TV mysteries


       This is music that speaks for itself:

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:


MURDER MYSTERY. Netflix, 2019. Running time: 97 minutes. Cast: Adam Sandler (Nick Spitz), Jennifer Aniston (Audrey Spitz), Luke Evans (Charles Cavendish), Terence Stamp (Malcolm Quince), Gemma Arterton (Grace Ballard), David Walliams (Tobey Quince), Dany Boon (Inspector de la Croix). Producers: 19 of them. Writer: James Vanderbilt. Director: Kyle Newacheck.

   It probably looked good on paper, but this production is a misfire from the get-go. You know that right away when the most capable actor on screen (Terence Stamp) gets “murdered” five minutes after he shows up.

   We can appreciate the fact that it’s an attempt to recapture the screen chemistry of Nick and Nora or Mr. and Mrs. North, but it just doesn’t work with these two leads. We found ourselves sitting there urging potty-mouthed “comedian” Adam Sandler to do something worthwhile (“If you can’t be coherent, at least make us laugh.”), but the moment never came. We found Jennifer Aniston’s character far more engaging, but it’s nowhere near enough to save this mess.

   If you’ve got an hour and a half to kill and you don’t give a rat’s navel how you do it, then this may be the movie for you. To be frank, we think Murder Mystery could possibly be the nail in the coffin for romantic comedy mysteries for some time to come. If there are plans for a follow-up to this one, our advice is “Don’t even try it!”


REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:


MONK. “Mr. Monk and the 12th Man.” Season 2, episode 9 (22nd of 125). First broadcast: August 22, 2003. Cast: Tony Shalhoub (Adrian Monk), Bitty Schram (Sharona Fleming), Jason Gray-Stanford (Lieutenant Randy Disher), Ted Levine (Captain Stottlemeyer), Jerry Levine (Kenny Shale), Ed Marinaro (Stewart Babcock), Billy Gardell (Ian Agnew), Lauren Tom (Mrs. Ling), David Figlioli (Tommy Zimm), Jimmy Shubert (Frank Pulaski), Deborah Zoe (Lisa Babcock). Writing staff: Andy Breckman (creator), Michael Angeli (writer), David Breckman (executive story editor), Daniel Dratch (story editor), Hy Conrad (staff writer). Director: Michael Zinberg.

   There have already been nine apparently unrelated murders in the San Francisco Bay area by the time a toll booth attendant is brutally dragged to death along 7/10ths of a mile of paved highway behind a sports car. The police, as is often the case in these shows, don’t have a clue, since there is no known connection among the victims. Captain Stottlemeyer talks with Monk, the department’s unofficial consultant:

    “Any connection?” asks Monk.

    “No, no connections at all. I mean, four have been men, five women. All different ages—Latino, black, white.”

    “And the M.O.s?”

    “All different. There’s been a couple of shootings—all different weapons, a hit-and-run, a drowning, an electrocution. It’s . . . it’s like a full moon every night.”

    “And you’re sure,” says Monk, “that the cases have absolutely nothing in common?”

    “Well, they have one thing in common, Monk: we can’t solve them. I swear, there’s something in the water here.”

    … but the water, unfortunately, isn’t to blame.

   According to Monk, the more he thinks about it the more he sees how all of the victims do have one thing in common: “Captain, this is a very diverse group,” one that’s “too diverse.” “I’m talking statistics,” he says. “You’d have to work hard, really hard, to find a group this different.” Finding a common denominator in a series of crimes can be one of the first steps in discovering a hidden motive, and once you know the motive you’re well on your way to finding the killer(s) . . .

   Normally we’re not too fond of serial killer stories, but this one is, thankfully, low on grue and high on plot. As in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, understanding the “why” is essential to arriving at the “who,” and this episode of Monk is a worthy successor to Dame Agatha’s classic story (there’s even an echo of it in “12th Man,” a murder in a darkened theater).

   A few years ago Curt Evans had a Mystery*File article about Seasons 1-4 of Monk (here), in which he wrote: “Season two, on the other hand, seems to me nearly flawless. The ingenuity of the mystery plots often is quite remarkable, in my view, for forty-five minute television shows.”

   We agree; the cleverness of the second season shows (and “12th Man” is one of them) was so good that the series never came as close to being that smart again. “Mr. Monk and the Missing Granny” earns high marks for cleverly obscuring the motive; “Mr. Monk Goes to the Circus” excels at exploding the impossible alibi; and “Mr. Monk and the Sleeping Suspect” takes exploding impossible alibis to stratospheric heights (those ketchup bottles—brilliant!)

   Indeed, for a long time we regarded “Sleeping Suspect” as the acme of Monk, but watching it again we’ve noticed how some of the events are throwaways not closely relating to the central story line, vignettes which are in there more for character development than driving the plot — and, we hasten to add, there’s nothing wrong with that, if done in moderation.

   The principal virtue of “12th Man,” on the other hand, is how everything — and we mean EVERYTHING — dovetails with the plot. Such apparently irrelevant elements as Sharona’s hot and heavy romance with a mayoral candidate, a man with a pipe in his head, a finger in a freezer, the outcome of a court case, and Mrs. Ling’s headaches with Monk’s dry cleaning actually serve the plot as well as being comic moments in their own right. Nothing in “12th Man” is wasted; it all fits, which is something so few dramatic mystery presentations can boast.

   Recognizing how well the various plot elements meshed (or so we’d like to imagine), the MWA nominated “12th Man” for a Major Award (as well as another Monk episode), putting us in agreement with them, for once; even so, it lost. (The winner, as it turned out, was an installment of The Practice. Nice going, MWA!)

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:


MY LIFE IS MURDER. TV series produced by Network 10, Melbourne, Australia. One-hour episodes, starting 17 July 2019. Cast: Lucy Lawless as Alexa Crowe; Bernard Curry as Detective-Inspector Kieran Hussey; Ebony Vagulans as Madison Feliciano; Alex Andreas as George Strathopoulos, the owner of Baristas Café; Dilruk Jayasinha as Dr. Suresh; and Todd River & Elliot Loney as Captain Thunderbolt, Alexa’s pet cat. Producer: Elisa Argenzio; Lucy Lawless, executive producer.

   The cleverest thing about this new detective series is how they integrate the show’s title card into the location shots of photogenic Melbourne; it goes without saying that the most attractive thing about it is Lucy Lawless, formerly a long-haired brunette warrior princess turned short-coiffed blonde; but the least appealing part of the show is the tired plots, too many of which have been done to death.

   Only the backgrounds, the everyday world inhabited by the characters in front of which the series takes place, have anything new about them. And “cozy” is the word here, with the violence content barely moving the meter — but at least the cat doesn’t try to solve the crimes.

   The first episode of ten, “The Boyfriend Experience,” has a young woman dying from a great fall being investigated by Alexa, an ex-cop, at the request of D-I Kieran, who thinks a male prostitute is responsible; the trouble is, the closer she gets to this guy the less she thinks he might be the killer.

   The second show, “The Locked Room,” has an executive being murdered in a locked hotel room. To solve that conundrum Alexa must first establish a motive, but her prime suspects all alibi each other. The locked-room gimmick is far from ingenious, but we’re thinking it just might work.

   Episode three, “Lividity in Lycra,” has Alexa giving up jogging temporarily and taking up endurance bike riding because the victim, while cycling up a mountain, has died of dual traumas in what looks like a heart attack followed by cracking his skull in falling to the pavement; Alexa’s pretty sure she knows who did it, but the problem is determining how, with GPS coming to the rescue.

   The fourth show, “Can’t Stand the Heat,” has Alexa going under cover as a student in a cooking school looking for who might have murdered an aspiring chef.

   In this one, Alexa loses a lot more blood just trying to prepare food than from any bad guys that she’s encountered so far (her bandages, at least, match her outfits). The head chef is hardly a help, being a female version of that “Hell’s Kitchen” guy, complete with high-pressure demeanor and multiple f-bombs.

   One more thing. The character of Ebony Vagulans, Alexa’s Internet cyber-whizkid, undergoes a radical and unexplained attitude change going from the first two episodes, where Alexa could barely get her to do anything, to begging for Alexa’s next assignment — but, with those thick, rapid-fire Aussie accents, maybe we missed something.


   The TV series Johnny Staccato lasted for one season on NBC between September 10, 1959 and March 24, 1960. It starred John Cassavetes as the title character, a jazz pianist who doubled as a private detective in his off hours. Elmer Bernstein was the composer of the music heard below:



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.


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