Midsomer Murders is a British detective drama that began in 1997. It’s based on Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby book series. It’s set in several villages within the fictional English county of Midsomer and is known for it’s occasional lightheaded jokes and moments of dark humor. Seasons 1-13 starred John Nettles as the eponymous DCI Tom Barnaby, and since season 14 it has starred Neil Dudgeon, who played Tom Barnaby’s nephew John. It has remained spectacularly popular, and even after 20 seasons, ratings have hardly dropped.
Season 21 will begin airing in 2020. Until then, here are the best and worst episodes according to IMDb.
10 Worst: The Lions of Causton (6.9/10)
In this season 20 episode, DCI John Barnaby and DS Winter investigate the death of Mark Adler, a businessman and former rugby player. He is found dead in a cryotherapy center associated with his former rugby team, the Causton Lions. The mystery takes Barnaby and Winter through some serious club rivalry, old grudges, romance, and artisanal chocolates. After Mark Adler’s death, two more people die—one by suicide and the other by owning in hot chocolate.
Fans who don’t like the episode thought the writing was convoluted and the characters too shallow.
9 Best: Last Year’s Model (8.1/10)
DCI Tom Barnaby has a constable sit in on Annie Woodrow’s trial for bludgeoning someone to death. However, as the constable starts to report back to Tom Barnaby, he starts to worry that maybe he has arrested the wrong person. There had been seemingly watertight evidence—a reliable eye-witness, and Annie caught in a web of lies—but Tom thinks there’s more to the story. As the trial continues, he continues to investigate the case with his constable.
This season 9 episode is the last in the series to score above an 8.0.
8 Worst: Written in the Stars (6.9/10)
During an eclipse, an amateur astronomer named Jeremy Harper is killed by a blow to the head with a meteorite while on Moonstone Ridge. The initial suspect is Laurence Janson, the head of the university observatory who wants to build on Moonstone Ridge and is having an affair with Harper’s wife. However more brutal (and astronomically-themed) deaths start to happen. A local clairvoyant has claimed that she predicted each death, and insists that Moonstone Ridge is cursed. It turns out the motive is actually written in the stars.
Fans didn’t love that this episode seemed to jump the shark. Not only is the mysticism out of character for the show, but the characters are pretty shallow.
7 Best: Ghosts of Christmas Past (8.2/10)
This season seven episode features a family that reunites for Christmas nine years after one of them, Ferdy Villiers, died by suicide. There’s clear tension in the family and then grandmother Lydia Villiers is killed. As DCI Tom Barnaby investigates, it becomes clear that there are many secrets in the house. Eventually, it’s uncovered that Ferdie’s fiancée’s died by suicide very soon after his death and suddenly there might be someone out for revenge.
People loved the atmospheric quality of this Christmas episode, and that the answer to the mystery is truly difficult to uncover. The script is considered smart and thought-provoking as well.
6 Worst: Breaking the Chain (6.6/10)
This season 18 episode had some convoluted relationships going on in it. Cyclist Greg Eddon is murdered just after winning a national race. It turns out he had just barely beat out teammate Mitch McCordell. Meanwhile, Greg had been spotted kissing Aiden McCordell’s girlfriend, and has been receiving threatening texts over it. (The two McCordell’s are brothers.) The race was crucial to the success of Greg’s cycling stable, and the rival team is accusing Greg’s team of corruption. Before DCI Barnaby can figure out what’s happened, another person turns up dead.
Most fans disliked that the crucial information to solve the murder wasn’t revealed until the last ten minutes of the 90-minute episode.
5 Best: Death’s Shadow (8.2/10)
In season 2, real estate developer Richard Bailey was hacked to death in his home. There are many suspects, as several people in the village were extremely opposed to his new plan to redevelop a historic property, Tye House, into a golf course and residential estate. To add interest, Bailey’s childhood friend Ian Eastman also wanted to develop the property but lost to Bailey. But then a second murder is discovered and DCI Barnaby must find the link between the two deaths, which may go back thirty years.
Fans love that the mystery is well developed, the story is sometimes humorous, and the answer is very surprising, but makes sense.
4 Worst: The Night of the Stag (6.5/10)
A government revenue inspector, Peter Slim, is murdered while investigating illicit stills in advance fo the Midsomer Abbas May Festival. There is a major fight brewing in the village as temperance campaigners, led by parson Norman Grigor, clash with Anthony Devereux, a cider mill owner, and Samuel Quested, a pub landlord who wants to bring back an old fertility custom. DCI Barnaby discovers a secret that links Slim to a village girl, but as he tries to investigate it, someone who knows that secret is also murdered.
Viewers were extremely bothered by the “courting” rituals that seem much more like sexual assault. The motive for the murder also makes very little sense to many fans.
3 Best: The Killings at Badger’s Drift (8.2/10)
The very first episode is also a fan favorite. Emily Simpson is found dead in her house—many think it was an accident but DCI Barnaby’s instincts lead him to believe that it was murder. There is the possibility that she saw something she shouldn’t have while biking through the woods, but her death may also be linked to another “accidental death” the previous year. When two other residents of Badger’s Drift are murdered, Barnaby discovers an illicit love affair, blackmail, and other creepy characters.
As the premiere episode of the series, this was the one that got many viewers hooked. It’s still a fan favorite for the clear murder mystery with surprising twists and turns that still hold up 22 years later.
2 Worst: Blood on the Saddle (6.4/10)
This season 13 episode is the lowest rated in the series, which is saying a lot about how beloved Midsomer Murders is! 6.4 is still a solid positive rating.
The episode centers on a Wild West show that rolls through town. Soon after it arrives, Faye Lennox is murdered, quickly followed by her lover Jack Fincher, who is lassoed and dragged to death. There are many suspects, but it takes a third death for DCI Tom Barnaby to figure out who the murderer is. Fans disliked the episode because of the tonal dissonance between Midsomer and the Wild West. Many also think it to the weakest storyline in the series.
1 Best: Judgement Day (8.3/10)
The village of Midsomer Mallow is competing for the “perfect village” title when a resident is killed with a pitchfork. Peter Drinkwater was a thief and womanizer, so there are a lot of initial suspects including a jealous husband, a spurned lover, and a robbery victim. Of course, several people in the village only care about how the death will impact the voting for the perfect village title, which draw them under suspicion too. Naturally, the answers lie in the past, and it is up to DCI Barnaby to figure out what happened in a murder 45 years earlier in order to get his answer to the murder today.
People really love that this episode combines the quaint loveliness of the English countryside with a solid mystery that is full of surprises. Bonus: Peter Drinkwater is one of Orlando Bloom’s earliest roles, which brings new viewers to the show all the time.