It’s always a tricky thing for sequels and spin-offs: how prominently do you reference your blueprint original when it’s crucial to be seen as your own entity?
Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries lifts off at a zippy pace. There’s a swingin’ soundtrack, bursts of colour in its production design and peppy performances.
Peregrine Fisher (Geraldine Hakewill) drifts from job to job in Perth until she receives a letter to visit the The Adventuresses club in Melbourne to discuss her inheritance.
The club is chaired by ex-WW2 Special Forces member Birdie Birnside (Catherine McClements) and includes a girl-power strong tribe including the first woman to conquer Mt.Kilimanjaro, a trouser suit designer, and fighter for the resistance. Another was the revered Phryne Fisher, Peregrine’s aunt, last seen flying over the highlands of PNG. Only her precious golden revolver remains….
When designer Florence Astor (Libby Tanner) bursts in detailing the murder of a young model at a fashion show, Peregrine’s family instincts kick in. In no time she is offering up clue-solving tactics that lead her to the Police Station headed up by Chief Superintendent Percy Sparrow (Greg Stone) who has a penchant for the word “girly” and where the female cops bring the blokes cups of tea in between their own desk job.
But she also meets the dashing Det. James Steed (Joel Jackson), who is taken by her spunk, if hopelessly trying to discourage her active participation in the case. Just like her famed aunt, Peregrine wont take ‘No’ for an answer.
As the adventure unfolds you will also meet Samuel Birnside (Toby Truslove), the only non-threatening male in The Adventuresses court; Violeta Fellini (Louisa Mignone) another awkward but cluey club member; Constable Fleur Connor (Katie Robertson) and oft-overlooked boyfriend Eric (James Mason).
Guests in the first episode are Andrew McFarlane, Maria Mercedes, Irene Chen and Lulu McClatchy.
Seven’s series gets a lot of things right. The casting of Geraldine Hakewill and Joel Jackson, both individually and as a duo, is on target. Hakewill is a delight, driven with determination and a twinkle in her eye. She is easily able to handle the procedural and personality elements of a very entrenched franchise. Joel Jackson (is there anything this guy can’t do?) is positively debonair on screen, fitting for the era.
There are nods to politics and 60s sensibilities and the location team has done a great job in picking colourful locations. You can’t do Miss Fisher without spending up on costumes, hairstyles, cars and props and again this is money on the screen.
But it’s just a shame the pacing drags due to the telemovie length. The script doesn’t quite pack enough punches to sustain the length and I can’t help but wonder if that’s due to the show now being on Seven with commercials.
At this early stage we’re also not quite hitting the mark with the supporting cast relationships in the way the original did. That may come, but Seven is only offering 4 telemovies. Eagle-eyed viewers may also spot telltale contemporary signs (ie. Melbourne City Council signage, window film) that will doubtless wind up as Green Guide letters.
The Every Cloud production is clearly faithful to the whodunnit genre and while TV is missing some of its favourite ABC sleuths, it is arguably Seven’s gain. I suspect its biggest challenge is forging a new identity with those obsessed with Essie Davis and the roaring ’20s original. For this to work it needs to move on quickly from Phryne references and claim the turf as their own.
Geraldine Hakewill can do just that.
Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries airs 8:30pm Thursday on Seven.