Murphy's Law: Series Two

Murphy's Law

On DVD: 
Tuesday, August 30, 2011

James Nesbitt returns as the charismatic, hard-drinking, and occasionally volatile undercover cop Tommy Murphy in Murphy’s Law: Series Two, to be released by Acorn Media April 27.  While Series One of this procedural focusing on the Irishman Murphy trying to escape his past on the dark and gritty London streets didn’t completely win me over, Series Two does.  The writing is tighter, the cases more suspenseful and the drama more emotionally involving.  Most importantly, characters are better fleshed-out, especially Murphy himself who grows into one of the most fascinating tragic heroes I’ve seen in a crime drama.

The cases this go-round range from car smuggling to serial killings and Murphy’s covers are equally diverse, though he seems much more natural as a homeless man than as a priest. In the tense “Jack’s Back,” the first episode, a Jack the Ripper style serial killer is loose on the West End and kills DI Annie Guthrie, leading Murphy to pose as a homeless man to find the truth on the street.  Next up is “Bent Moon on the Rise” where Murphy investigates a drug squad after a young cop unexpectedly kills himself.  Murphy exposes corruption, racism, and bullying and is attracted to the beautiful DC Mel Kovacs, even after he learns she might be on the take and another officer dies.

In “Ringers” Murphy joins an Interpol car-smuggling investigation and has to partner with a French detective who is less than honest about his true agenda.  The outstanding “Go Ask Alice” finds Murphy posing as a janitor in a biotech lab as he tries to learn the truth behind a young boy’s drowning.  The grieving mother believes it was chemical poisoning from a leak at the laboratory.  There are more deaths before the much more complicated answer is discovered.  Murphy dons priestly garb in “Convent” in order to ferret out the reason behind the suicide of one novice and disappearance of another.  A nice change of pace, this was a rather off-beat but creepy episode with some good red herrings.
Murphy’s Law: Series Two ends with “The Group,” a whopper of an episode.  Murderers are being murdered.  Is it coincidence or vigilantism?  Murphy joins Confront, a support group for family of murder victims and learns that the group has access to a tremendous amount of information, including the identity of the men who killed Murphy’s daughter in Ireland.  We learn a great deal about Murphy in this episode: why he’s so stubborn, why he makes the choices he does, and how much he suffers for them.  Taut, suspenseful, and morally ambiguous, this excellent episode works on every level and Nesbitt gives a tour de force performance.

Never has a show’s title been more apt.  There are supporting characters and some memorable guest stars, but the focus of Murphy’s Law is always Murphy.  The charismatic Nesbitt flexes his acting chops much more here than in Series One as the much improved writing gives him some great material to work with and he seems to have grown into the character’s skin.  Obviously adept at the tense and emotional moments, Nesbitt smartly infuses the melancholic Murphy with a wry sense of humor, lightening him and the show’s necessarily dark tone just enough and it is fascinating to learn that what drives Murphy is an unshakeable sense of right and wrong, no matter the consequences.

The video is about what you would expect from a British television show: not exactly pristine but more than adequate.  Because it is such a dimly lit show, some detail is lost.  I had more issues with the audio.  The music is occasionally distractingly loud and there was a serious syncing issue with the audio and video on episodes two and six of my review discs.  Besides subtitles, the only bonus feature is a brief biography of James Nesbitt, so buy this only if you want to own the actual episodes.

Shows rarely improve so dramatically from one season to the next, but despite the same hero and premise, Murphy’s Law: Series Two is almost an entirely different experience than Series One.  With more compelling cases and characters, surprising but logical solutions, and meaty writing for the actors to sink their teeth into, Murphy’s Law is suddenly one of the best crime dramas I’ve seen. Unfortunately, it is also a steep $35.99 for six episodes, so I would suggest renting first.

Review by Michelle St. James