TV mysteries


COMING SOON – THE TV EDITION
by Michael Shonk


   Most TV junkies claim Fall premiere week as their favorite time of the year, but mine has always been the May unfronts. Unfronts are parties the networks throw for major advertisers, ad agencies and the media in attempt to get them drunk enough to believe next Fall’s TV series will be the best ever and hope they forget the lies the networks told about the quality of last season’s shows.

   In the past, May was the most dramatic month for the TV fanatic. TV viewers embraced hope of the new, relief when their favorites survived, and the devastation when they didn’t. But it is just not the same anymore.

   The broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and CW) have joined cable networks in the effort to supply original programming all year round. New television series never stop coming. The Big Four and-a-Half networks just announced their fall lineup with huge fan fare ignoring that September is no longer the best month of TV.

   Pushing the limits of space here, let’s check out the highlights of what is coming this week, this Summer, this Fall, and in 2017.

   Just because the main season is over, it doesn’t mean the broadcast networks abandon original programming. WAYWARD PINES is back on FOX. CW has the final season of BEAUTY & THE BEAST. CBS has the return of ZOO and two new series starting in June that sound better than any of CBS new fall shows. AMERICAN GOTHIC tells the story of a family that has discovered one of them is a serial killer. From the creators of THE GOOD WIFE, BRAINDEAD is a comedy thriller about a young woman who discovers aliens are eating the brains of politicians and government workers. NBC has the Olympics this summer but also airs AQUARIUS.

      NBC medical drama NIGHT SHIFT returns for its third season:

   Cable networks offer original scripted programs in May and June including AMC’s new crime drama set in a restaurant, FEED THE BEAST, and the last season of HELL ON WHEELS, HBO’s GAME OF THRONES, TNT’s LAST SHIP, MAJOR CRIMES, MURDER IN THE FIRST, and RIZZOLI & ISLES (final season), TBS’s ANGIE TRIBECA, Cinemax’s OUTCAST, Netflix’s ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, ADULT SWIM’s DECKER: UNCLASSIFIED, and SYFY’s 12 MONKEYS.

   The heck with Marvel and DC, give me an IDW comic book like the fun horror/western WYNONNA EARP.

   Cable original scripted programs continue through the summer with returning series such as SYFY’s KILLJOYS and DARK MATTER, FX’s TYRANT and THE STRAIN, STARZ’s POWER, USA’s SUITS and last year’s hit MR. ROBOT.

   New series include Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS set in the 1980s, a supernatural series centered on a missing boy, SYFY’s post-apocalyptic drama AFTERMATH, and TNT’s GOOD BEHAVIOR based on the Letty Dobesh books by Blake Crouch.

      Based on Stephen Hunter’s book POINT OF IMPACT, USA network new series SHOOTER premieres in July.

   This fall live television, especially sports such as the NFL and World Series, will distract the viewing public. Cable lead by one of the most watched TV series in all television, AMC’s WALKING DEAD will hold its own. TNT reboots TALES FROM THE CRYPT, this time from M. Night Shyamalan.

         Netflix starts another series featuring a Marvel comic character – LUKE CAGE.

   Midseason 2017 promises to offer some entertaining new series on cable networks. USA’s FALLING WATER is a supernatural thriller about three strangers who find they can share dreams. SYFY’s horror anthology CHANNEL ZERO,

      Syfy’s THE EXPANSE, the best TV series I watched in 2015-16, will return for its second season in January 2017.

   Top network CBS will add three new dramas this Fall. BULL starring NCIS Michael Weatherly as Dr Phil back when he was a consultant specializing in manipulating… uh, I mean analyzing juries. Medicine meets technology in the new drama PURE GENUIS.

      The pilot of MACGYVER had many behind the scenes problems. Let’s hope Macgyver can find the right knick knack to save the show.

   Two new CBS series wait for their turn and midseason. DOUBT a lawyer show starring Katherine Heigl, and TRAINING DAY, based on the film. But more important are two series that CBS hopes to premiere in 2017 on CBS ALL ACCESS, its streaming service. First original new series will be the sequel to THE GOOD WIFE. The second is perhaps TV most famous franchise in history. It began on NBC, cancelled and resurfaces as a successful film series. It was used to establish Paramount in the syndicated market. It began UPN (now CW) and tried to save the network before the merger with WB. As Paramount continues to pump out theatrical films, CBS will use STAR TREK to jumpstart its streaming service.

         Without a title or any idea what it is about, the new STAR TREK series is the most anticiated television series of next season.

   Among the CBS series returning in the fall are BLUE BLOODS, CODE BLACK, CRIMINAL MINDS, ELEMENTARY, HAWAII FIVE-O, MADAM SECRETARY, NCIS, NCIS: LOS ANGELES, NCIS: NEW ORLEANS, and SCORPION. While CRIMINAL MINDS – BEYOND BORDERS will be back in 2017.

   SUPERGIRL reminded CBS what its TV audience likes, so the new shows look like the old shows and SUPERGIRL flew off to CBS little sister CW. The comic book superhero will feel comfortable with the rest of DC comic superheroes, ARROW, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, and CW’s top show FLASH. CW continues to specialize in comic books, horror and the weird.

      New this fall to the mini-me of broadcast networks is FREQUENCY based on the film.

   Returning during midseason will be THE 100, iZOMBIE, THE ORIGINALS, SUPERNATURAL, and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.

   Midseason, CW will add FOX reject RIVERDALE, based on the characters from Archie comics focused on a murder mystery. But this is not Scooby Doo or your old Archie (even the comic books are not your old Archie), this Archie deals with “adult issues” such as him sleeping with his teacher.

   While CBS remains the top network, NBC is close behind. Its two biggest hits are SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL and THE VOICE, each hogging up much of NBC’s fall schedule. This fall NBC adds five games of Thursday night football (CBS shows the first five, NBC has the last five). Without any major holes in its fall schedule, NBC saved its most promising new series for midseason, adding only three to the fall lineup.

      NBC’s only new drama this fall is TIMELESS, the most promising series of the many this season featuring time travel.

   Some of the series returning this fall are BLACKLIST, BLINDSPOT, CHICAGO FIRE, CHICAGO MED, CHICAGO PD, GRIMM, LAW AND ORDER SVU. SHADES OF BLUE will have to wait for SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL to end.

   Other new shows waiting for their turn include comedies POWERLESS (insurance office comedy set in the world of superheroes), TRAIL & ERROR (court comedy). New dramas are BLACKLIST – REDEMPTION (spinoff), EMERALD CITY (based on Baum’s Land of Oz books), MIDNIGHT, TEXAS (based on a series of books by Charlaine Harris (TRUE BLOOD)), TAKEN (prequel to film series) and what would any NBC list be without another Dick Wolf CHICAGO series, in this case CHICAGO JUSTICE.

   There is hope at FOX. This year they have the Super Bowl guaranteeing better numbers at the end of the season. Ratings are changing, and FOX is pushing the hardest to find a way to count those of us who no longer watch TV live or on a TV set.

   TV is about to enter an era of MONEYBALL. For those not familiar with baseball or the movie or the book, sabermetrics uses an endless amount of numbers to measure performance. Networks like FOX are all ready there, someday the media will catch up.

   Speaking of baseball, FOX will have the World Series this fall as well as new series PITCH (story of first woman to play in Major League Baseball). Other new series of interest coming this fall are THE EXORIST (based on William Blatty’s novel), and LETHAL WEAPON (based on the film).

      My pick for first fall show cancelled is FOX’s SON OF ZORN, an animated barbarian tries to cope in live action modern world.

   Shows returning in fall include BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, insane GOTHAM, LUCIFER, ROSEWOOD, SCREAM QUEENS, and QUINTCO. Series returning in midseason include SLEEPY HOLLOW and the final season of BONES.

   Among the new series waiting for 2017 are APB (rich man buys a police precinct), MAKING HISTORY (time travel comedy), SHOTS FIRED (racially charged shooting involving a cop), and PRISON BREAK (sequel to 2005 TV series).

      FOX is hoping 24 – LEGACY will be as successful as the original 24.

   ABC did not have a good year. Its president of programming was sacrificed to the Nielsen Ratings Gods in prayers for better numbers in the demo.There was not enough time to change the fall offerings, but it is expected ABC will copy CBS and NBC with less soap operas and more procedurals.

   ABC’s new fall dramas of interest to us begins with DESIGNATED SURVIVOR starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development ends up President after a terrorist attack takes out most of the leaders of the American government. CONVICTION with Hayley Atwell (AGENT CARTER) as a spoiled former first daughter who is forced under threat of jail to lead a small group investigating cases where the convicted might be innocent.

      NOTORIOUS is about the seduction between law and the media.

   Returning this fall are HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., and ONCE UPON A TIME. While these returning series have to wait until midseason their turn – AMERICAN CRIME, THE CATCH, SCANDAL and SECRETS & LIES.

      Among the new ABC shows waiting for midseason is TIME AFTER TIME, based on the movie and stars Freddie Stroma as H.G. Wells.

   Over one hundred TV series in the 2015-16 season were cancelled or ended. RIP.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


MIAMI VICE. “Heart of Darkness.” NBC, 28 September 1984. (Season 1, Episode 2.) Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, Saundra Santiago, Michael Talbott, John Diehl, Olivia Brown, Gregory Sierra. Guest Cast: Ed O’Neill, Paul Hecht. Created by Andres Carranza & Anthony Yerkovich. Executive producer: Michael Mann. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey.

   Before he portrayed the crudely affable father on Married with Children, Ed O’Neill guest-starred on this rather neo-noir Miami Vice episode. Entitled “Heart of Darkness,” this first season episode is, unlike many extremely dated 1980s cop shows, still eminently watchable today. Stylishly photographed, the episode feels less like a television show and more like a gritty crime film.

   O’Neill portrays Arthur Lawson, an undercover FBI agent tasked with investigating an illicit pornography ring and its concurrent corruption. Problem is: under the alias Artie Rollins, Lawson may be having too much fun with his assignment. So much so that the feds believe that Lawson may have changed sides.

   “Heart of Darkness,” the second regular Miami Vice episode to be aired on NBC, served to demonstrate to audiences that the series was not going to be just another police procedural. Undercover work wasn’t all fun and games and sometimes the dividing line between cop and criminal would become blurred. The episode was an opportunity to draw out the personalities of the two main lead characters: Detective James Crockett (Don Johnson) and Detective Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). While Tubbs is quick to assume that Lawson has gone over to the proverbial dark side, Crockett isn’t so sure. A veteran of numerous undercover operations, Crockett sees himself in Rollins and wants to give the G-Man the benefit of the doubt.

   Much as in some neo-noir films, the city itself is a character in the unfolding drama. Nightclubs, restaurants, warehouses, boulevards, and luxury condos are the settings that Miami Vice would turn to time and again.

   The final shootout, which takes place at the port, reminded me of a similarly filmed scene in Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). There’s little romanticism on display here. The world in which Crockett and Tubbs operate is very much a kill-or-be-killed one. The same goes for Arthur Lawson who comes across less as a villain and more as a tragic figure caught between the normal world of middle class domesticity and the seedy underbelly of 1980s urban life.

A TV SERIES REVIEW
by Michael Shonk


NOT FOR HIRE. Syndicated, California National Presentation (CNP); 1959-60. 39 30min episodes. Cast: Ralph Meeker as Army Sergeant Steve Dekker and Ken Drake as Army Colonel Bragan. Produced by Johnny Florea.

   The fall of 1959 brought a flood of crime dramas to networks and syndicated television. Most such as Not for Hire are long forgotten. Information about the series is hard to find and reportedly only six episodes of the thirty-nine survive. All six are currently available on YouTube and the collectors market.

   Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly) starred as Army Sergeant Steve Dekker, considered by the Army their top Investigator in its Criminal Investigation Division (MP). Dekker is a wisecracking womanizer typical of the era. Weekly he risks his life to help save soldiers in trouble. While Meeker does well as the character, his occasional happy grin can be a bit creepy. One of the gimmicks of the series has the person who Dekker saved being ungrateful for Dekker’s efforts – something that Dekker accepts, sometimes even with humor.

   Not for Hire has much of the charm and all the flaws of early thirty minute syndicated dramas. The series lacked consistency in the tone of its stories and the character of Dekker. The small budget and thirty minute format limited the series. The lack of shooting time did not allow the actors to always give their best performance in every scene. The series did know its audience as every episode was sure to include beautiful bad girls and as many fights that could fit in thirty minutes minus commercials. The first episode “Soldier’s Story” set up the premise well:

SOLDIER’S STORY. Written by Johnny Florea and Tony Barrett. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast: Mari Blanchard, John Vivyan and Stanley Adams ***A soldier is framed for a robbery turned murder. Dekker goes undercover to find the villains, a gang of three – beauty (Blanchard), brawn (Vivyan) and brains (Adams).

   The episode is well done with stylish dialog and use of camera, lively action, interesting if stereotyped characters, and clever use of the episode’s soundtrack (music supervision by Raoul Kraushaar). It is fun watching likable Meeker’s Dekker obsessively track down the bad guys.



THE SET UP. Written by Laurence Marks. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast:: Stanley Adams, Michael Miller, Henry Corden and Patrick Waltz *** A soldier with heavy gambling debts is asked to kill a fellow soldier. Dekker convinces the soldier to go undercover to find out who the intended victim is and who wants him dead.

   This episode is fun from the heavy slang dialog of the blackmailed soldier to the target’s priorities. The mystery is drawn out at the right pace with the identity of the target at first unknown and the killer’s identity a nice twist at the end.



   As “Soldier’s Story” and “The Set-Up” show, despite lasting only one season the series used several actors in more than one roll. Norman Alden went from guard in “Soldier’s Story” to recurring character MP Cpl. Lucius Grundy. Stanley Adams went from bad guy in “Soldier’s Story” to recurring character good guy Honolulu Police Lt. Morris. Others would play multiple parts such as Fortune Gordien who played the dealer in “The Set-Up” and according to IMDb two other roles during the series run.

SHARK BAIT. Teleplay by Richard Collins – Story by P.K. Palmer – Directed by Dennis Patrick. Guest Cast:: Jan Brooks, William Keene and Rory Harrity. *** Part of a stolen Army payroll is found with a murdered Navy diver. Much to the disgust of the Navy who has been unable to solve the seaman’s murder, the Army sends Dekker undercover to find the Army payroll.

   For its time the mystery had some nice twists that today we would see coming from nearly the beginning. The now hilarious but then exciting fight between Dekker and a shark remains the episode’s highlight.



THE DESERTER. Written by Richard M. Powell. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast:: Dennis Patrick, Ziva Rodann and Peggy Stewart. *** While in Manila on the trail of a smuggling racket Dekker tries to help out a woman who is convinced she just saw her husband. Problem is her husband was declared dead by the Army fifteen years ago. No body was ever found but Dekker knows the man is dead because he was the one who killed him.

   Thirty minutes rarely is enough time to create a decent mystery. There is not enough time to develop characters and have truly surprising twists. This episode is a perfect example of that as it reveals the bad guy too soon and has a backstory that needed more attention.



THE FALL GUY. Teleplay by Jack Jacobs and Marty Goldsmith. Story by Jack Jacobs. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast:: Lisabeth Hush, James Seay and Barbara Stuart *** A beautiful 21-year old woman is found dead and Dekker arrests a soldier for the murder. Dekker is convinced the soldier is guilty but a female secretary in his office is even more convinced the soldier is innocent. She nags Dekker to keep investigating until they find the real killer.

   This is the worse episode of the six surviving as it comes off more as a pilot for the CID secretary Cpl Madge Turner (Lisabeth Hush) than an episode about hero Sgt Dekker who the episode turned into a smug jerk. Gone is Dekker’s dedication to helping his fellow soldier out of trouble, replaced by a dedication to helping a female soldier out of her uniform.

   According to IMDb, Hush as Cpl. Turner returned in episode “Lover’s Leap.” In an odd note of reality, Lisabeth Hush acting career suffered due to her hard work fighting sexual harassment of women in Hollywood.



SMUGGLED WIFE. Written by Don Brinkley. Directed by William Bennington. Guest Cast:: James Parnell, Nora Hayden and John Marshall. *** An angry and out of control Private Ober has taken on the governments of America, England and Hong Kong. His pregnant British born wife is due to give birth soon. Ober wants the baby born on American soil. But a bureaucratic mix-up has his wife stuck in Hong Kong. Dekker tries to keep Ober out of trouble as the red tape unwinds at its own speed versus the fast approaching birth of the baby.

   They don’t write them like this one anymore as everyone takes the screwy plot and run with it. There is no shortage of fights and comedy, and even a femme fatale and a crime are tacked on to the story.



   Reading the credits always adds to the entertainment value of watching TV series from the past. From the credits we can guess the “showrunner” for the series was Johnny Florea. Florea was a war correspondent during WWII and had a successful career as a TV director (Honey West, Ironside) and producer (Sea Hunt, CHiPs).

   Bonus gossip! According to a newspaper article from Los Angeles Times (June 17,1975) his ex-wife Shirley Florea stabbed him in the back at the County Courthouse. UPI added they were there for an alimony hearing. Both sources mentioned she had once sued him for $1 million for mailing her 20 year-old prostitution arrest record to friends. While his other two wives are mentioned in Florea’s IMDb biography Shirley is not.

   The writers featured a variety of talent. Richard M. Powell wrote the Mike Hammer film My Gun Is Quick as well as several TV series including Hogan’s Heroes. Tony Barrett would become a successful writer/ producer in the 60s with Peter Gunn, Mod Squad and Burke’s Law. Don Brinkley wrote for many TV series including The Fugitive and Felony Squad and created Trapper John M.D. Laurence Marks had started as a comedy writer in radio (Jack Paar) and continued with TV for such series as Hogan’s Heroes and M*A*S*H. Marty Goldsmith credits include the film Detour and the TV series Twilight Zone.

   Johnny Florea directed most of the Not for Hire episodes but there were others. Dennis Patrick would turn to acting full time (including an episode for Not for Hire). William Bennington would become known for live TV and won an Emmy with seven others for directing the 19th Summer Olympic Games in 1968.

   Of course the actors are the easiest to spot. Popular character actors such as Norman Alden, Stanley Adams and Barbara Stuart are remembered for the amount of roles they would play instead of any single one. Henry Corden might have joined that group if not for his role as the voice of Fred Flintstone. Those of us who remember John Vivyan as stylish and sophisticated Mr. Lucky were surprised by his portrayal of a dumb goon.

   Not for Hire remains a better than expected syndicated light drama cop show that still can be a pleasant entertaining way to kill a half hour.

“PROMISED LAND.” The pilot episode of Spenser: For Hire. ABC-TV. Season 1, Episode 1. 20 September 1985. Robert Urich, Barbara Stock, Avery Brooks, Geoffrey Lewis, Donna Mitchell, Ron McLarty, Ruth Britt, Richard Jaeckel, Chuck Connors. Based on the novel by Robert B. Parker. Director: Lee H. Katzin.

   The fourth of the Spenser novels, Promised Land was published in 1976, and was awarded an Edgar for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America in 1977. Fans of the series will also know that this is the book that introduced Spenser’s friend Hawk to the series, although for a while we do not know at the beginning whether he is a friend or not.

   It has been a while since I read the book, some 38 years, and while I don’t remember the details of the printed version, I think this two-hour TV movie version (before the commercials were deleted) follows the story line fairly well.

   To wit: Spenser is hired by a real estate developer to find his wife, who after 20 years has left him to find herself. A lot of women were doing that back in 1976. Unfortunately her two new friends are not only interested in women’s liberation, they are also in robbing banks and using the money to buy guns for South American revolutionaries.

   Also unfortunately the real estate broker has a gunman named Hawk on his trail. It seems he owes a lot of money to a crime kingpin named King Powers (Chuck Connors), and somewhat coincidentally Spenser, the tough PI from Boston, has had a brief run-in with Powers in recent days.

   And that about sums it up. Robert Urich as Spenser is tough enough to play the part and also soft enough, but to my mind’s eye, he doesn’t look the part. I happen to think that Spenser looks like his creator, Robert B. Parker in his younger days, in exactly the same way that Mickey Spillane was the perfect person to play Mike Hammer.

   At first Barbara Stock looked maybe five years too young to play Susan Silverman, but by the movie’s end, as she semi-rejects Spenser’s offer of marriage, she had at least started to convince me. Perfectly cast, however, is Avery Brooks as Hawk. He was so good, in fact, that when the primary Spenser series ended in 1988, Brooks was cast as the leading character in another series in 1989 called A Man Called Hawk. (It didn’t last long, however, only 13 episodes.)

   There is a lot of pop psychology that is at the root of this movie, which I am not saying is a bad thing, but it is something you should be aware of if pop psychology is not your thing. The series was filmed on location in Boston, and with real snow on the ground. There are also a lot of close-ups, which occur at regular intervals when certain conversations are deemed more important than others.

   But there is plenty of action, too. My favorite line, though, comes when the wife of Spenser’s client asks him, after she has been rebuffed after making what are called in the vernacular “romantic advances.” She looks at his shelf of books and asks, Have you read all of these?

   His reply: Yeah, and boy are my lips tired.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


YOU’LL NEVER SEE ME AGAIN. An episode of Armchair Theatre, ABC/ITV, UK, 16 August 1959 (Season 3, Episode 49). Ben Gazzara, Leo Genn, Brenda de Banzie, James Hayter, Derek Aylward, Jacqueline Ellis. Based on the story by Cornell Woolrich (Detective Story Magazine, November 1939; reprinted as by William Irish, Dell 10 Cent series #26, paperback, 1951). Director: Ted Post.

   A real oddity turned up on Cable in the middle of the night last week: You’ll Never See Me Again was made for Britain’s Armchair Theatre back in 1959, and to my knowledge has never aired before on American Television. At least Mike Nevins hadn’t seen it as of 1988, when he wrote his exhaustive Woolrich bio-bibliography, First You Dream, Then You Die.

   And it’s not bad at all. Somewhat on the level of a really good episode of The Avengers or Secret Agent. Ben Gazzara stars, playing the lead as a rather cold, unlikable sort, in the Laurence Harvey mode. He’s had a spat with his wife, it seems, and she ran home to Mother. Only she never got there. And no one saw her go.

   So when days pass, and she doesn’t show up (she is, in fact, never seen in the hour-long film) Ben finds himself haunted by a lackadaisical but persistent Police Inspector, intelligently played by Leo Genn. Their escalating cat-and-mouse game builds up very nicely to heights of Woolrichian paranoia (he imagined the Police to be literally everywhere) as the bereft husband tries with increasing desperation to find some shred of proof that he didn’t kill his wife, and at the same time come to terms with his feelings about her.

   And all the while, Genn keeps turning up in the oddest places, generally supine on a sofa, asking languidly if he’d care to confess to something.

   It’s all directed very competently by Ted Post, a filmmaker I’ve never cared much for, and despite the truncated late-night presentation, I enjoyed it quite a lot. Look for it.

– Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #56, November 1992.

Reviewed by MICHAEL SHONK:


MARLOWE. “Choices.” TV pilot, ABC / Touchstone Pictires, 2007. Cast: Jason O’Mara as Philip Marlowe, Adam Goldberg as Detective Frank Olmeier, Amanda Righetti as Jessica Reeder, Sherman Augustus as John Welan* (this is the onscreen credit but the character was called Thomas in episode). Guest Cast: Jamie Ray Newman as Tracy Faye, Clayton Rohner as Matthew Denzler, Lisa LoCicero as Stephanie Church, Jose Yenque as Ernesto, Aja Evans as Shauna, Marcos A. Ferraez as Zack Battas, Michael B. Silver as Charles Difrisco and Lisa Pelikan as Laura Devin. Directed by Rob Bowman. Crew credits not on this apparent work print but listed in ABC’s press release (source: Futoncritic.com). Creators and executive producers: Carol Wolper and Greg Pruss. Executive Producer: Daniel H. Blatt, Daniel Pipski, Phil Clymer and Sean Bailey. Producer: Jason O’Mara.

   “Choices” was a TV pilot and possible first episode for a proposed weekly TV series featuring Raymond Chandler’s character Philip Marlowe. Luckily for all Chandler and Marlowe fans it did not sell.

   Set in present day (2007) Los Angeles, former cop Marlowe has been a PI for eight years, has a young beautiful secretary who went to the Effie Perrine Secretarial School, exchanges banter with his pal L.A. Detective Frank Olmeier and has a friend Thomas who is a club owner with all the right connections. Unfortunately, the show’s attempt to modernize Marlowe left the character with more in common with standard TV PIs than Chandlers’ Marlowe.

   “Choices” has its positives. The mystery was better than the average TV drama. The plot was a Chandler favorite: Marlowe is hired by a rich man to solve a family problem and is forced to dig deep inside the sad sleazy lives of the L.A. rich and powerful to find the truth.

   But there is little else for those looking for Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. The cast performs well but Jason O’Mara’s upbeat Marlowe will not replace George Montgomery let alone Robert Montgomery in the hearts of Marlowe fans. The soundtrack is too modern and light. Rob Bowman’s direction never really gave the story the feel of the city. The script is overburdened with TV PI tropes.

   It is currently showing at YouTube:

   The story opens as Marlowe is following a man. Funky music plays on the soundtrack as Marlowe drives down the busy L.A. streets. Not surprisingly Marlowe does exposition with standard voiceover narration. Harry Orwell did it better.

   A rich man is convinced his wife is having an affair with womanizing millionaire Adam Denzler. He hires Marlowe to prove it. Rather than follow the wife, Marlowe is following Adam. But poor Marlowe gets interrupted when a car pulls out and hits the front fender of his car.

   Marlowe knows where Adam lives so he parks outside Adam’s home and waits. A young beautiful woman, Tracy Fay enters Adam’s home. Moments later Marlowe hears a woman’s screams. He runs into the home finding Tracy covered in blood and Adam dead by the pool.

   The cops arrive lead by Detective Frank Olmeier. Marlowe and Frank exchange allegedly clever banter. Faster than you can say James Rockford, Marlowe decide to quit the now open police case and rushes off to get paid. So, he did not discover if his client’s wife had cheated on her husband or even if she had been involved with the womanizing Adam. Marlowe does not care. He just wants paid and to get back to his office for a drink.

   While waiting for his client to join him Marlowe exchanges sexual innuendos with the client’s wife. There is no doubt the wife is unfaithful, but Marlowe doesn’t care as long as he gets his money.

   Marlowe is at his Hollywood office with secretary Jessica taking care of him and office business. They are interrupted by – surprise – Tracy, the bimbo Marlowe met at Adam’s murder. Like the typical femme fatale, Tracy begs for Marlowe’s help.

   Marlowe returns to the scene. The cops are still there. Marlowe easily cons a neighbor for the tape from her security cameras that got the license plate number of another car at the scene of the murder.

   He teases Frank about the cops not getting the vital tape. But whiny Frank reminds his PI friend how unfair the cop life is. Cops have to deal with hassles like warrants and due process that PI Marlowe doesn’t have to deal with. (One of my top pet peeves about screenwriting is the lazy idea that PIs are above the law and don’t face the same rules cops do.) Buried in paperwork, Frank convinces Marlowe to go question the suspects starting with Adam’s brother Matt who is the sole beneficiary of the family millions.

   Matt is a likable beach bum who was happy with his allowance and letting his brother run the business. Conveniently (a word that can not be used too often in describing Marlowe’s detective work) visiting Matt’s beach house are a few of the suspects we will meet later including Charles, a shady club owner and a local politician enjoying the company of one of Tracy’s female friends.

   Marlowe visits his friend Thomas. We learn Tracy is a club girl, a woman who goes from nightclub to nightclub in search of rich and powerful men.

   Tracy had told Marlowe that she and Adam were in love. Marlowe’s doubts about Tracy increase when he finds her partying at Elements, a nightclub owned by Charles who had been at Matt’s beach house.

   Marlowe takes the drunk Tracy home where she tries to seduce him. He resists. When he returns to his car he finds someone had tossed a brick through his car window warning him to stop seeing Tracy.

   Marlowe and Frank hang out at Marlowe’s office sharing information between wisecracks. Marlowe gives his warning brick to Frank. Frank shares the news that the other car that had been seen leaving the murder scene belonged to … Sandra Bullock, the famous actress. Sandra had parked her car at the nightclub while she ate at a nearby restaurant that had no parking available.

   It is at this point the required twists and TV mysteries clues begin to introduce themselves to Marlowe. Marlowe discusses the future with the nightclub valet who knows who had borrowed Sandra Bullock’s car but is not telling. Once Marlowe apparently leaves he watches the valet run to a payphone and call someone. Marlowe calls Frank and tells him to trace the phone call.

   Frank had traced the valet’s call. The person who had taken Bullock’s car and was at the murder scene was Zack Battas who was also the man who delivered the brick to Marlowe. Zack is in love with Tracy who had dumped him. Marlowe meets with Zack and his friends in a back alley for the mandatory smart ass PI gets beat up scene. Marlowe wakes up in a creative but totally unbelievable death trap set by Zack and friends.

   Back at his office so secretary Jessica can take care of him, she also reports on the legwork she did about Adam’s companies. The plot continued to grow more interestingly complex.

   Finally after some scenes that deal with the murder mystery, Tracy arrives at Marlowe’s office so they can have sex. After Tracy leaves Frank calls with news that Tracy had been arrested in the past for assaulting an old boyfriend.

   Marlowe confronts Tracy who claims her attack on the old boyfriend was self defense and that the boyfriend beat her. Angry, Marlowe hits the wall knocking some pictures off the wall, including one with a major clue.

   Marlowe starts facing down suspects, eliminating each but finding more and more evil that breeds among the rich and privilege. Marlowe beats a confession out of one suspect but gets shot (whew, I was worried “Choices” might have missed a TV PI cliché).

   The twists keep you guessing about the mystery until the end. But if only that had been enough, instead we are forced to endure the pretentious moralizing voiceover trying to convince us that the city had a role in this ordinary murder caused by typical human greed.

   While this pleasant TV PI mystery has its moments, it was a failure in its attempt to update Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Where was the lone knight walking down the mean streets? The major reason for the character to use voiceover narration is to reveal exposition without the need of other characters. It keeps the PI a loner and an outsider. The real Marlowe would not have had the standard TV support group — close friend cop and the secretary with a crush. Only Thomas the friend that has all the right connections fit Chandler’s Marlowe’s world.

   This clueless adaptation never understood that even a modern version of Marlowe would have a strong moral center. Modern times would not have corrupted Marlowe.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. “The Project Strigas Affair.” NBC; 24 November 1964 (Season 1, Episode 9). Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo), David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin), Leo G. Carroll (Alexander Waverly). Guest Cast: William Shatner, Peggy Ann Garner, Werner Klemperer, Leonard Nimoy. Director: Joseph Sargent.

   Directed by Joseph Sargent (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three), “The Project Strigas Affair” surely deserves a special place in the annals of television history and popular culture. A lighthearted first season The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode filmed in black and white, it features both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as guest stars. This would be the first and only time they appeared together in a scripted series prior to helming the Starship Enterprise.

   It also co-stars Werner Klemperer, who would go on to portray Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes. Seeing all of these faces, along with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum (who is still going strong on CBS as Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on NCIS), is a real treat for those of us who grew up watching reruns of not only this quirky spy show, but also Star Trek and aforementioned Hogan’s Heroes.

   In this episode, U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin concoct a devious plan in order to neutralize a non-Soviet Bloc Eastern European ambassador, Lalso Kurasov (Klemperer) intent on foisting the United States and the Soviet Union into an unwinnable global conflict.

   They enlist the assistance of chemist-turned-pest-exterminator, Michael Donfield (Shatner) and his wife. Solo and Kuryakin hope to employ Donfield to lure Kurasov with the promise of a chemical compound that would be highly useful to Kurasov’s country. It’s the “false secret” routine, but it works exceedingly well as a plot device.

   But things aren’t going to be so simple. First of all, Kurasov is foolish, but not quite as big a fool as Solo and Kuryakin would have hoped. More significantly, Kurasov’s deputy, Vladeck (Nimoy) has his eye on Kurasov’s job and is no pushover when it comes to dirty dealing and high stakes espionage.

   Although there are a few plot holes, “The Project Strigas Affair” is overall a successful episode and one that skillfully includes enough humor and suspense to keep you watching. Sure, it’s silly at times, but who cares. For his part, Shatner comes less like the Captain Kirk character he’d soon play on Star Trek and more like the post-Trek Shatner, the one who was more than comfortable in mocking his celebrity persona.

   It makes you wonder: how many people, upon watching the first episode of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary science fiction series, said to themselves, “wait, weren’t those two guys just on a The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode?”

NOTE:   The episode can currently be seen online here.

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