Review: Ms Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries

Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher in  Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries . ( Courtesy of Acorn TV )

Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher in Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries. (Courtesy of Acorn TV)

The trouble with spin-offs and adaptations is that the material and its audience already exists and, therefore, expectations are going to be high. Will it be as good as the original? What will they change? Will it be a worthwhile story on its own? Or will it be so similar to the original work that we’re left wondering why did they even bother? Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries passed the adaptation test with flying colors when the first season premiered in 2012. The first of the Phryne Fisher books by Australian author Kerry Greenwood, Cocaine Blues, was published in 1989 with another nineteen novels following, the most recent in 2013. This long-running series was enormously popular in Australia, so when it came to adapting it for television, the stakes were high. Though the first and second seasons of Miss Fisher borrowed titles, plots, and characters from its ink and paper counterparts, many key aspects of Phryne’s stories were changed. And season three went off completely on its own. This particular formula, sometimes a recipe for disaster, worked exceptionally well, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries became an enormous success in its own right.

The cast of  Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.  ( Courtesy of ABC TV )

The cast of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. (Courtesy of ABC TV)

Expectations for the spin-off series, Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, set in 1960s Melbourne, were even higher. Is this completely new storyline, with new characters to boot, enough to fill the fashionable shoes of The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher?

Peregrine Fisher, played by the delightful Geraldine Hakewill, has never met her aunt Phryne. In fact, she didn’t even know that she existed. So, when Phryne is officially declared dead after going missing in New Guinea and Peregrine learns she is to inherit her entire estate (including a house, a car, and money beyond her wildest dreams), she is, needless to say, shocked. But Peregrine, just like her aunt, is not one to turn down any sort of adventure.

It should be stated outright that Peregrine is not the first-rate detective that Phryne was. Phryne’s refined skills and quick wit showed her to be capable of solving crimes on her own, while her ragtag group of friends-turned-family helped in whatever way they could. Where Phryne is calm and collected, an exceptional sleuth, Peregrine is often rough-around-the-edges, sometimes bumbling through an investigation. But that is the most important distinction that must be understood: Peregrine is not Phryne. Peregrine is assisted in her detecting efforts by members of The Adventuress’ Club, a group of exceptional women and friends of Phryne’s. These women often share the spotlight with Peregrine, making it clear that although she is the main character, the show is just as much about them.

The Adventuress’ Club. ( Courtesy of Acorn TV )

The Adventuress’ Club. (Courtesy of Acorn TV)

Also along for the ride, despite his best efforts, is James Steed (played by Joel Jackson), a charming and clever detective and Peregrine’s connection to the police force. While Peregrine’s inevitable flirtation and romance with Detective James Steed is reminiscent of Phryne’s relationship with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, the characters are different enough that it doesn’t feel as though it were included only to appease the ravenous fans of Phryne and Jack (or, Phrack, if you will).

Joel Jackson as Detective James Steed and Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher. ( Courtesy of Acorn TV )

Joel Jackson as Detective James Steed and Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher. (Courtesy of Acorn TV)

Despite enjoying each episode (which are actually telemovies -- each clock in around an hour and a half sans commercials), I found myself wondering whether I would have watched this show, had I not already been a fan of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I think the answer is yes. It’s fun, interesting, beautifully styled, and charming.

But I can't deny that there is something crucial missing, and I think it's simple: even with a longer run time, offering only four episodes is possibly its greatest flaw. There was little chance to truly get to know the characters, which left the connection between audience and story lacking. If there are more Ms Fisher Mod episodes in the future, I can only hope that they are more fleshed out, now that everyone has been introduced.

What works for Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries is that it stays true to the original Miss Fisher in the ways that matter: Peregrine, like Phryne, is fiercely feminist, smart, funny, and passionate, and the people she surrounds herself are loyal and interesting. Friendships and found families remain cornerstones of both Fisher adventures, as they should.

Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher. ( Courtesy of Acorn TV )

Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher. (Courtesy of Acorn TV)

Although it’s already aired in Australia, US audiences will be able to enjoy Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries on Acorn TV (North America’s largest streaming service specializing in British and international television, which will also be premiering the feature-length film Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears later this year) starting April 29th.