Find Me More Like Miss Fisher
At some point in the middle of junior year, after going through far too many American history flashcards, calculus equations, French vocabulary lists, and physics diagrams, I decided that I needed a break. I found myself, as one does, scrolling through Netflix for a TV show I could binge-watch to distract myself from my stress. Since Netflix probably knows me better than my own mother (yay for big data!), it kept recommending shows that were vaguely akin to Downton Abbey, which I do indeed like very much, but none that were light or funny in the way that I wanted.
Then the algorithm suggested Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which is an Australian show that isn’t nearly as dull as it sounds. A woman with a funny accent investigating murders—it’s been done before, and I’ve never really liked those shows; they become repetitive very quickly and can suck all the joy out of mindless TV. But Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple has absolutely nothing on Miss Fisher.
Miss Phryne Fisher wears a lot of brightly colored silk, speaks several languages, can fly planes and scale buildings, has a fondness for orphans and runaways, and flirts with everything that moves. She gleefully lives alone in a ginormous mansion, has a lesbian doctor for a best friend, scandalizes the police and her butler quite a lot, and breaks the speed limit every time she gets behind the wheel of her extremely expensive sports car. Did I mention yet that the show is set in 1920s Melbourne?
According to the mores of the time, a woman of Miss Fisher’s age should’ve been married, or at the very least living quietly and pining for some boyfriend she lost in World War I. That’s what makes this show so unusual: the main character is a middle-aged woman, who doesn’t want marriage or children, who sleeps with whomever strikes her fancy, and who generally does what she wants. Oh, and she solves murders in between shopping for new hats.
Naturally I fell in love with Miss Fisher, mostly because the actress, Essie Davis, wore all those 1920s dresses so beautifully. She’s the charismatic gorgeous badass I aspire to be. But I fell in love with the show too. Produced and written by two women, and based off of a series of novels by a woman, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries treats its heroine with feminist care and tackles a lot of the social problems facing Australia after the war. There are plots involving everything from abortion to communism, sex workers to nuns, and cocaine rings to PTSD. By the way, that’s just the first season. Later episodes tackle things like Aboriginal rights, gang warfare, and sanatoriums for “hysterical” women. It’s kind of a lot to take in, especially when you’re also trying to figure out the stitching patterns on some of Miss Fisher’s clothes and keep up with her relationship with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson.
That relationship is quite possibly my favorite thing about the show. The good detective falls in love with Miss Fisher soon after they meet, and they become good friends and work partners, but he never pushes her to make their relationship something more than it is. Despite loving Jack too, Miss Fisher can’t be bothered to slow down her life for him. She’s the one who goes off and does the main investigative and crazy things (like sneaking undercover into a circus and being part of the knife throwing act to get close to the owner), and, in a reversal of traditional gender roles, she’s the one who often ends up rescuing him. Their relationship is a partnership of equals, a delightful slow burn that has spawned lots of fan fiction to get them to kiss already, dammit. So many romantic subplots on TV nowadays have no good reason to exist and end up detracting from the show, but on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the feminist approach to love and sex is too refreshing to miss. As The Toast’s Mallory Ortberg once put it, “STOP MAKING ME CARE SO MUCH ABOUT HETEROSEXUALITY, JACK.”
Frankly, I do care, a lot. This show isn’t something you can find on most American TV, or on TV, period. I normally have to unplug my feminist brain when I settle down to consume media. Otherwise there’s just too much to get angry over: the one-dimensional female characters, the unrealistic beauty standards, the male gaze of it all. But when Netflix gently pushed me towards Miss Fisher last year, I found that I didn’t have to be upset all the time. I could have silly frivolous plots (it must be said that most of the murders are not that interesting) and good feminist content at the same time. The show proves that you can make a completely accurate and costume-heavy period drama and still confront social issues. It’s a standard I plan to hold all my future binge-watching to. Few heroines can ever hold a candle to Miss Fisher, but I’d like to see many more of them try.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Myers, Diana. "Find Me More Like Miss Fisher." 10 March 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/find-me-more-like-miss-fisher>.