TV Espionage & Spies


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE “The Frame,” CBS, 21 January 1967 (Season 1, Episode 17). Steven Hill, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Martin Landau. Guest Cast: Simon Oakland, Arthur Batanides, Joe Maross, Joe De Santis. Currently streaming on Paramount Plus.

   After seemingly endless episodes in which the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) rescued Eastern Bloc scientists from behind the Iron Curtain or stopped communist insurgencies in Latin America, it was refreshing to watch an episode of Mission: Impossible‘s season one that didn’t involve international intrigue whatsoever.

   In “The Frame,” Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) and his team aim to stop Jack Wellman, a syndicate boss who has moved beyond racketeering and into the business of assassinating American politicians. And who might that boss be portrayed by, you ask? None other than veteran tough guy character actor Simon Oakland. Many people will remember him primarily as irascible newspaper editor Tony Vincenzo in Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75). But he also appeared in television shows such as Bonanza, Rawhide, and Hawaii Five-O as well as in numerous crime films and westerns.

   I’ve always been a fan of his work. Oakland, with a loud voice and commiserate imposing physicality, often ends up overshadowing other actors in his midst. Such is the case in this episode of Mission: Impossible. What’s notable is how unobtrusive both Hill and Martin Landau – who I like immensely – are in comparison to the scenery chewing Oakland.

   All told, it is a fun episode, one that benefits from a primarily single-location setting. One in which the IMF team takes on the role of a catering team to serve Wellman and his associates a fancy dinner. What Wellman doesn’t realize is that while he is being treated to a multi-course meal, Barney Collier (Greg Morris) is working diligently to break into his basement vault. And if you’ve ever wanted to see how silly Steven Hill looks in a chef’s hat, this is a golden opportunity.

   

THE BARON “Diplomatic Immunity.” ITC, UK, 28 September 1966 (Season 1, Episode 1). Steve Forrest as John Mannering (alias “The Baron”), Sue Lloyd as Cordelia Winfield, Colin Gordon as John Alexander Templeton-Green, Paul Ferris as David Marlowe. Based on the character created by John Creasey. Director: Leslie Norman. Currently streaming on Britbox.

   The Baron was one of the lesser known series characters created by John Creasey (writing as Anthony Morton), but when the folks at ITC decided they wanted a TV show to compete with the James Bond movies and the U.N.C.L.E. TV shows, they decided that The Baron would do very well.

   The series, which lasted only one season and 30 episodes, was filmed in color, somewhat unusual in those early days of British TV. In the TV version, fairly closely to the books but with some differences, John Mannering is a wealthy antiques dealer with connections all over the world, which makes him a highly regarded person of interest to be co-opted by a secret British secret service agency to work for them undercover for them.

   In “Diplomatic Immunity” Mannering is asked to go to a fictional European country to retrieve some valuable pieces of jewelry stolen by a female employee of the head of one of that country’s top governmental agencies, using her diplomatic immunity to get them back into her country.

In all-out imitation of the James Bond films, Mannering goes fully equipped with all kinds of secret gadgetry, and it is best you pay close attention, since – wouldn’t you know – he gets to use all of them whenever he needs them. The story is slight – the basic story line doesn’t need the full hour’s running time – but it’s entertaining, and Steve Forrest is hunky enough and the girls he meets all seem willing enough for viewers of either sex to have something to look at.

On the other hand, the series was picked up by ABC in this country for only part of its run,  then could only be seen in syndication. It may be that “hunky” is not good enough: you need the charisma of a Roger Moore as well, and that Steve Forrest unfortunately didn’t have.

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:

   

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE “Wheels.” CBS, 29 October 1966 (Season 1, Episode 7 (of 171)). Cast: Mark Lenard (Mora), Percy Rodriguez (police captain), Martin Landau (Rollin Hand/Miguel Cordova), Peter Lupus (Willy Armitage), Greg Morris (Barney Collier), Barbara Bain (Cinnamon Carter), Steven Hill (Dan Briggs), Perry Lopez (the priest, uncredited), Bob Johnson (voice on tape, uncredited), and Jonathan Kidd (registrar). Producers: Barry Crane, Joseph Gantman, and Bruce Geller, executive producer and series creator. Writer: Laurence Heath. Director: Tom Gries. Series available on DVD and is currently streaming on CBS All Access.

   Things are really rotten in Valeria, a small Latin American country on the verge of becoming, as the voice on the tape informs Dan Briggs, “a terrorist dictatorship” thanks to the jefe’s rigged voting machines. Briggs and his dauntless Impossible Missions Force are tasked by “the Secretary” (of State? Defense? Who knows?) with unfixing the election in a way that “will honestly reflect the vote of the people.” As always, cautions the voice, “should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, he will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Piece of cake.

   The plan Briggs comes up with is going along smoothly until their electronics expert, Barney Collier, is badly wounded in a jailbreak, creating grave doubt as to whether or not the mission can be completed. Leave it to the plucky Barney, however, to come through in the end . . . .

   The first season of any show is usually a bumpy ride and this one was no exception (e.g., Cinnamon breaking into unwarranted tears), but this episode of Mission: Impossible pretty much follows the format the series adhered to in all seven of its seasons. (The thing about “format” is that it can and often does degenerate into “formula.”)

   In this particular series the easiest way to create suspense is to have some problem arise that threatens to blow the team’s cover; here it’s Barney’s wound and the unwanted interest by the secret police that force the team members to “improvise.”

   Overcoming unexpected setbacks poses a real challenge to screenwriters and not all of them are up to it. Two writers who were very good at it were William Read Woodfield teamed with Allan Balter, the Levinson and Link of the series; together they were responsible for the most engaging stories in Mission: Impossible, but not this one.

   “Wheels” was writer Laurence Heath’s first script for Mission: Impossible; he would be responsible for twenty-three altogether.

   You’ve probably seen director Tom Gries’s name on TV or movie productions; he did good work on Breakheart Pass (1975), the film adaptation of Alistair Maclean’s novel and screenplay. This was his only Mission: Impossible story.

   Several years ago Jonathan Lewis contributed a Mystery*File article about producer/creator Bruce Geller’s directorial involvement with Harry in Your Pocket (1973), an offbeat crime film, and you can read that here.

   

TWO LEGENDS [DVE LEGENDY] “Double Standard.” Russian TV, 09 February 2014 (Season 1, Episode 1). 2 hours. Ana Popova, Artem Krylov. Directed by Vyacheslav Kirillov. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   Probably because it appeared first on Russian TV, there isn’t a lot of information about this show on Wikipedia (nothing) or IMDb. Here’s how the four-episode mini-series is described on Amazon Prime:

   “He teaches mathematics and she teaches biology. The only thing they have in common is their brilliance: they both speak several languages fluently, have a command of the latest technology, know how to use all kinds of weapons and are trained in the martial arts. These two teachers are, in fact, legendary spies.”

   She is, of course, also beautiful, once she’s out of the classroom and can let her prim everyday facade fade away. As a math teacher, he looks like, well, a math teacher, hiding behind thick-rimmed glasses, à la Clark Kent, but in his spy outfit, he looks like, well, a math teacher.

   In this first episode, they start out not aware of the other’s existence. One is following the trail of an international terrorist, the other tracking the dealing of a notorious financial swindler. When their paths cross, their first meeting is spectacularly lengthy scene of hand to hand combat, not unlike when two Marvel superheroes cross over into the same comic book and have to slug it out for a while before they discover they are on the same side after all.

   The series was a huge hit in Russia, I am told, and I can see why. The plot itself takes second place to the action, action, and more action. The hand-held camera work, even when two people are having a conversation, can make the more susceptible viewer quite dizzy, swooping here and there and back around again. It didn’t bother me, but if you decide to give this one a try, you might want to fasten your seat belts down ahead of time.

   

   

BODYGUARD. “Episode 1.” ITV/BBC One, UK, 26 August 2018. Richard Madden as PS David Budd; Keeley Hawes as The Rt. Hon. Julia Montague MP, the Home Secretary and Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Thames West: Sophie Rundle as Vicky Budd, David’s wife; plus a large ensemble cast. Director: Thomas Vincent.

   After successfully defusing a terrorist attack aboard a speeding train, PS David Budd is assigned the ask of guarding Home Secretary Julia Montague against possible attempts on her life. Unknown to host of his superiors, Budd is suffering from PTSD from his years of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, but because of his moody and sometimes violent behaviors at home, he is separated from his wife and two children.

   There isn’t a lot of time to fill out an actual story in this, the first of six episodes, but it certainly does a great job of paving the way for what comes next. Budd does not care much for the policies of the woman he is guarding, thinking of her as just another politician who does not care for the men and women who must do the fighting to carry them out, and conflict between them seems inevitable. His domestic problems at home are also sure to play a role in what comes next.

   The British seem to do this kind of story much better than we seem to on this side of Atlantic. With only five more episodes to go, I’m much more likely to finish this particular example of that than some others I’ve been sampling. (I assume you’ve been following my recent investigations into streaming TV right along with me.)

   

TAKEN. “Pilot.” NBC, 27 February 2017. Clive Standen as Bryan Mills and Jennifer Beals as Christina Hart. Large ensemble cast, including guest stars, some of whom may return; others who won’t. Showrunner/screenwriter: Alexander Cary. Director: Alex Graves.

   Now as most of you already know, those of you who are well ahead of me on this, Liam Neeson played Bryan Mills, a former CIA operative whose life takes three separate and serious turns of events, each turned into a  fast action film and huge box office successes. Rather than a fourth film, what to do with the character? Go back to his beginnings and build a TV series around them.

   It lasted for two years, and believe it or not, this is the first I’ve known about it. I was scouting around on Amazon Video looking for something else to watch with Jennifer Beals in it, and there I found it.  I haven’t watched the movies either. Always meant to. Haven’t yet.

   Of course you realize that the TV series is totally generic. Take the name of the character and the title (Taken), and voila. There you have it. Name recognition from day one.

   The pilot has, unfortunately, no plot in and of itself. It’s an “origin” story all the way, nothing more. But nothing less, either. When terrorists kill Mills’ younger sister in retaliation for killing a drug lord’s son, Mills takes matters into his own hands – but not quite. He’s tracked all the way and given help (rescued) by Christina Hart’s team of operatives. She’s a Deputy Director with Special Portfolio at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (Confession time. I had to look this up online.)

   The story ends with Mills being recruited by her. I hope I’m not giving too much away. The pilot is well enough done, but what kind of stories will follow next is not entirely clear. We are left with only our imaginations at work. I might watch the movies next, but on the other hand, since Jennifer Beals is in the series, I can’t tell you that I’m all that sure about that.

   

COUNTERSTRIKE “Dealbreaker.” USA Network., 01 July 1990 (Season 1, Episode 1). Christopher Plummer, Simon MacCorkindale, Cyrielle Clair, Stephen Shellen, Laurence Ashley-Taboulet. Guest Cast: Susan George, Chuck Shamata. Director: Mario Azzopardi.

   Counterstrike was a Canadian-French TV series that was broadcast on USA here in the US for three seasons, beginning in 1990.  Christopher Plummer was the biggest name in the cast, playing ,Alexander Addington, the wealthy leader of a group of three counter-terrorism agents. Unfortunately in this, the first show of the series, there is nothing to show how the team was assembled or their motivations, if any. The viewer is expected to pick upon things as they go.

      

   And this is a state of affairs that applies to the story itself, I’m sorry to say A little bit of stick-to-it-iveness is a handy thing to have sometimes, and eventually the overall picture becomes clearer. To wit: A former girl friend of one of the team (Simon MacCorkindale) has been kidnapped. She’s now the wife of a former CIA agent who’s gone back on a deal with some terrorists involving some bomb detonators. It’s up to Peter to get her back, along with the help from Addington  and the other two members of the team. The husband he cares about not at all.

   There’s lots of spy stuff going on, but you needn’t bother paying too much attention to the details. There’s not a lot in this one you’ve haven’t seen before, and when you did, it was probably better told. Many of the episodes are playing now on YouTube, however, and maybe once you get to know the characters better, maybe the shows improve as well.

   

THE WIDOW “Mr. Tequila.” Amazon Prime Video. 01 March 2019 (Season 1, Episode 1). Kate Beckinsale and a large ensemble cast. Created and written by Harry Williams & Jack Williams. Director: Samuel Donovan.

   As the pilot of this one season, eight-episode series, it does its job in one solid way: it sets the course for the season with a strikingly visual presentation consisting of at least three different story lines. What it does not do, and by no means is this a problem, it only tangentially brings any of them together, nor obviously are any of them concluded. This is the only episode I’ve seen.

   Kate Beckinsale plays the title character, a widow who lost her husband, a medical aid worker in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who he died when his plane went down in wide swatch of jungle while on his way home. Watching a televison news report of civil unrest in that country three years later, she’s sure she sees her husband, either fighting or taking cover from the action.

   She immediately hops a plane to the Congo to investigate, where she’s met by one of two men with whom she bonded as a small survivors’ group in the airport after the crash. There appears there is more to be known about the third, known locally as “Mr. Tequila,” which is about as far as this story line goes.

   I plan to keep watching. I always enjoy watching Kate Beckinsale in action, and this is obviously a star vehicle built especially for her. She always lights up the screen whenever she appears. I don’t know exactly how she does, but she does.

   

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.

DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT “The Knitting Needle Story.” Syndicated, though largely to NBC stations. 02 June 1952. (Season 1 Episode 30). Brian Donlevy (Steve Mitchell), Jim Flavin, Jan Arvan, Steve Roberts, Fay Baker, Frances Rafferty. Writers: Writers: Eddie Forman, Adrian Gendot, Robert Ryf. Directo: Bill Karn.

   Before its one and only one season on TV, Dangerous Assignment had already been on the radio for several years, in a series also starring Brian Donlevy as a secret agent whose job took him on, well, dangerous assignments all over the world. When the series was passed upon up by all of the then current TV networks, Donlevy decided to pick up the tab himself for one season’s worth of 39 syndicated episodes.

   I did not choose to watch “The Knitting Needle Story” for any particular reason. Although the complete series is available on DVD, I just happened to come across this one on YouTube. Based on my memories of watching this when I was young, I can’t say this with certainty, but I think it’s about average for the series, better than some, but perhaps not as good as others.

   In this one Steve Mitchell is assigned to be the bodyguard of an Italian news reporter heading by plane back to his native country with a scoop about The Black Hand, important information with international implications. There are naturally those who do not wish him to make it home with the story he has to tell.

   Most of the action takes place on the plane, not that there’s a lot of action. There are several twists to the story, though, plus one huge red herring that sounds worth investigation but is dropped almost as quickly. There has to be a lot of skill involved in putting together a story as complete, complicated and still coherent as this one is, and in only 25 minutes.

   But as agent Steve Mitchell, Brian Donlevy tries his best to appear suave and debonair, but he comes off as only stolid and solid. James Bond hadn’t come on the scene yet: in book form, he was only a year later. Even if their careers had overlapped a little, Bond would still have had nothing to worry about, not in comparison with he rather dull Steve Mitchell. The latter was of an earlier time, and a different era.

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