Hi there – Emily here!
So, a couple of weeks ago, as I was enjoying a slow snowy evening with nothing particularly pressing on my to-do list, I finally took the advice of the always delightful Linda Holmes — and the always insightful Netflix Recommendation Queue — and started watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I know, I know: the title’s not the snazziest. I’d been passing over it for months on my Netflix queue, because I thought it sounded a little bit too much like Murder She Wrote 2: Now With Even More Crime At Charming Country Houses. (No offense intended, Jessica Fletcher fans!) And to be fair, Miss Fisher absolutely investigates her fair share of country-house murders. But Holy Josephine Baker, is this show awesome.
Anyway, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries centers on the eponymous Phryne Fisher (pronounced FRY-nee — can we take a minute and revel in the fabulousness of that name?!) a nouveau-riche Australian lady-detective-cum-flapper who jaunts around Melbourne solving crimes, righting wrongs, and generally enjoying herself.
Phryne’s a wickedly clever, self-sufficient modern woman who moves to Melbourne in the first episode and almost immediately assembles her own Scooby Gang with whom to have adventures and solve mysteries.
(They’re not as awesomely ’90s as is the most iconic Scooby Gang, of course, but it’s not Miss Fisher’s fault that Melbourne isn’t located on a Hellmouth.)
The utter charm of Phryne’s group of friends and associates provides so much of the heart of the show — and really helps this show (which necessarily involves a whole lot of murder) from becoming too dark or stressful. You’ve got Bert, a grumbly socialist, and Cec, his business partner and best friend. Then there’s Dot, Phryne’s extremely wholesome maid-turned-companion, whose biggest worry is about the fact that she’s a good Catholic girl but she’s seeing a (gasp) Protestant. There’s the adorable Constable Hugh Collins, Dot’s beau — the aforementioned (gasp) Protestant. And of course, there’s the requisite crotchety detective inspector with a heart of gold — the swashbucklingly named Jack Robinson. They’re all wonderful.
Beyond the perfectly charming cast of characters, Miss Fisher is partially so enjoyable because of some well-thought-through gender politics underwriting it. I’m not going to pretend that the show never falls back on the trope of young-women-in-peril which defines so much of the mystery-procedural tv genre, but it doesn’t rely on victimizing women as the narrative engine. The first episode involves the death of a middle-aged white guy, and the show generally tends to avoid the weird gendered creepiness that some procedurals default towards. Also, Phryne’s a single woman with a healthy sex life, and the show never judges her for flirting or sleeping with men, even while it plays out a will-they-won’t-they long game between Phryne and Jack Robinson. She’s allowed to sleep with sexy witnesses AND flirt with Jack in the same episode — all without being punished or slut-shamed for her decision-making. (Incidentally, I sometimes get tired of the ubiquitous extended-arc love story on seemingly EVERY tv show, but Phryne and Jack are kind of wonderful, and the chemistry between Essie Davis and Nathan Page is great.)
Also, Phryne’s best friend is a lesbian doctor who wears great suits, helps girls who had back-room abortions, and has a fabulous collection of hats. This show gets so many things right.
I have to admit, though, part of my adoration of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is pure, unadulterated wardrobe envy. Not since I was lusting after Claire-on-Outlander’s shawls (a whole two weeks ago) have I wanted a fictional character’s aesthetic quite so much. Phryne is a Daisy Buchanan without the angst and adultery, and a Coco Chanel without the little black dress (and problematic political associations). She’s utterly fab.
So please – give Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries a shot. The first two seasons are on Netflix, and a third season’s on the way!