Midsomer Murders

Forget Russian roulette: in the famously hazardous county of Midsomer, even standard roulette is deadly. That much was obvious from the opening moments of this typically deranged start to a new run of the pastoral slasher-fest, when an artist took delivery of a booby-trapped roulette wheel and ended up losing a lot more than her shirt.

But that was a positively dignified way to go compared to her husband, who was squashed to death in his own printing press, complete with a page of text stamped across his corpse. (You could tell he was going to be the next to go – he had it written all over him.)

The murders, it turned out, were all copied from a lurid crime potboiler written by deceased local author George Summersbee. ‘She was electrocuted in a manner identical to the plot of one of your father’s books,’ DCI Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) told the victim’s grieving friend, played by Georgia Taylor. There is surely nothing at RADA that teaches you how to react to a line like that.

Then the author’s unpublished final manuscript – the star attraction at the Luxton Deeping Crime Festival – was stolen. ‘But…’ sputtered the print shop owner, shortly before becoming a stiff letter himself, ‘without the manuscript, we can’t publish!’ Say what you like, he certainly knew the print trade.

But wait, there was another shocking twist: ‘George Summersbee is alive and well and living in Midsomer!’ announced Barnaby – the shocking twist, of course, being anyone being alive in Midsomer. (Don’t worry, he was dead again within 10 minutes.)

In one scene, characters were seen rolling their eyes at Summersbee’s hokey, nonsensical plots. Deliciously subversive, or just a ruddy cheek? Who knows – as ever with Midsomer, you’re never quite sure to what extent it’s meant to be a parody, and who is supposed to be in on the joke.

Still, it’s good fun, in a daft sort of way – like a game of Cluedo, but without the depth or character motivation. And at least DCI Barnaby isn’t lumbered with the clichéd personality flaws we usually get in cop shows – like a drink problem or a gambling addiction or a dark secret in his past. Though maybe that’s because, to have flaws, you need a personality to start with.

TV extra:

Mr Selfridge

Arriving every January like Downton’s replacement bus service, the department store saga appears to be running low on stocks of ideas. This week saw Mr S’s daughter married off to a Russian aviator – but it turned out he was only after her father’s aerodrome, the cad. The reception was held over the shop (in Selfridge’s roof garden) but Mr Crabb was too busy fretting about losing a day’s takings to enjoy it. Meanwhile, there was industrial unrest in the loading bay. Where’s John Inman when you need him?

Cucumber

Cucumber – in which Russell T Davies revisits the Manchester gay scene of his groundbreaking Queer as Folk – is as subtle as its title suggests. But Davies excels at delivering big ideas with a deceptively light touch, and behind the filthy jokes he has a lot to say here about the quiet desperation of middle-aged men struggling to let go of their gilded youths. Most desperate of all is Henry, Cucumber’s waspish anti-hero – a fabulous, tragi-comic portrait of impotent rage by Vincent Franklin that has BAFTA written all over it.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, January 29, 2015

(c) Waitrose Weekend