It is revealed in the pilot episode that Murphy's wife and child had been held by criminals who asked to make him blow up a police station. Murphy chose the force, and lost his daughter. Her death has since riddled Murphy with guilt and he thus plunges himself into his dangerous work, hoping to drown out his thoughts and perhaps perish having done something good. Murphy is generally quite cheerful and charming on the surface however, and he often plays around with his superiors and colleagues as well as hit on woman any chance he can.
The series is known for this simultaneous humour and tragedy in Murphy (for which Nesbitt is known), and for its darkness - particularly in later seasons. Infact the series was created specifically for Nesbitt, who had previously shown his impressive acting ability in Cold Feet. The series was nominated for numerous BAFTA and IFTA (Irish) awards over its run and Nesbitt won one IFTA for his performance in 2005.
The pilot episode was adapted into a series of books by Colin Bateman, who also created and wrote for the series. Five series of Murphy's Law were aired between 2001 and 2007.
This series provides examples of:
- Alone with the Psycho: In 1x02, where Tommy is needed to share a cell with a kidnapper. Tommy even dreams that he will be strangled in his sleepnote .
- Always Save the Girl: See page quote.
- Anti-Hero: Subverted, mostly. Although Tommy is in something of a Crapsack World and is faced with many Moral Event Horizon situations, he continues to be a good and honest cop.
- Anyone Can Die: Not surprising given the dangerous nature of undercover police work.
- Being Good Sucks: Tommy continues to try and do the right thing despite the continuous tragedy around him.
- Black-and-Gray Morality/Grey-and-Gray Morality: Tommy will take part in mostly minor criminal activities or look past transgressions if it allows him to maintain his cover or protect his friends. The villains also have families and might look out for Tommy in times of danger.
- Break the Cutie: In 2x01, when it turns out Becca had been killing the homeless woman, under the influence of dark religious teachings from a Sinister Minister.
- British Brevity: Each series has anywhere between 3 to 6 episodes. The first season compensates for this somewhat, as each episode is 90 minutes long - feature length!
- Cowboy Cop: Tommy is often willing to dance around the law when it's necessary to gain a target's trust or find out important information.
- Death Seeker: Possibly why Tommy accepts dangerous jobs no one else will, such as in the pilot, although it is likely closer to Not Afraid to Die.
- Dirty Cop: Occasionally Tommy comes across cops who are helping the bad guys and who might threaten his undercover identity.
- The Great British Copper Capture: In the fifth season, this trope gets fulfilled to its maximum level. A police officer, who ended up being gang-raped after an undercover operation went wrong, enters the police station with a gun (having already killed the head of the people trafficking ring responsible) and takes the Chief Superintendent (who she blamed for him getting off) hostage. In the process she shoots a detective in the arm, the Chief Superintendent in the leg, and then herself in the head.
- The Infiltration: The basic plot of each episode.
- Loved I Not Honor More: Although Tommy acts The Casanova with many woman during his day job, he is rather alone in his personal time.
- Murder by Inaction: Tommy saved a police station and thus caused the death of his daughter.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The decision for The Needs of the Many which results in his daughter's death.
- Northern Ireland: Where Tommy (and the actor playing him) come from.
- Odd Friendship in 1x02, where Tommy begins to forms a bond with the kidnapper he's supposed to be finding info from.
- Sinister Minister: In 2x01, where the priest at a homeless shelter is uncovered to be sleeping with one of the weak-willed female residents.
- The Unfettered: Tommy to his job, which he is remarkably good at and places above everything.