Category: Golden Age Article

Sherlock Series 4 Review


Sherlock Series 4 features three feature-length episodes, “The Six Thatchers,” “The Lying Detective,” and “The Final Problem.”

The series was certainly different from the prior three. It would be inaccurate to say there’s no mystery in this season but they’re definitely very different sorts of mysteries.  We’ll go ahead and examine each episode in turn.

Warning, spoilers ahead for the first episode.

“The Six Thatchers” follows the events of Series 3 and the nightmare trip which was, “The Abominable Bride,” with Holmes having been given clemency for committing murder at the end of Series 3 in order to confront the seeming return of Moriarty. Holmes’ reaction is to put that off until something happens with Moriarty or whoever’s impersonating him. He returns to being a detective and texting all the time. While showing texts in Series 1 was interesting, it became incessant at the start of this episode. Characters should text far less than people in real life do.

There are some things I liked about this episode. I thought it was funny when Holmes offered to give Lestrade credit for solving a case, and Lestrade pointed out he’d done that before, and Watson wrote about it on his blog, making Lestrade look foolish. It’s a subtle dig at the original stories which were published by Dr. Watson in-universe, including stories where Holmes agrees to let Lestrade take credit for solving the case while the story exists in-universe and reveals otherwise.

The first half of “The Six Thatchers” is a well-done modern retelling of “The Six Napoleons,” which I really enjoyed. It leads into an ex-spy colleague of Mary Watson hunting her down for betraying him and the rest of her team.

Mary runs away. Sherlock tracks her down and searches for the real traitor. They confront the traitor unarmed and the traitor tries to kill Sherlock and Mary throws herself in the way of the bullet and is killed.

I found the “Mary has another secret” plot to be a bit of a rehash of plot points from Series Three. It was sad to see Mary go, but she died in the books, so it’s hard to complain about that. This episode was okay, not great, but it had some good moments.

“The Lying Detective,” finds Watson having cutting Holmes out of his life for failing to fulfill his vow to protect the Watson family. Holmes’ health is deteriorating, even as he pursues a rich man named Culverton Smith who may or may not be a serial killer.

This story leaves you constantly questioning who you can trust. Holmes has been taking drugs, and we’re given reason to question if what the audience sees is real or drug-induced fantasies. At the same time, Watson is hallucinating about Mary, with Mary even being helpful enough to tell him that she’s a hallucination created by his own mind.

This story does keep you thinking as there’s suspense about what exactly has happened. There’s not a question of who did it since there’s not a specific crime being investigated. That lets the central conflict be a battle of wits between Holmes and Smith.

Not being sure what you’re seeing is true makes for an interesting story, but I wouldn’t want to see another episode like this.

The series wraps up with, “The Final Problem,” in which we finally find out what was behind Moriarty’s re-appearance after dying in Series 2 as well as Sherlock finally learning the truth of his own past. I enjoyed this episode for the most part. It is much more psychological thriller than a typical murder mystery, but it has more use of deductive skills than any other episode this series. The final few minutes are superb as they say a lot about the man Sherlock has become without him saying much of anything.

On the other hand, to enjoy this, you have to accept Sherlock’s opponent in this story is a supervillain with the power to control any person if they get within three feet of her and speak to her alone. It can be disconcerting when a Sherlock Holmes story takes a giant step outside the realms of reasoning that’s such a hallmark of the character. To be fair, Steven Moffat is far from the first to do this. Sherlock Holmes has appeared in numerous pastiches that have put him up against supernatural creatures, aliens from outer space, and all other sorts of weirdness. This sort of thing certainly has been done worse.

The decisions this series have certainly been controversial, but I understand why they were made. When this series started in 2010, Moffat set Sherlock on a journey. In Series 1, Sherlock could be far more cold and oblivious to how others feel, and in many ways he couldn’t care less. In the first episode, Inspector Lestrade expressed his hope for Holmes, “Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day, if we’re very, very lucky, he might even be a good one.”

And that’s been the journey Sherlock’s been on. It’s not unheard of to do this in modern detective programs. In Monk, Adrian Monk was on a journey to become whole and find peace. The big difference between Sherlock and Monk is Monk aired sixteen hours of new episodes per year for eight seasons and worked Monk’s emotional journey into that series.

The challenge with Sherlock is they’ve gotten three feature-length episodes every two to three years due to the rising popularity of the series stars. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have both become major stars in Hollywood and scheduling has become more difficult. Who knows when they will be able to do a Series 5 or if they will be able to. Moffat seems to have wanted to ensure that character arc was completed, so a lot of character-related stuff was shoved into Series 4 in order to give the series a good stopping place.

The challenge is Moffat squeezed so much character work into this series, the mystery elements suffer. And to further along Sherlock’s character story, the show does some things that compromise Watson’s character.

Whether you enjoy it will depend on what you’re looking for. If all you want is a simple, well-written detective story, you’re going to be disappointed. The more invested your are in these characters, the more you’ll get out of it and the more forgiving you’ll be about the series’ flaws as you get to see Sherlock’s personal growth.

I was invested enough that I enjoyed the series,  but I’ll be okay if there’s not an additional series or future one-shot movies. Unlike the previous three finales, “The Final Problem” doesn’t end with a cliffhanger that demands another series. Unless Moffat plans on bringing viewers the type of mysteries that got people into Sherlock in the first place, it’s probably best just to leave it there.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 2

The second and final volume of Big Finish’s Avengers Comic Strip adaptations offers four more hour long adventures featuring Julia Wadham and Olivia Poulet playing the iconic roles of of John Steed and Emma Peel.

The set begins with “Playtime is Over” in which Steed and Peel investigate a series of daring robberies apparently committed by children. When a man who has offered them a lead is murdered by a toy boat, that sets them onto a toy factory run by an eccentric man who never quite grew up.

This takes the offbeat nature of the Avengers and ups the zaniness to the level of a 1960s Batman TV episode. It’s incredible fun, if a bit predictable at times.

In “The Antongoniser,” after several strange deaths, Steed and Mrs. Peel are put on the case and discover the cause of death is animals gone bad. This is an entertaining program, with some fun moments, but it doesn’t measure up to the better episodes in the series with a mystery that’s too quickly solved and a villain that’s not that interesting. Still, worth a listen due to the fun one-liners.

In, “The Mad Hatter,” a visiting foreign princess becomes a target for assassins. As the title implies, a theme villain is behind it, but the story has a lot of twists on its way to the big reveal. The dialogue is hilarious as are many of the situations. Although, the idea of a rattlesnake being hidden in a bowler hat does cross the line from hilarious to ludicrous. Still, a fun episode.

“The Secret Six” is a perfect finale for the comic strip stories as Steed and Mrs. Peel find themselves prisoners at a country estate where they are held by six master criminals from around the globe who have decided that eliminating Steed and Peel is critical for their evil plans to succeed. It’s an action packed and dizzying ride as the two have to dodge bullets and even a tank in their quest to stay alive. Overall, this is a fun and exhilarating conclusion to the series. My only complaint is  several of the six villains were not quite credible as crime bosses. In the end, that doesn’t stop this finale from being a pleasure to listen to.

Ratings: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: The Ocean of Osyria

The Ocean of Osyria is the first book in the Hardy Boys graphic novel series from Papercutz setting the Hardy’s adventures in modern day.

The basic plot is that the Hardy’s old pal Chet Morton gets into trouble when he accidently buys an art treasure off of an online auction site. Now, the Hardys have to clear him in a globe-trotting adventure that takes them to the Middle East and Europe.

The book does a good job capturing the Hardy Boys’ basic personalities. The mystery is kind of light and the focus of the book is on adventure. The numerous locations in the story are very well-drawn. The book does borrow a bit from the Hardy Boys Case Files of the late 1980s and 1990s with the involvement of a secret government agency in setting the Hardys on the case. In addition, we do get Frank and Joe’s girlfriends involved in the adventure which didn’t usually happen either in the original series or in the later books. The art is vibrant and exciting.

As someone who devoured the Case Files in the 1990s, I do find the graphic novel format weaker. You lose a lot of relationship moments between Frank and Joe and really don’t get to know a lot of the side characters. The story is also simple compared to the complexity that could be developed in a 150 page paperback novel. But then again, I found of Ocean of Osyria fast-paced and fun. Frank and Joe Hardy lived the life and had the adventures that every boy dreams of and the graphic novel still captures that spirit nicely. Overall, this is a solid book and it’s a nice way to introduce younger comic fans to the Hardy Boys.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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DVD Review: Hawkins: The Complete TV Movie Collection


A recognizable and beloved Hollywood actor from Hollywood’s yesteryear playing a sharp and folksy lawyer who solves mysteries? That description will make people think of Matlock starring Andy Griffith. However, more than a decade before Andy Griffith played the hot-dog loving, Southern lawyer, Jimmy Stewart brought the concept to the small screen as Billy Jim Hawkins, a homespun West Virginia lawyer with a penchant for getting to the truth and winning tough cases.

The Warner Archives DVD set includes all eight Hawkins telefilms that aired in 1973 and 1974. The first film is ninety minutes long. The other seven are seventy-five minutes long as this film was aired along with another mystery series to compete with the popular NBC Mystery Wheel.

In each case, after a sensational murder has been committed, Hawkins is called in to defend the accused, who generally has a massive amount of circumstantial evidence pointing towards their guilt. Hawkins’ seeks to clear them with the help of his assistants. Hawkins usually has to win his client’s trust, inserts himself into his client’s world, and seeks to get to the bottom case with the help of his assistants.

Like Matlock and Perry Mason, every movie ends with a climactic courtroom scene where Hawkins reveals the true killer. There are a few more nods to legal procedure in this series than in either of those better known series. In particular, the series acknowledges that as Hawkins hasn’t been licensed to practice law in every state, in order to appear in those states, he needs to be working under a local attorney who will serve as the Attorney of Record for the defense even though he’s not actually arguing in court.

The Supporting Cast

In each episode, Hawkins is helped by one or more assistants. One of the key points of Hawkins’ backstory was that Hawkins had an enormous extended family of more than 100 people. In different episodes, different members of that family show up to assist. Most frequently, it’s R.J. Hawkins (Strother Martin) but Jeremiah Stocker (Mayf Nutter) and Earl Coleman (James Hampton) took turns as well. Stewart had the best chemistry with Strother Martin and R.J. Hawkins was the most interesting character, which is probably why R.J. Hawkins was in the final three films without any other assistants after only appearing in two of the first five.

The guest stars were generally quite competent. There’s an early performance by Tyne Daly, as well as appearance by golden age of Hollywood notables like Lew Ayers and Teresa Wright, along with character actress extraordinaire Jeanette Nolan. One of the more interesting guest appearances is James Best playing a serious role as a sheriff in the episode, “Blood Feud.” In a few years, he would take on the role of the ultimate comic sheriff as Rosco Coltrane.

The Lead

Ultimately, while the scripts were decent and the supporting cast is competent, it’s Jimmy Stewart that makes the series worth watching. While watching the first few minutes of the opening film, I thought Stewart had overplayed the folksiness, but once he settled into the role, he made Hawkins special. Hawkins is a country boy, and he doesn’t put on airs. Everyone who meets him is urged to call him Billy Jim.

Yet, at the same time, Hawkins has a keen mind and is aware of how the world works. Like many of the characters Stewart played over the years, Hawkins lives by a code.  His life is dedicated to the core principle that everyone’s entitled to a defense. Hawkins has a great way of connecting with and gaining the confidence of clients who’ve been unwilling to act in their own defense before.

In the courtroom scenes, Stewart is superb, building a level of rapport and using subtle humor to undercut the prosecution and then delivering an innocent “aw shucks, I’m just a country lawyer” type of comment to deflect  objections from the prosecution. The scenes where he confronts the genuine murderer are incredibly compelling. Hawkins was one of the more credible TV lawyers to be featured in this sort of program. In many ways, he seems true to life to other nationally known trial attorneys such as Gerry Spence as opposed to a character someone made up.

Stewart’s acting netted him a well-deserved Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.

Why It Only Lasted One Season

In addition to Stewart’s win, the series was nominated for a Golden Globe as was Strother Martin for best supporting actor. However, despite critical recognition, the series went away after a single season. Why?

CBS created the series as a counter to NBC’s rotating mystery programs and CBS didn’t quite seem to understand a big part of why NBC enjoyed success. NBC rotated Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan & Wife.  The beauty of the mystery wheel was that these programs all appealed to the same audience and if you liked one, there was a good chance you liked them all, and NBC could count on you to watch their mystery movie every Sunday night.

CBS on the other hand rotated Hawkins with the TV series Shaft based on the Blacksploitation film series of  the early 1970s. The two series drew two very different audiences and there was little crossover in audiences between the two shows and as a result both got cancelled.  Hawkins could have lasted longer if not for the network’s scheduling mistake.

Is This Series For You?

If you love the classic lawyer series, these films are for you. Stewart’s Hawkins is at least as good as Perry Mason or Matlock. If you’re a fan of Jimmy Stewart’s later work, this is also a must as this was arguably Stewart’s last great role before his career went on the downswing and hearing loss drove him to semi-retirement in the early 1980s.

Overall, I found Hawkins to be an enjoyable series that stands up well when compared to most of its 70s peers.

 

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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TV Episode Review: Poirot: Theft of the Royal Ruby

With his friends otherwise occupied, Poirot is ready to settle in for a Christmas alone with good food and good books to keep him company when he’s called in to investigate the theft of a ruby from a spoiled and immature teenage prince whose country is key to British interests. Poirot has to recover the ruby and that will involve spending Christmas with the wealthy Lacey family the government suspects are key to the whole affair.

Overall, this episode was Poirot was delightful and from start to finish. The mystery is well-written with its fair share of suspects and false clues, but also manages to portray a 1930s British in a truly charming and warm-hearted way, while also having a nice bit of romance thrown in.

If you’re looking for a light and well-told mystery for Christmastime, this Series 3 episode of Poirot is sure to hit the spot.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

Note: This episode is available on DVD or for free Streaming through Netflix

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