TV mysteries


RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE “The Mickey Farmer Case.” CBS, 30m, 01 July 1957 (Season 1, Episode 1.) David Janssen (Richard Diamond), Regis Toomey (Lt. McGough). Guest cast: Christopher Dark (Mickey Farmer), Virginia Stefan. Screenwriter: Richard Carr, based on characters created by Blake Edwards. Director: Roy Del Ruth. Currently available for viewing on YouTube here.

   Richard Diamond appeared first on radio, portrayed by Dick Powell as a suave wisecracking PI for four years on three different networks. When brought to TV, David Janssen took over the role, but at least in this the first episode, he did not have a steady girl friend to whom he sang songs to at the end of each show.

   The TV version was done instead in a much more noirish style, with the final scene showing Diamond lighting up a cigarette in a dark alley. Well, I think it was an alley. It was dark out, though, so I may be mistaken.

   There was no particular attempt to introduce any of the players in depth in this first episode. It’s obvious that Regis Toomey is playing a tough cop with whom Diamond has a reasonably good relationship with, but that’s doesn’t mean the former doesn’t threaten the latter with losing his license or even doing jail time if he doesn’t stop bending the rules.

   In thirty minutes of playing time, there’s no room to do more than this, or even to create more than a minimal story, one in which Diamond is called in to help diffuse a tense hostage situation. But in doing so, he also ends up promising a dying killer that he’d help protect the latter’s girl friend from the guy’s partner, who has turned rat on him.

   This was the beginning of Janssen long and successful career in television. Both personable and handsome, he was an actor who was perfectly made for TV, and it shows even in this very short first step. The series itself was on for three years.

   

DEATH IN PARADISE “Arriving in Paradise.” BBC One. 25 October 2011 (Season 1, Episode 1). Ben Miller (DI Richard Poole), Sara Martins, Danny John-Jules, Gary Carr, Lenora Crichlow, Don Warrington (Police Commissioner). Created & written by Robert Thorogood. Director: Charles Palmer.

   Switching from watching all of season eight and going back to season one required a lot of adjustment from me. The only member of the cast that is common to both is Don Warrington, the commissioner who is in charge of the police force the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie. Everyone else was someone new who had to be introduced to me as the story went on.

   Not only that, but the active members of the force themselves are forced (…) to deal with the murder of their former boss, DI Charlie Hulme, who has been found dead in the locked panic room of a resident English aristocrat’s home while a party was going on. Sent from England to investigate is an uptight detective, DI Richard Poole, who is a fish out of water if there ever was one.

   He doesn’t like the heat, nor his accommodations, nor the small creatures he is forced to share them with, and he especially doesn’t like the heat. Why, then, does he travel around on the case wearing a black suit, white shirt and tie? Probably because he doesn’t intend to stay on the island any longer than he has to. Which means that he has to solve the case as soon as possible and get on a jet plane back home.

   A panic room is, according to Wikipedia, “a fortified room that is installed in a private residence or business to provide a safe shelter, or hiding place, for the inhabitants in the event of a break in, home invasion, tornado, terror attack, or other threat,” and a dead body found in one, locked from the inside, makes for quite a puzzle, and this is a good one.

   Without trying to give away too much [WARNING] this is a prime example of a tale told in which nothing is what it seems to be [END OF WARNING]. As such, even though DI Richard Poole is going to have some getting used to — and yes, no surprise, he’s going to stick around — this is an impressive beginning episode for this long running series.

   

VEXED “Episode One.” BBC Two, 60m, 15 August 2010, Toby Stephens as D.I. Jack Armstrong, Lucy Punch as D.I. Kate Bishop, Roger Griffiths. Created and written by Howard Overman, Director: Matt Lipsey.  Streaming on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Acorn TV.

   It is difficult to tell what the creators of this series had in mind that would make it stand out amidst all of the other male-female cop series that have been on the air over the past few years. Perhaps it is its light-hearted approach to crime-solving, such as stepping over the latest murder victim back and forth several times as this episode begins in order to evaluate her apartment as a possible rental.

   He (DI Jack Armstrong and the senior partner) is lazy, unorganized but is in his own inimitable way, charming. She (DI Kate Bishop) is neat, efficient and therefore totally exasperated with her new partner on the force. So of course they mix it up together like cats and dogs. Another aspect of Bishop’s role in the series is that she is worried that her husband is straying from their marriage, while Armstrong shows that he is not quite the ladies’ man he would like to pretend he is.

   This all ties in with what they discover as they tackle their current case. The three women all had loyalty cards with the same store, and someone with access to the accumulated data on their customers could find lonely women to be easily preyed upon. This also gives Armstrong the means to meet by “chance” a woman he saw in a supermarket, while Bishop uses it to spy on her husband.

   In spite of all these threads running concurrently, they don’t really mesh all that well. Both the story and the characters involved are easy enough on the eyes, however, without straining too many brain cells, and the show managed to stay on the air for two seasons, albeit with a a two year separation between them.

   Perhaps, if I give them the opportunity, the characters will grow on me as well.

   

DEATH IN PARADISE “Murder Begins at Home.” BBC, 28 February 2019. Ardal O’Hanlon (DI Jack Mooney), Aude Legastelois (DS Madeleine Dumas), Tobi Bakare (Officer J.P. Hooper), Shyko Amos (Officer Ruby Patterson), Don Warrington (Commissioner Selwyn Patterson). Created by Robert Thorogood. Written by James Hall. Director: Richard Signy.

   Imagine unlocking the door and walking into your police station in the morning, as DI Jack Mooney does every morning, and finding a body dead on the floor. He is fully clothed but has no identification on him, nor any other personal effects. Cause of death: strangulation, as the marks on his neck indicate. But how did he get in and the killer get out?

   To compound matters, it is soon learned that the dead man was a member of a tourist group trekking by horseback high up in the hills, and he was last seen alive going to bed for the night as a ferocious storm came upon them. How did he get from there to the police station to be found dead on the floor in the morning with all the doors secured?

   It is quite a puzzle, and a lot of fun afterward is tracing back and agreeing that yes, all of the clues were there, if only one was paying attention. It is also clear, afterward, how, as good magicians do, the screenwriter managed to keep the audience’s eye off the mystery of howdunit by concentrating on the whodunit. I enjoyed this one!

   

   The video below was filmed in 1956 and consists of several actors playing the roles of Perry Mason, Hamilton Burger, Della Street and Lt. Tragg while auditioning for the parts. I found it very interesting.

HAUNTED “Pilot.” UPN, 60m. 24 September 2002. Matthew Fox as PI Frank Taylor, Russell Hornsby, John Mann, Lynn Collins, Michael Irby, Bree Michael Warner. Director: Michael Rymer. The complete series is available on DVD.

   It’s been a couple of nights since I watched this, and to tell you the truth, it made such a little impression on me that other than Matthew Fox, the rest of the cast are only names to me. I’m going to take a very sad way out and use the Wikipedia description of the show: “Private detective Frank Taylor, whose marriage to Jessica Manning ended after their son was abducted, kills a pedophile, Simon Dunn, and almost dies himself. When he discovers he can now see the dead, he uses this ability to find a missing boy kidnapped by Simon, who now haunts him.”

               

   Part of the problem is that this is all claptrap to me. I watched this only because of the fact that Fox plays a private detective in this, not that that’s made very clear. The whole thing’s a muddle. Maybe it got better as time went on. Eleven episodes were aired before it disappeared for good. (A fact which is actually not so. Repeats have been shown on the Sci-Fi channel, Chiller, and Universal HD.)

PostScript: Kevin Burton Smith on his Thrilling Detective website liked the first episode better than did I, but he also goes on to say that the show would have been better if they’d played up the PI end of things, and that “the pop-up ghost gimmick was already annoying by the end of the show.”

   He also says, contrary to Wikipedia, that in the series’ first run on UPN, only seven of the eleven episodes were actually aired.

   

JONNY ZERO. Fox. 60m. 14 January 2005. Franky G as Jonny Calvo, GQ as Random, Brennan Hesser as Danielle Stiles. Created and written by R. Scott Gemmill. Director: Mimi Leder.

   Well, I tell you this. I never expected to see any episodes of this TV series ever again. Fox aired eight of the thirteen episodes, but they showed them in the wrong order (someone killed in one episode was first introduced a couple of episodes later). The ratings were poor as a direct result, and it’s wonder it lasted for as long as it did. My feeling is that I was the only one who ended up watching it.

   And it was a great show, or so I thought. It starred Franky G, one of the few Puerto Rican actors to star in his own drama series, playing Jonny Calvo, who had all kinds of problems. After serving four years in prison for involuntary homicide (I believe), he has his parole officer on his back, wanting him to stay out of trouble; his ex-crime boss wanting him back on the payroll and back in trouble; and an FBI agent who wants him to go to work, undercover, for the ex-crime boss. He also has an ex-wife (I believe) and a son he can only watch on the playground. No contact.

   To make ends meet – it’s better than mopping floors in a pizza joint – he accidentally finds himself doing what private eyes do, even though he has no license. In the pilot he hired by a girl’s stepfather to find her. All he knows is that she’s disappeared somewhere in Manhattan, and you probably know what that means.

   The setting, in other words, is the grittier part of the night club and other sleazy entertainment scene. While on the trail, Calvo gets beaten up every so often, runs into cars in between time, and is pushed into walls with what seems relentless regularity. It isn’t all gloom and doom, though. Calvo has an infectious smile that seems to brighten even the darkest alley he happens to find himself in. (I may be mistaken, but I don’t believe he is ever referred to as Jonny Zero in this first episode.)

   All thirteen episodes have been televised in other parts of the world – Australia, for one, I believe – and searching for copies on DVD, I found a set offered online by a source in Pakistan. Yelp reviews are bad, however, so I’ll pass, but it was good to see at least this one again.

   
   
   

RIVIERA. “Villa Carmella.” Sky Atlantic, UK, 15 June 2017 (Season One, Episode One). Anthony LaPaglia as Constantine Clios, a billionaire philanthropist; Julia Stiles as Georgina Marjorie Clios, an American art curator, and second wife of Constantine; Lena Olin as Irina Atman, Constantine’s first wife. Written by Neil Jordan & John Banville. Director: Philipp Kadelbach. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime (until September 1).

   There’s a much larger cast than this, of course, and lots of views of the beautiful Riviera shoreline, as well as intimate peeks inside the lives of the Rich and Famous. What more could a viewer want? Well, a faster moving story line for one thing, but looking back after watching this, the first episode of the first season, maybe it just seemed slower than usual. It is, after all, one long ten hour story, told one segment at a time. Not everything has to be crammed into the first 60 minutes.

   Or maybe it’s that the story sounds so familiar. Georgina is Constantine’s second wife, and she is in New York City bidding in an art auction while he’s back home in France, entertaining himself on a large luxury yacht when it suddenly explodes, leaving no survivors. After the funeral, Georgina begins to learn that her husband had, shall we say, all kinds of secrets. End of episode one.

   It is clear, in a very general sense, where the story goes from here. It’s the details that are missing, and I suspect that it will not be until episode two before I will decide whether watching more than that may be worth doing. There are, of course, hints that Constantine may not even be dead, even though the police have matched his dental records.

   What is not clear is, once this first season’s story line is finished, what can be left for an already aired second season, and a third one that is already in the works. Time, as they say, shall tell.

   

               

THE STRIP. “Pilot.” UPN, 60m. 7 July 2000 (Season 1, Episode 10). Sean Patrick Flanery, Guy Torry,  Joe Viterell. Director: Félix Enríquez Alcalá.

   Taking full advantage of the popularity of TV shows set in Las Vegas, except for the inclusion of naked showgirls, The Strip followed the adventures of private security consultants Elvis Ford (Sean Patrick Flannery) and Jesse Weir (Guy Torry) as the in-house detectives for Caesar’s Palace owner Cameron Green (Joe Viterelli). For reasons unknown to me, the pilot was shown last, six months after a nine week run on UPN between 19 October 1999 and 11 January 2000.

   Some of their background is filled in, albeit rather sketchily. Circumstances required their resignation from the police force on unwarranted grounds, but Mr. Green saw fit to offer them a job as his personal trouble-shooters (there may be more to this). In this, the actual first story, they are asked to solve the murder of a young woman found dead in an unoccupied hotel room, without causing any fuss that would drive customers away.

   I will possibly be giving away too much of the plot here. I’ll try to be careful. It seems that a heist of the casino is in the works, and to that end a female circus body manipulation specialist (contortionist) is required to make her way through a long passage of ceiling ducts, then out two rather bland good guys have a final confrontation with the bad guys.

   It’s obvious that the producers assumed that Las Vegas glitz and a the timeworn story line of two detective buddies on the case would be all the series needed.They were at least partially correct. There was just enough in this first/last show of the series to keep me watching without looking at my watch, which is always a good sign.

   The series didn’t last long, but then again, with the exception of Star Trek: Voyager, none of the series ever shown on UPN really did, either.

TEQUILA AND BONETTI.  “Street Dogs.” CBS, 60m. 17 January 1992. (Season 1, Episode 1.) Jack Scalia as Detective Nico “Nick” Bonetti, Charles Rocket as Captain Midian Knight, Mariska Hargitay as Officer Angela Garcia, Brad Sanders as Tequila (voice). Writer: Donald P. Bellisario. Director: Michael Zinberg.

   In case you’re wondering, Tequila is a dog, a police dog, mind you, and a good one, but a dog, and one of the ugliest dogs you’ve ever seen. Police detective Nick Bonetti is a transplant to L.A. from New York City, and part of the basis thesis of the series is that he’s a fish out of water. I think Jack Scalia made a good part of his acting career playing an Italian from Brooklyn, a role which I’m sure came very easy to him, because that’s exactly who he is.

   In “Street Dogs” he solves a murder which everyone else thinks was a suicide, but it takes Tequila’s strong sense of smell to catch the killer. And having written that, I see that I’ve neglected telling you what the kicker is in all this. We, the viewer, get to hear Tequila’s wry commentary on what’s going on around him. No one else, only us.

   Well, someone thought this was going to be a very funny concept, and audiences would lap it up. It might have been a go – audiences like talking animals, as you well know – but in spite of Bonetti’s natural brashness, he also comes with his own baggage. He accidentally killed a 12-year-old girl while on duty back in NYC, and he still hasn’t gotten over it. Breaking down and crying in the arms of his ex-wife just doesn’t go with the flow. It broke the comic mood entirely, I can tell you that.

   Apparently 10 of 12 episodes that were filmed actually made it onto the air. It’s a wonder it lasted as long as it did.
   

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