Commentary

Australia's 'Fisher' Makes Splash In U.S.

Australia is more than Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Crocodile Dundee.

Australian TV is exporting a smart, slick mystery series —“Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries” — recently on PBS. Phryne Fisher, a glamorous 1920s feminist flapper from Melbourne, Australia, would be right at home with the network's sponsors: Viking Cruises and Ralph Lauren. (If you miss her on TV, she's available on Netflix and Acorn TV.)

Like them, she understands timeless elegance. Unlike them, she finds danger intoxicating. Possessed of a razor-sharp mind and a wardrobe that puts Lauren to shame, Fisher is happiest with a hint of crime in the air.

And the actress who plays her, Essie Davis, is resplendent with star quality.

Fisher is a female cross between The Saint and James Bond: unstoppable, unbeatable and unapologetic. She can fly a plane, dance a sultry tango and has a taste for white peaches and green chartreuse liqueur. A large income, exquisitely furnished Victorian home and flirtatious charm doesn’t hurt, either.

Did I mention she’s a sexy suffragette who carries a gold pistol, sleeps with any man who takes her fancy and is a professional detective draped in eye-popping haute couture? I have her picture on my lunchbox.

Fisher pits her wits against cocaine smugglers, illegal abortionists and professional killers. Everyone from circus performers to Orthodox Jews hires her, and the issues she tangles with — women’s rights, xenophobia, bigotry — are weighty.

What’s intriguing about “Miss Fisher,” aside from her liberated character, are the historic details. It’s post W.W. I, and Fisher is a perfect example of the “New Woman.” Free to pursue a more public role in society and able to flaunt her “sex appeal,” a term coined in the 1920s, she assists (and often upstages) the police. Who else in Melbourne is fluent in French and Chinese?

Plus, the art direction and costume design are superb; what “Mad Men” does for the '60s, “Miss Fisher” does for the '20s. Every detail is deco divine.

Second, the series has a distinct lack of violence; it is measured rather than graphic. PBS, for the most part, tends to favor the cozy British variety. One exception is the current “Sherlock," which has morphed the deductive Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, into the 21st century. For Sherlock Holmes, Miss Fisher, like Irene Adler before her, would probably be praised in his super-select female category as “that woman.”

Suffice it to say, The Tea Party would hate Phryne Fisher. She’s too progressive, too compassionate, too much a crusader for social justice. All the reasons she’s worth watching.

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