There are many words we’d associate with the lead character (shown here) in “Murdoch Mysteries.”
They include “steady,” “sturdy,” “solid,” “stoic” and such. They do NOT include “slapstick.”
But here is the season-opener, at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT) Saturday (Feb. 20) on Ovation, directed by the show’s star, Yannick Bisson. It has versions of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel, plus a big sight gag, complete with a collapsing building.
“Typically, we’ll have a serious episode and then a light one,” Bisson said.
The serious one (also directed by Bisson) will air a week later, probing the secret past of Chief Inspector Thomas Brackenreid, the boss of Inspector William Murdoch. But first is this light one, with early versions of the guys who would become silent-film superstars.
“They were traveling vaudeville people,” Bisson said. “Prior to film, they went from town to town.”
We expect show-business people to have mobile and scattered lives – even if Bisson, 51, is an exception. He’s been married for 30 years and has been on the same show for 14 seasons.
“Murdoch” is a picture of Canadian dependability. Among hour dramas, only a few American shows have lasted longer – “Gunsmoke,” “NCIS,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “CSI” and two “Law & Order” shows.
The formula was developed through eight novels and three TV-movies, before settling into the series, with Bisson in the lead: A modern-thinking police detective solves crimes in Victorian-era Toronto.
Gradually, the series has advanced to about 1906, making it post-Victorian, but the concept remains: Murdoch toys with advance technology; he also meets famous people, from Edison, Tesla, Ford and the Wright Brothers to Twain, Houdini, Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and all those silent comics.
We don’t actually expect laughs from the guy who plays the stoic Murdoch, but maybe we should. “I started out in comedy,” he said. “I (played) the funny guy.”
That was after his family moved from Montreal to Toronto and his father spotted an ad looking for child actors. At 15, Bisson started getting small TV roles; at 19, he was in “Learning the Ropes,” as a teen who couldn’t tell classmates that his dad (a teacher, played by Lyle Alzado) was a pro wrestler.
This wasn’t the sort of role careers are built on, but others followed. Bisson has been busy, both in Canadian shows and in American ones that were filmed up North. He did five Aurora Teagarden movies with Candace Cameron Bure for Hallmark, three seasons of “Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye” for Pax and much more. “I used to be the voice of Home Depot in the States for a long time.”
But “Murdoch” has become the steady force in both countries. In the U.S., it appears both on cable (via Ovation, at 7 p.m. ET Saturdays) and streaming (www.acorn.tv, which has all the previous episodes).
The show has evolved slowly. Always a fan of science, Murdoch often conferred with Dr. Julia Ogden, the medical examiner. Now they’re married and living in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
That TV set isn’t too different from his actual condo in Toronto, Bisson said. “I’m a big fan” of Wright-style design. “We have a lot of mid-century, modern furniture.”
He and his wife live there (they have three adult daughters), but retreat to a winter home in California. It’s an easy life … or was, until a two-week quarantine began, each time they returned to Canada.
Meanwhile, “Murdoch” gets around – even reaching his father, who does large construction projects globally. The show was in about its 10th season, Bisson said, when his dad told him: “Hey, I saw that ‘Murdoch’ show. It’s pretty good.”