Murphy's Law: Series Three Review

Murphy’s Law makes no qualms about being quality television, a grim and proper police procedural that doesn’t sympathize or moralize either the cop or the crook. I had not seen the prior two series’ but that didn’t prove to be an issue – Series 3 is insular, covering a single investigation led by one Thomas Murphy (a scruffy though not disheveled James Nesbitt). Murphy is a career cop whose specialty is undercover work, a task he executes capably, with frequent improvisation aided by a razor-sharp intelligence. The quality of the show seemingly feeds of Murphy’s skill in the field, with six hour-long episodes carefully balancing character development with the suspense inherent in undercover investigations.

The series begins with a routine gun sale, Murphy posing as an experienced dealer in order to score a meeting with Caz Miller (Michael Fassbender). When Murphy learns that the gun is to be used for a hit, he bails and leads Caz on until the soldier gives up his boss, cop killer kingpin Dave Callard (Mark Womack). Callard doesn’t make it easy for Murphy, but when Caz arranges a meet, the undercover cop lands a kill contract on Richard Holloway (Ramon Tikaram). No doubt since we have six hours devoted to a single investigation, things are not what they seem – but that’s for you to find out.

As Tom Murphy, Nesbitt is exemplary – it’s not a flashy role but nonetheless a difficult one. The series takes an ambitious route of genuinely hoping viewers will buy into one man willing to put himself in what seems like an absurd amount of harm for the greater good. Nesbitt sells it with a look, an unblinking, hardened stare of a man who’s seen plenty of good men fall and carries his weight without so much as a sigh. The job is life and as Murphy’s Law demonstrates so aptly, the job can follow you home – Murphy knows the stakes and makes and accepts no excuses.

There’s no denying that Law puts to shame several unnamed network procedural – show that flirt with outlandish plotlines while ignoring the payoff of extensive character development. Still, the show isn’t perfect, and my one complaint stems from a feature that is integral to Murphy’s character – his almost clairvoyant ability to avoid potentially fatal situations. Spoilers follow: In the climax of episode two, Murphy attempts to talk down a man holding a young boy hostage. He does so with aplomb but the speech is uncannily timed with a squad that takes the backdoor and perforates the goon just as he is about to shoot Murphy. Dramatic, yes, but also shoddily convenient. If we are to trust in Murphy and his innate talent in an admittedly dangerous profession, there has to be some sort of realistic grounding and moments like the one I just describe take away from the raw world the show works to portray.

Luckily, the series avoids similar pitfalls and it is very easy with and root for Murphy’s tough-as-nails techniques. Nesbitt doesn’t do nervous, but when Murphy is moved, you take note because the exterior slips briefly to reveal the burden beneath.

I can’t comment on whether Murphy’s Law works better as a standalone set or as part of a larger whole, but this is a novice viewer friendly format that requires no knowledge of prior seasons. Series 3 is an example of that most formidable type of British television – tasteful but realistic, dramatic but grounded and all the while backed by a hardworking cast who never show any sign of coasting.

The series comes highly recommended, with solid video and sound merits. Plenty of nighttime scenes abound, but the DVD feature minor grain and colors (what few there are in a largely monotone world of crime) are sharp and reflect the production values well.

DVD Bonus Features

A behind the scenes look would have been appreciated, but instead we have a brief biography of star James Nesbitt. C'est la vie.

"Murphy's Law: Series Three" is on sale February 15, 2011 and is not rated. Crime-Thriller, Drama, Television, Thriller. Directed by Colm Mccarthy. Written by Colin Bateman (creator), Allan Cubitt. Starring Claudia Harrison, James Nesbitt, Michael Fassbender.

Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.


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