The murder mystery procedural is a durable genre that is open to various permutations. A slight tweak (the Detective is blind! He can communicate with his dog! She is a part-time stockbroker!) is all that is really needed to get things rolling, and then, so long as the bodies keep piling up, occasional spice is enough to keep a series running forever.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is, at its base, just another iteration of this basic template. The twist here is that the show takes place in 1920’s Melbourne, where the idea of a “lady detective” is enough of an oddity to turn a few heads. The series follows Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis), a glamorous socialite, incorrigible flirt, and private detective. Along with her companion Dot (Ashleigh Cummings), will-they-won’t-they love interest Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page), and his right-hand man Constable Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), Miss Fisher stumbles onto a murder in some exotic locale or strange circumstance each week, and with a combination of wit, panache, and a pistol, tracks down the evildoer.
The mysteries are rarely the draw, however. Instead, what makes Miss Fisher as occasionally delightful as it can be is the characters. Essie Davis is a blast as Miss Fisher. She is witty, flirtatious, and holds her liquor well, all of which make her an utterly charming center to the show. Her constant chemistry with Nathan Page is also a lot of fun to watch play out, and the tentative romance between Dot and Hugh is cute enough to pass the time. Whatever is going on around the characters is usually interchangeable (episodes in this second series take place at a circus, a holiday camp, a ski lodge, a resort town, and a fashion house, among others) and never really rises above serviceable, but the main cast is all game enough that even the driest episode usually has a few worthwhile moments.
The series never really rises above adequate, but neither does it ever sink anywhere near unwatchable. The sort of viewer that gets caught up in a Law and Order marathon on a lazy Sunday will probably find plenty to like in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which makes a virtue of its simplicity. We’ve all seen this before, but then, so has Phryne Fisher, who steps unflappably into any situation, champagne flute in hand, to deduce what the detectives never can. There’s nothing new to this, for her or for us, but the company is good, and with so many murders going on in Jazz Age Melbourne, somebody has to solve them. You might as well come along for the ride.
– Jordan Ferguson