Plotting a Murder

Posted Sunday, May 12, 2013, 4:29 PM


I really like the new Channel TEN comedy/drama series Mr and Mrs Murder. I like the premise, of the crime scene clean-up crew noticing clues that were missed by the Police and figuring out who the killer was. I like the characters, a married couple (Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart as Charlie and Nicola Buchanan) who adore each other and have fun and silly conversations, and who drag their niece (Jess, played by Lucy Honigman) in to their schemes as their unwitting accomplice. I like the distinctive environments where each murder takes place.

But there is much that I don't like, and those things kind of ruin it for me. So much potential to be a really good original show, that would even work internationally, but they mess it up in too many places.

The biggest problem for me is that there's no sense of jeopardy. When you have two people who are overstepping their bounds in a criminal investigation, there really ought to be consequences. Admittedly the Detective, who has a soft spot for Nicola, and recognises their abilities as amateur sleuths, gives them free rein, carte blanche, all-access pass, but the suspects ought to be somewhat less forthcoming with spilling their guts to strangers who have no right to be where they are, doing what they're doing, questioning who they're talking to. There have been a couple of cursory scenes in two or three episodes where they've been lightly confronted, but they still get the answers they seek too easily.

The murderer has to be engineering it so that they cannot be fingered as the culprit; constructing lies, alibis, and misdirection that puts the Police off their scent, but such that an outsider with a fresh point of view would not be distracted and can see through their web of deceit. Instead we are presented with four suspects, and they just go about their business like nothing happened. They don't seem affected by the murder, don't seem to be afraid for their own lives when there's a killer on the loose, don't seem to be actively trying to deflect the investigation that would reveal their guilt, and instead are just sitting around under the bold assumption that nobody is going to ask them any questions.


Now what the hell are the Police doing while this is going on? They wander around in the background of the crime scene at the very start of each episode, if you're lucky, and they seem to be there to arrest the guilty party at the very end, but apart from that they seem to be completely absent, coming across as lazy, incompetent boobs who aren't doing any groundwork that real investigators do. They need to have some kind of interaction with Charlie and Nicola, an opportunity for them to pick up new clues, overhear conversations, swap information, just enough for it to look like the Police are actually doing some work. Having the Detective, Peter, occasionally appear to moon over Nicola and then tell them lists of stuff isn't enough, it's too cheap and easy an exposition tactic, and feels clumsy at best.

The pacing is all wrong. This is not the fault of the writing, I don't think, which is generally pretty decent, especially the dialogue. Instead I think it's something that can easily be fixed in Post Production, in the editing and the music. When you're dealing with a drama like this, there needs to be stakes. You have to feel that if the murderer isn't found they may strike again, they may even attack the investigators who are getting too close to the truth. The audience has to feel like there may be danger at any turn. You can do this with careful editing, that increases the urgency, builds up tension, shows facts that cause the audience to fear for the protagonists' lives as they go about their amateur investigating. Editing shots faster, lots of close ups not showing faces, shadows and footsteps, a sense of close pursuit, music that builds tension to a climax where they finally discover, and then directly confront, the murderer. Then a short denouement where they tie up the loose ends, explain some of the plot twists, and relax after a job well done.

Too often the pacing was on an even boring keel. No sense of adventure, excitement, or risk. No confrontation. Too often a line of dialogue was something like "I think I know who did it!" and then they cut to a shot of the bad guy being carted away in cuffs. No confronation, no demand for an explanation, no confession. Pathetic.



On an unrelated but equally annoying note, the opening titles really bother me. I like what they're going for, comic book style graphics, with nice plinky-plunk detective type music, but the images don't match to the rhythm of the music, and it really annoys me. All they needed was for title text and comic book frames to appear on the beats, for the animation of the images to be in actual perspective instead of randomly sliding around, and with a sense of storytelling (and maybe if the likenesses of the characters were slightly more accurate) I would be giving them high praise, but what they've actually got is just frustratingly inept and poorly directed.

Now I'm not an especially good writer, and have no real professional experience. And to be perfectly honest I don't think it's the writing that is at fault, it's clever, original, funny, and is expertly performed by the cast, so I can't blame that at all. I think it's a flaw in the directing of the pre- and post-production, establishing how the story should be played out, and how to achieve the best end result with what you've got in the can.

If there's a second series, I hope they pay attention to these factors. They're small, in the grand scheme of things, and easily addressable. And if they're looking for script doctors to help them out, I'm available.

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EDITED TO ADD:
And then the final episode of the season plays and it addresses almost all of my concerns, including pretty much everything I was after: Jeopardy for the main characters, Police involvement, ramping up the exciting pace to a climactic conclusion, and a satisfying denouement. Brilliant stuff! If there's a second series, just do more like that, please.