Category: Golden Age Article

TV Episode Review: Magnum, PI: I Saw the Sunrise

Before reviewing this episode, let me get one thing out of the way. In no way is a reboot of Magnum, PI necessary. This is the case with most television and film updates. There are limited cases where it can work. For example, if you have a television show that had some good elements but was hampered by flaws, a new creative team may find an entirely different way to take it. It can also be appropriate to bring an old series forward to a new time, think Star Trek: The Next Generation or the revived Doctor Who. And when you’re dealing with a literary character that originates from books, you can always make another screen interpretation.

The original Magnum, PI is a critically acclaimed, beloved series that’s still on the air in more than one hundred countries. It was both well-written and featured award-winning acting. In short, there’s no reason to remake it. The best a remake will ever achieve is being the second-best version of Magnum, PI.

That said, despite being unnecessary, the end product can vary from being a horrible betrayal of the original series to a pale imitation of the original series, to something that would be fun in its own right.

“I Saw the Sunrise” is the first episode of the new series and introduced the main characters including Magnum (Jay Hernandez), Rick (Zack Knighton)and T.C. (Stephen Hill.) The three were Navy Seals together and Robin Masters was an embedded reporter whose life they saved. He promised to hook them up if he became rich and famous. He wrote a novel series that became a best-seller and acquired a spare mansion in Hawaii and a supply of Ferraris. (Not the typical outcome of a writing career.) Masters has hired Juliett Higgins (Perdita Weeks) as his caretaker.

From a production standpoint, the series manages not to mess up the show. As I was a little boy in the 1980s, I got a nostalgic thrill from seeing the Ferraris and T.C.’s glorious helicopter. The series uses the same theme, although in keeping with modern pacing standards, the opening lasts twenty seconds as opposed to a full minute for the classic series. The location shots are gorgeous. The action scenes are well-shot and exciting.

The acting is solid. Hernandez is no Tom Selleck. Nevertheless, he’s got a good bit of charisma and warmth that made me like his character. Perdita Weeks had a difficult challenge, taking on a role associated with Emmy Winner John Hillerman and managed to make the role her own. Like Hillerman, she could be snarky towards Magnum but never is mean or denigrating to the hero as happens with some attempts to inject “strong female characters” into long-running franchises. Knighton and Hill manage to be almost perfect replacements for their 1980s counterparts.

The plot of the story is straightforward. An old Navy buddy of Magnum’s is killed before Magnum can meet with him and Magnum sets out to find the killers.

The writing of this episode is of variable quality. The best thing about the script is it gives Magnum and friends a good motive to solve the case because the murdered man was their fallen comrade. Magnum has good moments with the victim’s young son, showing a kinder side which contrasts with all the fights involved in the episode.

Other changes are adequate. The case isn’t amazing but in a modern series, its understandable to make the mystery simpler so you can introduce your character. There were some tweaks to the original series. Throughout the original series, there was a bit of a sense of mystery around Robin Masters and Higgins, with hints being dropped that the two men were the same man. This is dispensed within the first episode as we learn that Higgins isn’t Robin right off the bat. It’s one of the few changes that indicate a willingness for the series to do something fresh.

This pilot has a few plot holes and issues. Given it’s a series that’s supposed to be fast-paced, it has one pointless scene where he meets with a client in the middle of the episode that has no connection to the episode and serves no purpose. In addition, Higgins is keeping a major secret which Magnum has found out for reasons that are never justified except with, “Hey, I’m a detective and I can figure out stuff!” Higgins admits to what Magnum says on the basis of the same flimsy argument and gives Magnum access to a satellite to track the villains of the week.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad episode and it doesn’t look like a bad series, but it’s not a great one either. With good action and decent performances, it’s okay for mindless inoffensive entertainment, but it’s a far cry from the original.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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Audio Drama: The Collected Bowdrie Dramatizations: Volume 2 (Dramatized)

The second volume of dramatizations of Louis L’Amour’s Chick Bowdrie stories features six stories featuring L’Amour’s fast-shooting Texas Ranger. The stories are all as strong as in the previous collection. In addition to being Westerns, most are also mysteries as Bowdrie rides into town and has to solve a murder or theft, often as the only legitimate law for hundreds of miles around. The mysteries are bad. If you know L’Amour stories, you often have a very early idea who the guilty party will be.

My favorite story in this collection is the one that isn’t a mystery. “South of Deadwood” found Bowdrie charged with delivering a desperado back to Texas for trial where he faces hanging. A woman insists the criminal can tell the truth that can clear her brother and save him from the gallows. Bowdrie is inclined to believe her, but the criminal refuses to cooperate as he has no motive to do the right thing. At the same time, Bowdrie is being stalked by the criminal’s old gang. As they travel, Bowdrie and the criminal practically become friends or as much of friends as they could be. It’s really properly a complex plot for a short story that works with great characters and a few surprises.

The dramas are all well-acted and fairly well scored. On top of the audio dramas, some of the shorter dramas are proceeded with a few clips from L’Amour himself, sharing his keen insights into the life and times of the old West. Overall, this is a delightful collection of well-written audio dramas by one of the masters of the Western genre and definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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DVD Review: A Bone to Pick


A Bone to Pick is the first of the Aurora Teagarden Hallmark mysteries starring Candace Cameron-Bure. Aurora is a librarian and an active member in a local group for readers of true stories of unsolved crimes that likes to speculate on whodunit. A childless group member dies of old age and names Aurora as her sole heir. While going through her late friend’s effects at her friend’s home, Aurora discovers a hidden human skull. This leads her to try and prove her worth as an amateur detective and solve the case.

This TV movie checks some of the most important genre boxes. Aurora is a likable protagonist and the mystery is well thought-out. The mystery is two-fold as Aurora has to figure out who the victim was as well as who the murderer while refusing to report it to the police while she plays detective. The story is given an added sense of realism by having a best friend (Lexa Doig) who warns Aurora this is not a good idea. When the police do get involved, they don’t at all appreciate the amateur’s interference and threaten to arrest her. To make matters worse for Aurora, the police detective on the case is her ex-boyfriend’s new wife (Miranda Frigon) who is about nine months pregnant.

Several minutes are taken up with Aurora meeting and dating the Episcopal Priest Father Scott Aubrey (Stephen Huszar) The relationship goes nowhere, has nothing to do with the mystery, and he never appears in the series again. I also found the attempt to add peril to the denoument to be a bit silly and over-the-top.

But if I really had a “bone to pick” (ha) with the movies it is that there’s a missing sense of place. I’ve heard the books are set in Georgia. This makes sense. Aurora Teagarden the most Southern Belle name you’ll ever find. However, the movie is set in a generic small town and is filmed in Canada. This works fine most of the time, but a few details of the film would make a lot more sense if this story were set in Georgia, such as Aurora’s name and her mother’s attitude. Devoid of her cultural context, the proper patrician Southern lady becomes plain snooty.

Despite that, this was a fun movie. It’s a family-friendly mystery. with a likable actress playing the amateur detective. It’ll never win an Edgar but if you want to watch a cozy mystery with an amateur sleuth, this will do nicely.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency BBC Radio Casebook Vol. 1

BBC Radio 4 produced a series of audio dramas based on Alexander McCall Smith’s massively successful No. 1 Ladies Detective novels which follow the adventures of Precious Ramotswe (Claire Benedict) as she uses her inheritance to establish the first ever detective agency in Botswana for “ladies and others.”

The radio adaptations is done by Smith himself and the first casebook is eight episodes adapted from the first four novels in the series. The radio plays do a great job capturing the warmth and charm of the characters in the book with many bits of dialogue taken directly from the books.

The episodes have a much stronger focus on the mystery element than the books do. The earlier mystery plots tend to be a bit more complex and interesting such as when Ma Ramotswe finds clues that indicate a missing boy may have fallen into the hands of witch doctors and helps a woman who’s not sure the man claiming to be her long-lost father really is. Later we have cases that are more domestic such as a middle-aged man who wants to find a woman he robbed and a girl he wronged to settle his affairs in life.

The theme music is a nice and catchy African theme that makes a solid lead-in for the series.

Not everything from the books is included in the adaptations, but what is omitted mostly isn’t problematic. The two minor exceptions to this is that the audio drama doesn’t address that Ma Ramotswe moved her office from its original location to inside the same building as her fiance Mr. J. L. B, Matekoni’s auto repair business. That was jarring. Nor is it portrayed that Ma Ramotswe’s Secretary/Assistant Detective Ma Makutsi doubled as Assistant Manager of the garage. Omitting that begs the question of how Matekoni’s business survived a long illness in the middle of the series.

However, as the audio dramas stick close to the books, most of the faults come from the books. For example, the series has a habit of raising plot points that disappoint. For example, in one episode, Matekoni’s maid hatches a plot to have Ma Ramotswe sent to prison. In another, a male detective opens up a practice and uses his being male as a selling point for his business. Both of these ideas are resolved in the most anti-climatic way possible.

Still, for all their faults, there’s a reason the No. 1 Ladies Detective series books are so popular. These first eight episodes capture the charm of the book series almost perfectly. If you’re looking for a light mystery series with likable and interesting characters, this set will definitely hit the spot.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: Tickets for Death


In Tickets for Death, Michael Shayne is called in to investigate counterfeit race track tickets at a small town outside of Miami. He and his wife Phyllis drive to a hotel. Before he can even get started investigating, he has to kill two thugs in self-defense.

This is a generally solid early Michael Shayne story. The story moves at a great pace, and we are given quite a bit of two-fisted action and a complex mystery with many clues as well as quite a few red herrings.

The only negative is that this novel continues his over-the-top playing fast and loose with the police and evidence. I  thought that writer Brett Halliday had reached the point of reigning in how irresponsible he wrote Shayne as being until the last couple chapters, where he does the most egregious thing I’ve ever read Shayne do.

Despite that, this is a fun read. By no means is it a great novel, but if you’re looking for a detective story from the 1940s with a hard-boiled bent, this one will certainly do the trick.

Rating:3.5 out of 5

 

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