Posted: 08/27/2011


Murphy’s Law: Complete Collection


by Jef Burnham

Available on DVD August 30, 2011 from Acorn Media.

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Thomas Murphy is an undercover cop. Hailing from Belfast, Murphy resides in London, where he uses his Irish charm and quick wit to infiltrate London’s crime world. But his motivations extend far beyond some desire to serve the British justice system. His generally jovial nature belies the pain he suffers as a result of his daughter’s death and subsequent separation from his wife. With Murphy as the central character, the series is at once tense, funny, heart-breaking, but most of all, addictive. James Nesbitt (Jekyll) won best actor at the 2003 Irish Film and Television Awards for his portrayal of Murphy, a role that was created specifically for Nesbitt by novelist Colin Bateman (Divorcing Jack). Thus, with his role tailor-made to exploit his strengths as a performer, Nesbitt is always the coolest guy on the screen, even when he’s acting the fool.

As one might expect, each episode finds Murphy assigned to some new case, and the specifics of each case dictate the content of the episode. After all, the police procedural is necessarily episodic— when one case closes another opens. Because other series are at least rooted in a central location (say, a police station), Murphy’s Law is perhaps more episodic than most by simple virtue of Murphy’s position as an undercover officer, constantly moving from one unique scenario and setting to another. However, while this might make for an easily dismissible series in the hands of any other staff of writers, the creative team behind Murphy’s Law uses this to their distinct advantage in creating a thoroughly engaging character throughline instead. The series then becomes a character study of Murphy— a broken man who is “perfectly happy being no one,” content to slip unceremoniously from one adopted persona to the next as his position dictates. This throughline is extremely subtle, building gradually throughout the entirety of the series, but it is ultimately immensely rewarding in no small part due to Nesbitt’s brilliant performance.

This is not to say, of course, that Nesbitt is the only talented individual involved in the series. Series creator Bateman is joined in the writing of the series by Simon Donald (Wallander), Russell Lewis (Cadfael, the Sharpe’s series), and Alan Cubitt (Prime Suspect 2). And on every case Murphy is assigned to, he is met by a new and interesting group of characters played by actors who viewers familiar with British television will likely recognize. In addition, there are those few characters with whom Murphy has continued relationships, such as his handlers in the police force, that force Murphy to acknowledge a permanent lifestyle, if only in passing. The talent found in these recurring roles includes Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds), Michael Feast (State of Play), and Owen Teale (Game of Thrones).

Murphy’s Law originally aired in the U.K. on BBC One and in the U.S. on BBC America. The series’ 23 episodes (which vary in length) are collected here on 9 DVDs with a total running time of 23 ¼ hours. Sadly, there is little in the way of special features here. The set merely includes a James Nesbitt biography and a text interview. But such a well-crafted series as this needn’t be supported by a plethora of special features to be worth your time and money. Murphy’s Law would make a fantastic addition to anyone’s DVD library, not just fans of mysteries and U.K. TV.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of

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