Murphy’s Law Series 1-5 Review – Undercover Gem

OK, so the plan was for me to review something entirely but that ended up being a longer article than I thought it would be so I’ll have to take a different approach and combined with the sheer amount of work I’ve got on the horizon, it will have to be next.

In the meantime, I was originally going to review this show instead so that’s what we’re going with.

American readers and probably UK readers will most likely be mystified by this title and even I didn’t know about it until a few weeks ago.

No, this is not the 1986 Charles Bronson film or the other TV show of the same name from 1989 which is about something totally unrelated.

‘Murphy’s Law’ is a show that is bred from that very special British ‘dark and gritty’ type of detective shows like ‘Wire in the Blood’ and ‘Cracker’. Setting itself (slightly) apart from those two more well known shows where the protagonist is not a police officer, ‘Murphy’s Law’ revolves around the central character, Detective Sergeant Tommy Murphy who specialises in undercover operations. In that sense, ‘Murphy’s Law’ can be compared to another ‘undercover cop show’ called ‘In Deep’ starring Stephen Tomkinson and some other dude but that show is even more of an obscure reference. I suppose ‘Spooks’ is ‘undercover’ but that’s MI5 and upper class and poncey. We like dark and gritty down here because it’s fun to watch and interesting and ‘Murphy’s Law’ is all that.

Set over five series from 2003 to 2007, the first series begins with the pilot episode where we’re introduced to Tommy Murphy. In his first scene, he’s drunk and standing in a nice suburban street shouting at a woman who denies him a night of passion.

I won’t lie, Tommy Murphy carries this series. There isn’t another character that appears in every episode or at least appears in every series. All the other characters are merely in a supporting role and the criminals that Tommy is setting up to bring down get more characterisation than his colleagues. You know what? That’s not a bad thing. Tommy Murphy is a great character who goes through an arc as the series goes on. He has the classic ‘tragic backstory’ which is one event that defines his character’s motivations and indeed actions which we’ll talk about in a bit but 

Now I should mention that Tommy Murphy is played by Irish actor, James Nesbitt whose most prominent role to date was Adam Williams on the popular Comedy Drama ‘Cold Feet’ which ended its first five year stint in the year that the first series was released but two years after the pilot. Nesbitt’s character in ‘Cold Feet’ bears a resemblance to Tommy in that they’re both cheeky, have a sense of humour, they’re flirty, likable, and popular with the ladies. All the is true for the first two series as from the midpoint onwards, the show goes quite dark as Tommy finds it more and more difficult to cope with the company he keeps during the operations and struggles with some harsh consequences.

So, what about this backstory that I enticed you with only a paragraph ago?

Sometime before the Pilot (it may have been specified but I can’t remember), Tommy returned home to find his wife and young daughter taken hostage. Under threat of his family being killed, Tommy was ordered to drive a car loaded with explosives to his police station and blow himself and his colleagues sky high. Tommy couldn’t go through with it and so the captors killed his daughter and forced his wife to watch. As a result, his marriage broke down and Tommy became what is known in ‘dark, gritty cop show’ terms as a ‘mess’ with a disastrous personal life but the one thing he his good at is his job which he shouldn’t be doing since in the pilot, it’s mentioned that he failed his psych evaluation so why is he in the field? Because he’s that good.

When it comes to TV in Britain, our mantra is ‘Quality over Quantity’ which is a lesson that certain American TV networks could do with learning. ‘Murphy’s Law’ had a total of 23 episodes over five series.

The first series of five episodes all have an individual run time of 90 minutes and for all future series, each episode has a runtime of around 50 minutes.

In the Pilot, whilst investigating a group of diamond thieves, Tommy is attracted to Annie (Claudia Harrison), the business partner of the ringleader but his attraction soon turns into confusion when she attempts to arrest him and then his confusion turns into anger when he confronts his superiors about being unknowingly paired with another undercover officer. The operation is a success and Annie is promoted to Detective Inspector, effectively making her Tommy’s boss.

Along with DC Carter (Del Synott), Annie and Tommy infiltrate several criminal groups to bring them to justice and I know this is a TV show but I’m going to question some of the protocol here.

Frankly, Tommy’s tragic past isn’t a huge surprise given how poorly his identity is protected, especially in the first series. I don’t think its protocol for Tommy to use his own name during operations. In the second episode, ‘Electric Bill’, Tommy introduces himself to a suspected serial kidnapper and killer with his own name. Surely, that would be far too easy for the bad guys to enact some revenge. It would make sense if Tommy’s out and about with the bad guys and he accidentally bumps into a friend who calls him by his real name and his cover would still be intact but surely, the risk of serious repercussion (which has already happened to Tommy) isn’t worth it. Only is Series 3 and 5 is Tommy known to use an alias.

What really doesn’t help is having his face in the paper. In ‘Electric Bill’, to set Tommy up with his backstory for prison, Annie arranges for an armed police unit to burst into Tommy’s flat and arrest him whilst the press are waiting outside who take pictures of him and plaster them in the papers. Is it wise to have an undercover officer’s face (who will be in further operations) in the paper as an alleged international terrorist? Sure, it sets him up as a bad guy but what if he’s entered into another operation and the criminals have seen his face in the paper and don’t like the idea of a former international terror suspect who was remanded in prison and therefore known to the authorities? 

These little bits aside, the first series also features the burgeoning romance between Tommy and Annie. As a girl, I usually don’t like the ‘will they, won’t they’ romance in detective shows because we all know they will otherwise it’s not worth it and to be honest, this particular romance suffers with the usual trait of the female superior pulling back because of her own position as his boss but honestly, there’s no direct advances from either Tommy or Annie but there are ‘moments’.

Some ‘moments’ are premeditated such as when Tommy at least exaggerates an injury to his shoulder and a concussion sustained in a fight with gangsters so Annie will come to his room and examine him. At one point, Tommy kisses Annie as a diversion when they’re about to be discovered and neither of them seem mad about it, especially not Annie. However, events later in the first series begin to cement their trust in each other.

There’s a moment in the episode, ‘Reunion’ where gangland boss, Carl (Neil Stuke) gets Annie drunk on vodka to near unconsciousness and attempts to take advantage of her but Tommy purposely interrupts them and takes Annie back to his flat, letting her sleep in his bed and Joy Division t-shirt while he sleeps on the couch. Alternatively, when Russian gangsters storm Tommy’s flat, he and Annie have to jump from the roof to escape causing Tommy to injure his ankle. Since his flat is compromised, Annie take him back to her flat where she runs him a bath to help his injury although there’s some debate over which ankle he was limping on. Also, Annie saves Tommy from an enraged Russian arms dealer at the end of the episode but then she leaves him with the barely conscious and hand-cuffed criminal after he jokingly blames her for the whole predicament.

Despite that, between Series 1 and 2, Tommy and Annie began a sexual relationship, but it doesn’t last as sadly in the first episode of the second series, Annie is killed by a ‘Jack the Ripper’ style killer which leaves Tommy devastated. He then goes undercover to find the killer so Annie can be buried.

Annie’s death also has a big impact on Carter who was mostly in the background for the first series which focused mostly on the partnership between Tommy and Annie but Carter steps up to become a reliable undercover officer for Tommy.

The second series deals with Tommy’s attitude towards his daughter’s death. Whilst he and his ex-wife are on speaking terms given their history, they both have trouble confronting what happened to their child. Whilst his ex-wife is attempting to move on, Tommy is still trapped with his guilt over what happened.

In the last episode of the second series, Tommy and Carter fake his departure from the service so he can infiltrate a support group who have decided to take matters into their own hands. In the episode, the man running the group tracks down one of the men responsible for his daughter’s death and Tommy is massively conflicted about how to handle it. He ends up pointing a gun at the guy’s head but shows massive restraint as he knows that the act goes against everything he stands for and the revenge won’t relieve his pain and just put him in prison anyway.

At the end of the last episode of the second series, Tommy, Carter and his friend, Father McBride (Mark Benton) place small mementos of his daughter all around his flat. Since he had once kept these items in a suitcase under his bed for him to occasionally bring out and cry over, Tommy realises that these items are not to be hidden and it shouldn’t hurt to remember his daughter. The last shot is Tommy, Father McBride and a sleepy Carter watching football.

Series 3 is where I think the show took a dark turn, not only in tone but Tommy himself and I’m not just saying that because this series is the introduction of what I lovingly refer to as the ‘1970’s German Porno Stache’ which was so well presented on the DVD cover. This isn’t even a look that he has for the current operation, he willingly chooses this look in future series. I’m certainly no fashion guru and I do think James Nesbitt is a good-looking man, but I don’t think that look suits him. I understand that his character has undergone a darker shift and they wanted a visual representation for that, I’m just not sure the 70’s German Porno Stache was the best road to go down. Interestingly, Nesbitt was credited as a ‘Creative Consultant’ for a few episodes of Series 2 and most of Series 3… I wonder if he recommended this look. Who knows? Let’s move on.

So, what else is different?

Instead of one case per episode as in previous series, Series 3 has six episodes but all focusing on one operation which I actually like. It’s tricky to get truly invested in a story and its characters when it’s all over in 50 minutes but when a whole series is devoted to it, it’s difficult to not get invested.

Series 3 follows Murphy attempting to get close to Dave Callard (Mark Womack) who is a gangland boss and cop killer, believing that if he can be hired as a hitman rather than a weapons dealer to Callard’s employee, Caz Miller (Michael Fassbender), then he can possibly bring his whole organisation down.

At first, he offers himself up as a hitman as Callard wants an employee killed, Richard Holloway (Ramon Tikaram) because he’s allegedly sleeping with his wife so now Murphy has to ‘kill’ the guy and prove himself to Callard. The way Murphy goes about killing Holloway without killing him is to have DC Ollington (Shaun Dooley) accompany him and accost Holloway with fake baseball bats. For the rest of the series, Holloway is kept in witness protection whilst his wife, Ellie, thinks he’s missing but Callard thinks he’s dead.

From the second episode, we can see Murphy’s darker personality and more ‘unrefined’ behaviour. Now that Callard semi-trusts him, Murphy’s fixed up with the McGeechan brothers, otherwise known as Ellie’s brothers and they think Murphy knows more than he’s letting on about Holloway’s disappearance and so cover him in lighter fluid and hold a lighter in front of his face unless he talks. What would undoubtedly be a pant-wetting experience for us mere mortals, Murphy persuades them that he only knows what he’s been told and afterwards agrees to fix up some AK-47s for a drugs deal. Once he’s fixed the guns, he demonstrates the power of the gun by firing at an old van and then pointing a possibly empty gun at their friend’s dog. He then demands another £1000 for them holding a lighter to his flammable face.

Old Murphy would never have pointed a possibly loaded gun at a dog. I’m convinced that he knew the gun was empty and all he wanted was to shit them up but still.

Episode three is harsh both physically and emotionally for Murphy as he strikes a friendship with fellow undercover officer, Jill (Kate Fleetwood) who is playing the role of a contact for an expert counterfeiter and is needed to convince a couple to arrange some counterfeit Euros for Callard. However, Jill ends up dead on her apartment floor, leaving Murphy devastated and desperate to find her killer. Unfortunately, Murphy is blindsided by one of Jill’s shady co-workers, Jamal Bhattacharjee (Quill Roberts) who suspects Murphy of first being a copper and then the person who murdered Jill. As criminals do, Bhattacharjee has his men hold one of Murphy’s fingers over a guillotine. Now, if this were an American show, I would be surprised if the hero managed to fight his out before anything got cut off but I should have remembered, this is a UK show of the ‘dark and gritty’ nature and was therefore took by surprise when Murphy does get one of his fingers cut off before he fights his way out. This injury has no significant consequence as he races to the hospital with his severed finger encased in a bag of frozen peas and is then reattached. For the rest of the episode and the next, the injury is wrapped up. Murphy rounds off the episode by identifying Jill’s killer as her violent husband.

So far, Murphy’s been beaten up several times, been covered in lighter fluid and threatened with immolation and had a finger cut off. We’re only on Episode Three.

The following few episodes introduce a more powerful adversary, MP George Garvey who is linked to Callard so Murphy gets close to his son as a way of finding out the connection but in the meantime, Murphy begins to get too close to Holloway’s wife, Ellie.

The series begins to come to an end when Murphy arranges for DC Ollington and his undercover officer, Paul Allison (Owen Teale) to be present with Caz and Callard during a drug deal arranged by Garvey which goes wrong when some gun toting dudes turn up, there’s a shootout and Allison is severely injured. Murphy manages to have Ollington drive Allison to a hospital, but he’s left guilt-ridden after denying body armour thinking that it would give them away.

In the opening minutes of the last episode, Murphy announces to Callard and Caz (whose mother’s house they’re holed up in) that he is an undercover officer resulting in him shooting Caz dead when he goes for his gun. Murphy then arrests Callard but is suspended due to him shooting Caz. Later when Callard slips the net, he lures Murphy into a one on one at the hospital by taking a recovering Allison and pull all of his tubes out. However, Murphy gets the best of him and shoots him in the chest. However, Paul Allison dies from his injuries and when Murphy is told, he reacts as if that is how this story ends.

This series was very interesting when it comes to the change in Murphy’s character. I know I keep saying ‘darker’, but I mean that in the sense that he’s lost his ‘playfulness’ and essentially his sense of humour. He hardly smiles in this series and during a conversation with Ellie in the last episode, he expresses his anguish at constantly having to lie to people and it just seems that he’s really unhappy. Another small side-plot is that Murphy has to give evidence at the trial of a guy who he took down following a lengthy undercover operation and the guy is let off and that already demoralises Murphy and has him wondering if it’s all worth it. When the series ends, Murphy ends up with even less than when he started. All this begs the question, why continue? What’s he gaining from this? I asked myself this question and it seems that Murphy continues because he has nothing else. He already lost his family due to the job and so it seems that he feels that his job is all he has. He spoke in the previous series about the death of his daughter and that the undercover cop is for a single man since they have no collateral.

Series 4 brings the episode count down from six to three and the plot sees Murphy taking compassionate leave and returning home to Ireland to help his father take care of his mother who is suffering from dementia. Murphy is reluctantly brought back into action to take down the infamous Johnstone Brothers from Belfast but are based in Leicester.

To be honest, Series 4 slightly continues Murphy’s characterisation from Series 3 as he hops back and forth between undercover with the Johnstone’s and in Ireland with his father. It becomes clear that Murphy’s dad can’t cope on his own and so he is forced to put his mother in a home. It’s hard to watch Murphy’s anguish as he looks at this mother, but she doesn’t recognise her own son because he must be desperate for that mother/son connection. Reassurance and comfort. Sometimes a guy needs his mum. There’s no shame in it.

I’m going to skim over Series 4 because frankly, not that this series was boring, but the story was nothing we haven’t seen before, and I can understand the reduction in episodes. I don’t know why the series was reduced but if this had been a six-episode series, it would have struggled.

However, to go back what I was saying in the paragraph before last, the final minutes of the last episode see a shootout between Murphy and the two Johnstone brothers and Murphy is hit in the neck. In the very next scene, he’s going to see his mum in the home with only a bandage on his neck. There is no sense that a lot of time has passed. My dismay at a show not taking a serious injury into account in assuaged by the ending which shows an emotionally drained Murphy desperately trying to connect with mother by placing his head in her lap and she comforts him by stroking his head, seemingly momentarily remembering who he is and sensing his deep despair.

Series 5 was great drama although once again, three episodes.

The last series ever broadcast shows Murphy taking a step back by being an undercover officer to his old friend, Mitch Kershaw (Tom Dantay) and Murphy’s protégé, Kim Goodall (Andrea Lowe).

Now, the last thing I saw Andrea Lowe in was DCI Banks where she was opposite Stephen Tomkinson’s character as DS Annie Cabbott and she pissed me off something chronic. I just hated her character, I thought she was bitchy and disrespectful and I couldn’t understand why Banks fell in love with her so when I saw her, I really thought I wouldn’t like her character… I hate it when I’m wrong.

The plot of the last series is that whilst acting as their undercover officer, Murphy goes back undercover with an established alias to find out what happened to Mitch and Kim when they go missing after an operation goes bad. When Kershaw turns up dead, things don’t look good for Kim.

This is a rough one for Murphy since he feels very protective over Kim and almost like her wellbeing is his responsibility. In his investigation, he infiltrates a group of people smugglers run by Mark Baker who bring young girls to an abandoned hotel to make porn films against their will and are then taken into prostitution. Murphy discovers that Kim had been taken there and left a message for him in her own blood. The message ‘CAR’ leads him to a brothel in Cardiff with fellow undercover officer, Jackie Cole (Jessica Oyelowo) acting as another girl to be placed into prostitution.

The last episode shows Murphy finding Kim on a boat at Cardiff Docks. Kim never does go into great detail about what happened to her whilst she was in captivity and I honestly feel she doesn’t need to. She was already developing a dependency on Class A drugs before she was taken as part of her cover, and Murphy discovers a porn film involving her after she was taken and heavily under the influence and possibly unaware of what was happening. When Murphy finds her, she’s already been through too much. Even during a conversation between Murphy and Jackie in the previous episode, Jackie is hopeful that they’ll find her but Murphy wonders what they’ll find and is dubious about how much help she’ll receive.

So, when a man who held her hostage turns up which leads to Murphy shooting and incapacitating him, I certainly wasn’t surprised when she took Murphy’s gun and finished the job. The cracks have already started to show. Kim is taken to a psychiatric hospital to receive care after her ordeal and Murphy regularly visits her. At first, her method of coping was to think everything she endured didn’t happen to her. She had separated herself as a cop and as her character. She described the night she was taken and I thought Andrea Lowe did a great job of putting forward Kim’s fragility but also putting on a brave face in front of Murphy. 

Baker is arrested but released when the only man who could testify against him commits suicide in police custody. On Murphy’s next visit to Kim, she reveals to him that she that she is being encouraged to resign over health grounds and the Chief Superintendent is withholding her compensation. She also expresses that she can possibly never have a normal as what she went through will always be with her.

In the final scenes, Kim absconds from the hospital, kills Baker and goes to the police station armed with a handgun. She shoots DCS Atwood (Robbie Gee) before taking CSI Bowry hostage. She feels that her superiors have abandoned her and she’s being punished even though she did everything right during that operation. Murphy arrives and does his best to talk Kim down, but it becomes clear that she’s too far gone after she admits to killing Baker. Merely describing it doesn’t do the scene justice but it’s enclosed with strong performances from Lowe and Nesbitt as she is unable to find retribution and justice for what happened to her and he is desperate not to lose anyone else but it ends in tragedy as Kim takes her own life which leaves Murphy devastated.

The final scene of the last episode shows Murphy sat alone in his car in the rain and in tears as he presses a loaded gun to his head but is unable to pull the trigger.

This was not meant to be the end to the show but it could have been a fitting end as it shows that Murphy may not be strong enough to deal with the stresses and indeed the consequences of the job. He’s already endured more than his fair share and he’s come this far and he has a responsibility to keep going even though he carries a lot of guilt and grief on his shoulders. And to think that he was a cheeky Irishman when this show started.

A sixth series was never commissioned as in the last year of it’s run, ‘Murphy’s Law’ suffered in the ratings as it was scheduled opposite the popular ITV show, ‘Doc Martin’ which really is a show that’s past it’s prime.

Because ‘Murphy’s Law’ is quality, the only way to watch it in its entirety is on DVD which I bought for about £20 on Amazon. I think Series 3 is available on Prime. I suppose you can watch Series 3 before any other series because there’s no overarching plot, it’s more ‘series to series’.

So, that’s what I thought of ‘Murphy’s Law’. It was a great ride and I do think it’s a shame that another series was released, even if it was the final series. I, for one, would have liked to see a happy ending for Murphy. Although it fits with the ‘dark and gritty’ vibe, I don’t like the idea of leaving Murphy at that level of despair. I like to think that if there had been a final series, Murphy would have found something outside of his work that he can cling to and make him happy and hopefully, find some peace of mind.

I really want to review another TV show which I’ll have to do series by series because otherwise, it would have been a massive article, just like this one. That show is ‘Lucky Man’ starring… James Nesbitt… No… there’s nothing wrong with me.

Patient 187


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