If you’re already a fan, the season so far is the same quality as previous seasons.
If you haven’t seen the series, Longmire is a hybrid show. A modern police drama set in rural Wyoming, it also incorporates elements from classic westerns. The main character is a walking anachronism, an old west style sheriff trying to navigate a modern world of forensics, drugs and modern technology, while keeping true to his sense of honor.
The previous season ended on a spectacular cliffhanger and the new season hits the ground running immediately. The show’s switch from A&E to Netflix seems to have been fairly seamless and if anything, this season looks to be even better than the last 2.
I just realized that I inadvertently flipped my review order. I was planning to review DCI Banks first.
DCI Banks is a show I’ve just started to watch. A police procedural from our friends across the Atlantic, ITV. DCI Banks is based on author Peter Robinson’s novels. The main protagonist DCI Alan Banks is a study in tenacity. A determined major crimes detective for a Yorkshire police department. What Banks lacks in resources or superhuman insight; he makes up for in sheer determination. Ruthlessly working leads and not afraid to step on toes to get the arrest.
The show starts with the death of a police officer responding to a domestic violence call. His partner brutally beats the killer, Marcus Payne, into a coma. When detectives arrive, they find that they injured man had the bodies of 4 missing women locked in a basement dungeon. DCI Alan Banks is determined to find out if a fifth missing girl is still alive.
A major side plot in this initial show is the investigation of the officer. Since she beat the suspect into a coma with her police baton, the departments Professional Standards division wants to prosecute her for excessive force.
Making the investigation is DS Annie Cabbot, a very ambitious and aggressive detective.
Unlike shows such as Sherlock, Bones or Poirot; the characters in DCI Banks are not superhuman, they are deeply flawed individuals struggling with their own weaknesses as well as the interpersonal issues that plague any workplace.
This is where DS Annie Cabbot is an interestingly different take on the hero sidekick role. She is rude, abrupt and abrasive. She often clashes with her bosses and definitely has her own agenda. This has made her a deeply controversial character among fans of detective fiction. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I like the difference. While not perfect for every show, it’s refreshing to see this type of character asserting her independence even if she spectacularly messes up on occasion. Naturally Banks and Cabbot clash almost constantly during their initial team up, being more similar than either would care to admit.
The mistakes are a major difference in this show. None of the characters are perfect crime fighting machines, clues are missed, office politics sabotages investigations, critical points are argued over and the show rarely ends in a drawing room reveal. The show also does not flinch away from showing the psychological damages of violent crime on all involved, this becomes a major plot line in the first series.
The villains are mostly your usual mugshot line of violent serial killers, with a few fascinating variations. There are also a few episodes that deal with violent organized crime and human trafficking.
Verdict 3 Gavels out of 5 Despite a few bugs, a pretty good detective show. The extremely flawed characters mark a nice change from the usual super-sleuths of detective fiction. The characters are flawed, human and refreshingly real.
25 victims. 1? killer and not one brain among them all.
Harper’s Island is a 2009 attempt at creating a cinematic Frankenstein’s Monster. A complex melange of different genres including murder mystery, suspense, horror and evening soap opera. The result is a lumbering, impressive and sometimes comical faceplant of a series that never quite decides what it wants to be when it grows up.
The show starts with a group of people boarding a ferryboat on their way to a destination wedding on Harper’s Island off the coast of Oregon. Local boy Henry Dunn is marrying the wealthy and beautiful Trish Wellington.
Henry’s best friend, Abbie Mills is only here to see the wedding. She has quite a bit of history with Harper’s Island and you can immediately tell she has some serious issues with the whole thing.
Also included in the boat ride o’ death are various relatives and pals of Henry and Trish. This is the evening soap side of the show and will overlap the murder mystery part for the first few episodes.
The groom’s friends notice one of the guests is absent, but leave anyway, expecting him to catch up. What they don’t know is that he is already there, tied to one of the boats prop skegs, Naturally when those big props start to turn, we have our first victim.
Things then shift to the island, where serial John Wakefield slaughtered 6 women, including Abbie’s mother, 7 years ago, before being “killed” by Abbie’s father, Sheriff Charlie Mills. The tree that he hung their bodies from is still present and gives her a nasty shock when she sees it. (Why anybody would want to hold a wedding in such a place is beyond me.)
The next few episodes are filled with wedding plans, practical jokes, drama and drunken hookups with the occasional murder or suicide to keep things interesting. This is the transition to the mystery side of things.
As a mystery this one is a bit of a dud. The show heroically attempts to throw you off the scent by hurling red herrings like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets show, multiple people are questioned, arrested and generally clash with the Sheriff as the bodies start to pile up.
Problem is the show’s writers can’t help but bang on the serial killer Macguffin. Every other character drops the Wakefield name like they were selling it and it quickly becomes obvious that it will be a matter of when, not if, he appears. Also, while simply watching and not even heavily analyzing the show, I had my suspicions as to who the real antagonist was by episode 7 and was positive about his identity and motivation by episode 10, very disappointing for a murder mystery.
Another issue is the transition from drama to murder mystery, while at least 1 person has been killed every episode, even at episode 6, characters are still clinging to the upcoming wedding and pretending nothing is amiss. Any sane person would be ready to swim for it if multiple suicides and homicides were going on. Even better, the entire island is strewn with deadly traps including deadfalls, snares and pits. Yet no one seems to have any problems crashing through the forest like a herd of buffalo.
The slasher side of things works a bit better, by episodes 8-9, things are moving at a much better pace. The problem at this point is that some of slasher film’s least attractive tropes start to appear. Normally logical characters split up and start running into the woods like idiots. Characters illogically put themselves into situations where they can be pinned by the antagonist. Proficient shots miss the hulking killer with shotguns at point blank range, repeatedly. The slasher shows a Michael Myers level of supernatural toughness that jars badly with the semi-realistic murder mystery feel of the middle section of the show. Needless to say, all the rules from Scream start to apply by episode 6 making it that much easier to predict where the show is going.
While all of these issues are business as usual in the slasher genre, even expected. They clash badly with the measured, investigative feel of the earlier show.
Visually the show is stunning, filmed in lovely Canada, like most proper American TV productions of recent vintage. The director makes full use of the lush forest and dark landscapes of Bowen Island BC.
The actors in the production are decent to good. With several developing believable, even likeable characters when given an opportunity. The problem is that there are so many of them and quite a few resemble other performers, Elaine Cassidy and Katie Cassidy (confusingly not related) are especially similar as Abby and Trish. While you quickly figure out who’s who, it can bring you out of the zone for a few seconds until you figure it out. The sheer number of the cast also makes it hard to keep track of things, especially at the start, before the herd starts to thin.
The show’s plot is stretched over a 13 episode half season mini-series, which makes it as near anorexic as some of the characters in the show. What would be a passable 2 or 4 hour mini-series is stretched over 8.5 hours, forcing in a large amount of flab and filler. This defuses a lot of possible tension, especially early in the series. This also makes for a lot of wasted scenes and long takes that badly need an editor.
Verdict 2 Gavels out of 5 Interesting attempt at blending several different genres. Unfortunately the fundamental differences between these genres make Harper’s Island a confusing mishmash of ideas that never quite work correctly. Decent performances by some of the cast and moments of suspense do redeem it somewhat. Unfortunately the substantial time investment of 8.5 hours and 13 episodes make it difficult to recommend. The show simply takes too long to get going for the payoff to be worth it.
I felt something stirring inside that had been absent for a long time. A small tug toward the darkness I one time knew so well.
I’ve made no secret of my admiration for the high quality mystery and detective programs that English studios have released over the years. Shows like A Touch of Frost, Wallander, Luther and Sherlock are some of the best shows of their genre. While there are excellent programs like The Shield and Person of Interest, most American programming seems to be stuck in the CSI rut for the last 15 years.
This is why Bosch is such a pleasant surprise. A relatively unheralded new show from new kid in town, Amazon Studios, released for their streaming service. In my opinion, Bosch is one of the best police procedural show to come out of the US in years.
The show roughly follows the chronology of the books by Michael Connelly, but moves the timeline up about 20 years. Instead of being a Vietnam veteran and a cop in the 1990s. Bosch is now a veteran of Desert Storm and Afghanistan and the show is set in 2014. An interesting tidbit from the books is that Bosch is the half-brother of lawyer Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer, also by Connelly). Now that would be a crossover if they could pull it off.
Harry Bosch is a very dark character with a strong neo-noir vibe. His mother was a prostitute who was murdered by a serial killer. He joined the military and served in the Army Special Forces, first in the 90s then re-upped after 9/11. He then joined the LAPD and serves as a Robbery Homicide detective. The character is famously difficult to work with and isn’t afraid to openly defy the rules if he thinks they are getting in the way of an arrest. He also has the strong sense of personal justice and honor that many famous characters of the genre possess.
Lead actor Titus Welliver does a good job of portraying this darkness, playing the character as an intense and suspicious loner with an intense, unsettling glare. You definitely get the feeling that he is a dangerous man.
Jamie Hector plays his partner, Detective Jerry Edgar, who is his polar opposite. Intelligent and relatively optimistic for a veteran police officer. He helps balance out Bosch’s more dangerous moods and helps keep him out of trouble with their superiors.
Another standout is veteran character actor Lance Reddick as Deputy Chief Irving, Bosch’s superior and sometimes antagonist. While Bosch is primarily interested in catching criminals, Irving also has the Mayor, city council and the public to answer to and must often balance their disparate requirements with the need to enforce the law. Naturally, this puts him on Bosch’s bad side repeatedly.
Unlike many American shows where the hero can defy the rules at will. This one shows the consequences of Bosch’s more spectacular violations of the LAPD’s rules. A major thread in the first few episodes involves him being sued after a confrontation with a suspect goes wrong.
Another difference from most American shows is that Bosch is shot on location, specifically Los Angeles, CA and makes the city a starring character. The combination of 21st century neon lit skyscrapers and dark, dangerous streets, gives the city a Blade Runner-esque look.
An essential element to the Bosch series of books is the author’s intimate knowledge of the area, from the Angel’s Flight cars, to the bluffs, to the cultural and social differences between LA, Hollywood and the many outlying areas. The camera work is spectacular and really brings the diverse city to life.The shows intro is a spectacular kaleidoscope view of images from LA streets.
The entire show is steeped in a neo-noir aesthetic. From the dark, conflicted characters to the grim night shots and the moody jazz soundtrack. Fans of the film noir genre will find a lot to like here.
One more note, the show is rated TV-MA and they mean it. Connelly’s books rarely shy away from the rough, realistic language of the streets and police, this show doesn’t either. The violence is about at the level of most of the CSI-ish shows. The themes of the show are very mature and not recommended for anyone under 18. The bad guys shown in this one are truly the worst of the worst. Vicious serial predators, rapists and child abusers are frequent opponents of Bosch and the LAPD.
Verdict 4 Gavels out of 5 An impressive show from Amazon’s new streaming service. Dark, gritty and fairly faithful to the source material. The show features impressive visuals, engaging characters and intelligent storylines. Fans of British detective series such as Luther or A Touch of Frost will love this one.
Just a brief detour from the usual genres on this site. A friend introduced me to a new series on Netflix called Stranger Things.
It’s part Spielberg kid’s feature, with a good bit of Stephen King and a little HP Lovecraft mixed in.
Set in 1983, the show follows young Will Byers as he heads home after playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends. He quickly realizes something bad is following him and this leads the show straight into suspense/horror mode, as a shadowy form chases the kid through his house and out into the field.
The next few episodes show the investigation by the local police into Will’s disappearance, the appearance of a mysterious girl with superhuman abilities and the dealings of a shadowy government conspiracy as they try to hinder the investigation into Will’s disappearance and recover the girl.
At the same time, Will’s friends start their own search for him.
The show is steeped in nostalgia and does a good job portraying the world of 1983 and the people living in it.The plot is loaded with cold war paranoia about secret experiments and mysterious agencies.
While there is a fair bit of suspense and light horror it’s all pretty much PG-13 level, plenty of shadowy figures, jump scares and spring loaded cat stunts. Most of the really violent and/or gory imagery is obscured or masked by camera cuts.
The sound is especially well done. Some of the noises and synth stabs used will levitate you out of your seat and make your hair stand on end and really help the gloomy, creepy atmosphere of the show.
While there are some supernatural-ish elements, they are explained in a manner more in line with a science fiction film than a fantasy. A good portion of the show involves unraveling exactly what the government is doing in that mysterious lab and how it affects the town.
The overall tone and feel reminds me of a previous Spielberg effort, 2011’s Super 8. Production values are high and the show does a good job of drawing you into the story.
So far this show is proving to be an interesting diversion. My next review should be up tomorrow.
Shawn Spencer is a crime solving machine. With perfect memory recall and an incredible ability to identify and interpret the smallest details missed by most people. Unfortunately, like many geniuses, he frustrates easily, feels no need to stay focused on things that bore him and has an unfortunate ability to heckle anyone who gets on his nerves. This means that he has been fired from virtually every job he tries.
Because he “borrowed” (stole) a car at age 18 to impress a girl, Shawn is ineligible to become a police officer. To amuse himself and keep his abilities sharp he begins calling in tips to the Santa Barbara police department. When these tips result in multiple cases being solved, the cops want to know who is Shawn Spencer and how is he able to solve cases they can’t crack. Some suspect his involvement in crime himself and his long record of anti-social behavior doesn’t exactly help his cause.
Never content to be ordinary and just tell the truth, Shawn uses his powers of observation and memory convince the police that he is a psychic and his insights are the result of these abilities. He soon finds himself the official psychic of the Santa Barbara PD.
Best friend Gus is the exact opposite of Shawn, college educated, dedicated, hardworking and a conscientious worker. He works full time as a pharmaceutical rep but frequently finds his time and company car hijacked by Shawn’s crazy adventures. Poor Gus also serves as a frequent straight man to Shawn’s comic mania. A long running joke in the show (one of many) is the range of ridiculous nicknames Shawn has for his friend.
Soon the two of them form Psych, a private detective agency that serves as a business front for Shawn’s abilities.
Timothy Omundson plays Carlton Lassiter, a by the rules police detective who finds Shawn to be an obvious fraud, but he is ignored by everybody else in the department. Lassie, as Shawn refers to him, usually serves as foil, secondary antagonist and unwitting straight man to the wily “psychic” detective.
Frequent guest stars include Corbin Bernsen and Cybil Shepherd as Shawn’s parents and a great performance by Ally Sheedy as obsessed serial killer Mr. Yang.
Flashbacks show that Shawn has been trained from a young age to be some kind of pattern recognition and analysis machine by his hard case cop father. Some of this seems to border on child abuse and goes a long way to explaining Shawn’s more interesting idiosyncrasies.
An aspect of this show that I like is the emphasis on memory and good observational skills as opposed to the magic of forensics in solving the mysteries. Forensics play a part, but most of the heavy lifting is done by Shawn’s observational skills. For the most part the show doesn’t cheat on that aspect. We see the same things Shawn does and most of the time the solution is head slapping obvious and right in front of you the whole time.
While ostensibly a mystery show, Psych never wanders too far from its comedy side. The show rarely lets things get too serious and usually breaks up what would normally be a scary or overly dramatic moment with some kind of inappropriate antic by Shawn or a clever sight gag.
Episodes typically conclude with the traditional confrontation between the detectives and villains where Shawn reveals all of the clues that point to the guilty party. Of course this aspect of mystery shows isn’t safe either. Shawn usually does this in a spectacularly overwrought parody of psychics and sometimes has to backtrack spectacularly or change suspects in mid-unveiling when he realizes he’s about to get it wrong. This mental tap dancing is usually good for a laugh from the audience and an eye roll from a disgusted Lassiter while most of the characters look on in amazement.
The show also gleefully skewers common tropes from detective shows and usually walks a fine line between comedy and outright parody of the genre and other TV shows. This kind of high wire act is difficult to pull off, but thanks to good writing and cast, Psych pulls it off more often than not.
Verdict 4 Gavels out of 5 Amusing and lighthearted mystery-comedy hybrid. Charming cast and clever plots keep this one fresh in a crowded field of good mystery shows.
“This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I work here, I’m a cop.”
“Just the facts, ma’am.” Today I’ll be reviewing the great progenitor of all TV cop shows, Dragnet.Dragnet’s origins were actually in a syndicated radio program with a similar format and also starring Jack Webb. Set in the city of Los Angeles, Dragnet follows Detective Sgt. Joe Friday as he tackles cases (mostly) taken from police archives.
The show typically concentrates on one primary case, but will show police work peripherally connected such as bookings, mugshots, misdemeanor cases and lineups. This shoes that the LAPD of Dragnet is a working department with a range of issues to deal with. The show also deals with the personal life of the main characters. Often showing the stresses that are unique to police work. At the conclusion of the episode, after announcing that the names in the show have been changed, the fate of this week’s wrongdoers is displayed just before the credits roll.
One thing that really helps the show is that many of the episodes were based on real crimes and have a grounding in reality that is lacking in many modern shows that seem to think they need a Hannibal Lector or Professor Moriarty every season to keep the show exciting. While professional criminals make appearances in Dragnet, a fair number of the people caught up in the Dragnet are small time troublemakers or ordinary people caught up in circumstances. This street level view of police work is refreshing.
Minor quibbles against the show include, an overuse of narrative voiceover (common in programs at the time), occasionally stagey sets and sometimes inconsistent acting, especially in earlier seasons. Also, you sometimes get a “haven’t I seen this before?” feel to some of the episodes. Most of these issues can be explained by the relative newness of the television genre. Most of the shows at the time were literally writing the operating manual as they worked.
For the most part, the main characters and especially Jack Webb (Detective Sgt. Joe Friday) are consistently good. The number of celebrity guest stars, especially in the later seasons, is surprisingly high and shows the popularity of the show.
The visuals are good, almost all the episodes from the 1950s are shot in black and white. Only a few holiday episodes are in color. There are some very nice shots in the show, especially the street views of 1950s LA and the aerial camera work at the start of some of the episodes.
The soundtrack is surprisingly good for early television, moody and highly atmospheric. Of course, I couldn’t review the show without mentioning the iconic (and distinctive) opening. People who have never even seen the show can often recognize that 4 note opening and even quote the lines that follow.
This shows Dragnet’s impressive staying power. It’s legacy includes 2 television shows, one in 1967 with some of the original cast and another in 2003.
3 stars out of 5 While some elements of the show have not aged well, Dragnet was literally the great grandfather of all modern police shows. It’s surprising how many elements in modern shows from forensics, computers, the war on drugs, troubled teens, statistical analysis, were all covered in this show over 60 years ago. It’s influence on subsequent television shows is unmistakable.