TV - Watching the Detectives: Murphy's Law

Murphy's Law

In a series of articles, Susan Omand and Steve Taylor-Bryant are going to remember the policemen, spies and criminal specialists that entertained them over the years. Today, Steve goes in search of Murphy's Law...

The recent trailers on Sky reminded me that James Nesbitt was going to star in Stan Lee's Lucky Man on January 22nd. The interviews were good, the premise familiar yet exciting, and I thought back to how much I like James Nesbitt. At one point, dear reader, I was trying to tell anyone who would listen what a great Doctor Who he would make. So here I am with Nesbitt's filmography in front of me, thinking I would do one of those top 10 articles, pick the favourite things he's been in and wax lyrical about why I've picked this project or that. Then I was hit by a sudden realisation. It turns out that maybe I don't like Nesbitt's work as much as I thought I did as I could only pick a top three. Yes, it turns out I only watch three projects again and again. It turns out my memory is not what it should be. Those screen gems I would have picked by the way were Bloody Sunday, Jekyll and Murphy's Law. So now I'm in a quandary, I want to write about Nesbitt's work but can't do my usual quick round up of multiple shows or films. Luckily we have our 'Watching the Detectives' articles so here now my thoughts on Murphy's Law.

I really enjoyed the TV movie of the same name in 2001, even though I saw it by accident thinking it was a rerun of the Charles Bronson film. A bit dark, a bit gritty and Nesbitt's performance was solid. I didn't however expect it to spin off into a series but there I was, two years later, seeing if the show stood up against what had come before. It excelled the film... eventually.

The first couple of series were okay, better than most police dramas but seemed to follow generic templates laid out in so many shows in the decades before. I only kept watching because its overall look was great and, whilst they were characters that were familiar, the writing felt solid and like it was building to something quite spectacular and it was, albeit slowly. Series three changed everything and raised the bar and finally became the show it had threatened to be for awhile. It became much darker in tone, it became so very bleak but in a good way if that makes any sense at all? Gone was the episodic formula used before and, in its place, a storyline that got more than one show to come to an end with allowing the cast, Nesbitt especially, to really hit their stride and get to grips with what their characters were. As the series go on in the longer episode format Nesbitt seems to almost relish the adrenaline searching psychosis and performs the 'act first, think later' role with aplomb. Gone was the almost false snarl of the movie and the short story episodes and, in its place, was a top quality actor who had completely bought into the project. I'd have had no problem approaching Nesbitt in real life after the first couple of series but, from the third series on, he was so convincing I wouldn't have known whether it was James Nesbitt or Tommy Murphy across the room and Murphy genuinely worried me. All television detectives worth their salt deal with loss and treading that line between right and wrong but in Murphy's style you honestly don't know how, you certainly couldn't handle life his way without instant burn out and nor would you want to. It was a popular policeman trope taken to the extreme and possibly beyond. Even now, after years of watching it back, I'm still surprised, still wince and am still exhausted by the time series five is over.

Nesbitt brings a level of intensity to all his roles but as Tommy Murphy he is head and shoulders above anything he's done before or since. I'd rather come face to face with his Mr Hyde than ever have to spend a day with Murphy and I can't think of a better way to compliment his commitment to the role.

Image - IMDb.