Sexually adventurous, unapologetic, averse to marriage, in control, attractive to all men–and in her 40s. Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) is the kind of character feminists have despaired of seeing onscreen, and yet there she is, captivating her Australian viewers, and now American ones, who have binge watched her on Netflix as quickly as I have. She’s a 1920s heiress who solves crimes, and the rather dainty title of the show–Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries–doesn’t capture the boldness of its heroine at all.
Of course, being an appreciator of all things Mae West would love, I claim this would be her current TV show of choice, just as Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s” would be her theme song. Essie Davis has just the right attitude for her role, and while she isn’t Mae West (who is?), the two would clearly get along. Not that the characters the two actresses play are doubles. The slow strut of West’s characters contrasts with Fisher’s quick energy, and while West’s characters clearly take pride in their sexual conquests, Fisher simply relishes them, as if so many lovers are simply a matter of course.
This is what you do when you’ve survived WWI, Fisher suggests: you have FUN. And yet, like West’s heroines, she never belittles her more demure fellow females; her closest companion (and employee), Dot (Ashleigh Cummings), is a devout, chaste Catholic (in more modern terms, Charlotte York to Fisher’s Samantha Jones).
The show is also praised for its female writers, its attention to historical detail, and, of course, its fashion. I can’t begin to describe those glorious costumes, but others have here and here. Like West’s characters, Fisher likes silk and feathers and furs and jewels, and wears them with panache.
There are many other reasons to watch the show. The mysteries are fun, but in the end, I don’t care about them any more than I do in The Thin Man or Psych. Just gimme some more of Fisher’s chemistry with the detective (Nathan Page), more of her lascivious looks, more of her joyful dancing, more of her comments on singlehood, more of her liberality toward those mistreated by her time period, and in many cases, still by ours (gay friends, communists, anarchists, pacifists, prostitutes, working women, etc.) Give me more of the clothes. And most of all, give me more of that lust for life that has made me fall for Mae West. Please, please, you wonderful writers and you very busy star, give us a Season 4.
This post is part of my monthly West moment series.