TV Drama


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE FUGITIVE “The Other Side of the Mountain.” ABC, 01 October 1963 (Season 1, Episode 3). David Janssen. Guest Cast: Sandy Dennis, Frank Sutton, Ruth White. R.G. Armstrong, Barry Morse, Bruce Dern. Narrator: William Conrad. Screenwriters: Alan Caillou & Harry Kronman. Director: James Sheldon.

   A few nights ago, I watched “The Other Side of the Mountain,” a season one episode of The Fugitive. In this episode, Richard Kimble aka The Fugitive (David Janssen) runs afoul of the local authorities in a dying West Virginia coal mining town. The sheriff is portrayed by R.G. Armstrong, while his deputy is played by a youthful Bruce Dern who, as of the time, had not yet appeared on the big screen. The episode is a fairly strong one, bolstered by the presence of stage actress Sandy Dennis, who plays a local girl who provides sanctuary to Kimball. She also, not surprisingly, falls in love with him and all but begs him to take her with him.

   I enjoyed the episode quite a bit. Seeing Dern as a smarmy lawman eager to pick a fight with Kimble was something else. Dern, unlike Armstrong, Dennis, and two others, was not given guest star status. He really was a supporting TV character looking for bit parts at the time.

   Fast forward six years. Or, in my case, one day. And I sit down for an episode of Lancer (“A Person Unknown”), the CBS oater recently brought back into public consciousness for its “appearance” in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). In this episode, Johnny Madrid Lancer (James Stacy) runs afoul of a powerful man and his son. He not only is wounded in a fight. But is falsely accused of murdering his Mexican friend. A crime he did not commit. As it turns out, the injured Johnny has to hide out in an out of the way farmhouse in which he is provided succor by a young girl (Quentin Dean in her final acting role). Sound somewhat familiar?

   One more thing you should know. The person hot on his trail, the very same person who is the real murderer is portrayed by none other than Bruce Dern. One could not help but compared Dern’s performance in the 1963 episode of The Fugitive with that from this Lancer episode from 1969. Dern had, by this point, definitely come into his own as an actor. Here he had all but perfected the sneering, quasi-psychotic villainy that was so disturbingly effective in The Cycle Savages (1969) which I reviewed here.

   His scenes with Quentin Dean, who had appeared with Charlton Heston in Tom Gries’s excellent Will Penny (1967) which I reviewed here are just as effective as his first scene in which he taunts Johnny’s Mexican friend before killing him. All told, it’s a solid episode from a Western TV series that did not last very long, but benefited immensely from having some of the best character actors from its era as guest stars.
   

NOTE: Dern makes his first appearance in the video above at roughly the 7:00 mark.

   

ROUTE 66. “Black November.” CBS, 60m, 07 Oct 1960 (Season 1, Episode 1). Martin Milner (Tod Stiles), George Maharis (Buz Murdock). Guest Cast: Everett Sloane, Patty McCormack, Keir Dullea, Whit Bissell, George Kennedy. Musical theme: Nelson Riddle. Screenwriter: Stirling Silliphant. Director: Philip Leacock. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   Chronicling the adventures of two roving buddies making their way across the width and breath of the United States, this was arguably the iconic TV shows of the early 1960s. Of its kind, while I personally missed it entirely, it was certainly the most successful. I was off in college at the time, and I think I had time to watch television at most two or three, with the choice limited to one TV channel.

   I knew about it, of course, even without access to our family’s subscription to TV Guide, which I was addicted to all though high school. (Who in the early 60s did not?) So when I learned that Amazon Prime was streaming it free to subscribers, I thought it high past time to catch up on a serious lack in my cultural heritage.

   I’m glad I did. This first episode’s a good one. The two buddies with a brand new car and two pair of restless feet to drive it find themselves in quite a predicament – at one time with ropes around their necks waiting to be lynched. This is not anything the Mississippi Tourist Bureau would want anyone to see! I suppose that in 1960, backward places such as the small town of Garth might exist, just like the most secluded rural parts of England, where strangers never come, and when they do, they are looked on by residents as Demons from Hell.

   One man rules the town with a iron thumb, and his name is Garth (Everett Sloane). The town also has a secret, but absolutely no one will talk about it. The daughter (Patty McCormack) of the local storekeeper is the only one who offers them a timid, shy smile. Everyone else has dark sullen faces, constantly staring at the pair with dark hostility. There is also, of all things, but it fits in perfectly, a creepy scene in which the townsfolk storm the grocery store with torches blazing away in the darkness.

   As the pilot episode, this certainly is an effective one. It starts, however, after they’ve already been on the road for a while, and it’s only in their conversation that we get hints of who they are and what set them on their way. If you are puzzled why they were heading for Biloxi before they got lost, a town nowhere near Route 66, I have often wondered that about the series myself. They ended up all over the US during the four years the program was on the air. I have finally assumed that the cross-country Route 66 was only a metaphor for anyone traveling here and there at whim and will, with no particular destination in mind.

OZARK  “Sugarwood,” Netflix, 21 July 2017. Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Esai Morales. Director: Jason Bateman.

   As a pilot for this series that’s now in its third season on Netflix, it does its job exceedingly well. Due to some serious lapses on the part of his fellow members in a plan to skim off a potion of the profits in a money-laundering scheme they are working on for a Mexican drug cartel, Marty Byrde, his wife and two children must pack up their bags overnight and leave Chicago behind so he can start anew in the area around the Lake of the Ozarks.

   I did not know that the shoreline of the lake is longer than hat of the entire state of California, did you? With tourists and other visitors from all over the world, it seems as though the area wold be a great spot to start business up again, or so Byrde manages to convince Camino “Del” Del Rio (Esai Morales) in a desperate attempt to save his life.

   It takes the full hour to set up the premise. It is assumed that things are Not Going to Go Well. Other than that, though, there is, however, no indication of where the story line will go from here. In fact I should not even pretend that I am reviewing the series at all, based on this first episode, which is well enough done that watching the second one is a must before passing judgment, so I won’t.

   I will say this, however. I found nothing interesting to say so far about the newly exiled father, who as a crook and not a very good one at that, is very nearly a cipher, even at episode’s end; nor his wife, who has been cheating on him; nor his daughter, a whiny teen-aged girl; nor his nebbish younger son.

   No, the standout at this point is Esai Morales, a loyal lieutenant in the drug cartel and a man who knows his job and does it well. He also knows the answer to the question he poses to Byrde and his associates when he first finds them out: If a loyal female clerk in a family business for many years is found taking the cash from the till, should she be fired, or should she be forgiven?

   I knew the answer, the crime boss knows, and by the end of this first episode, Marty Byrde has figured it out as well.

   

WIR£D “The Beginning.” ITV, UK, 13 October 2008. 60m. Part one of a three-part mini-series. Jodie Whittaker, Laurence Fox, Toby Stephens. Screenplay: Kate Brooke. Director: Kenny Gleenan.

   A single mother (Louise Evans, played to perfection by Jodie Whittaker) who has just been promoted at the bank where she works is surprised to learn that her new position was not earned on her own resume and what’s worse, it comes with some very nasty strings attached. It seems that she has a back story involving criminal activity she doesn’t want known now, but it engenders a little blackmail and a threat to her young girl, either of which on their own are enough incentive for her to comply when she’s asked to do a “favor” to he crummy boy friend (Laurence Fox) of a lady “friend” she has at work.

   The favor seems minor, but what do I know about banking? Enough to know that she’s up to her ears in deep stuff. There is already an undercover police officer (Toby Stephens) snooping around, threatening audits. Episode one is just the set up. Yet to come are two more episodes: “The Middle” and “The End.”

   As is often the case these days, it is the heroine of the tale that receives the most attention, but Jody Whitaker, the future Doctor Who, is more than up to the task. Which is not to suggest that the rest of the cast, most of whom I’ve left uncredited above, is not doing their job too. Somehow the British seem to do short series such as this a quantum level higher than most of those in the US. This is one series I know I’ll finish.

      

THE GOOD WIFE “Pilot.” 22 September 2009. Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Christine Baranski, Archie Panjabi, Matt Czuchry. Guest Cast: Katie Walder. Created and written by Robert King) & Michelle King. Director: Charles McDougall.

   I remember when the series started and I thought it sounded interesting — but not interesting enough for it to last more than the usual three months or so that new shows are almost always gone by. Why invest any time in it, when it will history by Christmas?

   It was on for seven years.

   You were probably way ahead of me. You also probably know the premise of the show. Just in case not, however, it begins with a scene seen all too often in this country. A man, a former State’s Attorney in Illinois, has been forced to resign because of corruption and a sex scandal. His wife, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) is forced to stand on the stage next to hm as he apologizes but promises to keep fighting the charges.

   Six months later, Alicia, forced to go out and work for a living, is the new lady hiree at a prestigious law firm. Her first case is a pro bono one: a young woman is accused of shooting and killing her ex-husband in a parking garage. She claims that it was done by someone in a drive-by pickup truck, but neither the security guard nor a surveillance camera saw or shows such a truck anywhere in the vicinity.

   An impossible crime, in a way, except that the ex-wife was there, and the police have no interest in pursuing their investigation any further.

   Truthfully I liked the mystery more than I did the background story, and apparently (from looking at the plot lines on Wikipedia) the background story goes on and on through the whole run, almost soap opera style, except that it was done with a lot more production values and style.

   Which is not to put down soap operas. The people who work on them do yeoman work, under tough conditions, lower budgets and awfully tight time constraints.

   As for The Good Wife, I’m enough intrigued that I’ll watch another episode or so, but I can’t imagine, now that I’m so far behind, that I’ll ever find the time to go the whole seven yards. How far I go, I think will depend on whether the next few episodes have completed stories or not, as well as the ongoing drama.

THE SCAPEGOAT. ITV, UK, 09 September 2012. Made for TV movie. Matthew Rhys, Eileen Atkins, Alice Orr-Ewing, Andrew Scott, heridan Smith, Jodhi May, Eloise Webb, Sylvie Testud, Pip Torrens, Phoebe Nicholls. Based on the novel by Dapne du Maurier. Written and directed by Charles Sturridge. Previous filmed in 1959, starring Alec Guinness.

   You have to watch this one with a serious sense of willing disbelief, but if you can, you will enjoy this one as much as I did. Two men, one a schoolmaster who’s just been let go, and another who is outwardly a man of some wealth and power, discover that they are exact lookalikes. So much so, that the latter of the two swaps clothes and belongings, and heads out to parts unknown.

   Leaving the former no choice but to take the other’s place, complete withe family mansion, wife and daughter, a bedridden mother, a younger brother and sister, the brother’s wife (who he has been dallying with), a mistress (who he has obviously also been dallying with) and the usual assortment of servants.

   Not one of them notices that he is not he, if you see what I mean, even though he is at an obvious disadvantage. He doesn’t know any of them, no the house, the room, his responsibilities as the male head of the family. He catches on very quickly, though, even faster than I would — or in fact, faster than I did.

   What’s also remarkable he comes to care, if not love, all of them, and he soon settles in to handle their affairs for them far better than the man he is posing as ever did. Set at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, this is a film filled with not only fine acting, but charm and heart. (The ending , I am told, differs from that of the book. If so, I think the ending of the movie is better.)

   There is a small but crucial bit of a murder plot involved as well. When the absentee owner of the house sneaks back in and sees how well his imposter has worked his way into his home, he decides to take advantage of it in a most deadly fashion, a plot however, that is most capably foiled.


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.

GOLIATH “Of Mice and Men.” Amazon Prime, streaming. 14 October 2016 (Season 1, episode 1). Billy Bob Thornton, William Hurt, Maria Bello, Nina Arianda and a large additional ensemble cast. Creators: David E. Kelley & Jonathan Shapiro. Director: Lawrence Trilling.

   One of the unexpected benefits of obtaining my first Kindle and finding out how to use it was accidentally signing up for Amazon Prime. Since the first 30 days are free, I decided why not and started looking around to see what TV series might be available.

   I don’t know why I happened to pick this one, but I’ve just watched the first episode on my large screen computer monitor (I have an even large TV screen, but it’s a smart TV, and it’s way smarter than I am), and all in all it was a good choice. Good enough that I’m planning on finishing up the story, another seven episodes. I reserve the right to bail out, though, if the story line goes off in directions too funky for me to stay with it.

   Which, on the basis of one episode, I don’t think it will. There’s nothing basically new in what I’ve seen already. A burned out lawyer named Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton), and I mean down and out, is reduced to piddling jobs that he couldn’t care less about, but when he’s offered one that might give him a chance to get back at his old firm, he jumps at it.

   A death at sea has been chalked up to suicide — by a man blowing up both himself and the boat he’s borrowed in an explosive fireball of flame — may be the key to his revenge. The man’s wife has already settled with the insurance company, but his sister. now two years later, still thinks there’s something that needs explaining.

   Complicating matters is that Billy’s ex-wife is high in the hierarchy at the law firm involved, the same law firm that still has his name on the door. There are several other characters involved, including, in no particular order, Billy’s daughter; a lady co-partner in the lawsuit he initiates who is basically a real agent in the Valley; and a legal assistant who is basically a hooker who owes Billy Bob a favor; and so on.

   Enough threads, in other words, to keep the story going for the full season, and then some, but here are a couple of things that annoyed me. The prologue is poorly done. That there were two boats, not just one, out on the water when the explosion happened was not at all clear — one that blew up, the other with two witnesses.

   And while I’m no expert on what it is that women see in men, and while perhaps some women may succumb quickly to the attractive features of whoever Billy Bob Thornton may play, I found the possibility that Billy and his new client hop into bed together, no more than ten minutes of their first meeting, rather far-fetched.

   Otherwise, at this point of my viewing status, all is OK. The first episode ends with Billy is a local jail, imprisoned on trumped-up charges of some totally bogus driving protocol. That this happens on the first day he is to be in court does not seem to be coincidental. But from here, as they say, to be continued.


THE MOB DOCTOR “Pilot.” Fox, 60m, 17 September 2012. Season 1, Episode 1. Jordana Spiro (Dr. Grace Devlin), William Forsythe, James Carpinello, Zach Gilford, Zeljko Ivanek, Floriana Lima, Jaime Lee Kirchner. Created by Josh Berman and Rob Wright , based on the book Il Dottore: The Double Life of a Mafia Doctor by Ron Felber. Director: Michael Dinner.

   As the pilot for the series which lasted less than half a season on Fox (13 episode, 17 September 2012 to 7 January 2013), this first episde works exceedingly well. It doesn’t hurt, though, that premise can be explained in one sentence: To keep her brother from being offed by the local Chicago mob, an extremely competent surgeon, Dr. Grace Devlin, has agreed to do their wished anytime the need comes up.

   There are other sub-stories in this first episode, but the major one, the one that will catch the average viewer’s attention right away, is that she is ordered to let a would-be witness in an upcoming trial die in the operation room. Well, I consider myself an average viewer and it certainly caught my attention.

   It is a dilemma, of course, and it has Grace sweating out how she’s going to get out of the spot she’s in all the way through. It comes out more or less OK, but there is also a twist in the tale that I didn’t see coming, one designed to keep all of us average viewers coming back next week.

   It helps that Jordana Spiro is not a knockout model type. In fact she is suitably harried throughout this entire episode. If she had been wearing the latest slinky dresses and high-heeled shoes, no one would believed it for a minute.

   Where the series is going, besides more of the same, I have no idea, but until it begins to repeat itself one time too many, I’ll keep watching.



BOSTON LEGAL “Head Cases.” ABC, 60 min. Season 1, Episode 1. 03 October 2004. James Spader (Alan Shore), William Shatner (Denny Crane), Rhona Mitra, Lake Bell, Mark Valley, Rene Auberjonois, Monica Potter. Created by David E. Kelley. Director: Bill D’Elia.

   William Shatner will be known for now and forever as Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise, but I think that totally irreverent hotshot Boston lawyer Denny Crane is the role he was always meant to play. His view of things is that he’s still at the top of his game, but in this first episode of Boston Legal, his underlings and associates are beginning to wonder if he’s still up to the job.

   This series had a large ensemble cast, and since some of the players came over from a preceding series called The Practice, which I never saw (and in fact this is the first time I’ve seen an episode of this series), it took me a while to put together who was who and what connection they may have to each other.

   There are a quite a few cases the firm is working on as well, beginning with the head of the local office coming to a staff meeting sans pants (nor undershorts) and being carried away strapped down in a stretcher. The two major ones are (1) a major client of the firm demanding that a PI be hired to follow his wife. Denny refuses, for good reason. He’s the one who’s sleeping with the wife. And (2) the mother of a young black girl wants to sue a theatrical company for not choosing her to play the part of Annie.

   James Spader is the first name in the cast listing, but it took me until I’d seen the second episode, not otherwise reviewed here, to understand how essential he is to the show’s chemistry. His unflappable refusal to ever be outwitted in a battle of words, in the office as well as in the courtroom, is a wonder to behold.

   By the way, I consider this a comedy, an extremely sophisticated one, but if you were to have been watching me watch this show and listening to me laugh out loud several times, and smile all of the rest of the time, you would know exactly what I mean. I also do not know how true this is in the real world, but not only are all of the women in this series knockout attractive, they’re wonderful actors too.

   It looks like I may be watching this series several nights a week for some time to come.


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