Midsomer Murders series 17, ITV, Neil Dudgeon, Gwilym Lee PREVIEW

MIDSOMER_MURDERS_THE_DAGGER_CLUB_14

★★★ Killing in Midsomer may be more ingenious than a medieval torture chamber, but the drama is still as twee and genteel as a tea cosy 

ITV: starts Thursday, 28 January, 8pm

Having slain around 300 villagers since 1996 with candlesticks, arrows, toxic fungi, liquid nicotine, hemlock, Neptune’s trident, a poisonous frog and a slide projector, among other bizarre weapons, you’d think Midsomer Murders would have reached a dead end by now.

FIONA DOLMAN as Sarah in Midsomer Murders
Sarah and Barnaby’s new edition

But no, it is one of those series that staggers on long after its stars have given up the will to act in it, simply drafting in new faces to read out the lines, like Last of the Summer Wine or New Tricks or CSI.

However, when you realise that not only have UK audiences got an unquenchable liking for this mild-mannered hokum, but – holy moly! – it’s lapped up in just about every bloody country in the world, you can see why ITV keep churning out episodes. What they make of it in places such as Estonia, Iran and South Korea would be interesting to know.

The Dagger Club

And of course the Danes like it so much that the 100th episode was actually set in the country. Move over, Sarah Lund.

Anyway, DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) and DS Charlie Nelson (Gwilym Lee) return this week. As is the custom, the murders seem to have been inspired by Heath Robinson, so we kick off in The Dagger Club with electrocution by roulette wheel. Crushing and drowning are line up for future episodes. Midsomer devotees just adore these Larky murder routines.

This opener also cleverly uses the backdrop of a crime fiction festival in Luxton Deeping, which is clearly right in tune with the demographic of its core viewership.

A stolen manuscript

The McGuffin here is a newly discovered manuscript by deceased Midsomer crime author George Summersbee, which is supposed to be launched lucratively at the festival, but has been stolen. The fun begins when book-cover designer Suzie Colebrook plays with that booby-trapped roulette wheel…

GEORGIA TAYLOR as Bella Summersbee in Midsomer Murders
Georgia Taylor guest stars as Bella

It’s all terribly genteel, pretty postcard stuff. In addition to its blackish humour, Midsomer Murders specialises in portraying an imaginary land free of litter, urban decay and swearing. It even avoided multiculturalism until that unfortunate business in 2011 when a producer said the show was a bastion of Englishness.

These days there is a little racial diversity among the characters, but it’s all still as comfy as an old cardie and tea at the village hall. And there are some lovely old faces popping by through the series – Una Stubbs, Amanda Burton, Jack Shepherd, Claire Bloom.

It always has a soothing effect on me, so much so that during the second hour of every mystery I always fall into a deep sleep.

Long may it shuffle on.

Midsomer Murders on ITV Player

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