Mr & Mrs Murder S01E01: "Early Checkout"
In amongst all of the Dexters of this world, the Miss Marples, Poirots and Sherlocks, we have another not-quite procedural whodunit on our hands, premiering last night for Australian audiences on Network Ten.
Now, you might sigh at yet another murder mystery show, but unlike the ones mentioned above, here we have a comedy. Yes, Mr & Mrs Murder is a show with murders and laughs.
The first scene of the first episode, however, begins like a typical crime show -- a man in a hotel uniform stands with blood splatter and a bloody knife, the camera pans to reveal a dead man and a woman screams, running away with some difficulty in her high heels.
And then we jump to an opening sequence that isn't quite the same as Horatio walking all tough-man like down the streets of Miami. It's more of a fun comic strip with music that belongs in a '50s detective show, which is a bit jarring, but it sets the tone perfectly for the introduction of our two heroes, Mr and Mrs Murder.
Our first real look at Charlie (Shaun Micallef) and Nicola Buchanan (Kat Stewart) have the two stepping out of their van like superheroes, standing in their blue, white and red uniforms, with the wind blowing in Nicola's hair. They look at each other before walking, slow motion, through the hotel's revolving door (Horatio would be proud), and, just like that, they are pushed back out by the hotel manager. Specialists in murder scene cleaning, they are dressed in their gear, and the manager wants them to use the service door.
And that's who they are: pseudo-sleuths who are left to take service entrances and arrive at murder scenes well after the police and forensics have been there. This is one of the things that sets it apart from most other whodunit shows, and make us wonder what the show's police and forensics teams are actually doing while these two solve the murder. To be fair, in this episode anyway, they didn't go to the crime scene in hopes of solving the murder; Nicola and Charlie only began to get involved when things didn't add up. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
On to the murder!
During their walk up to the hotel room, we get quite the information dump. It's revealed that Nicola has actually helped solve a bunch of crimes before, and is close friends with the newly made detective, Peter Vinetti (Jonny Pasvolsky). While Charlie states that Vinetti was promoted because Nicola helped solve those crimes, Nicola points out that having this connection could help throw more work their way. Anyway, once in the room, we get to meet Detective Peter, who is just a little too lax for a detective. I mean, he raids the mini bar! Conveniently, he also quite freely shares a lot of information with our duo, clearly welcoming their "help".
From him, we are told that the murder victim was Marty O'Connor, an international athlete and survivor of an avalanche. He was a guest at the hotel to present a talk during a conference being held there. O'Connor's manager, who is wheelchair bound, was at the bar during the murder -- an air-tight alibi, apparently. While the police don't have enough to charge Dan, the hotel worker who was holding the bloody knife when Frederica, a prostitute, found him, Peter is pretty sure that they have their man, and that the murder was actually a botched robbery. But Nicola isn't convinced, and at first suspects O'Connor's manager, Miss McFee.
Nicola finds an LSD strip in the fridge of the hotel room, and a similar one stuck on McFee's wheelchair tire. This strengthens Nicola's suspicions, but they find out that McFee had been downstairs the whole time, except for 6 minutes when she used the bathroom.
Dan loses his job at the hotel because he is still being investigated. He's understandably frustrated, because he didn't do anything. He goes on a rant that he was employee of the month, so what the hell, man! Nicola gives him a hug. A really long hug. It becomes rather awkward to everyone except Nicola, who is just being her empathetic self.
After hearing his story, they realise that he is innocent. They suspect that McFee killed O'Connor, then hid when Dan came; she knocked Dan out with a candelabrum and threw it down the laundry chute. They call a friend who is in a wheelchair to get his opinion on whether she could have gone upstairs from the bar and done what they suspect in less than 6 minutes. Creepily, he happily tests out their theory, but they realise McFee couldn't have done it in that time.
Charlie had enlisted the help of his niece, Jess (played wonderfully by Lucy Honigman) to go undercover as a maid and find out what is happening on the "inside". She is snarky and dry, and while she is reluctantly there (she is studying for her MBA, after all), she proves to be useful. With her help, they manage to uncover the object that was used to knock out Dan, and find out that Holly had changed shifts and worked the night of the murder.
It is later revealed that a man named Ralph is a regular at the hotel, and because of a mix-up with the bookings, the room was given to O'Connor. Charlie "shadows" Ralph, but not very well, because Ralph ends up being weirded out by him. And then Ruby Rose turns up randomly, off under a spotlight. We hear tell that there will be a number of fun special appearances in future eps.
It turns out that Ralph is a drug dealer, and let's blame this on Charlie's innocence because who didn't pick up that he was a dealer?! He would stash his drugs in the fridge, and somehow (and this is really where the murder plot died for us) a lot of it ended up in O'Connor's body by accident.
The reveal? Holly knew O'Connor from New Zealand. He used to rather violently bully Holly in school. She changed her shift to confront him, but because he was so high on LSD, he attacked Holly. She stabbed him in self-defence. It is also revealed that the hotel manager gave Holly a false alibi, because they are in love and blah blah blah.
Not nearly as interesting as we would have hoped. As far as murder mysteries go, it was rather tame. And, yes, it is a "light-hearted whodunit", but the whodunit part seems to have suffered for it.
In this instance, it really is the characters that carry the show. But while there's obviously an established friendship with Detective Peter, it isn't shown or explained, and this is something that was really annoying. It is clear that Jess, who is a competent "undercover agent" for Charlie and Nicola, will return to help in future episodes. It is also obvious that Vinetti will as well, perhaps even their wheelchair-bound friend, too. We just wish we knew more about, well, all of them. Instead, we feel as though we're watching this show from mid-season. We're going to pin it down to the series being set up to run as self-contained episodes, but a little back story or in-season development would have been nice. Hopefully, there'll be more details revealed in later episodes.
The true heart of the show, of course, lies with our leads. They truly are one of the most charismatic television couples we've ever seen, rivalling the bromance of Sherlock and Watson. Where Nicola is warm, impulsive and quite free with her feelings, Charlie is more reserved and logical in his manner and thinking, and quite possibly a little neurotic or OCD. Nicola is the one who is initially drawn into the case, while Charlie just loves a good puzzle and gets in on the action. It is a nice balance, and they complement each other well. In fact, during most of this episode, the murder plot became just a vessel to show how awesome individually and as a couple the duo is. It was more fun to see Charlie discuss a better, less harsh name for hookers, or Nicola explain how scissors cut rock in Rock, Paper, Scissors than it was to see the murderer revealed at the end.
Halfway through, we couldn't remember why we cared about who killed who, or even why. And this is what is most concerning about this show. Charlie and Nicola are so great that we just don't care "whodunit". The murder plot was just too weak in comparison, and for a show called Mr & Mrs Murder and not Mr & Mrs Buchanan, this could be its downfall. This episode travelled a very strange road that wasn't quite serious, but not quite full-blown comedy either, and at times it seemed like it didn't know what to be.
But considering that these days, turning on the television means that you have a 40 per cent chance of catching an episode of one of the CSIs, Law & Orders or NCISes (50 per cent chance of a reality show, 10 per cent for sitcoms -- these are, of course, real statistics), it's nice to see something at least a little different in Mr & Mrs Murder from creators Shaun Micallef and Jason Stephens.
This show isn't particularly of the laugh-out-loud variety. It's more chuckle worthy, and the genius is in the dialogue and delivery by Micallef and Stewart. But while their chemistry carried this first episode, the murder mystery simply wasn't strong enough. And we wonder whether this power couple, who we shall now dub Chicola, will be enough to carry the rest of the series.
We're rather partial to our two leads, so let's says yes.
The best bits:
- When Charlie says that Nicola would make a lousy murderer, without missing a beat, she replies, "I resent that". Part of the charm of this show is that both the leads are so darn likeable.
- Jess! More of her snark, please.
- "Don't be too disappointed, I found a prostitute." Well, that's one way to cheer up your wife, Charlie!
- The whole scene involving Frederica the prostitute. Their initial reaction to her "advances" made us LOL.
- Charlie doesn't like Peter. His passive-aggressiveness is adorable.
1. Do you love Charlie/Micallef and Nicola/Stewart onscreen together as much as we do?
2. Was the murder mystery strong enough for you?
3. Do you think there will be tension between Charlie and Nicola in future episodes, or will that destroy the heart of the show?