Tag Archives: Simon McNabb

Murdoch Mysteries: Simon McNabb on “Merlot Mysteries” and saying goodbye to another character

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched Season 11, Episode 2, of Murdoch Mysteries, entitled “Merlot Mysteries. 

Monday’s newest episode of Murdoch Mysteries had it all: a gruesome murder (poisoning!) right off the top, humour (Murdoch drunk!), sweet CGI (winery swiping!) and … another character departing the series. But, unlike Constable Jackson—who died in a hail of gunfire—Rebecca James (Mouna Traoré) exited the morgue to begin her own practice in Chatham, Ont. In our second Season 11 exclusive interview with the writing staff at Murdoch Mysteries, we discuss the season so far with writer and co-producer Simon McNabb, who co-wrote the episode with showrunner Peter Mitchell.

You’re going to hear it from the fans. That’s two Murdoch Mysteries in two weeks!
Simon McNabb: It’s going to be interesting to see what the fan reaction is. In Episode 1, even though people love Jackson—he has become a fan favourite in the last few seasons and a fan of the writer’s room—there was so much at stake coming into that episode and people had great fears for who and how many lives could be lost that there was a bit of relief mixed with the disappointment that Jackson is gone. In Episode 2, we’re saying goodbye to Rebecca and I think that might blindside some people and they’ll be surprised to see her walk out of the morgue.

Peter told me last week that Mouna Traoré was leaving because of other projects, and the door was left open for her to return.
Absolutely. It’s something that we’ve talked about and whether or not she comes back this season remains to be seen.

Who is the wine expert in the writer’s room?
Both Peter and I are pretty familiar with wine, with regard to drinking it. We are not experts in terms of knowing the varietals and the regions, so some of it was picked up from other writers in the room and some of it was a crash course in documentaries and reading about the history of wine, especially in the region. I think we learned just enough to skate by.

I love the back and forth between Murdoch and Det. Watts [Daniel Maslany]. Having Murdoch not be an expert in something was refreshing and fun, as was having him defer to Watts.
I love watching those two together. When we first came to the idea of introducing a new detective into the show on a part-time basis last season it was always immediately a concern, ‘How can this character be likable and smart and good and his job and still be different from Murdoch?’ Then it became, ‘How do we use these two distinct personalities and let them bump up against each other and complement each other during the course of a murder investigation?’ We thought it would be a great idea to have something that Watts knows more about than Murdoch, a real rarity. As a teetotaler and devout Catholic, wine seemed to be a no-brainer. Of course, Murdoch knows nothing about the history, details and different varieties of wine. Watts is a blank slate and we could do whatever we wanted. So it was great to have Watts be the expert and have Murdoch catch up.

A few fans have put forth the comment that Watts reminds them of Columbo. Was that the intention?
It certainly wasn’t intentional when we conceived of the character. At the same time, I think it’s something that we noticed as we started filming him. I would say the result of the similarity to Columbo is an amalgamation of the choices that were made by all sorts of people. Some of it was in the writing of the character and some of it was the costume department making him a little ragged, which came a little bit out of the writing. It was a choice. We could have made him a scatter-brained person who is dressed to the nines. And, also, a lot of it came from Daniel. I don’t know how familiar Daniel is with Columbo or Peter Falk, he’s so young he may never have seen it.

With Rebecca leaving and going to Chatham, where does that leave Julia and the morgue?
We’ll have to see. Julia can’t be on her own entirely in the morgue. She still has other responsibilities in her life and other interests in her life in the Suffrage Movement and the asylum, which we don’t explore every week but is a part of her life. As writers, when somebody leaves it’s always the opportunity to do something else. And whether that character will be somebody who is ongoing or just somebody who is there for a week or two, we’ll just have to wait and see.


Either the CGI budget is bigger this season or it’s cheaper to do it … Murdoch swiping the winery buildings out of the way to see the lay of the land was very impressive and effective.
I think it’s a combination of effects getting cheaper and a spending a little more money to do something special. We came up with that idea in the writer’s room and knew it would be very effective.

Let’s talk about the additions to the writing room this season in Dan Trotta, Natalia Guled and Noelle Girard. What has it been like having three new folks in the room with you?
All three of them have been fantastic and it’s been really exciting for all of us old hands to work with new people and get some fresh voices in. We loved everybody we were working with before, but there hadn’t been a change in the writer’s room in any way in, I believe, five years or four full seasons. To do, sort of, almost half of the writer’s room stepping aside and half stepping in was different and took some figuring out and feeling out of who everybody was and what they were going to bring to the table, but now at this point in the season we’ve been together for six months and feel like we’ve been working together forever.

Got a comment about Monday’s episode? Let me know in the comments section below.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.




Murdoch Mysteries’ Simon McNabb breaks down “Excitable Chap”

Monday’s new episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Excitable Chap,” marked the return of two favourites. Thomas Brackenreid was back from St. Louis, sporting a gold medal for soccer that he’d won coaching Galt to victory. Monday also saw James Pendrick back in Station House No. 4, first to hang out with Brackenreid because they’d bonded at the World’s Fair and then because, no surprise, he was suspected of murder in a very Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde storyline.

But rather than fall back into his routine, Brackenreid has been grabbed by wanderlust and excited by the world. No longer content, for the moment at least, being a copper, he’s gone off on an adventure with Pendrick—he was once again exonerated of killing—in pursuit of Ashmi, who’s stolen the inventor’s formula for the fountain of youth.

We spoke to Simon McNabb—who co-wrote the episode with showrunner Peter Mitchell—about Brackenreid’s departure, Nina and Crabtree’s breakup, and a peek at next week’s holiday special.

It was interesting to see Brackenreid return to Toronto with his world view opened up and wanderlust triggered. Could this be the final season for Brackenreid?
Simon McNabb: Well, anything is possible. I can’t speak one way or another about what happens to the character in Season 10 or any possible future seasons but he’s certainly developed a taste for wanderlust as a character. We, as writers, wanted to explore what it would give to him as a character and open some interesting avenues for him in the future.

We thought this was sort of an interesting way to explore with Tom Brackenreid. Maybe this is the 1904 equivalent of buying a sports car; getting back out there and having that sense of adventure.

It was interesting that you referenced Ota Benga in the episode, who was really part of the St. Louis World’s Fair.
That emerged organically from our desire to put in as much as possible from the history of the period and that was one of the headlines of the St. Louis World’s Fair. At the time, they had these pygmies who were essentially on display which is sort of shocking by today’s standards. We were sort of at the end of this tradition by the end of 1904, but it had been going on for years that people had been brought and put on display at world fairs. We saw a little touch of it last year in the Arctic episode when Crabtree meets the Inuit man and thinks, for a moment, that he’s part of the display. One of the headlines from the World’s Fair is that they had these pygmies on display and did keep them locked up. The young man that Brackenreid is obliquely referring to did go on an adventure for awhile and left the fair and wandered about as a free man and then was either recaptured or returned to the group and travelled around parts of the United States as sort of a cause célèbre.

You and Peter Mitchell shared writing credits on this episode. How did that work?
The story itself took awhile to develop in that the very basic notion of a Jekyll and Hyde story was one that has sort of wandered in and out of the writers’ room over and over again. At some point, the notion of doing it with James Pendrick as the Jekyll and Hyde figure stuck around and we were all tickled by it. And then, Pete Mitchell early in the development process for this season had a few ideas about it and broke out most of the story you see there quite quickly on his own and then brought me along to help him write it. We split it up as front half-back half.


You picked a great character to be Jekyll and Hyde. Peter Stebbings has such an emotive face.
He was such a natural fit. Peter is such a great actor when it comes to emotion and can play all sorts of different angles and elements and if you give him the opportunity he’ll play it right up to the max. I think this was the episode of Murdoch Mysteries that gave him the most room to go a little over the top. We knew he would have fun doing it, and we would have fun watching it.

I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek reference in the script about Pendrick showing up just in time to be accused of murder.
It’s one of those things where, as a murder mystery, it’s very hard to bring back anyone without them being involved, in some way, with the murder of the episode. Sometimes we come up with a way to just have them around for the week and not accused of murder but sometimes it’s just to much fun to have them as the prime suspect. You have to wink at yourself because, at this point, the audience is pretty convinced Pendrick won’t be the killer by the end of the day.

Nina and George have broken up. What can you say about the demise of their relationship?
George’s relationships have been a roller coaster and I, for one, am in favour of it. I’ve been a sucker, since I first started watching the show, for the troubles of George’s heart. At the start of last season, we tried to challenge Crabtree a little bit when it comes to what he wants out of a relationship and life. Through the years, we have matched him up with women and all of them offered the same sort of future he imagined for himself, getting married and having a family. By introducing Nina Bloom, we forced him to challenge that. He falls for her despite having none of those things and he starts to reconsider how much he values those things or whether this very exciting love affair might be something that he likes and appreciates and wants to explore more than the conventional lifestyle.

As soon as we did that, we realized we’d have to bring in someone who represented the more traditional choice and see if he really was ready throw away the whole notion of settling down and having kids. That’s what we’re trying to explore; where he lands I’m not sure.

I laughed out loud when Julia said, ‘I’ve had better,’ after Pendrick kissed her while he was The Lurker.
That was a line written by Peter Mitchell.

What can you tease about the next episode, the holiday special ‘Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas’?
It focuses more heavily on Crabtree than last year’s special. He is sort of at the centre of the main mystery and story this year. This year he is really in the thick of what is, I think, an exciting and delightful adventure.

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


Murdoch Mysteries’ Simon McNabb discusses “Concocting a Killer”

Murdoch Mysteries fans are used to seeing William and Julia solve every crime placed in front of them by using their wits and technology. But what if technology failed and caused them to imprison the wrong man? That was the thrust of “Concocting a Killer,” as Gus Shanley (Jonathan Goad) was sent to jail for killing his friend with poison-laced cocoa.

Monday’s new instalment also introduced viewers to Det. Watts (Daniel Maslany), who—despite being a great detective in his own right—could not have been more different from Det. Murdoch. We got Simon McNabb on the phone to discuss his episode and what’s to come next week.

This was a great episode. ‘A Study in Pink’ was pretty heavy, with a lot of aliases and characters floating around and ‘Concocting a Killer’ felt lighter and with a bit more humour. And I liked the fact that William and Julia may have made a mistake 12 years ago.
Simon McNabb: The whole idea for ‘Concocting a Killer’ was to explore the idea that Murdoch and Ogden may have made a mistake at some point in their careers. We’re so used to watching these stories with them where their theories along the way may be or incorrect, but at the end of the day, they’re always right. The inspiration for this episode was, ‘Well, what happens if that’s called into question?’ We explored how to do that and an interesting way. The most fun part for me was figuring out what that self-doubt meant for them as characters. How did they each approach it? Murdoch is usually so logical, but is there an emotional angle to his response to being wrong and he’s not used to that. I thought it was nice to see him get his back up, both for his own conviction and his confidence in Julia.


Let’s talk about Daniel Maslany as Det. Watts. I’m glad he’ll be back because he was quirky, feisty and Murdoch’s polar opposite when it comes to his investigating style. And Daniel was really great in Four in the Morning playing a somewhat similar character.
It was a long conversation in the writers’ room about how to bring in a detective who could play off Murdoch and, as you alluded to, be his opposite and not be a terrible detective. With Murdoch being the most brilliant detective in Toronto and the world, you could bring in someone and have him be a bad detective or you could make him rough and tumble like Brackenreid. So we thought about how to come up with someone who is totally unlike Murdoch but still very much a classically great detective and in the mold of your Sherlock Holmes’. We found a nice balance. He’s a character who is a little hard to get a handle on with regard to what he’s going to say—he’s a bit of a loose cannon and has very little in regards to social graces—so it was really fun to see them play off each other and I think the actors did too.

Regarding Daniel, we hadn’t seen Four in the Morning when he was cast. I think he was either still shooting it, or the episodes were in the can but no one had seen it yet. It was only when we saw the show when it premiered that we realized there is a bit of similarity in character there … he’s a bit of a live wire. But, if you get to meet Daniel, he couldn’t be further from that. He’s very calm, very polite, kind and gracious. Even though he has that energy in him, he’s nothing but a calm, cool, professional on set.

Yannick doesn’t often get the chance to do comedy on Murdoch Mysteries; seeing his facial expressions as he reacted to Watts was pretty enjoyable.
For me, I think Yannick is hilarious. He has perfect comic timing and instinct and he gets to play the heroic lead on this show which means he doesn’t get to do the comedy the other guys get to do.

I also enjoyed Watts’ catchphrases. Brackenreid has ‘Bloody hell!’ and Watts has ‘Hellfire!’ and ‘Sweet Mary!’
[Laughs.] Yeah, I guess that could be his ‘Bloody hell!’ if he sticks around long enough.

We always think of Murdoch as leading that front edge of technology, but this episode showed that, 12 years ago, the technology wasn’t there with regard to the spectroscope and analyzing metals.
That’s one of the things that was particularly interesting to me and why I wanted to embrace some of the details of the poisons and the detection methods that were available at the time. As you say, the technology was advancing so rapidly—this was the age of invention—and we give Murdoch and Odgen every tool they have to offer because they’re so cutting edge at the time. They had investigated something to the absolute best of their abilities 12 years earlier, but 12 years later there was a hole in the methods that they used. We liked landing on that as a ‘mistake’ because it allowed our guys to legitimately question themselves and, hopefully, it allows the audience to question them too. We’re so conditioned to Murdoch and Ogden getting everything right that it’s hard to put in front of the audience that they were wrong this time and have them believe it. So, we thought, ‘What if they were wrong 12 years ago because their tools just weren’t good enough?’

What can you say about Episode 5?
The episode is called ‘Jagged Little Pill.’ Rebecca James is in her second season on the show and one of the things that we wanted to do in Season 10 was give her a least a couple of opportunities to really shine and do something cool and interesting and have a pivotal role in one of our stories. In part because we think Mouna is great and in part because we thought the episode she headlined least year, ‘Colour Blinded,’ turned out really, really well.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.