Life is different in Canada, it seems. Streets are clean, people are calm and “Murdoch” is forever.
“Murdoch Mysteries” arrived in 2008, with Yannick Bisson as a polite policemen solving crimes in early-1900s Toronto. “I thought, ‘Wow, this will go a couple good years,’” Bisson recalled.
And now? Its 12th season recently concluded in Canada and has just started on Ovation, an American cable network. Compared to U.S. crimesolvers, that ties it with “Bones,” “Dragnet,” “NYPD Blue,” “Hawaii Five-0” and “Murder, She Wrote,” trailing only a couple “Law & Order” series.
And coming is a second show, “Frankie Drake Mysteries,” that’s almost a spin-off, set in the 1920s with female detectives. Both shows benefit from a city that easily reflects the past.
“Toronto has a lot of history,” Chantel Riley said. It offers “the perfect backdrop to go back in time.”
Riley, a “Frankie Drake” co-star, isn’t one of those who wish they lived long ago. “The jazz-era was huge back then,” she said. “I’d love to enjoy that. However, there was still racism and bigotry.”
Bisson has an olfactory reason for preferring the present. There are horses on the “Murdoch” set, he said. “It’s amazing how much one animal can change the tone of a little streetscape” with is droppings.
He likes a different form of old-time transportation. “Toronto is a very cool place to ride” a bicycle.
Cycling is something Bisson discovered (or re-discovered) long ago. “In my 30s, I ran into a bit of a bout of feeling blue,” he said. “This brought me back to a time of life when I was the happiest.”
It’s hard to imagine him feeling blue. Nearing his 50th birthday (May 16), he’s a handsome chap who projects an aura of pleasant calm. That belies the fact that he moved around a lot as a kid.
Born in Montreal and speaking French first, he lived in Nova Scotia, upstate New York (“learning English a fair bit”) and the Florida Keys. “You learn to adapt and blend in,” he said.
That was handy when he was 13, in Toronto, and an ad asked for child actors. At 15, he co-starred in “Hockey Night” as the team’s star, who supported the notion of a girl (Megan Follows) as goalie.
Follows went on to “Anne of Green Gables”; Bisson had a steady stream of filmed-in-Canada TV shows. That included regular roles in series that reached the U.S. — “High Tide,” “Soul Food” and the male lead in “Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye”; then he became the eternal Murdoch.
This was a chief detective, “fairly buttoned-down, reserved, perhaps judgmental,” Bisson said. “A lot of those layers have slowly been peeled off.”
Murdoch married the coroner (Helene Joy) and pursued his fascination with forerunners of modernism, especially in crimesolving.“We’re actually creating those things, tongue-in-cheek, a little bit – fax machines, cellular service,” Bisson said. “Obviously, with a bit of a twist. And we’re bringing in the people … at the front edge of that, like Nikola Tesla and Alexander Graham Bell.”
Edison and Ford have shown up; so have cowboys (Buffalo Bill, Bat Masterson), authors (H.G. Wells, Jack London), news figures (Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, Emma Goldman) and more.
The season’s two opening-night episodes reflect the varied tone: There’s a fairly light one (shown here), in which Murdoch moves into his Frank Lloyd Wright home … and then a dead-serious one, in which his wife, now a surgical resident, tackles a medical mystery.
Ovation usually sticks to arts programming – and, until this season, changed the name of the show. “In our hearts, it’s always going to be ‘The Artful Detective,’” said David Wideroe, the marketing chief.
But it found that its artful audience is fine with drama imports on Saturdays. That has included the three-season run of the lush “Versailles” plus other shows, including the eternal “Murdoch.”
— “Murdoch Mysteries,” 7 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, Ovation; also on streaming service www.acorn.tv.
— Season started April 20 and ends June 15, when Ovation starts “Frankie Drake Mysteries”