In other words, it’s “CSI” at a time when everyone wore bowler hats, when authorities could be summoned with a whistle, when a woman showing her knickers in a photo was considered pornographic.
Welcome to the world of this Canadian procedural series, as bright as “CSI” is dark. Subbing as William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger for this 1890s-set drama are the dapper Yannick Bisson (TV’s “Soul Food”) and the delightful Hélène Joy (TV’s “Durham County”) as Detective Murdoch and Dr. Ogden, respectively.
Its diabolically charming credits sequence plants you right into the mood for armchair detection. Among the mysteries to be solved in the 13 episodes collected on three discs are a half-eaten circus performer, a house believed to be cursed by voodoo and killed its master, and a man’s death by a newfangled sort of electrical weapon, which requires Murdoch and Ogden to call upon the assistance of one Nikola Tesla.
While the crime of the week forms the core of “Murdoch Mysteries,” the leads are not mere puppets in the plots. Sometimes, they become them. This season begins with Murdoch having to solve the mystery of Murdoch himself, suddenly an amnesiac, and it ends with Ogden contemplating leaving her post for one as a pediatric surgeon at a children’s hospital.
Just because the characters look buttoned-up does not mean the show is a bore, something for spinsters only. Instead, the creators use a great sense of dry humor throughout the detection, particularly in that aforementioned circus episode, where Murdoch must question the tattooed lady and the wolf man. This is a case where the series is as smart as it looks. —Rod Lott