Murdoch Mysteries

The realm of television crime dramas is rather crowded. With the remaining Law and Order spinoffs, there are the various CSIs, the JAG spinoffs of NCIS and NCIS:LA, and any number of cop and lawyer dramas. It’s difficult to find a part of the market that isn’t already saturated with the competition.

Murdoch Cast
source: murdochmysteries.com

Murdoch Mysteries, which airs on City TV, fits an interesting niche, breaking new territory as a Victorian era detective story set in Toronto, which strives for period authenticity, within a fictional narrative. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of competition in this admittedly small niche.

Stephen Harper in cameo for Murdoch Mysteries
Stephen Harper in cameo role for Murdoch Mysteries. Image from CityTV

Still, it is a niche that has found its fans, including our current Prime Minister. Murdoch Mysteries is not the first show in which Stephen Harper has played a cameo role. Like former Prime Minister Paul Martin, Harper has previously appeared on Corner Gas. What’s not to like, for our prime minister? Victorian crime fighters may have had limited tools, but punishments were severe. Capital punishment was still on the books, and a failed hanging formed the plot for one episode of the show. The current government’s “tough on crime” persona seems to be a good match for Murdoch Mysteries, where the lead character is morally upstanding, almost to a fault. Murdoch’s morality works to humanize the Toronto of the 1890s, bringing compassion to the otherwise unenlightened days of criminal enforcement.

What then, can we find of interest in Murdoch Mysteries? The fictive detective brings a scientific method to his investigations. Detective Murdoch investigates crimes using the precursors to the more modern techniques used in shows like CSI. The writers appear to take pleasure in their numerous anachronisms, by playing this man of science against adherents of other, more traditional forms of investigation, mainly coercion and interrogation.

Parts of the show have been filmed in Cambridge, Ontario. With modern signs covered up by period pieces, it retains the feel of Victorian Toronto.

While the show attempts historical accuracy, it very much plays to our modern conceptions of the Victorian era. Historical figures such as Nikola Tesla, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.G. Wells figure in the plots of several episodes, emphasizing the science and imagination that Murdoch represents.

A significant theme of Murdoch Mysteries is retrofuturism, particularly when compared to these historical figures. While the television show remains too firmly grounded in historical reality to be truly considered steampunk, there are clearly elements of several episodes which could be seen as steampunk. In particular, the season three finale, the “Tesla Effect” involved a microwave death ray machine.

Of the characters in the show, perhaps the most amusing is Constable Crabtree, whose youthful enthusiasm leads him to extrapolate towards modern technology from what he sees Murdoch use on the show. As noted on the Steampunk Scholar blog, Crabtree’s role in the web series “Curse of the Lost Pharaohs” leads much closer to the realm of steampunk, incorporating other common steampunk elements.

My Little Pony: Why Friendship Really Is Magic

With a three-year-old, I’ve had some exposure to what passes for children’s programming these days. Many shows from my childhood in the 80s were barely veiled marketing attempts to introduce kids to the latest character, carefully cross-marketed as a toy available at the nearby department store. It comes as a great surprise to discover that among the latest 80s reboots, “the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” series is a high quality show.

My Little Pony is obviously closely tied to the Hasbro line of toys. When compared to the original television series, the differences are startling. The original show consisted of barely discernable, mostly interchangeable ponies, in relatively lackluster episodes. In the new series, not only are the different ponies visually distinctive, but they have vastly different personalities.

The Cast

Twilight Sparkle is a bookish “egghead” unicorn, an is insecure about her position with her newfound friends.

Pinkie Pie is the completely random party pony. As often as not seen with a party hat, or fake glasses disguise, ready to pull a prank on someone. She’s a jokester.

Rainbow Dash is a pegasus, and is overconfident, brash, boastful, and insecure about being judged.

Applejack is almost as stubborn as a mule. She is a proud pony, and is no stranger to hard work. She often is in competition with Rainbow Dash.

Fluttershy is another pegasus, like Rainbow Dash, but is completely different in temperament. She is soft spoken, and is afraid of scary things, like falling leaves,.

Rarity is the fashion conscious diva, and is always thinking about her accessories. I’m sure that the Hasbro marketing folks are dreaming of different ways to sell accessory sets for Rarity.

It’s a pretty diverse group, mostly defined by their character flaws. This is the genius of the show. Each episode explores the conflicts which arise from the different ponies. The show presents their various strengths, and shows how they work together to overcome their problems.  That’s the key. In a show targeted towards young girls, the show really does focus on interpersonal relationships, with friendship and cooperation key themes.

While the episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic may not be scientifically plausible, it doesn’t do so in a way which grates on the nerves.  

To understand what I mean by this, try watching several episodes of Little Einsteins. The kids are flying in a freaking rocket ship. That can fly. So why are they always trying to go through various obstacles? You know, the ones they can fly over?

In fact, the episodes of Friendship is Magic are generally clever, and pay homage to television tropes, such as the classic chase scene, as seen in the episode “Bird in the Hoof”.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a good show for girls, and won’t necessarily drive parents crazy. Well, except perhaps due to the constant replaying of the episodes. Even with repeated viewings however, Pinkie Pie is still very random.

A Little Love

Last week when my wife was picking my daughter up from daycare, one of the 3 1/2 year old girls said “I love Justin Bieber,” to which my 2 3/4 year old daughter replied “I love Pinky Pie and Apple Jack,” two of the My Little Pony ponies. It’s a very sweet statement, although she does tend to love everything.

Often on the morning drive to daycare, she’ll chatter along in the backseat: “I love bunnies, and I love kitties, and I love puppies, and I love monkeys, and I love birds, and I love turtles, and I love froggies.” You get the picture. Everything is butterflies and rainbows. She loves just about everything but spiders. Those, I’m required to hunt down and remove. Especially the pretend ones. They’re far more numerous than the real spiders.

I love my daughter’s innocence, although I do think she watches too much TV, I am thankful that she mostly just watches shows like Max and Ruby (where the heck are their parents?), Strawberry Shortcake, and My Little Pony.