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British TV You've Never Seen (But Should): Murphy's Law

One of the most prominent genres in British television is the gritty cop drama -- the country's got loads of them. They're darker than most American fare, but they're also (as a rule) better written, with stronger lead performances and less predictable cases. But, the abundance of these shows makes it tougher to decide which ones are worth your time. Sure, the Helen Mirren-starring 'Prime Suspect' is the classic (and deservedly so), but what to watch after that? I'd recommend getting caught up on Luther before it returns for its third series this fall, but I'd also recommend a little series called Murphy's Law.

The series stars James Nesbitt -- the underrated Bofur from 'The Hobbit' is amongst his many roles  -- as Irish cop Tommy Murphy, who flees to London after the murder of his young daughter (see, I told you it was gritty). But he's not just your normal police detective -- Murphy's an undercover cop. He infiltrates criminal organizations and brings them down from the inside, at great risk to his own life. Of course, Murphy's a dark character: you can never quite tell whether he's taking these dangerous cases to distract himself from his dark past, or to punish himself for it. He's played electifyingly by Nesbitt, who brings a witty edge to the character's darkness.

Wit aside, though, Murphy's Law is incredibly intense by nature; for most of each episode, Murphy is in danger of being exposed as a cop. Part of the joy comes from the resulting thrills, and part of it comes from the brilliant acting. Nesbitt carries the series, but he's not the only fantastic actor here. Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, Inglourious Basterds) is an electrifying villain in the show's third series, while Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) delivers one of the show's best performances in series 4.

Murphy's Law is structured so that the first series is comprised of five hourlong stories and the second of six. Series 3 tells one undercover story across six episodes, while series 4 and 5 do the same over the couse of three episodes each. The show is naturally at its best when it's given time to build tension over multiple episodes (though personally, series 4 is my favorite).

You can grab all five series of Murphy's Law over at Amazon.

Have you seen Murphy's Law? What did you think? Would you recommend it?


Details
Show:
- Murphy's Law (UK)
Person:
- James Nesbitt
Network:
- BBC America

Written by: mcpherson
May 24th, 2013, 11:16 am

Images courtesy of Acorn Media

Anamon

Level 2 (46%)
Points: 1.4
Since: 26/Apr/11
Message Posted On May 27th, 2013, 1:41 pm

Thanks for the hint. I love British crime and drama shows, and this one somehow passed me by.

 

It's true that British shows are much more unpredictable in their stories, which tends to make them more interesting. I think it's mostly down to the different paradigm of how series are produced. In the U.S. it's sort of a round-the-year thing, keeping it running until it gets axed. You know your major characters are safe because the actors have contracts. And not a lot is going to change within the show, because they don't want to risk alienating their audience. In the U.K. in contrast, they usually produce 5-8 episodes in bulk. An entire series/season is usually in the can by the time it airs, and the decision is less about when to axe, more about whether to renew. This gives writers and producers much more liberty in script and casting. You simply don't know if a character is going to make it to the end of the series. Plus, frustrating cliffhangers in a show that wanted to go on, but then was cancelled, are much rarer.

 

Also, that they are 3-4 times shorter than the regular U.S. show makes them less prone to filler episodes, and writers making stuff up as they go along.

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