Category: Golden Age Article

TV Series Review: The Indian Detective

In 2017’s CTV/Netflix series Russell Peters stars as Toronto Police Constable Doug D’Mello. D’Mello stops a truck at the border that he’s been led to believe contains drugs. When it turns out not to be the case, D’Mello becomes a viral video joke. He is suspended for a month and demoted to Constable Fourth Class. When he receives a report that his Indian father is ill, D’Mello catches a flight to Mumbai, India. There he ends up staying with his father, who is in the habit of telling people Doug is a detective. This sets Doug up to be involved in multiple mysteries that end up tying into a case far closer to home.

In the first three episodes, the mystery works quite well. The first two episodes are seemingly disconnected cases but do end up tying together. Our overall mystery isn’t a whodunit. It’s trying to understand what their plot is and how our hero is going to stop them. The main villain, Indian drug lord
Gopal Chandekar (Hamza Haq) uses Doug’s investigations in the early episodes to forward his own ends. The actual method of resolving the case is not as strong as it could be, but it’s not stupid or unbelievable.

The supporting cast has some solid performances. Hamza Haq not only plays Gopal Chandekar, he also plays his American twin brother and does a good job making them feel like separate characters. Doug’s father Stanley D’Mello is one of the more likable characters in the story. He and Doug share regret over him never being around, and he’s trying to rekindle the relationship. He and Doug don’t get far but there’s room left open for a second series at the end of this one. Priya Seagal (Mishqah Parthiephal) is a young Indian attorney fighting for poor clients in the slum. She serves as Doug’s conscience and he also starts to fall for her. Canadian acting legend William Shatner plays David Marlowe, an overleveraged, ultra-rich developer looking to strike a deal with the Chandekar brothers for some property. He’s fun whenever he’s on screen.

I have more mixed feelings on Peters’ performance. His character reminds me of Paul Blart, Mall Cop, only less likable. Peters’ character can be obnoxious, particularly in India. It’s as if someone decided the stereotype of Canadians being polite was harmful and used Peters’ character to remedy that. He is rude and condescending to Indians. Thankfully, it’s not all the time, but it’s still off-putting. However, he’s more complex than his worst moments and I give the character credit for correcting his father’s mischaracterization of his job. He volunteers that he wasn’t a detective in Canada in the first episode rather than having it drug out or revealed in a bit of forced comedy.

The series is advertised as a comedy, but it’s not funny. Few scenes amused me and nothing made me laugh. I found the ending for Doug’s character too pat. Things happened to him that couldn’t be justified on the basis of the story.

The series is no classic, but it’s not bad either. It has some charming characters and a pretty solid plot and it managed to hold my interest throughout its runtime.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Paul Temple: The Complete Radio Collection, Volume 1

Paul Temple is a legendary amateur detective. His adventures first aired over British radio in the 1930s and continued until 1968. Like much British radio of the era, the earliest Paul Temple serials are lost. This collection offers three adventures that managed to survive in that era. Each serial is composed eight twenty or twenty-five-minute episodes. (The most popular format for Paul Temple.)
 
The first serial, Send for Paul Temple is a Canadian remake of the first Paul Temple broadcast. This is a treat. Little Canadian radio from the era is circulating, so it’s nice to see how they measure up to the BBC. This holds up to most American and British programs of the time, but the sound effects are a bit sparser.  The police are baffled by a series of jewel thefts, and in the newspaper, there’s a simple cry, “Send Paul Temple.” The official police are reluctant to call in the amateur sleuth. A policeman friend of Temple’s wants to talk to him but is murdered, setting Temple on the trail. The story stars Bernard Braden as Temple. It’s a fairly good mystery that shows how Paul and his wife Steve met.
 
1942’s Paul Temple Intervenes features Paul (Carl Bernard) and Steve (Bernadette Hodgson). They look into an affair to find the head of a ruthless blackmail ring named the Marquis. This story was fine. It’s not horrible, but it does have some improbable plot turns, and it goes too deep into melodrama for its own good. Not bad, and I’m thankful for almost any classic radio that survives, but it’s easily the weakest story on the set.
 
The actor Kim Peacock plays Paul in 1950’s Paul Temple and the Vandyke Affair. Paul investigates the disappearance of a baby and her sitter, Miss Millicent. The only clue is a message referencing a mysterious Mr. Van Dyke. Of course, their investigations lead to a sinister trail.  At this point, Steve is far more assertive and a stronger character.
 
One thing that makes this stand out is Marjorie Westbury’s performance. Westbury took over as Steve in 1945. She continued opposite four different Paul Temples until 1968. Kim Peacock also turns in a solid performance. I’d be thrilled if more episodes featuring this pair came into circulation. The story features a strong supporting cast. This includes future Paul Temple Peter Coke and Roger Delgado (Doctor Who.)
 
The box set has more to offer than just the stories. The set includes a documentary on the remastering of the Canadian Send for Paul Temple. It began as cardboard transcription disks. Yet they managed to make it sound good in the twenty-first century. How is a fascinating story for audio buffs. Further, the CD features an interview with Coke. Also, there are three episodes from incomplete original Paul Temple serials. They will only appeal to hardcore Temple fans.
 
Many Paul Temple fans council new listeners to avoid this set for a first listen. This isn’t Paul Temple at his best, and it doesn’t feature the most well-known Paul Temple actor. There’s merit to that argument. But I like to hear things from the beginning. While these stories had their weak points, I found them a lot of fun to listen to. If what’s to come is even better, then I’ll enjoy all the Paul Temple collections to come.
 
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: Tales of Max Carrados

Max Carrados is one of those easily overlooked figures of detective fiction’s golden age. He’s thrown into a mass of detectives that entertained readers in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Like many of them, he’s been mostly forgotten.

Yet, Carrados is worth checking out. If you like Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, Carrados will be right up your alley.

Carrados was created by Ernest Bramah. Carrados was a blind man and compensated for the loss of his sight to such a degree that he became a first-class amateur detective. He often assisted a private investigator named Carlisle as well as the official police. He’s assisted by his observant and able manservant Parkinson.

Tales of Max Carrados is audiobook released by Audible and is read by British Actor/Comedian Stephen Fry (Fry and Laurie).

The stories are generally solid mysteries that are remarkably clever and well-written for the most part. The stories have a light and fun tone. Carrados solves a variety of cases, mostly of the non-murderous variety. The supporting characters are well-written and intriguing. I found myself wanting to know more about a few of them. The stories include Carrados’ work during the War and a case that involves Britain’s militant suffragettes.

A few cases involve Carrados in peril and how he handles himself. “The Game Played in the Dark” is a classic example and is quite suspenseful. The last story is in the same vein but with heightened stakes. In “The Missing Witness Sensation,” Carrados is a key witness in the trial of an IRA member and is abducted off the street and taken to a country house and locked up in the basement. Eventually, the blind man’s left alone without food or water and without any of the aides that he’s relied on the past. It’s all that shakes the generally unflappable detective. It’s fascinating to see how he gets out of it.

I didn’t much care for the first story. “The Coin of Dionysus” introduces Carrados but contains too much actionless exposition and goes on too long for what it offers as a mystery. Other than that, the stories are all quite enjoyable.

Fry is a fantastic narrator and infuses the story with a great deal of warmth and charm. He infuses each character with so much personality, I almost forgot I was listening to an audiobook rather than an audio drama. I’d definitely love to listen to him read again.

Bottom line: If you like Golden Age Mysteries and listen to audiobooks, this is a title that’s well worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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Three Old Time Radio Detective Shows That Could be Rebooted in the 21st Century

Most old time radio programs work in part because of the era they’re set in. For most programs, trying to update them to modern times would be silly. Taking Philip Marlowe, Barrie Craig, Nick Carter, or Candy Matson out of their original contexts wouldn’t make sense.

Of course, it’s always possible to do a period piece. Although modern period pieces often suffer from creators deciding they need to transport twenty-first-century sensibilities back into historical periods.

However, some old time radio detective programs could be made well set in modern times, with a few tweaks thrown in:

1) Box 13

The original concept: 1940s series starring Alan Ladd. The reporter and mystery writer Dan Holiday places an ad in the paper, “Mystery wanted, will go anywhere, do anything.” A few episodes in, Dan hired a secretary named Susie. It seems she had undiagnosed inattentive-type ADD, which unfortunately got her dismissed as ditzy at the time.

Twenty-first Century updates: He would post his ad online and receive replies to an email address with “Box 13” sneaked into it believably. He could be an adventure blogger who posts about his adventures and lives on Patreon income and Google AdSense revenue. Also, Susie could be portrayed as not being so dumb while steering clear of making her a Mary Sue.

2) The Big Guy

The original concept: 1950s radio series starring John Calvin as a widowed single father raising his two kids on his own while also being a private detective.

Twenty-First Century Update: I always thought the original concept of the show had a lot of unrealized potential. Probably the most important thing would be to pick a tone. The surviving episodes vary too much. Some try to be adult crime dramas, while others would have appealed more to kids. I would propose making it a good family show with some comedy and the kids stumbling into his cases.

3) Mr. and Mrs. North

The original concept: A publisher and his wife solve mysteries together.

Twenty-First Century update: It’s been too long since we have a loving mystery-solving couple. Tampering would be minimal. Pam and Jerry are already equal partners in the mystery- solving department.Listening to the radio programs or watching the TV episodes, it’s a coin flip as to who’ll provide the solution.

She could have a separate career which leaves plenty of time for sleuthing, such as a photo blogger. Whoever wrote it would need to be careful to avoid turning her into the  “Strong Independent Woman” stock character that has replaced the damsel in distress. Pam North’s portrayal on radio and TV is witty, resourceful, funny, and fairly well-balanced. That should be maintained in any adaptation.

Honorable Mention: Night Beat

The original concept: Reporter Randy Stone roams the night in Chicago in search of stories. He writes mostly human interest tales of the best and worst of humanity in the night. Randy has a touch of cynicism, but also a lot of compassion and morality which motivates him. He’s part philosopher, as he paints broad pictures of humanity through each encounter.

Twenty-First Century update: Wouldn’t Work.

Night Beat makes a tempting target for a Twenty-First Century reboot. However, I don’t think it can be updated successfully.

Randy Stone is at the heart of the series. Unlike Box 13, you couldn’t just have him writing for a blog. He also couldn’t still be working on a newspaper.

If there were ever reporters who were close to Randy Stone, they’ve gone extinct. In the last sixty-five years, people have become more cynical about the press, and the press has become more cynical about people.

Reporters want to bring change but through partisan reporting that brings about systemic societal change. Randy Stone’s goals were nonpartisan: to be a decent person and to call other people to be decent too, regardless of politics. His nonpartisan perspective no longer flies in modern journalism. It may have been a bit fanciful in 1950. In 2018? Totally unrealistic.

The only thing a TV or radio creator could do with a modern-day Night Beat would be to ruin it by making it partisan. This would probably happen even if it was attempted as a period piece.

However, I welcome reader comments on the programs I’ve mentioned as well as any others that you think might (or might not) work with a modern day reboot.

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Broadchurch Series 3 Review

Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch had a fantastic and brilliant first series (see my review here.)  It focused on the effect of the murder of a boy on a small British town and the search for the killer. The cast was superb, led by David Tennant as Detective Inspector Alec Hardy and Olivia Coleman as Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller.

Series 2 was, in my opinion, a bit of a mess. Miller and Hardy are in different positions within the police department. It focused on the ludicrous trial of the killer from series one that ends in his acquittal. Meanwhile Hardy and Miller work unofficially through a tedious mystery that had nothing to do with the small town but had some stakes for Hardy to settle an old case that had haunted him.

Series 3 is set two years after Series 2 and finds Miller and Hardy have both reset their lives. They’re back in their old positions when 49-year-old Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh) reports she was raped at a party. Miller and Hardy investigate the case. Meanwhile, Beth Latimer (Jodie Whitaker) is the mother of the boy murdered in the first series. She shows up in series three, working as an advocate for SARA (sexual assault response association) but is estranged from her husband Mark (Andrew Buchan) who remains unable to find closure after their son’s killer was acquitted.

The process of investigating the crime is handled solidly. It’s a good procedural which was almost Dragnetesque at times (particularly in the first episode) as it took us step by step through the unique process of investigating the crime in the United Kingdom and showing what the victim experiences and what forensics they take as they try to preserve any evidence. It’s told with sensitivity and without sensationalism.

Julie Hesmondhalgh gives a believable and relatable performance as Trish. The story handles her in a realistic and sympathetic way. Not all of her actions are sympathetic, but they’re understandable within the context of what she’s going through. Hannah Millward plays Trish’s daughter well, creating a character caught between her mom and her estranged dad, who is one of the suspects in the case. She’s a likable and well-written character.

The stars turn in their usual great performances. The chemistry between Hardy and Miller has matured. Hardy is brilliant and caring, but he’s also no-nonsense and can be abrupt and harsh which Miller tends to soften out. In Series 1, they clashed frequently, but by Series 3, they’re comfortable with each other. Although, at times, it’s obvious he still annoys her.

However, there has been a balancing of the two characters. Hardy has softened a tad over time, while Miller has become a bit harder after the events of Series 1, which can be seen in her interactions with her father and her son.

Both are raising children on their own. Hardy has brought his daughter to Broadchurch so they can have a second chance while Miller is raising her young son and daughter alone.

The series runs headlong into the issue of the state of sexuality in Western Civilization today and the type of men produced by a society over-saturated with pornography. This is illustrated throughout the series and hits home for both detectives. Miller catches her son using and distributing porn, and sexual pictures of Hardy’s daughter are sent throughout the high school. This leads to one of the most memorable scenes where Hardy confronts the perpetrators and gets very Scottish on them.

The series message and the issues it raises are timely after the revelations of late 2017 and raises serious questions that society has to come to grips with.

The development of the Latimers is a realistic tale of contrasts. Beth has not forgotten her son and is dealing with the grief, although her husband’s drama is making that a challenge. She has taken stock of her life and taken that grief and used it to help others. The Latimers’ teenage daughter Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont) has grown. Mark’s inability to deal with it leads to tragic territory but is also very brilliantly performed.

For all that’s praiseworthy about the Third Series of Broadchurch, there are issues. In many ways, the greatest problem with Broadchurch Series 3 is that it isn’t Series 1.

With the exception of Trish and her daughter, the new characters add little depth. They are suspects, witnesses, and the friends and family of them, unlike the vibrant characters of Series 1 with ticks that made the audience care about them. One such character was totally dropped from the series finale, with us not finding out what happened to her and her husband.

This is typical of a detective drama. With few exceptions, outside of the detectives and close supporting characters, we’re concerned about most characters to the extent that they can provide a clue to help us solve the case. Broadchurch Series 1 was unique it won’t be easy to ever recapture that lightning in the bottle. That might be a case for leaving well enough alone and only making one series of Broadchurch, but it’s not an argument against the quality of the subsequent series.

The problem is Chibnall tried to make it feel like series one, particularly in bringing back characters. Reverend Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) returns to deal with the declining church attendance in town. And newspaper editor Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles)faces the Broadchurch Echo’s scummy corporate owners. They plan to close the local office of the Echo. Both Darvill and Pickles are solid performers and did great work in the first series. However, in Series Two, their work is wasted. Both characters are thrown into random scenes throughout the first six episodes, only achieving tangential relevance to the “B” plot of the series in the seventh episode. Only Maggie has a scene that ties into the series’ main plot. It’s good, but I question whether it was worth all the wasted scenes throughout this entire series.

There were also new characters who didn’t make much of an impact. Veteran character actor Roy Hudd played Ellie’s widowed father David, who mainly served as an object for Ellie’s contempt and occasional tirades, as well as managing to kick the already depressed Paul Coates.

While there’s much to the series’ message, it may undermine itself by painting with too broad of strokes. It would be easy to conclude from this series that Alec Hardy is the only decent man left in Broadchurch, if not the UK, or even the entire planet. Every other man we get to know is a fiend, a coward, or otherwise weakly leaving the women in their lives to pick up after them. Even Hardy almost takes a passive approach to a problem that has his daughter wanting to leave Broadchurch and needs Miller to get him to man-up. A bit more balance would have made the series more impactful.

Overall, Broadchurch Series 3 is a good crime drama with two strong leads,  great supporting actors, and a timely message. However, its attempts to live up to the greatness of Series 1 fail to do so and detract from the viewer’s experience.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

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