By Kerry Greenwood
The Australian television show is hugely popular on Tumblr, but I’ve been resisting it because it just looked a bit twee for me. However, when trying to unpack those last random boxes from my latest move (including one marked “desk stuff” that I never unpacked from the previous move that turned out to include a large set of random pens, at least half of which had dried out), I ran a couple of episodes from PBS in the background, and I was hooked. Literally, it appears to take two episodes. I finally caved and checked out the first season on DVD from the library, and Rebecca wandered in and out of the room for the first episode, sat down for the second, and then demanded that we watch the remaining ones together. We finally ended up with Netflix primarily to have access to the third and most recent season.
In case you are not on Tumblr and have somehow avoided all the Miss Fisher love, she is a flapper in 1920’s Melbourne, who sort of falls into detection through lack of anything better to do with her life. It is really hard to put my finger on what makes it so addictive, but I think it is primarily due to the characters and the actors. The plotlines are fun, but not too noticeably different from the many, many other mystery shows. Miss Phryne Fisher is unrepentantly wealthy, frivolous, feminist and raunchy, and that is actually very rare in television these days. I think this is probably the biggest aspect of her popularity – we are so parched for portrayals of sex-positive femininity that we will fall all over any and all portrayals like rabid dogs. Which is not to say that Miss Fisher doesn’t deserve all the fandom, but just to try to explain the level of adulation that even the show-creators seem a little puzzled by.
She has endearing friendships with both her best friend, a gay lady doctor, who assists in some of the cases and is wonderfully dry, and her paid companion, Dorothy, who is a relatively conservative Catholic girl slowly falling (rising?) to Miss Fisher’s influence. Her flirtation with the local police inspector is masterful, as he clearly respects her, is attracted to her and finds her intrusive and annoying all at once. Rebecca pointed out that the actor playing the inspector deserves more than whatever they are paying him just for his very restrained but communicative expressions alone.
So, after enjoying Season 1 so much, Rebecca and I checked out a large stack of the novels it is based on. Each one is barely 200-pages long, and we anticipated a lovely month of entertaining fluff, but neither of us cared to actually read more than the first one. There was no obvious flaw to point at, but the charm of the television show just wasn’t there. Miss Fisher is described as significantly younger, and is more sarcastic and dissatisfied, which comes across as sort of bratty. The other characters are similarly diminished – Dorothy is somehow both more bitter and naïve, Inspector Robinson almost nonexistent, and the communist cab drivers more zealous and confrontational.
I started to think of this series as the flipside to the Haunted Bookstore series that I reviewed earlier. With the Haunted Bookstore novels, I could list several concrete reasons why I shouldn’t have enjoyed them, and yet I loved them all completely and read them straight through until I was so sad to reach the end. With the Miss Fisher novels (or at least the first one), there were so many reasons I should have really enjoyed it, and yet I just didn’t. I even found that while I was reading the book, my enjoyment of the television show fell off a little, so while I finished the first book, I determined not to read any more and just enjoy the show on its own.