I watched my first episode of Midsomer Murders today. And even though it was the very first episode I watched, I still got the same comforting feeling watching it as when I do any another Case of the Week shows, like Columbo or Monk or House. It’s like walking into a restaurant where you know everyone there. It’s comfort food.
I immediately recognized all of the character archetypes that I needed to — CI Barnaby was the Sherlock-type character who noticed the small details about things, but would always leave the final mystery until the very last minutes of the episode. Troy was well-meaning sidekick who nonetheless wasn’t as good at his job as the main character and was thus relegated to comic relief most of the time. And the most famous actor in the episode was even the killer!
I recognized all the archetypes and tropes, because I had seen them all before. Hell, Columbo did them all and did them well and I remember that there was never an episode where he didn’t always catch the killer by going “And another thing...,” going back again and again until they said something that slipped up and bam, Columbo caught them. Or Monk caught them. Or Jessica Fletcher caught them. Or the Scooby Gang caught the monster and unmasked them and it was really Old Man Jenkins! Or House realized that it wasn’t lupus at all and it was actually [insert name of disease here] and easily curable!
Midsomer Murders gave off all of those vibes and so it set me instantly at ease. There was nothing to worry about. There wasn’t going to be anything surprising here — and while that may seem bad at first, it’s actually very soothing. No surprises means no anxiety and while there’s still dramatic tension, it’s not overwhelming. This isn’t Breaking Bad, after all.
Or, to use another example, Battlestar Galactica. That was a show I loved, but it was quite the opposite of comfort food. There was hardly a case of the week, the characters were less “archetypes” and more “deeply flawed individuals who made good and bad choices that affected everyone.” And as the series went on and on, things got worse and worse. There was an episode where a character — a character I didn’t even particularly like, but one whom we had spent episode after episode with, watching her, getting to know her — put a gun against her head and pull the trigger.
I had to stop watching after that. It was too hard watching the show. It stayed on my DVR until, well, I got rid of my DVR. I heard about the last season and everything that happened, but could never bring myself to watch it.
Then there are shows that I hear are amazing and I really ought to watch, but have a hard time bringing myself to do so. The aforementioned Breaking Bad is one of them. The Wire is another. Shows set in a bleak world. I need my shows to give me something other than bleakness.
Midsomer Murders is the opposite of a bleak show. Sure, it’s filled with death and murder, but we know that, at the end of the day, all the murderers will be caught, all the secrets and lies will be found out, and everyone will get their just deserts. Perry Mason never lost a case. House always found the correct diagnosis. Columbo, Monk, and Sherlock, and Watson would always figure out the mystery. The team on Leverage would always outwit the bad guy and steal all their money (or something). Mystery Inc. would always unmask the bad guy and even if the world was filled with death and murder, we always knew that it was Old Mr. Jenkins all along.