Guess who’s back, back again (Photo: SPP)
Guess who’s back, back again (Photo: SPP)

Pop CultureJune 14, 2024

The Brokenwood Mysteries must never die

Guess who’s back, back again (Photo: SPP)
Guess who’s back, back again (Photo: SPP)

How is this show about murder and mayhem such a comforting watch? 

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In the dark of night, a mysterious figure drags a body through a sea of mud. The next morning, as the local community celebrates the discovery of a dinosaur fossil, two men see that same body floating down a stream. “Any chance he’s still alive?” one man asks as they pull the dripping body ashore. Then, we see it: a hammer protruding from the victim’s head in a way that hammers should generally not protrude from a head.

“I don’t think so,” the other man replies.

Welcome back to the sleepy community of Brokenwood, and say hello to a 10th season of murder and mayhem in The Brokenwood Mysteries.

For the past decade, this New Zealand murder mystery series has entertained viewers both here and around the world, beloved by audiences from America to Italy to Africa. It’s screened in 150 countries, won several international TV awards and starred nearly every New Zealand actor under the sun, including Dame Miranda Harcourt, Ian Mune and Robyn Malcolm. Fans of the show travel to Aotearoa to visit Brokenwood locations in the flesh, and if you’ve ever yearned for Mrs Marlowe’s cheese roll recipe, you can now buy your own official Brokenwood merch.

The Brokenwood Mysteries is one of our most successful and long-running television series, and the first episode of season 10 hits all of the show’s familiar marks. Country-music loving Detective Mike Shepherd (Neill Rea) and his team must unravel a typically bizarre murder, complicated by a variety of eccentric locals hiding secrets of their own. It’s an enduring picture of small-town New Zealand life that many of us can relate to – apart from all the inventive killing. Just when these detectives think they’ve seen every possible way to knock someone off, along comes a palaeontologist with a hammer stuck in his noggin.

Mike (Neill Rea) and Kristin (Fern Sutherland) think about hammers and stuff (Photo: SPP)

It’s this familiarity that’s the secret to Brokenwood’s success. Sure, it’s not the most searing of New Zealand dramas; it doesn’t have the intensity of After the Party or the contemporary sharpness of Friends Like Her, but it doesn’t matter. Brokenwood isn’t trying to be anything it’s not, and it never takes its audience for granted. It sits comfortably in a niche of its own making, a reliably entertaining murder mystery filled with dry wit and dark humour that viewers around the world are clearly dying to escape into.

In this unpredictable, fast-changing world, there’s a weird comfort to this show that presents us with a thousand different ways to die. It’s a cozy world of its own time and place, set in a lush green corner of the country that’s somehow nowhere in particular yet still recognisably us. There’s nothing confronting about Brokenwood, even when the victim is garrotted on a World War Two torture device. And if nobody in Brokenwood worries about living in the murder capital of Aotearoa, why should we? They’re too busy having lovely time visiting the local farmers market, until a body falls out of a barn with a pitchfork wedged in their back.

Nothing about Brokenwood makes sense, but somehow, everything about it works. You’ll always know where you are with Brokenwood, and as the 10th season begins this weekend, there are few other shows that make murder so enjoyable. The Brokenwood Mysteries might well be obsessed with death, but there’s no more comforting New Zealand show on television.

The Brokenwood Mysteries returns to TVNZ1 on Sunday 16 June at 8.30pm and streams on TVNZ+. 

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