TV mysteries


THE CHICAGO CODE. “Pilot.” Fox. 07 February 2011. Jason Clarke (Jarek Wysocki), Jennifer Beals (Teresa Colvin), Matt Lauria, Delroy Lindo. Director: Charles McDougall.

   Another short-lived series on Fox, The Chicago Code lasted 13 episodes before not being renewed for a another season. On the basis of the first episode, I think it deserved better, but if no one is watching, what can even the network execs do?

   As who I consider the star of the series, though, Jennifer Beals plays the Chicago Police Department’s first female superintendent, a token placement in that position by City Alderman Ronin Gibbons (a perfectly cast Delroy Lindo), who think he has a puppet he can manipulate to his liking whenever he wants. Not so. In fact, quite the opposite. Knowing he is a crooked as a snake and twice as deadly, she recruits a pair of other cops as a secret squad to bring him down.

   Which is about as far as this first episode goes, but it does its job in defiling all of the characters and what the stakes are exceedingly well. So far there does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary that might convince you or anyone else anyone to stay with it, but I found all of the characters both well defined and well played.

   The series does not seem to have ever come out on DVD, and the only streaming option I’ve come across is at an asking price of $1.99 a clip. For 13 episodes, that seems rather pricey for a series that once watched is gone, so as they say, we shall have to see.

   

DELLAVENTURA “Above Reproach.” CBS. 23 September 1997 (Season One, Episode One). Danny Aiello (Anthony Dellaventura), Ricky Aiello, Byron Keith Minns, Anne Ramsay. Guest Cast: Meg Gibson, Anthony Franciosa. Cameo: Rudolph Guiliani. Created by Richard Di Lello, Julian Neil and Bernard L. Nussbaumer. Director: Peter Levin.

   Anthony Dellaventura is a Manhattan-based PI who once worked for the police department but quit when he became fed up with internal politics and crooks getting off too easily. One of the D.A. he approves of, though, is Sarah Macalusso (Meg Gibson), who is scheduled to soon be sworn in as a municipal judge. A small problem has arisen, however. She was kidnapped overnight, drugged, and videotaped in shall we shall we say compromising positions.

   Even though Dellventura talks quietly, he’s also the kind of street guy who also talks tough, or that’s the premise of the show. I think he’s also the kind of guy who doesn’t think before making promises too quickly. There’s also no sense of real danger or suspense when he charges in without a plan other than confrontation and hoping for the best. He’s all brave braggadocio, but little more than that, and without a small gang of loyal assistants, I don’t think he’d get very far in the real world.

   The show is still mildly enjoyable, in a homespun sort of way, but overall, viewers seem to have agreed with me. Thirteen episodes and that was it for this short-lived PI series, now probably forgotten by everyone other than those involved. Incidentally, and for the record, Episode Two is titled “Pilot,” This wasn’t it.

HUSTLE “The Game Is On.” BBC One, UK. 24 February 2004 (Series One, Episode One). Adrian Lester, Marc Warren, Robert Glenister, Jaime Murray, Robert Vaughn. Creator-screenwriter: Tony Jordan. Director: Bharat Nalluri.

   Of the eight seasons this British TV series was on, only four have been released on DVD in the US. I recently caught up with the first episode when I saw that it was streaming online. Well worth the wait, I’d say, on one hand, but on the other, I have to ask myself, why did I wait so long?

   I have known what the basic premise was all along, of course. Every week it was on a gang of very experienced con artists pull off a long complicated scam on some unsuspecting victim. One crucial ingredient, or so I’m told, is that very often in each episode when it looks as though their plan is going to collapse, that’s when the real con takes over. It is difficult to imagine how many times the writers of this show can fool the viewer for eight seasons like this, but spread out over as many years, well, why not? Obviously they did it.

   In “The Game Is On,” not only do the basic members of the gang get together for “one last con,” but a new member of the team invites himself in, all the while playing on the greed of a victim who thinks he’s about to make a no-risk fortune on the stock market.

   The story is told in very obvious tongue in cheek, and it’s pleasure to see Robert Vaughn (the senior member of the group and the only member of the cast I recognized) play a role obviously meant for him. It is also very obvious that this is a series that I will be watching more of.

   

“FATHERS AND SONS.” An episode of Republic of Doyle, CBC, Canada. 06 Jan 2010. (Season One, Episode One). Allan Hawco (Jake Doyle), Sean McGinley (Malachy Doyle), Lynda Boyd, Rachel Wilson, Krystin Pellerin, Marthe Bernard. Creators and co-screenwriters: Allan Hawco, Perry Chafe & Malcolm MacRury. Director: Mike Clattenburg.

   You can’t tell the players without a scorecard. It’s a large ensemble cast, with already complicated history, even before this first episode begins. I’ll do my best in the next paragraph below, but as a first episode, it does the job quite well in terms of getting the viewers acquainted right away, or at least the screenwriters did.

   Jake and Malachy Doyle are a father and son PI team in, of all places, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador — or at least, I believe so; in spite of all of the picturesque scenery, I don’t remember the town being specifically stated. Their office manager is Malachy’s second wife, Rose, and Jake’s stepmother. Staying with them is Malachy’s granddaughter Katrina, or “Tinny,” and Jake’s niece.

   Jake is in the process of getting a divorce from his wife, Dr. Nikki Renholds, but he has an eye on Constable Leslie Bennett, who is in charge of the police end of the investigation. She tries to be aloof, but she is attracted in spite of herself (or so it appears). The would-be divorce is in jeopardy, however. As this episode ends, Constable Bennett had just let her hair down and is about to knock on Jake’s front door. On the inside, though, Jake and Nikki are busily taking off clothing and consorting with the “enemy.”

   There is as much comedy involved in Republic of Doyle as there is mystery, which has to do with a boyhood friend of Jake’s from being held for manslaughter, but he refuses to say anything on behalf of himself, even though his father has hired the Doyles on his behalf. It’s a good mix of comedy and drama, and I only wish the acting were better. The two male stars are fine, but both the two main suspects, both female, and Krystin Pellerin, as the very good-looking police constable, seem too young and inexperienced for their roles.

   But the season six has just ended (in December 2014), so there are a lot of episodes to watch, should I decide to, and I probably will. I would like to know, at the least, how the cliffhanger works out. (I suspect that she decides at the last second not to knock after all.)

   

   

ONE WEST WAIKIKI “Along Came a Spider.” CBS, 01 September 1994 (Season 1, Episode 5). Cheryl Ladd (Dawn ‘Holli’ Holliday M.E.), Richard Burgi (Detective Mack Wolfe). Created by Glen A. Larson, who also wrote this episode. Director: Jerry Thorpe.

   One West Waikiki had a short six-episode first season run on CBS, followed by a second season of 13 episodes shown in syndication. Starring was Cheryl Ladd as a hands-on medical examiner newly arrived in Hawaii from California who helps the police solve murders.

   And there two of them in “Along Came a Spider.” Both victims appear to have been natural deaths until relatives start prodding the police (and Holli) into investigating further. The problem is, in both cases, is that the deceased have already been cremated. It is up to Holli and the police, in the form of detective Mack Wolfe, to find a way around this “small” problem. Complicating matters is that Hollli’s former mentor is called in, and in spite of his boasts ahead of time, he finds nothing either.

   In spite of the beautiful sun and other scenery, I’d have enjoyed this one more if we the viewers hadn’t been shown the murders taking place. I’m not a big fan of inverted murders, and not even the beautiful Cheryl Ladd in the leading role can make me change my mind about that. I didn’t dislike this one, mind you. If the entire series were available on DVD, I’d love to have it.

   One other thing, though. This was episode five of the CBS run, and not only are Holli and Mack apparently just getting to know each other, but much is made of the fact that Holli is still only in her second week on the job. I have a feeling that maybe the guys in suits decided to put this one out of order.

   

   

THE GLADES “Pilot.” A&E, 11 July 2010. Matt Passmore (Jim Longworth), Kiele Sanchez, (Callie Cargill). Creator & screenwriter: Clifton Campbell. Director: Peter O’Fallon.

   I was obviously busy doing other things back in 2010 and the four years following. This series passed beneath my radar altogether, and based on this first episode, it’s a show that really should at least have known about. Not all of the fun mystery series that were on cable back then were on the USA network.

   Matt Passmore plays a former homicide detective who is trying for an easier life but working at the same kind of job in a small town in Florida. (It seems he was kicked out of Chicago for sleeping with his boss’s wife, but he claims he was the only one who was not sleeping with her.) He’s a cocky sort of guy who borders on being obnoxious about it. For the most part he stays on the right side of overly brash, unlike the fellow who played the lead role in Psych. (My opinion.)

   Based on this, the first episode, the other major player will be a nurse (played by Callie Cargill) who helps him get a “female perspective” on a case. There seems to be a romantic attraction between them, but she’s married with a young son and (as an interesting change of pace) a husband in prison. I don’t know where that is going to go.

   Found dead in this pilot episode is a woman found ina swamp with no head. She has been in the water to be easily identified, and most of Longworth’s time is spent on trying to find out who she is, much less find her killer. There’s a nice twist in the tale toward the end, but most of the appeal to this show seems to suggest that its appeal will be with the characters, with the detective work coming in a reasonably close second.

   

TIME OF DEATH. TV Movie. Incendo, Canada, 2013. Kathleen Robertson, Gianpaolo Venuta, Sarah Power, Link Baker, Daniel Fathers. Director: Frédéric D’Amours. Currently streaming on Amazon.

   I went looking, but I’ve not found out much of anything about the production company behind this, other than it was a Canadian project and it was made for television. As far as IMDb is concerned, Canada might just as well be a foreign country.

   It’s one of those films that captures your attention for about 2/3 of the way through before verging off into a rather disappointing rest of the way. How it begins is as a detective story, then… well, I’ll get back to that. When the head of a tech company is murdered late at night, the Department of Defense sends an FBI agent to investigate. I’m not too clear on the details here, and writing down what I think happened, it’s even less clear, but when the agent is as good-looking as icy blonde Kathleen Robertson is, you are a little more forgiving about certain vageries of the story line.

   Which is what I think the producers of the film had in mind during their casting sessions. In any case she is (mis)matched up with a young cop on the local police force (Gianpaolo Venuta) who has been on the job for only two weeks. Sigh. Why do things like this happen to me, she thinks. They turn out to be a good pair, however, and the early part of the story they do a goodly amount of fine detective work together, as other high-ranking members of the firm are also killed, one by one, and always at the same time: 10:44.

   The detective business comes to an abrupt end, though, when the killer, feeling closed in upon, reveals him- or herself, and the rest of the movie takes on the guise of a less than ordinary thriller flick, as the pair try to stop the killer before he or she strikes again. Oh, well. It was a nice try until then.

   The movie is made with some style, though and Robertson and Venuta seem to have had a good time working together. The former even makes up with the latter’s superior officer who foisted him off on her. I suspect that the makers of this movie had a followup series in mind. It didn’t happen, but it could have.

   

SUSPENSE ‘The Crooked Frame.” CBS, 30m. 29 July 1952. (Season 4, Episode 45). Richard Kiley, Neva Patterson, Dean Harens, Lois Wheeler. Screenplay: Mel Goldberg, loosely based on the novel by William P. McGivern. Director: Robert Mulligan.

   The relationship between the book and the TV adaptation is minimal, but you can hardly expect more when the screenplay has to be crammed into a 30 minutes time slot, less commercials. Here’s the resemblance. The book takes place in the editorial offices of a magazine; the tv show takes place in that of a small comic books company. I grant you that. Better visuals.

   It’s been a while since I’ve read the book, so I’ll concentrate on the TV show, but my sense is that the last line of the previous paragraph is as close as it gets. When the episode begins, the office is in an uproar. The creator of the comic strip “Sally Forth” has derided to quit, and if she follows through, the company has nothing as big (or profitable) to fall back on, and chances are they will have to close up shop for good.

   One of the writers (Richard Kiley) goes to see her that night, they quarrel, he blacks out, and of in the morning her body is found dead. Luckily the lady was not so very nice, and there are other suspects. The 30 minutes go by very quickly, the acting and directly are perfectly fine, but the show is clearly a small scale production, and at this late date, little more than a curio from the past. William P. McGivern was a very good writer, in a strong noirish vein. I hope he got paid well for the use of his story, but somehow I don’t think it was all that much, even at the time.

PostScript: Fifteen or so years later, comic book artist Wally Wood also came up with a “Sally Forth” comic strip. I don’t think there’s any connection, but you never know.

MURDER CITY “The Critical Path.” ITV/Granada Television, 18 March 2004 (Season 1, Episode 1). Amanda Donohoe (DI Susan Alembic), Kris Marshall (DS Luke Stone), and a large ensemble cast. Guest Cast: Mac McDonald, Stephen Martin Walters. Writer: Robert Murphy. Director: Sam Miller.

   The large ensemble cast consists of a group of actors playing various members of a homicide squad in a single station based somewhere in London. I have read that many of these players take turns having leading roles as the series went on (it lasted for two seasons and a total of ten episodes), but for the most part it the the mismatched couple of Detective Inspectors Susan Alembic and Luke Stone who were most commonly paired off, as it is in “The Critical Path,” the pilot episode.

   Susan is in charge of one case, that of a missing teen-aged girl, with the assistance of a self-described psychic magnificently cast heavy set Mac McDonald, who steals the show with his innocent but craggy expressive face. That he seems to have knowledge of the case he could not really have disgusts Luke Stone no end – he being a detective who builds his cases on facts, not ESP or worse.

   Which comes into play on his own case, very much a counterpoint to Susan Alembic’s. A man is shot and killed by an arrow in an all but deserted office building in which the surveillance cameras are all working but show absolutely no sign of anyone entering or moving throughout the building. Stone has a suspect, a egotistical man who simply dares Stone to find out how he did it.

   I do not know if the contrasts in techniques and procedures will continue through the rest of the series, but I’ll be watching to find out. I enjoyed this one. It helps considerably when all of the actors are as top notch as they are in this very first episode.

   

77 SUNSET STRIP “Girl on the Run” ABC, 10 October 1958 (Season 1, Episode 1). Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Stuart Bailey). Guest Cast: Erin O’Brien, Shepperd Strudwick, Edward Byrnes, Barton MacLane, Ray Teal. Screenplay by Marion Hargrove, based on a story by Roy Huggins. Director: Richard L. Bare.

   There none of the trappings you usually think about whenever you think of 77 Sunset Strip, the series, in this the very first episode, the flashy sights of Hollywood, the joint practice of two or more PI’s working out of the same office, the car jockey who was always combing his hair and giving with the jive. It is generally accepted as fact that this, the pilot, was filmed and shown theatrically (somewhere in the Caribbean) before the series started with one nefarious purpose in mind. To swindle credit from writer Roy Huggins by claiming that the series was based on the film, not on any of his books or stories.

   As a ploy, it worked. Roy Huggins lost his suit and left the series, and never worked for Warners again. (I’m not absolutely certain about that last statement; Hollywood in many ways is much like politics, or so I’m told.)

   In any case, PI Stu Bailey is on his own in this one, with no connection with Hollywood, and Sunset Strip in particular. He’s hired by a client to find his missing fiancée, but what he doesn’t know, but we the viewer do, is that the girl in question is a witness to a shooting who went on the run when she quickly learns that as a police witness, her life is in immediate danger.

   It doesn’t take Bailey long to learn that he’s been taken, but not before the killer (well, of course that’s who Bailey’s client is) has hired a gun man (Edd Byrnes) to follow him and kill the girl. It is up to Bailey to foil the plot, along with the help of both a friendly cop and and an equally helpful union leader.

   Edd Byrnes proved so popular as the killer for hire that the producers wiped the first episode completely out of continuity and wrote Byrnes in as teen favorite “Kookie” Kookson, parking attendant and wannabe PI working next door to the office on the Strip that Bailey quickly found himself sharing with Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith) for most of the rest of the series.

   Looking back today, based on this first episode, it is not easy to see what the fuss was all about, except for Byrnes’ eye catching performance. As PI stories go, there is nothing especially new about “Girl on the Run.” With Stu Bailey as a lone wolf PI who finds himself falling in love with the girl he is helping, he’s just one of hundreds just like him.

   I can also only wish that as an established PI (note how impeccably dressed he always is), he’d have done his job right and checked a little more into the background of the guy who hired him. But of course if he had, there’d not have been much of a story at all, would there?

Next Page »