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Midsomer Murders: Set 20

Release Year:         2010-2011 (not released in North America)

Studio:         Acorn Media

Format:         Colour; NTSC; Boxed set; Widescreen

Rated:         Not Rated (Episode “Fit for Murder” contains brief nudity)

# of Discs/Episodes:         4 / 4

Running Time:         400 minutes

DVD Release Date:         July 3, 2012

Creators:         Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham

Actors:         John Nettles, Jane Wymark, Jason Hughes, Neil Dudgeon

DVD Features:         SDH subtitles; “Barnaby Through The Years photo gallery; “Saying Goodbye to Barnaby” Essay

E: Top Picks Rating:         9/10

Acorn Media Write-up:
The US debut of fan favourite John Nettles’ final episodes are here in MIDSOMER MURDERS: SET 20. For more than a decade, DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles, “Bergerac”) has policed the murderous county of Midsomer, winning legions of fans – including the Queen of England herself. In these four new, contemporary stand-alone mysteries, Barnaby investigates his final cases before leaving the denizens of Midsomer in the capable hands of his cousin, DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon, “Life of Riley”). Set in England’s picture-perfect but perilous Midsomer County, Set 20’s episodes are available to US audiences for the first time with this release. New episodes of MIDSOMER MURDERS are still in production starring Neil Dudgeon.

The cozy villages of Midsomer County reveal their most sinister secrets in these contemporary British television mysteries inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, modern master of the English village mystery. Detective chief Inspector Tom Barnaby has policed the murderous county for decades, and now he’s ready to retire. Also starring Jason Hughes as Detective Sergeant Ben Jones.

The Mysteries:
Master Class – Competition over a prestigious music class unearths a long-kept secret.
The Noble Art – A reenactment of a championship boxing match turns deadly.
Not in My Back Yard – A clash over property development leads to a string of murders.
Fit for Murder – The Barnabys’ spa weekend is interrupted by a gruesome discovery.

MIDSOMER MURDERS premiered in the United Kingdom in March 1997. Since then, more than ninety feature-length episodes have aired with new episodes still in production. In the US, the series has been seen on A&E and The Biography Channel. However, the episodes in SET 20 are the second part of Series 13 (2010-11), which never broadcast in the US.

Acorn Media previously released SETS 1 – 19 with three to five mysteries per set, as well as three collector’s sets (The Early Cases Collection, Barnaby’s Casebook, and Village Case Files.) Each set ranked in Acorn’s top 10 best-sellers for its year and sales of each new set consistently gain momentum.

Jon Ted Wynne & Rhiannon Benedict Review:
The danger with long-running series like MIDSOMER MURDERS is complacency on the part of the producers. Scripts become less imaginative, production values suffer, actors get bored and start “phoning in” performances. Aided by the steady hand of producer Brian True-May, MIDSOMER has maintained a standard of excellence throughout its long run that puts many other, newer series to shame. While the show (and its producer) has its critics—and any show that is on for well over a decade is bound to run the risk of repetition—MIDSOMER MURDERS, in my opinion, is just as engaging as it was at the beginning.

The production values of these four episodes, the uniformly outstanding acting, the plot twists and the obvious care that goes into each mystery, pays dividends in terms of solid entertainment value. It also speaks highly for True-May, who could easily coast along with this successful formula and its loyal audience, but to his credit, he is clearly dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the series.

Admittedly, the scenery, the quaintness of village life, the architecture, the customs, the characters – all of these attributes are fundamental to its charm and success. But the real fun lies in the complexity of the stories. Let’s review exactly what the series formula is, for those of you who are reading about MIDSOMER MURDERS for the first time.

Midsomer County in England is dotted with sunny (obviously a nod to the fantasy aspect of the show), cozy, idyllic, picturesque villages. But what lurks in the shadows? Apparently, a very high percentage of the population harbor murder, mayhem and various sexual perversions in their black little hearts. The show is basically an extended metaphor for the darkness that lies within every member of “civilized” society. Fortunately for the sake of society, most of us manage to keep our villainous fantasies in check. Fortunately for the sake of entertainment, a lot of people in Midsomer have lost their inhibitions and their neighbours are dropping like flies. Death comes dressed in the most colourful fashions in MIDSOMER MURDERS. Where else can one find a body bludgeoned into oblivion by vintage wine bottles launched from a catapult? Or a rock star electrocuted on stage by a viciously mis-wired microphone? Macabre humour and dark irony are a staple of every MIDSOMER fan’s diet.

The series remains engaging, top-notch entertainment. The mystery is always solvable, but loaded with twists and turns to keep you guessing. It never fails to be fun and interesting, and never indulges itself by intentionally frustrating the viewer with unsolvable plots. This is quality entertainment, not “gritty realism” (which is just a euphemism for unnecessarily graphic violence and sickening language). Thank heavens MIDSOMER MURDERS is not afraid to buck that ugly trend and continue to offer up this truly lovable crime series.

MIDSOMER MURDERS is inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, modern master of the English village mystery. Scripts are based on her main characters, most notably Tom Barnaby, a likable, hardworking family man and astute detective. John Nettles’ intelligent eyes sparkle with an obvious sense of humour in this character. His overall demeanor is one of reliability and kindness. The fact is, series star John Nettles is exceptional. His characterization avoids monotony because he as an actor is just so darn interesting. In some ways, watching Nettles as Tom Barnaby is like putting on a John Wayne movie. You know you’re going to get a variation on a theme—but what a theme! Barnaby is an exceptional character in terms of television crime fighters in that he is a normal family man with a loving wife and daughter. He is also a believable age for a senior detective. The drama is in the mystery, not in the man.

This is perhaps going to be the saving grace for MIDSOMER MURDERS, as the episode “Fit for Murder” marks John Nettles’ departure from the wild and wooly world of policing in Midsomer. It’s a nervous time for hardcore fans. Tom Barnaby is an old friend by now and will be missed. His replacement, Tom’s cousin DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon), was introduced in “The Sword of Guillaume”, an episode released in SET 19. Jason Hughes will carry on with the series as DS Ben Jones. Fingers crossed that the twisted story lines, excellent dialogue and inspired performances will continue unabated in SET 21. As always, we excitedly await the next murderous plot to crawl out of the dark corners in the lovely villages of Midsomer.