Title: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
Starring: Essie Davis, Ashleigh Cummings, Nathan Page, Hugo Johnstone-Burt
First aired: February 2012–present
Where you can watch it: Netflix, Amazon, PBS, iTunes
I grew up in a PBS-only house, which meant I ended up watching a lot of mysteries as a kid, so I have a very fond nostalgia for the whole genre. I’ll admit, though, that natty Belgian gentlemen and dowdy yet sneakily sharp old ladies started to feel a bit dusty after awhile, and for a significant stretch of my life I turned my attention to other TV programs. But then Phryne Fisher, that convention-flouting, fashionable, feminist Australian flapper entered the scene and revitalized my love for detective shows.
Originally produced in Australia, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, based on Kerry Greenwood’s series, follows amateur sleuth and liberated woman Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) as she saunters about 1920’s Melbourne, poking her nose into murder investigations, piquing the interest of the handsome detective inspector, and making sure justice is well and truly served, all while wearing fabulous coats, delivering whip-smart one-liners, and sleeping with whomever she pleases. Long haunted by the abduction of her sister many years ago, Phryne is driven by the decades-old cold case, and occasionally her investigations turn up clues about her long-lost sister. In between, her investigations take her everywhere from the gritty underbelly of Melbourne to au courant jazz clubs to a traveling circus to the fanciest parties and most exclusive fashion boutiques. Phryne manages to finagle her way into each community, using her ample charm, swishy beauty, and compassionate ear to gain the trust of a wide variety of witnesses.
It goes without saying that her detective skills are top notch, and her intrepid sleuthing—often involving spectacular costumes—is certainly the main draw of the series. But Phyrne knows she’d be nowhere without her companions, and her relationships and chemistry with those supporting characters, all of which are nicely well-rounded, is part of what makes the show so delightful. The steamy will-they-won’t-they between Phryne and Detective Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) simmers in just about every episode, and loyal, pious Dot (Ashleigh Cummings) makes for both a good friend and excellent foil. Perhaps best of all, Phryne, for all her modern sensibilities, never urges her friends to follow her particular path. When a murder occurs at Phryne’s favorite boutique, and she and Dot are surrounded by the chicest of fashions, Dot wonders whether she should trade in her modest, tweedy wardrobe for something more likely to catch the eye of her paramour, Hugh (Hugo Johnstone-Burt). In an empowering moment, Phryne encourages her girl Friday to only wear what she wants to, men be damned.
And speaking of fashion, Phryne’s sense of style is unparalleled, from her dapper cloche hats to her spangled heels. Even her handgun—a tiny, mother-of-pearl handled weapon—is smart, and the handbag she carries it in is even smarter. Her enviable costumes are so beloved in Australia that they’re featured in a museum exhibit, they’ve been covered in Vanity Fair, and they’ve inspired many a Pinterest board. With such beautifully composed scenes, a dreamy heroine, the promise of romance, and witty dialogue, it’s no wonder fans are desperate for a fourth season. (I know I am.)
Ladies Who Launch Murder Investigations:
Girl Waits with Gun, by Amy Stewart
Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen
Murder Me Now, by Annette Meyers
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, by Jennifer Kincheloe