The long-running British television series Midsomer Murders probably isn’t the first place you’d look if you wanted commentary on aging in the twenty-first century. After all, it’s a murder mystery show on which people of all ages die, the lead is not in any consistent way involved in elder care, and all of the regular characters are working-age adults. However, the show portrays seniors as integral parts of the communities in Midsomer County (the extremely murderous fictional area in which the show is set) and often uses side plots to address issues in aging.
In general, the show does a good job of integrating aging issues into its plots, and seniors are never just jokes. The two aging-related subjects that arise most frequently on Midsomer Murders are the vulnerability of older adults to fraud and the financial challenges that arise because seniors on fixed incomes can’t continue to live the lives to which they have become accustomed. These two sides of the aging coin—seniors as victims and seniors as active agents looking for ways to meet their own needs—combine to show an interesting portrait of aging in the twenty-first century.
The two plots converge in interesting ways in the two episodes of Midsomer Murders that deal most directly with seniors. The Season 3 episode “Blue Herrings” is set in an Assisted Living community of sorts (the show calls it a nursing home, but it bears a lot closer resemblance to Assisted Living in American terms). In this episode, the main character, Inspector Barnaby, is visiting his aunt Alice, who’s there to recover after surgery. He notices that there are a lot of strange goings-on at Lawnside, and one of the residents tells him she suspects that two staff members are conspiring to steal residents’ property by manipulating them into changing their wills and then murdering them. Stolen jewelry and other irregularities compound both the residents’ and Barnaby’s suspicions, and everything comes to a head after a couple of suspicious deaths.
While all is not quite well at Lawnside, it turns out that residents are not being exploited by staff. The one actual murderer was a resident’s family member, and the situation is just sad. And the thief was another resident. Tired of being pretty much confined to Lawnside but unable to afford regular meals out or taxis to the pub, he steals his fellow residents’ valuables and sells them as if they were his own. While this is shown to be a bit silly and could easily have been played as a joke, the show clearly portrays the situation as having been brought about by the character’s circumstances. He worked as a chauffeur, didn’t have significant savings, and has bills, so even small luxuries are struggles. That he obtains them through theft certainly isn’t condoned, but the show treats him with understanding.
In Season 6’s “A Talent for Life,” one of the two central murder victims is an older adult. Isobel Hewitt loves driving fast cars, and she was accustomed to living a luxurious lifestyle. As she aged, however, she ran out of funds and had to rely on family. When she and a friend are murdered while fly fishing, Barnaby first suspects that another friend killed her to get his hands on her assets. After he learns that she is no longer wealthy, he no longer worries about theft, but he does suspect her hypercritical relatives, who constantly complained that Isobel wouldn’t reduce her expenses.
In “A Talent for Life,” the murder has less to do with Isobel’s age than with how she treated people. She was fun, but she wasn’t always kind, and that ultimately came back to haunt her. But her money problems are real problems, and they are caused in part by her age. In general, Midsomer Murders suggests that it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect seniors to live in poverty just because they are no longer able to work. At the same time, it shows how older adults are particularly vulnerable to fraud and theft that have the potential to leave them even more impoverished. At the same time, it lets older adults be human. Like everybody on Midsomer Murders, seniors frequently have agendas, and they’re as flawed as younger characters. Seniors can be victims, the show suggests, and they’re uniquely vulnerable in some ways, but they don’t stop being who they are just because they’ve aged. This commentary is subtle and occasional, but the show definitely has a clear point of view on aging.