Saturday, August 15, 2015


I’m going to need you to be patient with me as this post is going to ramble a little, but I’ll eventually get to the point…

Recently, I put up a blog post applauding the joys of the Australian television show, The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries (currently streaming on Netflix) and the series of books by author Kerry Greenwood on which the excellent series, set in 1920s Australia, is based. After linking the post to various social networks, I figured it might generate a few likes and maybe a couple of brief comments. However, as soon as the post went up a strange phenomenon began to occur – the post was generating an inordinate number of likes and – more specifically – an unusual number of enthusiastic comments.

But here’s where things got even more strange – the comments were 100% from men. I’m talking guys who almost all make a living (or at least a hardscrabble existence) writing over the top men’s action fiction. And, not only were these macho skewing knuckle-draggers leaving comments, but all of them started their comment with some version of, “I love this show!”

Now, most comments on social networks would stop there – a brief declaration and nothing more. But these comments went on to enthuse about where they watched the show, how good the sets and production values were and (knock me over with a feather boa) how amazing the clothes were.


My world view was shaken. Not one of the guys said, “My wife loves this show,” or “I have to watch this with my girlfriend or I don’t get lucky.” Those female entities didn’t even get a mention. The men commenting were very specific – “I love this show!”

Frankly, even though I had enthused myself about the show and the books, if pinned down, I would have categorized The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries as targeted mostly toward a female audience. A liberated, empowered, female audience, perhaps, but certainly not a show to spark overt enthusiasm (if not adoration) from normally hairy-chested, reluctantly communicative males. This is not intended as a slur of any kind, just an observation based on knowing the viewership stats of other similarly themed shows.

So what was up with this outpouring of testosterone fueled love?

While the show’s sets, period costumes, and production values get mentioned, I believe the true male appeal is the actual character of Miss Phyrne (pronounced Fry-nee) Fisher and the way the character is completely embodied by actress Essie Davis.

I’m not talking about physical appeal here – although the character and the actress definitely outshine all the gym sculpted, liposuctioned, boob-jobbed, twenty-something actresses who dominate American television. What I’m talking about is the actual character traits with which author Kerry Greenwood imbued her creation, and which  are brilliantly  captured by actress Essie Davis.
Okay, here is where we ramble…

Novels and scripts are two completely different animals. When a novel has been acquired for television, too often the ego driven producers and show runners feel the overwhelming need to put their own stamp on the property. This is rarely a good thing.  This process almost always leads to burying all the things that made the character and novel special under an avalanche of second best, third best, and fourth best ideas – all  depending on how many cooks are in the mix.

In the case of The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries the two producers, Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger, clearly worked painstakingly with author Kerry Greenwood to get the character of Miss Fisher as close to the original source as possible – even adapting many of the episodes directly from the book series.

The changes the producers found necessary to adapt the books to the medium of television were judiciously undertaken. Everything that made the character and books special was preserved as much as the translation from one medium to another would allow. But all of this could have been for naught if the casting of both lead and secondary actors wasn’t exactly right – miscasting being a quicksand quagmire too deep and binding to escape.

In Essie Davis, however, the casting director got it exactly right. Both fans of the books and fans of the show can imagine anyone else in the role. Essie Davis is Phryne Fisher.

But the perfect casting for The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries goes well beyond its lead actress, extending to even the most minor of secondary roles. To a person, the cast is excellent, and seem to know they have been involved in creating something special.

Still, even with all of this effort and creative business taken into consideration, I’m in no doubt, it is specifically the character traits of Phryne Fisher that makes the show so appealing to a male audience.

Author Kerry Greenwood has stated that in Phryne Fisher, she wanted to create a female version of the Saint. An admirable goal, she has mostly achieved.

Like Simon Templar, Phryne has a larcenous heart and a reckless streak tempered only by a complete confidence in her abilities. This is not the obnoxious, blind or silly confidence given to many female characters. Instead, again like the Saint, Phryne has earned her confidence the hard way.

She drives a Hispano Suiza very fast. When she’s not wing walking, she flies planes with acrobatic abandon. She takes lovers as she chooses, while always remaining in control of her emotions and responsibility for avoiding natural consequences – she bluntly states she doesn’t like children and has no intention of becoming a mother.

Raised in grinding poverty in Australia, Phryne’s life changed when several unexpected natural deaths in England bestowed on her father a title, lands, a manor house with extensive grounds, and a huge fortune. While all of this backstory is only briefly touched upon, it gives credence to how Phryne’s character developed during the years she spent learning and earning her skills across Europe and, specifically, in the Apache Quarter of Paris.

This background also explains her ability to relate to the lower classes, and to bring out their loyalty and best efforts. She easily wins both admiration for the actions and despair for her safety from all those whom she befriends. But the key is, Phryne is sincere and loyal right back. Lashings of ready cash also help to lubricate situations when loyalty and friendship aren’t enough.

Gun competent, knife fighter, knowledge of poisons, self-sufficient, fearless, determined, suave, and cool under pressure, Phryne Fisher is the Modesty Blaise of the 1920’s. As a friend described her, she's Agent Carter, Beryl Markham, and Ronda Rousey all rolled into one.

She is everything any guy who grew up on James Bond and the Saint wants to  be – except she’s female.

But not just female…

She maybe fictional, but what reader doesn't long for certain fictional characters to be real (how about Mr. Darcy, ladies)? She's more than the idealized best friend...Phryne Fisher is female with a wink and a smile all wrapped in a conspiratorial attitude of promise and possible attainability – if you behave yourself.

She can talk cars, talk planes, and drink you under the table. If you were arrested, she wouldn’t just go your bail, she’d be in handcuffs next to you saying, “Damn, that was fun!”

I think the truth is, every guy who says, “I love this show,” when referring to The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, is actually declaring their love for Phryne herself – an everygirl with panache.

1 comment:

  1. I don't love this show ..... I L O V E this show. I have never searched, looked up, dug, digged, went hunting for anything in my life > I am hooked - and that is HOOKED for more Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries. I am in awe of her clothing, she is sexy, without sex. And dear God, will you please let her and Jack just please .... you JUST PLEASE ! Here I am now, 60 and a dabble over today - yes these damn birthdays, and found a show that I adore .... My father and mother fell in love during the 1920's, or did they ? O well , I can't get enough of this show. I am in sales/marketing/have my own agency - I'm tellin ya > this is just a dead ringer... if these young whippersnappers would sit still, watch and take it in ............. LOVE LOVE LOVE this show.


Your comment will be reviewed by the administrator before being posted...