Acorn TV debuted the second season of Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries this week, with the first episode landing on the service on June 7. The series, a spinoff of the beloved cult favorite Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, brings the period piece crime capers forward a generation, from the roaring 20s to the swinging 60s. The new season is comprised of eight episodes - four of which were available to screen for critics - and stars Geraldine Hakewill as the titular Peregrine Fisher, long lost half-niece of the late Hon. Phryne Fisher. But though the new season sees Peregrine much more confident in filling her aunt's shoes, the show is still trying to find its footing.
When Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries was canceled by Australia's ABC in 2015, it came at an ironic time. The series was not doing enough numbers in its home country of Australia to justify more episodes. (ABC had already attempted to cancel it once before after Season 2 but relented.) But overseas, the show was hitting its stride via Netflix, garnering a giant fanbase on the flip side of the globe. With lead actor Essie Davis no longer interested in filming full seasons down under but streamers like Acorn TV eager to license more episodes, ABC then commissioned Ms. Fisher's "MODern" Murder Mysteries in hopes of a streaming bump.
Unfortunately for ABC, that didn't happen, but luckily for everyone else, Acorn TV stepped in and picked up the slack. The new season is the first of the Fisher franchise bankrolled by the streamer, and some changes have come along with it. For one thing, the capitalization of "Modern" is no longer so "MOD" heavy. For another, the new episodes have been reduced from the overlong feature-length adventures of Season 1 back down to the far more manageable 45 minute run times of the original Miss Fisher episodes.
But the most significant change arrives with the opening episode's murder, set among the artistic types who put the swing in Swingin' Sixties. Miss Fisher may have been risque for her time, pro-birth control, and happy to have beautiful men in her bed, but even she would have raised her eyebrows at the sheer amount of sexual energy pouring off the screen. Moreover, and perhaps far more importantly, the will-they-or-won't-they of Peregrine and her Detective-admirer James Steed (Joel Jackson) has tipped full bore into willing, changing the dynamic from slow burn to significant other.
On the one hand, the change in the period and attitude did make the attempt to recreate the Jack-and-Phryne dynamic much more difficult. Not just because James is a much more modern (and less baggage-laden) man, but because Peregrine, at an entire decade younger than her aunt, is far more impulsively forward. It was much more believable that Jack, as a good Protestant divorcee, was not emotionally ready for what Phryne represented and that she intuitively understood and respected that. Without any roadblocks and the "sex is good, actually" messaging of the era, trying to stop this romantic train was probably futile.
But it also threatens to change the nature of the show. By Phryne and Jack never giving into their feelings until last year's movie capper, Miss Fisher remained independent until the last. On the other hand, Peregrine now has a new dynamic to navigate, one where a relationship can compromise her standing in the eyes of others. It somewhat helps that Steed is not the DI in charge -- for the first episode at least, that remains Percy Sparrow, in all his sexist bore glory, providing a convenient antagonist for Ms. Fisher to work against that isn't her boyfriend.
But even with the new change, the rest of the series remains the same delightful period piece escapism it's always been, even if it leans a touch heavily on the 60s stereotypes. And with eight episodes, the focus on feminist messaging also remains far easier to maintain. Miss Fisher's cases usually focused on women's issues, but it would become somewhat diluted over 13 installments. The new series shorter run means that every case directly reflects the series' message, even if it sometimes takes the metaphor and makes a dog show out of it.
New episodes of Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries arrive Mondays on Acorn TV.