Screens: PrimeTV

The Brokenwood Mysteries Is New Zealand's New Take On An Old-School Style

Al Lowe rolls the Wheel of Murder all the way around the world for The Brokenwood Mysteries.

Ah, summer, when adventurous travelers seek new experiences among the world's most beautiful landmarks. London! Tokyo! The blood-spattered tulip fields of Holland! The crapulent evidence lockers of Milan! Uh, what? Before you go, check with Al Lowe as she TV-travels the globe to investigate how murder gets done on an international scale.

The Show The Brokenwood Mysteries a 2014 four-part series of ninety-minute mysteries set in a small, fictional farm-belt town on the Auckland coast of New Zealand. The first season is currently streaming on Acorn.TV. Not since the early days of Midsomer Murders have I so enjoyed a modern cozy (which is saying something, since that is the all-time favorite of my household). I am happy to report they have filmed a second series, which I believe has already aired in New Zealand.

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The Formula Oh, yes, they adhere wonderfully to the cozy formula, while incorporating some lovely twists that make what you initially think will be the same old rumpled outsider detective + upstart lady cop + small-town weirdos altogether fresh. The two leads are straight-up fantastic together. And where they diverged by assigning the differentiating personality quirks that will separate these formulaic characters from the pack, they avoid the usual cheesiness by not hitting those notes too hard. For example, DI Mike Shepherd (the adorable Neill Rea) likes to sit down and have a friendly chat with a corpse at the start of every investigation. As one does. He has an unknown number of ex-wives living...somewhere...drives a beat-up classic car and loves country music. On paper, you're like, "Ugh, must we with all this 'hilarious' 'whimsy' over here?" but they keep it just enough in check that his little eccentricities are actually charming, rather than eyeroll-inducing. The same can be said of his young, efficient DC Kristin Sims -- who, though she is often frustrated by his off-book methods, does not fall into that old sighing shrew thing we have come to expect from the female procedural sidekick. Which is good, because I have fallen hard for the actress, Fern Sutherland. First, because her name is Fern, come on, and secondly because look how cute:

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"[Location] was like Another Character" Yes, indeed. New Zealand is a place I have always longed to go...since I repeatedly watched all 798 hours of DVD extras from The Lord Of The Rings box set. Hello? Come back! Look, it was before I had a kid! I had so much time on my hands! I know y'all watched it, shut up. ANYWAY. This show is shot mostly around the very small town of Warkworth in the Auckland region, which is beautiful as well as apparently the home of a very decent rugby club that is sponsored by a pizza restaurant called The Rusty Pelican. All the more reason for me to run away and live there. I don't know much about rugby, but I will gladly support a scrum of burly locals as we kick back amongst the sheep in such a gloriously lush setting.

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Those Subtitles, Tho We could not get the Acorn.TV app subtitles to work when we were watching this, and that was unfortch because the New Zealand accent...I mean, is that an i or an e sound? "A did bodaey was fehound een a deetch!" It would be helpful, probably, to have a visual aid for some of it, especially when this gentleman is on screen, partially because his inflection is sometimes truly impenetrable and, uh, also because it's hard to concentrate on the words coming out of his mouth.

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What's Best About It? More even than the setting, the soundtrack of The Brokenwood Mysteries is like another character. Please understand that when it comes to traditional country, alt-country, and alt-rock music, I am the worst sort of record-store-guy snob. In the time before parenthood, I would gladly stand in an Alabama ashtray to enjoy some twanging unwashed singing all night long. I have, not once, but twice, sat unsheltered in a lightning storm for Lyle Lovett (and I'd do it again). So, with that in mind, know that when I advise you to go to iTunes immediately and avail yourself of this show's soundtrack, you should let your fingers do the running, not walking, to get it. I am really upset that it is not on Spotify. Featured artists include Tami Neilson, Delaney Davidson, Barry Saunders, Mel Parsons, Marlon Williams, and The Harbour Union. Have I ever heard of these people? No. Is my shame deep about it? Yes, yes, y'all.

What's Worst About It? I get that this is kind of a miniseries or whatever, but I'm not sure it's necessary to make these things ninety minutes long (or, two hours, with commercials, for the poor Kiwis watching at home). It leads to a bit of repetition, a smidge too many scenes of driving from here to there, a tad too much filler. But we're just talking smidges and tads, here. The soundtrack is so enjoyable, I really can't rip on them using any excuse to fire it up.

I must also mention that I found the first episode to be the least compelling, which is a shame. The greatness of the cast made me sort of grudgingly agree to watch more when harassed by my husband, the Wheel's backseat driver, and I am JUST THIS ONCE grateful for his grousing, because I loved the rest. Maybe you will not share my cool reception to the first ep but, either way, don't hesitate to power through, because it's really good.

Whatever Shall I Serve? Much of Brokenwood's action centers around its various wineries, and y'all know I am all for that. The Kowhai Coast, where this was filmed, is rather famous for its chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, which complements the amazing regional seafood, inspiring my husband to just now shriek "OH MY GOD, WHY DON'T WE LIVE THERE?" It's a good question.