Friday, December 15, 2017

Midsomer Murders: “The Glitch” (Bentley Productions, ITV, American Public Television, 2009)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

My main “feature” last night was an oddball rerun of a 2009 episode of Midsomer Murders (the odd spelling of the title is because it’s actually a series about law enforcement in Midsomer County in central England) called “The Glitch,” in which the dramatis personae — aside from series regulars Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), the lead detectives for the Midsomer County police — are George Jeffers (David Haig), a computer scientist at the local university who developed the concept of “kernel computing” (which basically means, at least as explained in Michael Russell’s script, means making chips out of ever-larger sheets of silicon so the chips will be baked together and automatically connected instead of having to be cut up and then reconnected electronically — an “Trivia” contributor says this is B.S. but it sounds impressive); and Clinton Finn (played by an actor who I’m assuming is British from his name — Nigel Whitmey — but who speaks with a reasonably convincing American accent even though nothing in Russell’s script specifies that the character is American), head of an American computer company called SoftEarth which has bought the rights to Jeffers’ invention and plans to use it to create a new system for air traffic control. Only Jeffers has figured out a “glitch” in his system that involves two contradictory instructions sent to a binary chip at the same time that would essentially paralyze it, and he’s worried that if this is used for air traffic control it could lead to planes crashing and people getting killed. So he’s determined to stop the development of his own technology even though this is going to cost SoftEarth millions and also lead to the end of plans for a new science building the university Jeffers teaches at is hoping to build with a multi-million pound donation from SoftEarth. There’s also a bicycle race going on in Midsomer County that a lot of the people in the movie are preparing for, and a mysterious assailant who’s sneaking up to owners of sports cars and drenching them and their vehicles in red paint spiked with glue, which makes it considerably harder to get off.

It’s one of those surprisingly placid British mystery stories that runs about 95 minutes (it was originally shown in two parts on the British commercial channel, though blessedly KPBS ran the two episodes back-to-back); the murder — of Jeffers’ current girlfriend, Helen Ward, who’s run down while riding Jeffers’ bicycle and wearing his coat — doesn’t occur until the show is half an hour long, and the denouement in which the killer’s identity is revealed (it was an old man who used to work at the local college as a porter while his son got a scholarship there and ultimately became its dean) seems surprisingly beside the point. Along the way we learn that Clinton Finn is having simultaneous affairs with Jeffers’ immediately previous wife (for someone as unprepossessing as Jeffers it’s a surprise that he’s had three wives and quite a few girlfriends in between!) Melanie (Joanna Ross) and his in-house publicity director, Helen Markham (Lucy Brown) — at one point Clinton, the rotter, asks Helen to lie for him to give him an alibi for the killing, and her price for doing so is that he dump Melanie. Eventually another person gets killed — Daniel Snape (Philip Jackson), an auto repair garage owner who takes care of Clinton Finn’s collection of rare sports cars and who’s also the go-to guy for the red-paint thrower’s victims when they need their cars stripped of the additional paint — and the red-paint assailant turns out to be George’s and Melanie’s son Tom (James Musgrove), who’s doing it to get back at Clinton for fucking his mom. He’s also a pretty typical alienated youth who when he gets back from a red-paint attack goes to his room and blasts punk rock on his boom box (though this show was made and set in 2009 the music Tom Jeffers is listening to sounds like it came from the late 1970’s, the era of the Sex Pistols and the early Clash), though in some ways he’s the most appealing character in the show (certainly he’s the cutest, and I usually don’t like ’em that young!) and I wish there’d been more of him. Like a lot of British mysteries this one is quiet, relatively non-violent (we don’t actually see either of the killings being committed) and with that odd aura of gentility with which British writers and filmmakers tell stories of criminal violence and sexual shenanigans.