Sunday, April 24, 2011

TV Detour - Midsomer Murders: The Decline and Fall of Ben Jones

Growing up watching TV most of my life, I've often noticed and pondered why producers and writers do things to characters that are inconsistant, thinking that audiences won't notice.

Many times I've seen shows change the background of a character in such an obvious way that viewers notice.  And yet in this day and age of DVDs, DVRs, computers, and any other technology in which we can rewatch episodes (even reruns that were in place as far back as the 1970's), producers and writers forget this aspect and assume the audience won't notice for the sake of entertainment.

News flash:  We do notice.  We notice all the time and we comment and critique it in message boards all over the internet.

I want to talk about one such instance that's been becoming more and more obvious recently.  And this involves a regular character named Ben Jones who is in the British murder mystery called Midsomer Murders.

For those of you who don't know Midsomer Murders is a show that has been on the air since 1996 and is televised in hundreds of countries (including parts of the US and is available on DVD in the US as well).

For the first 13 series (aka seasons) the show had starred John Nettles as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby.  Now in its current series (14) the lead is Neil Dudgeon who is the new DCI and is Tom's cousin John.

 Through the years Tom Barnaby has had three sidekicks:  Gavin Troy, Dan Scott and Ben Jones, all three detective sergeants.

Jones has stayed on since Tom's departure, now reluctantly working for John Barnaby.

When Jones joined the show he was an eager police constable who won over Tom Barnaby at a crime scene.  He eventually became a detective constable, then a detective sergeant. 

For the his first three series (series 9, 10 and 11) Jones showed good instinct, loyalty and demeanor. But something changed in series 11.  For some inexplicable reason Jones has become more and more inept through the years.  He can't solve his own cases, he's extremely sensitive and defensive....

...and in a most recently aired episode (Echoes of the Dead) he's been described as a "Jonah" or bad luck by an ex-cop who claims all Jones' former colleagues agreed with him on this.

This is a revelation that leaves me puzzled, as I have never seen him cause any bad things to happen.

He has gradually become more and more unappealing as each new episode airs.  In his first three series, he never let anyone's personal opinion bother him as deeply as it does now.  He whines and complains a lot more these days.  And he acts like an idiot sometimes.

What happened to the man who had great hunches, had a respectful demeanor and had a sharp, keen wit?

I'd like to know when in the past six years has he proved to be a Jonah?  And what of the perceived loyalty and respect Jones seemed to share with his colleagues through the years?  Is it all out the window now?  Jones' reaction in the scene seemed to imply that he knew he was considered bad luck.  So it's apparently not something he was called behind his back.

I know that he wasn't pleased to have Barnaby hear this comment, as John has a degree in psychology.  But the episode never returned to this to either refuted or support the claim that Jones was considered a Jonah by his colleagues.  And since this show is episodic and rarely returns to references made in past episodes, I doubt we'll hear about it again.

The UK paper the Sunday Mercury questioned why Jones has had a "personality transplant" and loyal fans of the series want to know why he's been made so inept.

I want to as well.

Believe it or not, while Jones has a supporting role in the show, his screen time and activity in it was much more involved in the first three years than it has been recently.  Jones has faded into the background, becoming more of a plot device and a poor attempt at comic relief.  There were episodes in the past in which I would laugh out loud at his antics, but they were situational and they worked.  Now they made him into a goofball, forcing humor in when it doesn't work.

These days they change his background and personality to suit an episode.  That never used to be the case.  He's so unpleasant right now that it's affecting my enjoyment of the show.

What happened to him?

I'm sure ITV (the network that airs the show) or Bentley Productions will say that Jones is angry because he had hoped to get promoted and got passed over.  So he's mad that he has to work for another Barnaby.  I don't mind him being irritated by that, but his behavior started before it was even announced that the old Barnaby was leaving.  Does this mean that he was growing angrier at the old Barnaby by the end of it?

And what of his oversensitivity and his lack of smarts?  Was that due to anger?  Did he suddenly become emotional?

Could it be that the producers had heard that some fans thought Jones a bit bland in the first three series, so in an attempt to give him some substance, they regressed him into a problem child, rather than introduce something that would have made more sense?  Surely, reducing his intelligence wasn't the only option, but it seems to be the one they took.  One would think that once a character has been established for 3 years, changing him so radically might puzzle the audience.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the producer of this show once said that he was worried about confusing foreign audiences.  So while the original Barnaby retired from the show, repeats of his final episode will have a different ending that won't show him retiring.  This way audiences won't get confused.  Neil Dudgeon also has been quoted as saying that he hopes audiences won't see much of a difference between his Barnaby and Nettles.

So does this mean that Jones is actually a reincarnated Gavin Troy?  That still doesn't work for me.

Personally, I never thought the earlier incarnation of Jones was bland.  I liked him and I thought there was a good person with brains an integrity underneath the surface.  Sadly, that's not the case.

I also think the writers lost the plot with him as well, unsure what to do with him in some episodes.  So he fades into the background as a result.

Bottom line:  They should have left him alone and continued with him as he was up to series 11.  Where was the man who had things under control in Blood Wedding?  Can we have him back now, please?

I've been  a fan of Midsomer Murders since I was on vacation in England in 2002.  I caught an episode with Gavin Troy and loved it and watched ever since.  Believe it or not it was John Nettles portrayal of Tom Barnaby that kept me watching, although I was tempted to stop when Dan Scott was on the show, because some of the spark that the program had during the Troy years seemed to be missing.

When Jones joined the show, the magic returned and in time I grew to really like his character.  I became a fan of the actor, Jason Hughes, as well.

Now with Neil Dudgeon in the lead and Jones being crabby, it's lost it's spark again.  I have nothing against Neil, and believe that in time I could warm up to his character, but he's not Tom Barnaby and Jones is not the same man we knew before.  With Jones in rapid decline I don't see how their partnership will survive.  They may have to do another transplant and give Jones back his old personality, but it might be too late for that.

Bring the old Jones back, please.

Absent and Tardy

Apologies for not posting in a long time.  Real life sneaked up on me and caused me to take a breather.

First there was the Bell's Palsy that hit around mid-August of 2010.  That made me feel very tired, so my evenings after work were spent lounging on the sofa, watching TV or snoozing.

Then I bid on a condo in late September and that was a nerve-wracking experience getting all my i's dotted and my t's crossed.  I finally closed in December, but the place needed plenty of work, and still does.  So that's occupied my time as well.

I know I am very late in posting film reviews, but I still want to do that.  This means there will be plenty of belated reviews from the past several months, but I'll try to intersperse them with more recent films.

I also plan to change the layout of my reviews, as one thing that causes me to procrastinate is the listing of credits.  I like having them, but I'm finding myself less motivated to post when I think of the work involved in including them.  So instead I'll mention names within the review and tag, when relevant, and post a link to IMDB for anyone interested in full credit info.  This will motivate me to keep up with the postings and not fall as far behind as I did before.

So apologies again for the disappearance.  And thanks for your understanding.