TV mysteries


DICTE – CRIME REPOERTER “Personskade (Personal), Part One.” Miso Film/TV2 Danmark, 07 January 2013. 60m. Iben Hjejle (Dicte Svendsen), Lars Brygmann (John Wagner), Emilie Kruse, Dar Salim, Simon Krogh Stenspil. Based on characters in novels by Elsebeth Egholm. Director: Jannik Johansen.

   The ending of this one really caught me by surprise. Not because it was a shocker or based on a twist that I didn’t see coming. No it’s a lot simpler than that, and I feel stupid by even bringing it up. I didn’t realize that the story was part one of two, and I wasn’t even watching the clock. Ha! on me.

   But one thing’s for sure. As soon as I get done typing this, I’m going to go watch Part Two.

   This is the first episode of three seasons of Dicte, consisting of five two-parters per season, or 30 episodes in all. (I probably could have left you to do the math). Dicte Svendsen, recently divorced, is a news reporter who has just moved back to her home town of Aarhus with her daughter Rose, a young lady who appears to be in the equivalent of high school in the US. She is certainly young enough that her mother has to keep a close eye on the friends she is making.

   It is by accident, though, that Dicte begins her first brush with a big story. A young girl is found dead, murdered, her body mutilated in such a way that a botched Caesarean must have taken place, and Dicte is the first on the scene.

   Photos taken by the news photographer accompanying her are the bargaining chips she needs for John Wagner, the police officer in charge of the case, to allow her to keep investigating the story.

   There is a theme here. When younger, Dicte was forced by her parents to give up a child a soon as he was born; now Dicte has problems dealing with her daughter’s new male friend. And the girl who died, probably a prostitute, has forcibly lost the surrogate child she was carrying.

   To me, actress Iben Hjejle seems too young to have such a long history behind her, but maybe that’s because I am much older than she. The story is a little darker than Death in Paradise, to take a recent example reviewed here, or The Invisibles, to pick another, but not not as ,much as Dexter or Hannibal here in the US. There will be Much more TV on my agenda this year, I can see that now.


DEATH IN PARADISE “Murder on the Honore Express.” BBC, UK. 10 January 2019 (Season 8, Episode 1). Ardal O’Hanlon (DI Jack Mooney), Joséphine Jobert (DS Florence Cassell), Don Warrington (Commissioner Selwyn Patterson), Tobi Bakare (Officer J. P. Hooper). Created by Robert Thorogood. Director: Paul Logue.

   Death in Paradise is a comedy-mystery set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie. The leading characters have changed over the years, but the cast as listed above make up the staff of the police department as of the beginning of the eighth season. (A ninth and tenth season have already been announced.)

   And as far as traditional mysteries are concerned, this one is as good as episodic TV can get. It isn’t quite a “locked room” mystery, but it is a murder such that there is no possible way for anyone to committed it. When a bus makes its final stop, a man sitting at the far back is found stabbed to death. None of the other passengers moved from their seat, and no could have gotten on without one of them noticing.

   The small police force are stopped, but that does not stop hem from following up all the leads they can. Quite curiously, though, all of the passengers are discovered to have motives, including the driver.

   Adding to the viewer’s enjoyment of following the investigation along is the humorous byplay between the main characters, with a new one joining the team next week. Saint Marie may be dangerous place to live for some, but it certainly provides a colorful backdrop to the stories. (The series is filmed in Guadeloupe.)

   This the only episode of any season of the series I’ve seen so far. I probably shouldn’t started with Season Eight. I accomplished that only by mistake. What watching the first episode of this most recent season did do, though, was to convince me to go way back to the beginning. I have a lot of catching up to do!


THE INVISIBLES “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1). 01 May 2008. BBC, 60 min. Anthony Head, Warren Clarke, Dean Lennox Kelly, Jenny Agutter, Mina Anwar, Paul Barber, Emily Head, Darren Tighe. Creator/screenplay: William Ivory. Director: William Sinclair.

   The Invisibles was a short-lived British comedy-mystery series that consisted of six episodes and was never renewed. The episodes do not seem to have titles, so I’m calling this first one the pilot.

   And as the pilot it does a first rate job of establishing the characters and setting extremely well. Maurice Riley (Anthony Head) and Syd Woolsey (Warren Clarke) are two of three members of a gang of burglars, who retired when the third of them died. They were called “The Invisibles” by the press due to the fact that in all of the years they were in working together, they were never caught.

   Now some 15 years later, bored to death of easy living, the two remaining members find themselves in need to go back to work. Syd’s son is in a jam, moneywise, and against Maurice’s wife’s strict orders, back to their black-clothed clandestine activities they go.

   Things do not go well at first. Their skills are rusty, and security devices have been updated greatly during their years of retirement. But along the way their path leads them to the third member’s son (or he finds them), and at the end of the first episode they are ready to tackle the world in full gear again.

   Even in this first episode the two main characters have great chemistry together. It is as if they really were two mates who have known each other for a long time. The humor in that is raised by both their camaraderie and their struggles to get themselves in shape to work again is largely quiet and unforced, but none the less effective for all that.

   The complete series is available both on DVD and streaming on Acorn TV.

THE PROTECTORS. “2,000 Ft to Die.” Incorporated Television Company (ITC), UK. 29 September 1972 (Episode 1, Season 1). 30min. Robert Vaughn (Harry Rule), Nyree Dawn Porter (Contessa Caroline di Contini), Tony Anholt (Paul Buchet). Guest Cast: Harvey Hall. Co-prodcuers: Gerry Anderson & Reg Hill. Screenplay: Terence Feeley. Director: John Hough .

   The Protectors were a somewhat informal group of European jet set private eyes who often got together to solve cases too tough to handle on their own, each having their individual specialties. They were Harry Rule (London), Contessa Caroline di Contini (Italy), and Paul Buchet (Paris).

    The year 1972 was rather late in the history of television for action adventure shows such as this one to have only 30 minutes of running time. The first episode, “2,000 Ft to Die,” would maybe make sense if it were twice the length, but it didn’t, and it doesn’t.

   It has something to do with a scientist who is the last of five working on a project to create srtifical gold who is still alive, and he calls in The Protectors for help. It doesn’t stop him from doing a stunt for some moviemakers consisting of jumping out of an airplane with a supposedly faulty parachute. Whoever it is who wants him dead makes sure that it really is faulty.

   You can’t make a coherent TV show consisting only of good-looking people, glamorous party scenes, and colorful camera shots and lots of action. That’s all I saw in this one, I’m sorry to say. The show did last for 52 episodes running over two season, so maybe I’m wrong. I don’t think it caught on in this country.


THE ROCKFORD FILES “Caledonia – It’s Worth a Fortune!” NBC, 06 December 1974 (Season 1, Episode 11). James Garner (Jim Rockford), Shelley Fabares, Ramon Bieri, Richard Schaal, Sid Haig. Teleplay: Juanita Bartlett, based on a story by John Thomas James (Roy Huggins). Director: Stuart Margolin.

   Rockford is hired by Shelley Fabares as the wife of a critically ill penitentiary prisoner who whispers to her the location of a hidden fortune in collectible stamps, but she needs help in actually digging them up. For a percentage of the find, Rockford readily agrees.

   But also on their trail are the convicted man’s former partner, who is also the man the woman was having an affair with, as well as two hoodlums who turn out to have been in the same cell block as the imprisoned man. The big stumling block as far as Rockford and his client are concerned is that they only know the town to start their hunt in (Caledonia). The ex-partner has the only set of directions.

   And why is local sheriff so intent in running them all out of town?

   If this all sounds very complicated, it is, but there’s still plenty of time to be spent on watching cars drive up an down the local highways, including at least one reckless chase or two.

   The overall tone is light and breezy, though, with good rapport between James Garner and his lady co-star, making it very easy for the viewer (me) to safely sit back and enjoy watching this first season episode with no effort at all.

MY FAVORITE TV SERIES
OF THE DECADE (2010-2019)
by Michael Shonk


   It is that time of year again when everyone makes a list, be it our list to Santa or the critic’s top ten list. This list has my favorite top 20 TV series that aired during the 2010s. I have separated them by type of TV it is: broadcast network, basic cable, premium cable, and streaming/apps.

   While the change from analog to digital television began in the 2000s the decade of 2010 will be remembered as when the digital era took over. It was a time that saw the fall of broadband network TV and the rise of digital streaming services. The major entertainment companies of the 20th Century – ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox as well as all of the major movie studios but Disney were swallowed up by conglomerates from outside Hollywood such as AT&T and Comcast. As Old Hollywood fell, new players rose such as Netflix and Apple creating a gold rush to find a spot in the future digital Hollywood.

   Broadcast TV is dying. Still regulated by the FCC, the major free networks continue to play it safe and cling to ancient formats such as episodic drama, sitcoms and police procedural.

   Despite that, my favorite TV series of the decade is the underrated PERSON OF INTEREST (CBS, 2011-16). The series’ only flaw was it was from formulaic CBS, the only network that would air the Second Coming as an episodic procedural. PERSON OF INTEREST was ahead of its time. It went from a weekly standalone episodes to an intriguing series with a continuing story foretelling our society’s fall into paranoia and fear. It was a world where America was becoming a bad guy, a corrupt government empowered by the rise of AIs.

           HONORABLE MENTION

FRINGE: (FOX, 2008-2013). FRINGE began as just another X-FILES copy but it did not take long for it to become a creative quality series featuring time travel and multi-universes.

ZERO HOUR: (ABC, 2012-13). ZERO HOUR was so bad it was good. Set in modern day with flashbacks to WWII, the series featured a never ending source of wacky troupes including an evil baby, Nazis, Rosicrucians guarding a doomsday device, twelve apostles each with a clock holding a clue leading to the device, a woman kidnapped from her clock shop, and her husband who finds among other things a frozen to death Nazi who could be his twin.


   Modern-day basic cable has always been a source of original programming. Networks such as USA and SYFY may have began producing cheap cheesy network knockoffs but today both and the rest of cable are willing to take risks the major networks won’t, and basic cable has improved because of it.

   My favorite basic cable series of the decade is JUSTIFIED (FX 2010-15). Based on Elmore Leonard’s characters and short story “Fire In the Hole” JUSTIFED was a violent crime drama set in Harlan County Kentucky. Marshall Raylan Givens was forced back to where he grew up and no one was happy.

   There he dealt with a complicated love life and some of the best Elmore Leonard type bad people on TV. Each season featured a different villain and crime, but what made the series so great was the special relationship between Raylan and local killer Boyd Crowder.

           HONORABLE MENTION

ARCHER: (FX, 2009-2016; FXX, 2017- present) – This animated classic with a flexible premise began as a 60s style spy series for the first four seasons. The series kept the characters and placed them in different situations. Season Five was Archer Vice with our heroes as the World’s worse drug dealers. In Season Six the group were hired by the CIA and found them selves in the middle of a Latin American revolution.

   This was followed by a season as they started a 1970-80s style TV PI agency in Los Angeles (promo below). Next was a 1940s style film noir called Archer Dreamland. Next was Season 9 and Archer Danger Island where our group races some pre-WWII Nazis for a treasure on a small island. Then it was Archer 1999 and stories spoofing science fiction. Coming soon will be Archer’s eleventh season, reportedly with everyone back in the spy business.

RUBICON: (AMC, 2010). Unusually intelligent for TV, RUBICON was about Will Travers who worked for a small Federal based spy agency. When his mentor dies, Will begins to suspect murder and uncovers a conspiracy. A suspenseful thought provoking series with a lack of car chases RUBICON was killed in the ratings by USA’s fun bimbo spy series with car chases COVERT AFFAIRS.

SHERLOCK: (BBC/PBS/BBCA, 2010-2017) – My favorite version of Sherlock Holmes. The writing was witty and intelligent in its adapting the Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories for a modern world. The casting worked, with Benedict Cumberbatch being the best ever to portray Holmes and Martin Freeman giving Watson new life.



VENTURE BROS
(Adult Swim, 2003- present). One of the TV’s funniest strangest TV series, the cartoon VENTURE BROS began as a parody of kids cartoons – in particularly JONNY QUEST. Quickly the series took on its own universe with its own absurdities. The video below is from the end of season five (2013). Season eight is scheduled to arrive sometime in the future.

WYNONNA EARP: (SYFY, 2016-present) Wyatt Earp’s demon killing gun has been past down through the Earp’s family first born sons until it ended up in the hands of a bad ass Wynonna. This series is over the top fun from the romances to the humor to the absurd violence as the gang sends countless demons back to Hell. The video below introduces the series that has been renewed for a fourth and fifth season.


   With the decrease in films aimed for adults and an increase in demand for TV series for adults, more and more premium channels are turning to original programming. Pay TV networks HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax have been joined by premium networks (you have to pay extra to get them) Starz, Epix, IFC, BBCA and others in producing original programs of high quality and adult content. These networks are also available on apps where you can pay for the network without having to subscribe to cable.

   My favorite of this group is DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY (BBCA 2016-17). BBC had attempted to bring Dirk to the small screen in a four-part miniseries in the early part of the decade but failed to capture Douglas Adams sense of humor and bizarre world.

In 2016 BBCA and Max Landis made a second attempt with Samuel Barnett as Dirk. While never a success beyond a cult audience of which I am a member, this version got two seasons and worked because Landis for the most part ignored the books and went with Douglas Adams style and humor. Douglas Adams himself had been quoted admitted he had his least success when he worried about plot or logic.

           HONORABLE MENTION:

COUNTERPART: (STARZ, 2016-2019) – This spy series was set against a backdrop of two different but connected Universes. During the Cold War there had been an accident and the Universe doubled leaving everyone with a physical double. Oddly, except for their looks the people were different than their counter in the other Universe.

   J.K. Simmons was brilliant as Howard Silk, a meek cog in our spy agency while his double was a ruthless man and one of the other side’s top spies. Where did Howard Silk’s path separate? How did the same man become a meek failure in one Universe and a ruthless success in the other?

DOCTOR WHO: (BBCA, Modern Version 2005 – present). DOCTOR WHO is an iconic British TV series that debuted in 1963. It is about an alien with a fondness for Earth who travels with companions through time and space in a 1960s blue British Police Box. This decade was a good one for Who’s fans.

   One of the best ideas DOCTOR WHO had was regeneration. Whenever the actor playing the Doctor wanted to leave the character would regenerate into a new version of the Doctor played by a different actor. There were four Doctor’s and three different showrunners during the 2010s. I found the era of showrunner Stephen Moffat (SHERLOCK) to be my favorite since the great days of Tom Baker the fourth Doctor.

   David Tennent as the tenth Doctor remains one the series most popular Doctors. He brought emotions to the character as Ten fell in love more than once and cried when it was his turn to leave. When showrunner Russell Davies – who had successfully brought the Doctor back to life in 2005 – decided to leave, Tennent left as well.

   2011 brought showrunner Stephen Moffat, and Matt Smith became the eleventh Doctor. Smith’s Doctor was an ancient alien carrying the burden of a tragic past while hiding behind a boyish face and child-like behavior.

   In 2014 Peter Capaldi became Doctor number twelve. His Doctor was more retrospective, rude, distant and uncomfortable around humans. It was his inner struggle to decide if he was good despite his past that made this Doctor the most dramatic.

   2018 marked the arrival of thirteen and the most controversial Doctor. Jodie Whittaker became the first woman to play the Doctor. As Mommy Doctor, Whittaker was the best part of last season. New showrunner Chris Chibnall’s writing and changes were not to my taste. He had said the next season will be better. We can only hope the next decade for Doctor Who will be as entertaining and varied as the 2010 decade.

   Below is my favorite scene of the series. It stars Matt Smith my favorite Doctor since Tom Baker (#4).

PERPETULAL GRACE LTD (EPIX, 2019) was a quirky, at times totally incomprehensible, story told in a way that reminded me of old independent films. There was a sadness to the characters and their actions that was often hilarious.

   It featured a cast of doomed losers, those who would do anything to survive, those who blindly believe in others, and those who sought redemption but believed they didn’t deserve saving. The writing, acting and direction drew the viewers into the addictive story. One word of warning the series ended with a taunting cliffhanger and there is still no word of a second season.

WESTWORLD: (HBO, 2016-present). What began as a good book by Michael Crichton about an amusement part with robots serving the fantasies of the human guests has lead to two movie adaptations and one TV mini-series. This latest attempt to adapt the story is by far the best. This version of WESTWORLD added the point of view of the AIs (robots) to explore what is life. It can be too clever for its own good, but I really am looking forward to the coming third season.


   Streaming services have come a long way since NETFLIX killed Blockbuster rentals and decided to take on Hollywood. Streaming offers subscribers hundreds of more choices, return of long forgotten favorites, life to networks cancelled series, shows from all over the world and originals that before never would have ever been produced. It has freed us from the chains of TV schedules. It has given us a different way to watch TV as the impatient viewer can watch at the speed they want – one episode or as many as they are in the mood to watch or the entire season at one sitting.

   Netflix’s original RUSSIAN DOLL (2019) is my favorite streaming program of the 2010’s decade. Nadia is trying to survive her 36th birthday but she keeps dying. Characters in time loops are nothing new but RUSSIAN DOLL is surprisingly original. One of the best comedies of the decade made better by the brilliant acting by Natasha Lyonne as broken, foul mouth and sympathetic Nadia.

           HONORABLE MENTION

ACCA: 13 – TERRITORY INSPECTION DEPARTMENT (Funimation). This Japanese anime aired in 2017. Based on a light novel, ACCA is a delightful slice of life spy story that still makes me smile. ACCA is the agency that oversees all of the Kingdom of Dowa’s thirteen separate but equal states. A rumor of a possible coup in the peaceful kingdom has Chief Investigator Jean Otis investigating each of the 13 states.

BROKENWOOD MYSTERY: (New Zealand Prime TV 2014, airs on Acorn in United States). This folksy traditional mystery from New Zealand feels like THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW if ANDY had been one of those slow moving cozy traditional mysteries set in an odd small town with likable but strange characters that the British do so well.

   Detective Sergeant Mike Shepherd (Neill Rea) leads Detective Kristin Sims (Fern Sutherland) and Detective Constable Sam Breen (Nic Sampson) as they solve challenging murders. The cast has a nice chemistry, the writing is witty and the characters are the type hard to find now a days – content, likeable and peaceful.

THE EXPANSE: (SYFY, 2015-18; AMAZON PRIME, 2019). SYFY produced some better than expected TV during the 2010s. The best was THE EXPANSE. Based on the books by James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) THE EXPANSE is set in a time when humans have populated the solar system – the three major groups are those from Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid belt.

   The production values and special effect were too expensive for Syfy so the show was dropped and picked up by Amazon Prime. Prime offers all four series ready to watch. The video I selected explains the appeal of the series without giving away spoilers.

QUEENS OF MYSTERY (check out my review here on this blog)

STEINS;GATE (Funimation, premiered in Japan in 2011). Based on a light novel the story begins with an over the top mad scientist but things grow more serious as he and his friends find a way to send notes through time. Below is a dub in English of the first episode.


   The decade of 2010 has offered some on the best TV series in the history of television, sadly too many of which were not seen by most of American TV viewers including me. Cinemax’s JETT most likely would have made this list if I had had the time to finish watching it. I am sure there have been TV series this decade that would have made this list if I had spent more time watching TV and less time sleeping and having a life.

   Taste and opinion guide favorite or best lists. It os important to remember the quality of the beef means nothing to a vegetarian. You might notice I have a bias against the popular mainstream entertainment and favor the different, neglected and the weird. Fortunately there is a comment section for you to correct me and name your own favorites.

THE SAINT “The Latin Touch.” ITV, UK, 60m, 11 October 1962 (Season 1, Episode 2). Black and white. First shown in the US in first-run syndication, dates unknown, then per Wikipedia, it was picked up by NBC as a summer replacement series in 1967 (in color). Roger Moore (Simon Templar, aka The Saint), Alexander Knox, Doris Nolan, Bill Nagy, Warren Mitchell, Peter Illing, Marie Burke, Suzan Farmer, Robert Easton. Screenplay: Gerald Kelsey and Dick Sharples, based on the character created by Leslie Charteris. Director: John Gilling.

   Wherever Simon Templar goes, he always seems to find someone in trouble to help. In this case, he’s in Rome wandering around the outside the ruins of the Coliseum, when he overhears a young woman arguing with an aggressively over-shady taxi driver about the amount he would like to overcharge her. Solving that problem quickly, he walks off with her, only to be slugged over the head and then waking up to discover she has been kidnapped.

   It turns out that she is the daughter of the governor of Indiana, who is in Rome with his wife on a combination of vacation and trade mission. It is not money the kidnappers want, however, but a reprieve of a deported Mafia boss’s brother about to executed back in the states. Templar, of course, offers to help the distraught parents, but time is not on their side.

   Besides the more than satisfactory performance of Roger Moore, who was still very youthful looking at this early stage of his career, Alexander Knox’s well-defined role as the worried father, caught in a serious bind — choosing between his daughter’s life against that of a hardened criminal — is of special note, as is that of Warren Mitchell as the street savvy cabdriver, the first of three such appearances. And with veteran director John Gilling at the helm, the 60 minutes of running time (less commercials) goes by very quickly.

   With that said, I should also point out the only flaw I saw: I was able to pick up on the final twist a lot faster than The Saint did. That shouldn’t have happened!


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


BECK. Sweden, beginning 1997. 10 seasons to date (not consecutive). Peter Haber, Mikael Persbrandt. Based on the characters created by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

   A few notes before going on with the review, the first being that much of the information on this series at IMDb is wrong. The series ran ten seasons (all available on Hulu), not six. (*) The 1997 series does not have the same cast as the one produced in 1993, and most of the episode descriptions are wildly wrong. It is not a series about “Martin Beck and his eccentric partner,” as IMDb suggests, and the story lines read as though they were written by someone with limited understanding of Swedish who didn’t have English subtitles. They sound like bad guessing based on badly translated TV Guide summaries.

   Based on the series of books by the husband and wife writing team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Beck follows a Stockholm based homicide squad in Sweden lead by Martin Beck (Peter Haber), a weary stodgy but gifted policeman with troubles at home, hypochondria, and resentment of the difficulty created by politics interfering with his investigations. Typically one of his detectives Lena Klingstrom (Stina Rautlein) formerly had an affair with and lived with Beck, but is now back on his team.

   His top investigator Gunvald Larsson is given to overuse of violence and questionable tactics, and something of an attractive oaf in the books, here played by Mikael Persbrandt (Swedish televisions spy series Hamilton) as the most attractive character in the series, whose brutal tactics usually work though he runs afoul of Internal Affairs fairly often. Gunvald is jealous of his position on the team, often rude, sexist, and would be a total ass if Persbrandt wasn’t such a good actor and the writers obviously enthralled by actor and character. As is, he brings much needed charisma to the series and an antidote to Haber’s Beck’s pained expressions and sad sack existence.

   As in the books the series is a police procedural, but beyond the name of the two main characters, once the second season passed, the episodes have little to do with Sjowall and Wahloo’s rather dark view of Sweden. (Wahloo was a Marxist -leaning journalist who weighs the books down a bit with his bleak view of his country and anything vaguely resembling Democracy.) A few episodes in the first two seasons reflect this, and Beck’s hypochondria emerges off and on over the course of the series, but the series presents a brightly lit colorful view of Sweden even when tackling serious issues (which it does well and regularly) like drugs, child abuse, government abuses, corporate crime, and the like.

   The wealthy and powerful don’t fare all that well, so some of Wahloo’s Marxist philosophy still slips through. By the by, I’m not being political, Wahloo was a well,known actual Marxist,leaning journalist highly critical of his homeland and the West. It’s how he was known before he began writing mystery novels. It’s not my opinion, it’s his own description of himself.

   And while true to the books, the series spends far too much time on Beck’s tiresomely painful private life. Rebecka Hemse has a recurring role as his combative single-mother daughter Inger who in the most recent season is secretly seeing Larsson, who is twelve years older than her. Beck is not happy when he finds out.

   Also filling out far too much of the time of the average 1 hour and 25 minute episode (many episodes were released as movies) is Beck’s annoying neighbor, or “Grannen” (Ingvar Hirdwall), who is not only eccentric, but insulting, casually racist, and boring as hell. Maybe I just don’t understand the Swedish sense of humor, but I clearly don’t get this guy who seems to have wandered in from a bad episode of Seinfeld.

   But aside from that character, the actors are good with Haber (not my idea of Beck at all) quite good, and Persbrandt far more charismatic than the books ever imagined Gunvald.

   Episodes are good, they just aren’t Martin Beck, at least not Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck. Some of them are very good though.

   “The Japanese Print” from the most recent season is a good example. Hans Sperbling is a grossly obese German policeman who has assisted Beck in Germany in the past; he’s pretty much Germany’s Beck. He has come to Stockholm quietly to bid at an art auction on a rare signed Shunga period erotic print, which he loses out to an attractive woman who identifies herself as an art agent and offers him first look at some Shunga prints and Marc Chagall prints she has in her room later that evening.

   When she doesn’t show up he goes upstairs at the hotel and finds her room open. He calls his friend Martin Beck and together they find her murdered, posed like a well known Chagall print “Woman on Bed of Roses”, and the prints gone.

   Gunvald doesn’t much trust his boss’s German friend, who despite Beck’s protests has to stay during the investigation. There are two more murders each a tableau mordant copying works of art.

   Meanwhile Beck’s grandson drops the bomb that Gunvald is dating Inger.

   The investigation leads to dealers who fix low prices at auctions illegally as well as a series of fake Chagall prints made from the original color lithographic stones that were supposed to have been destroyed. It turns out to be a multi million dollar scam and ends with Sperbling and Gunvald teamed in what works out to be a pretty good Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin vibe before going a bit melodramatic at the end with a wealthy mad collector and his armed henchmen.

   To be honest, the fat German and Gunvald are a more interesting team than Beck and Gunvald.

   The series shown on Hulu is subtitled, but this particular episode includes long sequences in English, and most episodes have some English language dialogue.

   Other than Beck’s neighbor and private life, the usual problems with series television apply. Far too many episodes end in gunfire, far too often the criminal is brought in out of thin air, and more often than is good for the series, the protagonists somehow manage to get “revenge” on the bad guy. Almost none of those problems were true to the books, which were often clever, and I suspect not to the 1993 episodes often based on the novels.

   Other than the climate, there is nothing very Swedish about the series. The plots are mostly clever and well done, acting good, and writing above average, but they could be set in any large Western capital in any country and any language, and you wouldn’t notice much of a change, a reminder that Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern played Beck and Gunvald in the Americanized film of The Laughing Policeman.

        —

(*) IMDB says six seasons, but lists episodes since 1997 with breaks of several years between episodes over the years, the last in 2018. Wikipedia has seven seasons, but Hulu lists the series as ten seasons as did MHv where the series was also shown. I would tend to suspect both IMDb and Wikipedia haven’t been updated since they were written.


DRAGNET “The Big Lift.” NBC, 22 September 1955 (Season 5 Episode 4). Jack Webb (Sgt. Joe Friday), Ben Alexander (Officer Frank Smith), Dan Barton, Marian Richman, Kurt Martell, Alan Harris. Opening narration: George Fenneman; closing narration: Hal Gibney. Screenplay: John Robinson. Producer-director: Jack Webb.

   All of the famous hallmarks of the series were well-established by the time this episode was televised, early in the fourth season: the opening theme (!), the voiceover narration introducing the program (“The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”), the terse almost clipped dialogue throughout the story itself, and the closing remarks (“In a moment, the results of that trial.”). All of these elements were probably there from the very first episode, back on December 14, 1951, since the series had been transferred lock stock and barrel from a highly successful radio series: Dragnet on the radio had begun earlier in 1949, running to 1955, with reruns broadcast for two more years.

   I’ve not watched many of the early episodes since the the first series was on the air, so I’m not sure how common one aspect of this one was: Comic interludes! Examples: Friday and Smith are working out of Burglary and are extremely frustrated in coming up any kind of clues for a series of 17 recent break-ins. Joe Friday and his partner are sitting in a diner trying to order breakfast while being ragged by the guy on the other side of the counter (not knowing they are cops) about how the burglar is running circles around the entire police force.

   The wife of a recently robbed couple, when asked if she’d seen anyone suspicious hanging around before the theft, goes into a quiet mini-rant about how housewives are far too busy to take notice of such things. When another good citizen reports seeing a strange car cruising back and forth in front of his house, he also provides Friday and Smith with a license plate number. Turns out the car was a police car.

   One thing I missed in this episode is seeing the faces of actors I knew only from their voices I’d heard on the radio. The cast in this one is very good, but I recognized neither their names nor their faces.

   One last thought. Not only the cast was good, but also the direction and the overall production. I wonder how much time was spent in rehearsal to get everything running so smoothly and the dialogue in sync.

ROADBLOCK. Pilot episode, 1958. MCA-TV/Revue. Later shown on (Heinz) Studio 57 as “Getaway Car,” 29 March 1958 (Season 4, Episode 19, in first-run syndication). Michael Connors, John McIntyre, Wallace Ford, Olan Soule, Irene James. Teleplay: Fredric Brady, based on the story “The Homesick Buick” by John D. MacDonald (EQMM, September 1950). Director: Earl Bellamy.

   The only clue the California cops have to catch a gang of bank robbers who made their getaway in separate automobiles is by cross-referencing the locations of the stations the radio of one of the cars was preset to. The driver himself is dead, with no ID on him, having been shot while driving away.

   I don’t get it. VIN’s have been around since 1954, and the car didn’t look older than that, but maybe it was. No matter. The rest of the case is based on faulty deductions, luck and pure guesswork. No wonder this pilot episode of a proposed new series, sort of a early precursor to CHiPs, went nowhere fast.

   A young Michael Connors plays a special motorcycle-riding state investigator in this one, young and very earnest. Most of the other roles are played by old-timers who could do short plays like this in their sleep.

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Note: Michael Shonk also reviewed this busted pilot a while ago on this blog. You can read his comments here.


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