Travel is fun. You meet people, you learn new things. My brother’s mother in law told me about this series with a “lady detective” set in the 1920s who takes children under her wing and has two henchmen and likes the police inspector, but is man crazy.
Sounds promising, no?
Well. This show is even more awesome than that. Meet Phryne Fisher, a newly rich woman (First World War wreaking havoc on family lines), who has returned to Melbourne, Australia, to live there. She has fabulous modern clothes, drives cars, flies planes, shoots with a gold-plated pistol, speaks Russian and Chinese, knows judo and handles knives quite well. She also likes a drink and handsome lovers, doesn’t like her Aunt Prudence, marriage and children. Soon after her arrival in Melbourne, she is drawn into a case and starts sleuthing. Pretty soon, she decides to be a “lady detective”.
Pretty much by the first three episodes we have our main cast, Phryne’s friends, the people she picks up and works with. There’s Dot, a housemaid, at first afraid of electricity, but by the end of the series a confident woman who detects right alongside Phryne. There’s Jane, an orphaned pickpocket who develops a taste for books and history. Mr Butler, the best butler, always there with a stiff drink when Phryne needs one. Cec and Bert are the “henchmen” Phryne picks up in the first episode, former soldiers, they drive a cab together and also work at the wharf. Bert is a bit of a radical. They work for Phryne when she requires them – as spies, drivers, and to protect her family. Then there’s Dr. Mac, a female doctor and Phryne’s best friend, who works at the Women’s Hospital and teaches women about “family planning”. And there’s Aunt Prudence who can be annoying, but has her own troubles and is pretty good at smoothing things over with the high society.
On the side of the law, there’s Hugh Collins, sergeant, who is still learning the ropes and develops a thing for Dot, and (very handsome, in a very understated way, oh boy!) Detective Jack Robinson. At first wary of Phryne, they come to appreciate her considerable talents. Still, they try to keep her out of crime scenes – but Phryne is much too clever for them. The relationship between her and Jack is like in those old screwball comedies – a good-natured cooperation between equals with bickering and jokes, which is much more about friendship than “they are so much in love but can’t be together” (yes Castle, I am looking at you).
Anyway, I’m not going to describe every episode in the series. It is actually a book series by Kerry Greenwood (here’s the homepage), which I’ll also give a try, to see how it compares. It was then turned into a TV series by ABC1, created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger (link to Wikipedia article). Apparently, a second season is in production (yay!).
What I’ll tell you is this: watch it. Watch it and find a series that doesn’t shy away from contraception and (clutch your pearls now) an intelligent, “modern” woman who enjoys flirtation and sex with handsome men. The cases aren’t all about high society, Phryne always stands up for the people who get hurt by high society’s actions and tries to help women whereever she can.
There’s also a diversity to the plots – it’s not just about straight white people (except in this first season there aren’t any Indigenous Australians). There are gay couples, lesbian couples, a Chinese businessman and his wife, who, far from demure, is just as good a fighter as he is, Russian immigrants, a Jewish community, and so on. Some plots I would have liked to have been a tiny bit different, but on the whole, this is far more diversity than your average whodunit show has.
And there are working women. Women working as journalists, doctors, in factories, holding together empires, trying to make ends meet. All ages. All sizes. Wearing all kinds of clothing. Phryne herself isn’t model thin and when the camera comes in for a close-up, you can (shocking!) see the lines around her eyes. Finally. And while women are also victims of murder in this show, there is no overemphasis on rape or battery.
There are tragic backstories – everyone has one, World War One having only ended a few years ago, so even the guys are suffering, but the backstories are never oppressive, drawn out or too maudlin. As I already said, the show is quite frank. But there is never nudity just for the sake of it (and it’s rare), the sex scenes are done tastefully (aftermaths, mostly, since this show is about solving crimes) and Phryne never wears a bra during or after sex (particular pet peeve of mine).
Finally – the clothing. The furniture, the tableware, the houses, the cars. All done extremely well. And the music. The show always ends with a lovely 1920s tune, so I always want to watch to the end. If you love the jazz age, you’ll love this show. And if you want a show about a fabulous female detective, well, here you are.