TV mysteries


SIMON & SIMON “Details at Eleven.” CBS, 24 November 1981. (Season 1, Episode 1.) Jameson Parker (A.J. Simon), Gerald McRaney, (Rick Simon), Jeannie Wilson, Cecilia Simon, Eddie Barth. Guest Cast: Peter Graves, Markie Post, Sharon Acker. Writer: Philip DeGuere Jr. Director: Corey Allen.

   Total opposites, even if they are brothers, make good partners, even in the private eye business, or so is the premise of this long-running TV series. A.J. is the laid-back one, wearing blue jeans and cowboy boot,s while Rick wears suits and ties in the bast Wall Street tradition.

   As I understand it, this first episode was not the pilot, but while it takes a while, I’d have to say that it serves the purpose, which is to introduce the recurring vast members, letting the viewer get to know them and who they are. The two brothers bicker a lot, mostly about their childhood and how Mom liked the other best.

   Of course when they get in a jam, as in “Details at Eleven,” when they get stuck in Mexico without a car, who comes to their rescue? Mom, of course. In this story they’re hired by a woman whose daughter is missing. It turns out that she has documents that will prove that her stepfather, a prominent newscaster in San Diego area, is on the take from gangsters who are hoping to promote him to public office.

   What I noticed first of all is how fast paced this episode was. No long scenes of cars driving from one place to another, or planes landing or taking off, a la some episodes of The Rockford Files, among a few others.

   I also assume the bickering between the two mismatched brothers had a lot to do with their long-term appeal. The show was on for eight seasons, but for whatever reason this is the first episode I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know why. I enjoyed this one, and as I have the first season on DVD, I will be watching more.


Reviewed by Michael Shonk


QUEENS OF MYSTERY. Acorn original TV series, available on Acorn streaming, April 2019. Sly Fox Production for Acorn Media Enterprises, produced in association with Ferncroft Media Limited. Cast: Olivia Vinall as Detective Sergeant Matilda Stone, Julie Graham as Cat Stone, Sarah Woodward as Beth Stone, Siobhan Redmond as Jane Stone, Martin Trenaman as Inspector Derek Thorne, Michael Elcock as P.C. Terry Foster, Andrew Leung as Daniel Lynch, and with the Voice of Juliet Stevenson. Created and Executive Produced by Julian Unthank. Produced by Linda James and Tim Vaughan.

   It is difficult to watch the opening of new British TV mystery series Queens of Mystery without thinking of one word – whimsical. With visions of Pushing Daisies dancing like sugar plums in my head I settled back and enjoyed this light contemporary murder mystery.

   Matilda Stone returns to Wildemarsh, the countryside village she grew up in and a place of many mysteries. Newly promoted to Detective Sergeant, Mattie is eager to reunite with her three mystery writing Aunts who raised her and to finally solve the mystery of her mother Eleanor Stone’s disappearance.

   As required in all typical British traditional TV mysteries Wildemarsh is a small village with beautiful scenery, odd characters and more than its share of murders. For whatever reason the citizens of Wildemarsh has a strong interest in Edgar Allan Poe. Perhaps that is why there is a raven that often appears during important moments in the stories. It is certain the raven is not telling all it knows.

   What makes Queens of Mystery so much fun is how it uses the tropes of the British TV traditional murder mystery and gives them a dry humorous twist.

   The use of the narrator is clever, adding a fairy tale feel to the stories. The series uses the narrator to go beyond just wittily adding exposition but to expose the secrets of the characters and town.

   Mattie’s boss is Inspector Thorne, a stereotype boss – rude, impossible to please, cold middle aged man. But whenever he is gruffly assigning Mattie the case, the narrator stops action and has the Inspector express his real sensitive and hidden feelings. In episode “Murder in the Dark” we learn the Inspector has been secretly in love with Aunt Jane and lives in fear he will say the wrong thing and ruin it all, but then we return to the scene where we hear what the Inspector decides to say instead – Mattie is to keep her meddling Aunts away.

   The fanciful style of the series works well with the traditional mystery genre that can normally push the limits of believability. Queens of Mystery playfully embraces the cliches of the form of mystery that has entertained readers and viewers for decades.

   In Murder in the Dark,” Beth is in jail on suspicion of murder. Her sisters Cat and Jane want to see her. P.C. Foster refuses to let them in. Jane hands him her phone. It is the Aunt’s friend and the Constable’s mother demanding her son let Cat and Jane in to see Beth,

   The plots are ancient and tired, something Queens of Mystery uses to its advantage. Scripts by creator and executive producer Julian Unthank as well as Matthew Stone offer a different spin on the expected tropes. While the writers have their fun with in-jokes and literary puns hiding in the background, the writing treats the genre with respect and never falls to parody. The mysteries are as full of clues and challenging mysteries as any episode of Midsomer Murders.

   Casting is hit and miss, but most of the regulars do well as their characters. Each of the three middle-aged Aunts is unique. Having spent their lives in the quaint village they know everyone, who to ask when they need help, and all the secrets of the village – including what happened to Mattie’s mother (and before that what happened to her father).

   Oddly the three women spend a great amount of effort and will do anything to prevent Mattie from discovering the answers to the mystery that still haunts her. They especially try to hide any mention of a long gone serial cat burglar named The Raven.

   Aunt Beth is the best cook, former midwife and most popular author of the three. Beth’s detective is intercity Reverend Iris Freeman. Tough, Aunt (“don’t call me Aunt”) Cat lives above an auto repair shop and ride a motorcycle. A former rock musician she does graphic novels featuring a kickass music industry femme fatale named Roxanne Parker. Smart, Aunt Jane owns a bookstore named Murder Ink and writes police novels featuring Henry Lambert iDI, an android police detective.

   Mattie is a shy single woman of 28, obsessed with mysteries, especially the one of her Mother’s disappearance. She is a good cop, from spotting clues to possessing the plodding determination of every good TV procedural cop.

   Another running theme of the series is “Love Hurts.” P.C. Foster has had a crush on Mattie since their school days. Mattie is oblivious to this. The Inspector has loved Aunt Jane secretly for 25 years. Aunt Jane was once left at the altar. Cat has a estrange daughter from a one night drunken fling that cost Cat her true love. Beth’s husband Doctor Robert Doyle died three years ago. Mattie has lost her parents.

   Mattie has fallen in love with the local Coroner Dr. Daniel Lynch who has a girlfriend. The Aunts keep setting Mattie up with bachelors while Mattie pines for the unavailable Daniel. This takes a predictable romantically tragic twist at the end of the final first season episode.

   This is just the damage love does to the regular cast. Love is just as cruel to the suspects and victims of the mysteries. It is the motive for murder in two cases and a weapon used in a third.

   The series featured three episodes each broken up in two parts of 45 minute each.

“Murder in the Dark” – Written by Julian Unthank – Directed by Ian Emes. – Guest Cast: David Bamber, Selina Cadell, Nancy Carroll and Chloe King. *** Murder at a book awards with many of the usual suspects but with a nice twist for the killer’s motive.

   Here is a video of director Ian Emes explaining how he used storyboarding to help him direct episode “Mirder in the Dark.”

“Death by Vinyl” – Written by Matthew Thomas – Directed by Jamie Magnus Stone – Guest Cast: Josette Simon, Michelle Collins, Con O’Neill and Bob Goody/ *** Cat’s old rock band Volcanic Youth from the 1980s decide to get back together, but a secret from the past leads to murder.

“Smoke & Mirrors” – Written by Justin Unthank – Directed by Ian Emes – Guest Cast: Ken Bones, Rebecca Scroggs, Carmen Du Sautoy and George Irving. *** One of Jane’s novels has been adapted for the stage and scheduled to debut at the local theatre, but the rehearsals are plagued with problems. However great thespian of the past and in his own mind Sir Lawrence Shaw believes the play “Macbeth Duality” will return him to fame.


   Modern British TV drama is getting darker and darker with series such as Luther, London Kills, Blood, Elizabeth Is Missing, and on and on. Reacting to the trend Julian Unthank decided to create a light mystery series. Queens of Mystery was originally to be about the three middle-aged sisters solving crimes but when Mattie was added the series came together.

   Some will compare Queens of Mystery to Agatha Raisin as they both belong to a very small group of new TV that is light-hearted mysteries. I found Queens of Mystery one of the best of this genre. Its is more witty and clever than Agatha Raisin. Agatha is more a comedy aiming for laughs (and not always succeeding).

   Queens of Mystery is an Acorn original and available only on Acorn’s streaming service. The DVD will be released in September 2019.

   There has been no official announcement about a possible second season, but hopefully there will be one.

         Sunday, February 15.

WOMEN WHO RATE A 10. NBC, Special. 60 minutes. Or, Steve Lewis pigs out. Oink, oink.


         Tuesday, February 17.

THE BLACK HOLE.. Walt Disney/Buena Vista, 1979. Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine. Director: Gary Nelson. [Watched on HBO.]

   I watched this with Jonathan, who is six now, and since I explained it all to him during the show (“Why are they doing that, Dad?” “I don’t know, Jon, let’s wait an see.”), I’m not going to repeat myself.

   Actually, to be fair, some of it Jon explained to me. He’s pretty sharp. It’s a fine movie for kids hooked on Star Wars. (You can call this ‘sci-fi’ if you want to.)

   Rated PG, probably for the one or two cuss words, and one rather violent death scene.


MYSTERY! PBS, series. Tonight was the first of the second season run of Rumpole. The title was “Rumpole and the Man of God.” Leo McKern (Horace Rumpole), Rosemary Leach, Derek Farr, Bill Fraser, Peggy Thorpe-Bates (Hilda Rumpole), Moray Watson, Peter Bowles. Writer: John Mortimer. Director: Brian Farnham.

   I didn’t see any of the ones they showed last year. I don’t remember why, and I’m sorry I didn’t.

   Rumpole is sour, full of bombast, and when necessary, resigned to taking his lumps. I quickly tired of his long-suffering attitude toward his wife Hilda (“She who must be obeyed,”), but otherwise I enjoyed the show immensely. British character actors are the best in the world. I thought Derek Farr as the misunderstood, absentminded vicar accused of stealing the three shirts was superb.

   There are five more of these to come. I’m going to try to not miss any of them.

TV IN 2019: PART TWO –
BROADCAST AND CABLE NETWORKS
by Michael Shonk


   Comparing the broadcast and cable networks to the streaming services is like comparing cassette tapes to CD. Both have entertaining content, it is just the formats are different.

   The broadcast networks are fading dinosaurs, no longer a place where mass audiences gather on a daily basis. Cable networks are doomed to be devoured by the streaming world that features original programming as well as the programs of the cable networks.

   TV has changed in so many ways. Because of devices such as Apple TV, Roku TV, and Amazon’s Firestick you can watch nearly all of cable TV without cable and even without a TV set. TV has left the living room and is following you, waiting to fetch for you whatever and whenever you want to watch. Part One of this two part survey looked at the streaming services, so now it is the broadcasting and cable networks turn.

   With the exception of some time as the top rated network in the 1970s-80s, ABC has never gotten much respect. Having been born during the radio days as a rib off NBC, ABC tends to get treated like third in line. Things have not improved since Disney bought them.

   ABC’s announced goal for the 2019-20 season is to finish first among women. One reason is they have to share most of the sports with their Disney family brother ESPN. ABC has also found success in the past with the women market and in today’s diversity culture women are in increasing demand.

   ABC shows have a real problem writing male characters that men want to watch. ABC’s best dramas tend to feature a gorgeous independent likeable female lead. The problem is few of their series characters are likable or deep enough for the audience to care. The writing focuses on emotion over plots and romance over action. Shows such as TAKE TWO and WHISKEY CAVALIER are good examples of this.

   I do have hopes for two of ABC announced new series. REEF BREAK airs this month. It stars Poppy Montgomery (UNFORGETTABLE) as an ex-thief turned trouble-shooter for a tropical island government.

   The broadcast networks new fall series I most look forward to is ABC ‘s STUMPTOWN. Based on a comic book, the story is about a gorgeous wise cracking kick ass female PI. How could I resist after watching this trailer?

   Not so long ago CBS’s future looked bright. It had defeated the evil conglomerate Viacom and had won its freedom. But there were problems. CBS’ powerful successful ruthless womanizing media mogul Les Moonves had faced down Viacom but would be crushed by a bunch of women and the rising power of the me-too movement. Only CBS stockholders were sorry to see Moonves leave, and they had to watch in horror as Viacom began to rise and turn its eyes back on them.

   CBS may continue to attract the most viewers on linear TV, but such numbers mean less and less. Those at CBS remain clueless about diversity. Diversity is not taking your ancient series format and change the white guy to a woman or minority.

   CBS made a big deal out of Alan Cummings playing a gay man in INSTINCT but didn’t bother to update its tired format. The formula has one strange unconventional male paired with an over serious all business female cop and they solve crimes together. This summer INSTINCT returns and if you like old-fashioned procedurals, it is worth a peek, if you are bored with TV from the 20th century, CBS is not for you.

   The best thing CBS has going for it is the showrunnners Michelle and Robert King who have blessed the unworthy network with THE GOOD WIFE and THE GOOD FIGHT. Ok, they also created the hideous failure BRAIN DEAD. CBS is hoping EVIL, a show about a Catholic Assessor and a non-believing profiler joining forces to fight psychopaths, is one of the King’s good shows.

   Among the cable networks owned by CBS are SHOWTIME and POP TV. POP TV is best known for SCHITT’S CREEK. The Canadian sitcom and cult TV favorite has been renewed for its sixth season. Also on the network are FLORIDA GIRLS (comedy about four girls in a Florida small town) and FLACK (comedy about public relations).

   CW has its own measurement for success rather than Nielsen’s live ratings. They are not alone. Because there is no accepted metric for digital viewing, every network and many of the media buyers (advertisers) have their own set of numbers beyond Nielsen’s. When the totals are as small as TV has gotten, how many mean less than who, what, where and devotion to content/product.

   CW was a merger of UPN (Paramount) and WB (Warner Brothers). CBS and Warner co-own CW and supply nearly all its programs. Perhaps my biggest question about CW this fall is are they going to weird out Nancy Drew like they did to Archie in RIVERDALE? The trailer is inconclusive.

   Today’s FOX is a pale version of itself when it was the number one rated TV network. Disney swallowed up most of FOX, leaving just the broadcast TV network, Fox News cable networks, and Fox sports. Fox is saving most of its original scripted series for the midseason. Meanwhile, it is mainly games shows this summer and sports this fall. Perhaps its most successful original scripted series this fall will be WWE pro wrestling. For drama fans this fall offers PRODIGAL SON (serial killer Dad wants son to join the family business), and 9-1-1 has Jennifer Love Hewitt joining the cast.

   The technology of today is able to create extremely detailed analytics and it has changed television as much as sabermetrics has changed baseball.

   Hollywood REPORTER (May 20, 2019) discussed commercial television with some media buyers, “Buyers also expressed a collective eye roll at the emphasis on total viewers…But even the so called sweet-spot of viewers 18-49 has become an antiquated benchmark.”

   So NBC winning the 18-49 means little and all the media coverage of Nielsen’s live ratings mean even less.

   Bob Greenblat who had taken NBC from a laughing stock to respected network left NBC to run part of the WarnerMedia streaming service.

   Today NBC has the best fiction among the broadcast networks. An NBC show is more interested in the heart, more interested in examining the characters than who done it.

   Supernatural cop series THE INBETWEEN currently airing is a good example. Every character has a sob story for depth. I have seen two episodes and what is the “inbetween” is still a mystery. Not that it matters, as long as you accept the concept the drama is watching the other side help Cassie stop the villain and save the victim. If you like supernatural mysteries try it out.

   AMC NETWORKS is made up of cable networks: AMC (WALKING DEAD), IFC (PORTLANDIA), WE (BRAXTON FAMILY VALUES), and Sundance (RECTIFY). AMC NETWORK co-owns BBC America (DOCTOR WHO) with BBC studios.

   It has been a busy year for AMC. Final seasons aired of martial arts action series INTO THE BADLANDS, historical drama THE SON, and (starting in August) supernatural PREACHER. Also airing in 2019 are FEAR OF THE WALKING DEAD, NOS4A2, and THE TERROR.

   BBC America and AMC both air KILLING EVE. The critically acclaimed thriller has just ended season 2 and has been renewed for a third season, coming most likely in 2020.

   BBC America is best known for DOCTOR WHO. My favorite Doctors remain Tom Baker and Matt Smith, but Jodie Whittaker as Momma Who is terrific, it was the writing and the supporting cast that made last season unwatchable for me.

   Fans of ORPHAN BLACK will be happy to learn the series is coming back in a 10 part audio series, starring Tatiana Maslany. There is a possible new TV series in development.

   Sundance Channel has a new eight-part adaption of the book NAME OF THE ROSE.

   A&E is a group owned in part by Disney and Hearst. It has A+E, History, and Lifetime. A+E is into reality programming. Lifetime is best known for its original scripted movies for women. In the past Lifetime has tried original scripted TV series such as VERONICA CLARE, ANGELA’S EYES and MARY KILLS PEOPLE, but today its schedule features reality shows such as DANCE MOMS. History Channel has a mix of reality programming (AX MEN and FORGED IN FIRE), and historical dramas (PROJECT BLUE BOOK and THE VIKINGS). THE VIKINGS are due to air its sixth and final season during the 2019-20 season. There are plans for a spin-off but not enough details to expect it soon.

   Among the better parts of FOX that Disney devoured is Fox entertainment cable networks FX and FXX. Both feature critically approved programs with unlikable characters and a premise that scream edginess.

   FX is beloved by TV critics everywhere. Some of the series to air this year are BASKETS (life of an clown), FOSSE/VERDON (Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s relationship), LEGION (superheroes), POSE (life in gay culture in New York during the 80s), SNOWFALL (drug dealer), and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (vampire comedy).

   FXX is a comedy offshoot of FX and a place of endless THE SIMPSON reruns. ARCHER began as an animated spoof on spies and over time has turned its attention to genres such as action, PI noir, adventure, and this year space opera. This is ARCHER tenth season and may be its last.

   Disney still has its multiple cable networks for kids and families. It also owns Freeform that has found an audience for gossipy mysteries (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS) and supernatural series. I can hardly wait to see just how fun bad is MOTHERLOAD: FORT SALEM – a series about gorgeous young witches who serve in the American army.

   Now that AT&T has bought Time Warner and dubbed it WarnerMedia there will be changes. At this time, Warner’s focus is less on cable and more on its future streaming service. HBO has been told to produce more series, quality be damn.

   There may be changes in the formats of TNT and TBS. TNT currently is for drama and TBS is for comedy. TNT has dramas such as CLAWS, and ANIMAL KINGDOM. TBS has comedy such as AMERICAN DAD, FULL FRONTAL and SEARCH PARTY.

   CHASING THE CURE is a live series to simulcast on both TNT and TBS. The series features a real person with a mystery disease and the audience from all over the world offers up possible cures.

   Will Warnermedia bring changes to cable’s best channel TCM, one of the few places left to enjoy film’s classics? Cartoon fans wonder what the future has in store for Cartoon Network (modern cartoons), Boomerang (cartoons featuring new versions of older characters such as Bugs and Scooby Doo), and popular Adult Swim (for adult fans of cartoons). This August Adult Swim favorite and one of the greatest TV cartoons ever made, the VENTURE BROTHERS return for a seventh season.

   Comcast owns NBC Universal studio and a variety of cable networks including E (Kardashians), SYFY, USA, and Bravo.

   Bravo is more a reality and lifestyle network, which is why DIRTY JOHN will air its second season on USA in 2020. DIRTY JOHN is based on a true crime podcast.

   One of the most popular cable networks, USA will say good-bye to MR ROBOT as I await BRIARPATCH, a series based on Ross Thomas book (I expect it in 2020). This summer SUITS ends and spin-off series PEARSON begins.

   SYFY has had problems only cable networks can have. THE EXPANSE is one of the TV’s greatest science fiction series, but it cost too much so SYFY cancelled it. Fortunately Amazon Prime saved it and will be showing the fourth season soon.

   WYNONNA EARP may have a small audience but it is a passionate audience advertisers love. It has been renewed for a fourth and fifth season. However IDW that produces the series ran out of money and had to stop production. EARP fans refused to let it die, even at one point buying ad space on the giant billboard in Times Square begging fans to help save the show. SYFY (and Canadian channel Space) still want the series.

   THE MAGICIANS (based on Lew Grossman’s trilogy) just finished its season 4 and has been renewed. Airing this summer will be the last season of KILLJOYS and the second of KRYPTON (Superman’s home planet).

   SYFY has an affection for bizarre creepy series that generally don’t last long. Some examples have been DEADLY CLASS, high school for assassins, and BLOOD DRIVE, a Death Race 2000 like car race but this time the cars run on blood. This year saw the second season and maybe the last of HAPPY. Christopher Meloni stars as Nick, an ex-cop with endless number of vices including the fondness of killing people, and his imaginary friend Happy. Ann-Margret joined the cast this year and…well…

   Viacom has long enjoyed collecting a variety of cable networks. A recent reorganization has made the cable networks more team players than independent networks.

   BET will continue to specialize in programs for the black audience such as AMERICAN SOUL and IN CONTEMPT. Comedy Central focus is on comedy, from live shows (DAILY SHOW) to scripted comedy (THE OTHER TWO). MTV will likely drop any future attempts at scripted TV (anyone remember scripted thriller EYE CANDY, based on R.L. Stine book) and do docu-reality shows with young adults (THE HILLS…NEW BEGINNING). Nickelodean should continue its mix of cartoons (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS) and live action (HENRY DANGER) for kids.

   Spike network has been renamed Paramount network and is Viacom’s flagship. Its scripted original YELLOWSTONE has been renewed for a third season. Kevin Costner stars in the epic family drama and DALLAS wanna-be.

   HALLMARK MYSTERY MOVIES has its fans. If you like overly formulaic romantic mysteries this is for you. There are a seemingly endless number of different but interchangeable series. Current lineup include GOURMET DETECTIVE MYSTERY, MYSTERY 101, PICTURE PERFECT MYSTERIES, HAILEY DEAN MYSTERIES, and CROSSWORD MYSTERY.

   August will be AURORA TEAGARDEN MYSTERY month. Based on the books written by Charlaine Harris, Aurora (Candace Cameron-Bure) is a librarian who runs the Real Mystery Club. Of interest to old TV fans, Marilu Henner (TAXI) co-stars.

   Another way to watch TV is Digital TV. All it requires is a digital antenna and a TV or some are also available on cable. Among the best known of digital stations are ME-TV, ESCAPE, COZI, GRIT and ANTENNA -TV. These stations remind me of the old TV Independent stations such as the great KDOC -Los Angeles that aired little beyond old TV series reruns.

   When TV has more demand than supply, syndication has always stepped in, from the early wild uncharted days of the 1950s TV to the early days of today’s cable. Today we find original scripted series everywhere we find cable channels.

   WGN AMERICA returns to once cancelled, now revived Canadian original PURE, based on the true story of the Mennonite mob. ION carries mainly your standard syndicated reruns but also offers new original scripted series from Canada, PRIVATE EYES:

   There are small independently owned cable networks that serve a small audience and are not available on streaming. My favorite is El Rey, created by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (EL MARIACHI) for Latino males, young filmmakers, and fans of dubbed martial arts films. It reruns hard to find series such as STARHUNTER REDUX and RELIC HUNTER. It offers exposure to aspiring filmmakers. Among its original programs are MAN AT ARMS: ART OF WAR (Danny Trejo examines weapons), comedy CRUNCH TIME, a talk show, various animation series, and LUCHA UNDERGROUND.

   The goal of this two part look at TV in 2019 was to help you in this world of nearly 500 original scripted TV series each season, to actually find some of those series, and maybe even find some you like.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


BABYLON BERLIN. Sky 1, a German-language entertainment channel broadcast by Sky Deutschland, premiering on 13 October 2017. The first broadcast consisted of a continuous run of sixteen episodes, with the first eight officially known as Season 1, and the second eight known as Season 2. Volker Bruch, Liv Lisa Fries, Peter Kurth, Matthais Brandt. Teleplays by Henk Handolegten, Tom Tykwer, Achim Von Borries (series creators also directors of all sixteen episodes), and author Volker Kutscher.

   Currently there seems to be a taste in Europe for noirish gritty cop dramas, and few of them are grittier or darker than Babylon Berlin (available on Netflix) set in a handsomely rendered Weimar Berlin circa 1929 as the leftover guilt and humiliation of the Great War, the rise of National Socialism, the decadence that inspired the Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye Berlin and the musical Cabaret, and good and bad people caught up in events they can’t control combine with the inevitability of history.

   Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) is a policeman from Cologne, a troubled veteran of the war with PTSD (called here the trembles) and repressed memories. He has been assigned to Berlin on a mission to find a pornographic film the mayor of Cologne is being blackmailed over and assigned to Vice with fat, corrupt, but effective cop Chief Inspector Wolter (Peter Kurth).

   The plot of this sixteen part series that ran two seasons spirals out from that basic situation. A train traveling from the Soviet Union is hijacked by Troskeyites smuggling a car carrying gold to Istanbul to be used against Stalin unaware the train also carries illegal phosgene gas the Soviets have sold to a secretive right wing military group (who Wolter, among others, belongs to) hoping to restore the Kaiser by bringing down the democratic government.

   Meanwhile there is unrest between the police and communists in Berlin threatening to end in violence, Rath and Wolter are closing in on the pornography ring, and a powerful gangster the Armenian (Meisel Mateicvic) tied to the porn ring runs a decadent night club where the chief performer is a crossdressing singer Sevetlana (Severijia Janusauskaite) playing her Trotskeyite lover, the Soviets, and the industrialist importing the poison gas who is also her lover all against each other so she can get the gold.

   Did I mention the May Day riots that kill two hundred communist protesters that the police are trying to cover up, or that Rath is having an affair with the wife of his brother missing since the war whose disappearance is tied to Rath’s illness, the Soviet Secret police, an assassination plot meant to trigger the overthrow of the Weimar government, or the mysterious scarred doctor (Jens Harzer) who has ties to the gangster and an unnatural interest in Rath including substituting his own drugs for the one Rath secretly takes?

   There is also Charlotte Ritter (Fries), living in a hovel with her dying mother, two sisters, evil brother in law, and senile grandfather. Lotte is a party girl, dancing her nights away madly in the club owned by the Armenian and working part time as a prostitute in the basement while by day working for the police as a piece work secretary to keep a roof over her family. Lotte develops a crush on Rath and an ambition to become an assistant investigator under him even when Wolter blackmails her into spying on Rath.

   Also involved in Commissioner Brenda (Brandt), a moral Jewish policeman who represents the best of Rath’s ambitions as the world around him and his own morality become ever more difficult to balance against the pressures of a city and nation in turmoil, both moral and political.

   The cast is uniformly fine, playing believable wounded individuals whose innocence can be as damning as their sins. No one emerges unsullied by the world collapsing around them, and even victories are tinged with the viewers knowledge that history is going to test them far beyond the corruption of their modern Babylon.

   Scenarist Volker Kutscher wrote a novel based on the series and since has written several novels based on the further adventures of Gereon Rath though whether any of them will be dramatized is uncertain. Babylon Berlin is an involving mystery, complex as a Chandler plot, morally questionable as Hammett’s world, and handsomely realized, perfectly designed for binging. For all its darkness it is a highly satisfying excursion into modern European noir.


TV IN 2019: PART ONE – STREAMING SERVICES
by Michael Shonk


   The entertainment called television has escaped the boundaries of the TV set and now can be found almost anywhere. So where are all those shows hiding?

   During the last few years the total of original scripted TV series has approached nearly five hundred every year. With the upcoming explosion of new major media players joining the streaming wars the number of scripted original shows should increase like bunny rabbits.

   The business of television is in chaos as even the major broadcast networks are now minor players left playing a role for their business masters or they are struggling to find a way to stay relevant. But more about that in Part Two, in which broadcast networks and cable will be covered.

   Many of you have probably sampled or subscribed to at least one streaming service. The main ones have been NETFLIX, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Soon some of the world’s largest media conglomerates – Disney, AT&T (WarnerMedia), Comcast, and Apple will debut their streaming services, all with their own original programs.

   CBS has fought off media conglomerate Viacom and started its own streaming service with original programs. However due to the fall of CBS mogul Les Moonves, and Viacom slow but steady recovery, few would be surprised if Viacom and CBS rejoin together. Viacom recently bought streaming service Pluto to use to streaming all of its cable networks once it’s ready.

   Many other networks – broadcast and cable – have an online site where you can catch up on their programs you might have missed.

   A streaming service – usually for a fee – allows you to watch TV shows and movies on your computer or other devices via the Internet. There are smart TVs such as Roku, over the top box such as Apple TV and devices such as Amazon’s Fire stick that connects your TV to the streaming world.

   Netflix remains one of the most successful and powerful studios in the World. As it continues to develop original programming faster than any viewer could possible watch, Netflix has also created a film studio and plans to become a major player in movies as well as television.

   One update from the clip, BLACK MIRROR is playing on Netflix now. I would add to the list of shows worth checking out – THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, SANTA CLARITA DIET, and DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE (coming in August).

   Netflix has also rescued two network series from recent cancellation – LUCIFER (FOX) and DESIGNATED SURVIVIOR (ABC). It has been announced LUCIFER has been renewed for another season after its current – it will be the fifth and last.

   DISNEY is now the top media giant in the business. It owns the rights to Mickey Mouse, Marvel, The Simpsons and Star Wars. It currently runs two streaming services –ESPN+ and Hulu.

   Hulu has been around for some time and was owned by Disney, Fox, Comcast and WB. Disney now has full control over Hulu and plans to continue its focus on TV series, especially network and cable TV series. Hulu is not best known for its originals but THE HANDMAID’S TALE, CHANCE and CATCH 22 are worth checking out.

   Disney+ will be the company’s third streaming service and the one that will get most of the attention. This is the one Netflix needs to fear. It will be available this year and one of its first original series will be STAR WARS MANDALORIAN

   This year will also see AT&T join in the TV streaming fun. Its recent purchase of Time Warner gave the phone company a strong presence in the cable world. Reportedly the new service will be called WarnerMedia. They are still working on what kind of service will they offer. Will it be one service uniting HBO, Cinemax and all of WarnerMedia to cost $16-$17 a month or will it be a three tier – basic, HBO and premium? WarnerMedia has announced its first original program. TOYKO VICE will star Ansel Elgort and is based on the non-fiction book by Jake Adelstein.

   Warners have not had much success in the streaming business. Warner Archive with its over priced small library of old movies and TV series was a failure. DC UNIVERSE has had two minor success with DOOM PATROL and TITANS, but the service just cancelled SWAMP THING after one episode. Boomerang is an offshoot of the cable Cartoon Network spin-off network Boomerang. It focuses on post 50s to today era of classic cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, and 90s favorite KIDS NEXT DOOR.

   Premium channels have their own streaming service that can also be found at Apple TV and Amazon Prime (for the price of subscription). These channels also offer apps that allow you to subscribe to the streaming service and watch it without needing cable.

   WarnerMedia has the most successful of the pay networks HBO. There is a question about what HBO will replace the epic hit GAMES OF THRONES with. At the moment only one series, THE LONG NIGHT will come from the world of GAMES. However THE LONG NIGHT will take place in Westero a thousand years before the GAMES timeline. Of course HBO does have some other shows to watch.

   Cinemax has grown up from its days as a soft porn cable network. Today it does some wonderful action series such as C.B. STRIKE, RELLIK, WARRIOR and JETT.

   CBS owns premium channel SHOWTIME and streaming CBS ALL ACCESS.

   SHOWTIME has always stood in the pay TV shadow of HBO and now it has even more competition. Perhaps its highlight of 2019 will be CITY ON A HILL.

   CBS ALL ACCESS is best known for the CBS classic TV series and originals STAR TREK DISCOVERY, THE TWILIGHT ZONE (with host Jordan Peele) and THE GOOD FIGHT (sequel to THE GOOD WIFE). Currently in season three, the critic favorite GOOD FIGHT will air season one this summer on CBS.

   STARZ has increased its original programming over the last few years featuring high production values in such series as BLACK SAILS, WHITE PRINCESS and my favorite COUNTERPART (that ended recently after two seasons),

   I recently reduced my cable to just basic and had to live without my favorite network EPIX. I discovered EPIX app and for $5.99 I am again watching series such as BERLIN STATION, GET SHORTY, DEEP STATE, and PERPETUAL GRACE LTD on my Roku TV and without cable.

   COMCAST owns NBC Universal and all the cable stations that go with it. It has plans for a free ad supported streaming service this year but has fallen behind its fellow growing media giants.

   Apple TV is a box that connects your TV to streaming services. Apple TV+ debuts sometime this year as a streaming service specializing in Apple’s original programs

   Did you notice AMAZING STORIES is coming back with new stories and produced by Stephen Spielberg? Below is a promo for FOR ALL MANKIND, a TV series set in an alternative history where the Russians were first to the Moon.

   Of course I have not forgotten Amazon Prime. Prime exists to promote free shipping at a retail online store. There are many services offered to Prime members and the video streaming is just one of them and because of that it can get lost and forgotten.

   Prime, like Netflix and Hulu, has save broadcast and cable TV from cancellation. After three seasons of THE EXPANSE SyFy could no longer afford to make the series. Fortunately, Prime will air the original fourth season of TV’s best science fiction series THE EXPANSE. I recommend you watch the first three seasons now on Prime.

   There are a nice variety of original programs hiding on Prime worth watching such as BOSCH, PATROIT, GOLIATH, FLEABAG, SNEAKY PETE, and MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

   There seems to be a streaming service for every taste, genre and need. A good place to find the small service for you is to search through Amazon Prime Channels.

   Fans of British TV should start at BRITBOX, a streaming service from the BBC and ITV. Most of the best of British TV can be found there including every classic DOCTOR WHO episode in existence. My one complaint is there is not enough 60s series, especially not enough from ITV.

   Acorn is a service that airs series from Britain, but also Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand’s BROKENWOOD MYSTERIES remains high on my favorites list. Currently Acorn has five seasons and a six is on its way.

   Small streaming services such as Acorn can offer you first glimpse of quality TV before mainstream television finds it. In Acorn’s case it was the first to show MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES in America. Since MISS FISHER ended with season 3, Acorn has the Australian sequel called MS FISHER’S MODERN MYSTERIES – Miss Fisher’s niece joins the Adventuress Club to solve mysteries in the groovy 1960s.

   If you don’t mind subtitles there is the online only streaming service MHz Choice that has some of Europe’s best TV series. There is the French version of Maigret, the Italian version of Nero Wolfe, Detective Montalbano, Irene Huss, Donna Leon’s Bronetti Mysteries, Baantjer Mysteries, and so many more.

   Anime can be found at each of the major streaming services. Netflix tends to focus on original anime. Hulu and Amazon Prime have older shows. Free service Crackle offers some great dubbed choices including TRIGUN and DEATH PARADE.

   There are also streaming services just for the animated genre such as Crunchyroll or Funimation. I have been watching a lot of anime this year and appreciate the genre’s ability to world build completely different times, places and its own realities. My favorites include ACCA: 13-TERRITORY INSPECTION DEPARTMENT, BUNGO STRAY DOGS, 18IF, BLACK LAGOON and STEINS;GATE.

   PBS MASTERPIECE has added FRANKIE DRAKE MYSTERIES. Now here is a series that illustrates how hard it is to find some of these shows. FRANKIE began at CBC (Canada) and done by the people behind MURDOCH MYSTERIES. Frankie and her fellow female PI have adventures and solve mysteries in the 1920s. It has been on Ovation under the title THE ARTFUL DETECTIVE and also on Alibi, but now on PBS streaming it finally gets a chance at a decent size audience.

   SHOUT FACTORY is more into cult TV and movies.

   There are many free streaming services most with ads. Here is a list suggesting some free sites you might sample.

   Sony’s CRACKLE is by far the best of the free streaming services with better than average network TV series, movies and anime. It also has a growing selection of original TV series include ART OF MORE, THE OATH, and START-UP.

   There are hundreds of streaming channels available from DOGTV a channel for your dogs to watch while you are away to POKERGO that offers live access to over 100 poker tournaments a year.

   More and more live TV is available through streaming. MLB.com offers you the ability to watch every major league baseball game played (subject to local blackouts) as does NHL and hockey. Amazon Prime, Hulu, Yahoo, YouTube, Playstation Vue and others let you watch live events and sports on your devices beyond your TV screen.

   Streaming offers the TV Viewer several advantages over broadcast and cable television. You can watch TV from around the world not just the US and a few imports. No longer is the TV viewer chained to the TV set, instead TV is available to watch wherever the viewer is. Streaming has no time periods or schedules, the days of scheduling your life around your favorite TV show are over, now your favorites wait for you.

   In my next post I will examine the broadcast and cable networks, their future, their search for an identity that will set them apart from the crowd and survive the current chaos that is the business of television.

         Friday, February 13.

20/20. ABC. [I believe the anchors were Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs.] I watched only the opening segment, concerning a scientific explanation of UFO’s. Well, at least it’s a possible one. It has to do with seismic activity, and a form of luminous electricity generated by quartz-containing material under extreme pressure.

   It’s still a theory, of course, but it does seem to fit a surprising number of cases. It sure makes a lot more sense than visitations by extraterrestrial creatures overcome by fascination for swamps, deserted highways, and isolated mountaintops. I mean, coming all that way and not even stopping off at Times Square?

***

NERO WOLFE. “Might as Well Be Dead.” NBC, 60m. Season 1, Episode 5. Cast: William Conrad as Nero Wolfe, Lee Horsley as Archie Goodwin, George Voskovec as Fritz Brenner, Robert Coote as Theodore Horstmann, George Wyner as Saul Panzer, Allan Miller as Inspector Cramer. Guest Cast: Gail Youngs, Bruce Gray, A.C. Weary, Michael Currie, Lana Wood, Stephen Elliott. Teleplay: Seeleg Lester, based on Rex Stout’s book of the same title. Director: George McCowan.

   According to tonight’s paper, it looks as though we’re not going to have this show to kick around much longer. Last week it came in 62nd in the ratings. Out of 64 shows. “Friday night’s a bad night,” Judy said. “Yeah,” I replied, “and look what it’s on opposite. Dukes of Hazzard. I don’t know what the attraction is.”

   Seriously, though, if this show flops, justly or not, it’s going to prove all those publishers right who say that detective fiction just doesn’t sell any more.

   Tonight was TV’s version of “Might s Well Be Dead.” When Wolfe discovers the son his client wants found right on the front page of his newspaper, the subject of “synchronicity” comes up. That’s the science of fortuitous coincidence, as you may not have already known. I’ll have to look into it.

   (I have to say it, but I completely failed to recognize Lana Wood when she appeared in a small part in this particular episode. I’m amazed. I don’t believe it.)

***

   Want to know what kind of joke makes me laugh? Jim Stafford was on Merv Griffin’s show earlier this afternoon, and the TV set happened to be on. He told the story of how, when he was a kid, when all the other kids were out playing football, he was busy practicing with is guitar. Practice, practice, practice. “But it all paid off,” he said, picking up his guitar and displaying it proudly. “I can kick this sucker sixty yards.”

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


DEPARTMENT Q – THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES. Denmark, 2013, as Kvinden i buret. Nickolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fare, Per Sheel Krüger, Sonja Richter Teleplay Nicolaj Arcel, Jussi Adler-Olsen (his novel). Directed by Mikkel Nørgard. [The first film in the “Department Q” series, followed by The Absent One (2014), and A Conspiracy of Faith (2016).]

   Another fine example of Scandinavian Noir, based on Jussi Adler-Olsen’s novels of Department Q, the closed case section of the Copenhagen police headed by damaged and difficult Chief detective Carl Mørck (Nicolaj Lie Kaas), an arrogant and sullen cop whose last two partners were killed and crippled in a case that left Mørck wounded and unable to work Homicide, the first of a series of made for television movies that are dark, violent, complex, and intelligent.

   In The Keeper of Lost Causes Mørck returns to work to find himself assigned to Department Q, in the basement, to work cold cases, basically spend two days on them and close them. His assistant is Detective Assad (Fares Fare), a Muslim, who like Carl has nowhere to go in the department.

   Carl hasn’t much hope for the new job until he discovers one of cases involves the disappearance of Merette Lyndgard (Sonja Richter) five years earlier. Merette, a government official, went aboard the ferry with her mentally disabled brother and at some point apparently committed suicide by jumping overboard.

   Carl wanted the case five years earlier when it was assigned to Bak, a detective he considers a moron. It never made sense to Carl that Merette would take her mentally unstable brother on the ferry with her if she planned to commit suicide.

   The bulk of the drama involves Carl and Assad probing deeper into the case bungled by their predecessor, their battles with superiors who don’t really want cold cases solved, just stored away, and flashbacks to what actually happened to Merette, all while Carl and Assad gradually become a trusting partnership. All while building an impressive line of suspense more reminiscent of a movie than something made for television.

   When Assad is able to get close to Merette’s mentally closed off brother Uffe, the two discover Merette’s suicide may have been something else entirely, and begin to put together a case that leads to a second murder in Sweden and a motive for incredible revenge that dates back to Merette’s childhood and the tragic accident that left her brother mentally crippled.

   If you hate subtitles, you may not care for these, but all three are dark and well written, pitting Carl and Assad (well played by Kaas and Fares) against dangerous killers who prey on the weak and the innocent. Each one is deeper, trickier, and more powerful than the last, without ever being exploitative or routine. Victims, police, and even the killers are wounded humans struggling to survive, twisted by and saved by their mere humanity.

   I will grant you that you would think Carl would learn to wait for backup, but it is established at the beginning of The Keeper of Lost Causes that isn’t his strong point, and satisfying as it is, they probably need to end one film without Assad beating the crap out of the bad guy after rescuing Carl, but this isn’t weekly television, and normally you probably would not watch them as close together as I did (and in all honesty Assad beating the crap out of these bad guys is a needed cathartic release by the time you get to the down to the wire endings).

   All in all this is superior police drama with a touch of the great detective in its lead, and plots you won’t lightly shrug off and that have a touch of Ross Macdonald to them in their portraits of wounded people doomed by sins of the past, with just a hint of Hannibal Lector in their truly frightening killers.

Note: The films are available currently on Hulu with English subtitles.


         Thursday, February 12.

THE GANGSTER CHRONICLES. NBC, 13 episode mini-series. Episode 1. “An American Story.” Michael Nouri (Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano), Joe Penny (Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel), Brian Benben, Kathleen Lloyd, Madeleine Stowe, Chad Redding, Markie Post. Director: Richard C. Sarafian.

   Ten minutes after turning this on I found myself asking “Why am I watching this?” I couldn’t come up with any kind of answer, so I turned it off.

***

MAGNUM, P.I. CBS. “Lest We Forget.” Season One, Episode Ten. Tom Selleck, John Hillerman, Roger E. Mosley, Larry Manetti. Guest Cast: June Lockhart, Anne Lockhart, Miguel Ferrer, Scatman Crothers, José Ferrer. Writers: Donald P. Bellisario & Glen A. Larson. Director: Lawrence Doheny.

   Tonight’s show was both enhanced and handicapped by flashbacks to Pearl Harbor Day. (I assume you know that the show takes place in Hawaii.) Magnum’s client ts a judge who’s been nominated to the US Supreme Court, but he was once married to a Honolulu hooker, and he’s afraid of blackmail. He hires Magnum to find her.

   Working as a plus was the use of June and Anne Lockhart (mother and daughter) to play the lady, and José and Miguel Ferrer (father and son) to play the judge. But one does tire of stories taking place in Hawaii just before you-know-what happens. (You do, don’t you?)

   And without the advantages of instant replay, I still don’t know how Magnum spotted the killer — the only person to know that both parties in their ill-fated romance were still alive. How’d he know. (Either one of them.)

   The regular characters are solidly done. I especially like John Hillerman as Higgins, whose self-appointed job it is to keep Magnum in line. (Hillerma it also was, of course, who played the irrepressible Simon Brimmer in TV’s most recent version of Ellery Queen.)

   This is getting too long. I just wanted to add that I had a crush on June Lockhart, back 25 years ago when she played Jon Provost’s mommy on Lassie. My, but aren’t men fickle. Ah, Miss Lockhart, but don’t you have a lovely daughter!

SPENSER: PALE KINGS AND PRINCES. Made for TV movie. Lifetime, 02 January 1994. Robert Urich (Spenser), Barbara Williams (Susan Silverman), Avery Brooks (Hawk), Sonja Smits, Ken James, Maurice Dean Wint, Alex Carter. Screenplay: Robert B. Parker and
Joan H. Parker, based on the former’s book of the same title. Director: Vic Sarin.

   The plot is a little thin in this one, but if you like the Spenser books, as I do in general, but as I know some of you don’t, this is about as close to one of the stories that a filmed version is going to get. I say that not because I’ve read the book as well as seen the movie. The truth is, I read the book so long ago I’m simply not able to compare the two.

   No, the reason for saying this is that Robert B. Parker and his wife Joan are the screenwriters, and she was one of several co-producers. If that doesn’t give you some sort of say in how a movie comes out, it’s difficult to say what does.

   One difference that I seem to remember from the book is that when Spenser makes a trip into the mid-central section of Massachusetts — a small hamlet named Wheaton, which probably doesn’t really exist — to look into the death of a investigate reporter who was killed there, in the movie Susan comes with him. In the book, she only commutes back and forth between Wheaton ad Boston. In the the movie, her motivation for staying close on the scene is that the reporter was one of her clients in psychotherapy.

   What this change does, though, is allow the two of them to work on the investigation together while staying in the same small motel room and eating together in the same dingy diner. This gives the a lot more time to indulge in witty banter together, and to give Susan the opportunity to see her man in action, up close and personal.

   And what action means to Spenser, of course, is barging right in, asking questions, and making a general nuisance of himself — and no small number of enemies, a term that applies to the local police force as well as possible local drug lords. Wheaton has a population that has been substantially bolstered in recent years by a influx of refugee Colombians, and when they have been unable to find work, they have turned to dope peddling, or so it has been rumored. This may be the reason behind the reporter’s death — or it may be his non-stop womanizing ways — or perhaps an even more deadly combo of the two.

   Hawk shows up to help the two of them out when things get a little too tight for them on their own. I can’t think of a better actor to play the part than Avery Brooks, but Robert Urich and Barbara Williams have quite a bit of chemistry together as well. I enjoyed this one.

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