replace somebody?’ But now you’ve become a fan favourite. What’s it been like to be embraced by the fans?
DM: It’s super exciting. I mean, I know it is such a loyal fan base, so I was … I kind loved the hot/cold attitude that they had with him, especially early on. It’s fun. What I find with the fans is that they like investing in the reality of the show, so they are actually cheering for the good guys and angry at the bad guys. And obviously no one would want to watch a show where everybody’s happy and good, but a lot of the comments you see online are, ‘I just want them all to be happy. I want the bad guys to go away.’ And the bad guys can’t go away or else there’s no show. So when Watts veers into more of an antagonistic realm, it’s fun seeing them be upset about that, because he’s not always super nice to Murdoch but obviously that’s the fun of it.
We’ve gotten a little bit of backstory into Watts in the last couple of seasons, but man, you really reveal a lot about this character in Monday’s episode.
DM: Yeah, I was as surprised, probably, as people will be watching the episode reading it, because this was all news to me, and with each more dramatic-leaning episode that I’ve had for Watts, I’m learning more about his backstory, and part of me, the nervous, scared actor me, wonders, ‘Oh, is this the same guy?’ and ‘Does this make sense that he would be so quirky and distracted and out of it if he’s had such a tragic past?’
I’ve been sort of realizing that these are his walls and his protection, his barriers that he puts up because he’s had a really tragic childhood, leading up to when he comes to Station House No. 1 and then to Station House No. 4, and then he keeps losing people in his life. So I’ve had this list that I keep going back to when Watts is having a sort of a sadder moment. He’s lost this person, this person, this person, and that list keeps getting longer with each episode. Because a lot of people have just left him or died.
You share some wonderful scenes with Yannick as William Murdoch, especially in the interrogation room. What was it like working with him up close and personal, just the two of you like that?
DM: That was such an exciting day, because we shot all of the interrogation stuff and the scene right before that where I’m getting my arm bandaged all in one day, and we got to shoot it chronologically, which is such a dream, because so often you’re shooting out of order, you’re trying to connect the dots, and especially with this script, because they’re so many alternate versions that are told, and his interpretations that are told.
It was really nice to work chronologically, and Craig David Wallace, the director and I, had a long chat after the first table read of this episode, where he broke down every single interrogation with me, and we went, ‘OK, what are the games being played? What is at stake? Is Watts just protecting himself, or is he protecting Hubert here?’ We kind of designed this whole arc, and also never talked to Yannick about it, because then there was this sort of playfulness and this mystery. But there’s an unknown of how’s the dynamic going to work once we both get in the room together. So Yannick didn’t know about these kind of things that we had discussed, and then it was really fun in the blocking watching Yannick react and see where he goes with it, with anything.
People don’t realize how much homework can go into making a TV show, and you did a lot of it for this episode.
DM: Yeah, I mean, I think everybody has a different process. Coming from the theatre, I really need to spend time with a script before I feel comfortable with it. I’m amazed by actors who can pick up a few pages, memorize it, and then shoot the scene and have such grounded and nuanced performances, but I do need to take some time and actually sort of think about the thought process of the character before I feel ready to share it.
I wanted to ask about the wardrobe that Joanna has created for Watts. She’s new to Murdoch this year with regard to the clothing. I guess that’s just another layer of getting into that character; putting on those suits, putting on that hat really gets you into character.
DM: Yeah, she was so great. She gave me a really fun new suit that’s a green plaid suit this season. It’s great, and I feel like it’s nice that it was established in a really silly Halloween episode, ’cause it fit so much with his really heightened palette there, and now it’s become one of his staples that he wears. In [Monday’s] episode, obviously, Watts shoots his own sleeve, his own arm. And so they have to cut a little hole in it and patch it, but it’s such a beautifully handmade suit, so they were like really worried to damage it at all. So it’s a really nice kind of a patching that they did. It still looks pretty great.
What can you say about Watts’ journey for the rest of this season?
DM: The joke is less about him bumping up against the way things are supposed to be done, and he’s learning to be a team member within the station house and work well with others, so he’s growing as a person and as a detective, and he’s also starting to question his own philosophy. So we see that unravel even a little bit more as the season goes on.
What did you think of this episode? Do you have a message for Daniel Maslany? Let me know in the comments below!
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
We Murdoch Mysteries fans have got it pretty good. While many, many television series are cancelled after just weeks or months, we’ve gotten 12 seasons of William Murdoch and his adventures. Over that time we’ve fallen in love with the main characters. We’ve cheered for the good guys and jeered at the bad guys. It’s been a lot of fun seeing the lads and ladies inside and outside of Station House No. 4 in a variety of serious, deadly, hilarious and offbeat scenarios. And Monday’s standalone instalment was certainly offbeat.
I was appalled at the emails and comments on social media denouncing last week’s Halloween episode, “Sir. Sir? Sir!!” Everyone is allowed to have an opinion, but heading online to spew insults at those involved in the show is out of line. To all of those people who have, in the last week, threatened to stop watching: go ahead. I won’t miss you. And learn some manners.
To the cast, crew and writing staff of Murdoch Mysteries: bravo for challenging the status quo and creating interesting tales for these characters to run around in. I appreciate it, and millions of other viewers do too.
When Watts (Daniel Maslany) kills a man in self-defence and Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) uncovers the victim’s criminal past, questions surround Watts’ story.
And here is some additional info I gleaned from watching a preview of the episode, written by Paul Aitken and directed by Craig David Wallace.
Detective Watts in the bomb
He showed up in our lives slightly dishevelled and a little scatterbrained, but Watts has shambled his way into my heart. I’m so glad Daniel Maslany has gotten increased airtime on Murdoch because Watts brings a lot to the table. He’s a little off-kilter at times, but he’s as brilliant as William. On Monday, we’re treated to a completely different side of Watts, with Aitken’s script giving Maslany the opportunity to really show off his acting talent. (Speaking of different sides, check out Maslany’s other CBC program, Four in the Morning. It’s weird and wonderful.)
Higgins is still married…
And the Higgins-Newsomes are adjusting to life without the finer things. Higgins is suffering from a serious lack of sleep, which may explain what he does to Murdoch just 11 minutes into “Brothers Keeper.”
John Brackenreid returns
Fans have been asking, and Aitken comes through. Turns out John has a real nose for investigations.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Murdoch Schmurdoch”!
As I wrote in my preview, “Murdoch Schmurdoch” is a bit of a departure for Murdoch Mysteries. Yes, there was a crime—the death of a theatre owner—which meant Dr. Ogden, Brackenreid, Higgins and Murdoch were all involved. But viewers were given an in-depth peek into the life of Det. Watts (Daniel Maslany) as it was revealed he’s actually Jewish. I found that insight to be highly enjoyable, as was the performance of Sayer Roberts as the legendary Al Jolson.
But, it turns out an early draft of the script had Crabtree discovering his Jewish roots. I chatted with longtime Murdoch Mysteries writer Lori Spring and Toronto-based criminal lawyer and mystery writer Robert Rotenberg—who co-wrote the episode with Spring—to discuss “Murdoch Schmurdoch.”
How were you and Robert teamed up to write this episode in the first place?
Lori Spring: I had gone into Shaftesbury with Bobby to pitch a series based on one of his unpublished novels. They knew that Bobby and I were trying to work together and they teamed me up with him. We went into the writer’s room together. Bobby is an experienced novelist and less experienced screenwriter so it was somewhat of a mentoring situation.
Robert Rotenberg: I’ve really wanted to get into TV screenwriting for years. I was talking to Christina [Jennings] and she mentioned her good friend Lori Spring. Lori Spring and I went to summer camp together when we were 15 years old! Lori and I got together. I came up with the idea of Al Jolson coming to Toronto when he was 18, they loved the idea and asked me to co-write with Lori which was the best thing that could have happened. I kind of went to screenwriting school for two months with Lori. It was incredible.
How did the main storyline, regarding anti-Semitism, break?
LS: The starting point was actually that Bobby had pitched Al Jolson as a historical guest character. He would have been around 19 years of age at that time. Then there was the general idea that he would have been in Toronto doing a performance. We had also sent some research notes because, at that time, there was a large influx of Eastern European Jews to Toronto in the late 19th century and earlier 20th century. By 1906, there were a number of Jews that were trying to initiate Yiddish theatres in the city. That became something that we wanted to work with. And Al Jolson was Jewish. So those were two threads that established themselves early on. Then we had the idea that one of the characters would find out that he was Jewish and Pete was really enthused about the idea of Watts discovering that about himself, so that became the B-story.
RR: One day, we were driving to the set and I turned to her and said, ‘I think we have too many characters.’ We walked in and said, ‘We’ve taken two characters and turned them into one.’ We had the producer and a director and it just became too complicated. It was much easier to make it one character, Levine. And we had an M.C. but decided to just let Levine do the introductions on-stage.
It really ended up being a Watts-centric episode and I loved that.
LS: Yes, and that was the intention.
RR: That was really fun. The original idea was that it would be Crabtree because they’re still kind of vague about his background. I loved the idea of someone hearing a tune and realizing that they’ve heard something from their childhood and putting it together. Then, they suggested it be Watts, which was a perfect fit.
That’s a lot of responsibility for you two. You shaped this character’s backstory.
LS: His tone has been established. Having worked on this show for so many years, the characters have sort of formed themselves and their backstories get filled in more and more every season. It’s not as if in the beginning of the show, William’s backstory was clear to everybody. It kind of fills itself in with every season. Watts is a latecomer to the season and it’s been a really interesting process.
Al Jolson really did visit Toronto and performed at The Royal Alexandra Theatre, but later than in your timeline.
LS: That’s right, he did. Well, I did the episode with Lucy Maud Montgomery and played fast and loose with that one too. [Laughs.]
I always love the little details and there were a couple in this episode. The Flatiron Building cutout was fun, and so was having Al Jolson turn around to show him just beginning to put on the blackface that would become his schtick.
LS: We really talked a lot about how to handle that. When he was the age he would have been in 1906 that was when Al Jolson started to do blackface, but we didn’t want to go heavy on the blackface because it’s pretty loaded. It wasn’t loaded back then. It was viewed quite differently back then and Al Jolson wasn’t the greatest guy in the world but was well thought of by black performers because he was very progressive in his racial politics.
RR: Historically, blackface was considered a very liberal at that time, which is completely opposite to what we think now. There were a lot of black performers at the time and it was considered as honouring them.
You wrote a very sweet storyline for John Brackenreid, having him fall in love with Charlotte. He’s such a blank canvas.
LS: [Laughs.] And to write scenes like that, you really start to fill in the colours. It’s fun to pretend you’re a 16-year-old boy in 1906 Toronto!
What did you think of “Murdoch Schmurdoch”? Let me know in the comments below!
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.