Tag: TV Detectives

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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DVD Review: Father Dowling Season Three


After a TV movie and two partial seasons, ABC gave the Father Dowling Mysteries a regular season of 22 episodes in 1990-91.

The same cast of regulars from Season 2 returned with Father Frank Dowling (Tom Boswell), Sister Steve (Tracy Nelson) investigating mysteries and Father Prestwick (James Stephens) and housekeeper Marie (Mary Wickes) providing comic relief.

The series maintained a pleasant, family friendly voice tone with likable characters. Steve does a lot of undercover work and handles most tasks well, but you don’t get the impression she’s unrealistically super competent in everything like during Season One.

Some of the past seasons had episodes that could more rightly be called “adventures”  than “mysteries,” but these are true mysteries. The plots are thought-out but never too intricate.

The one thing I did miss from Season Two was the little touches that made Father Dowling and Sister Steve seem more like a real Catholic priest and nun. Except as discussed below, they don’t do anything to cut against that idea other than the fact that the two can always run off to investigate a mystery.

My favorite episodes of this season is, “The Christmas Mystery.” It’s a nice mystery with a few suspect twists, but it’s a fun Christmas treat and there aren’t enough good Christmas mysteries out there. In, “The Moving Target Mystery,” a contract killer comes into Father Dowling’s confessional and confesses he was hired to kill him. He is backing out because he won’t kill a priest but somebody else will. It’s a good set up for a story.

The “Fugitive Priest Mystery,” finds Father Dowling on the run thanks to his evil twin Blaine, and he has to clear his name and find out what Blaine’s up to. “The Hard-Boiled Mystery,” is my favorite episode of the season. Father Dowling goes to have words with a writer who decided to write a story based on Father Dowling. It’s set during the 1930s with Dowling as a hard-boiled priest-detective. We flash from the present to the hard-boiled detective scenes and they’re absolutely hilarious.

On the downside,  some stories just didn’t work. After having an angel in Season 2, the writers decided, “How about having Father Dowling encounter the devil?” Thus we were given, “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery.” What we get is a Hollywood version of the devil who is defeated by a plot ripped off from, “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” The story introduces an older brother for Steve and contradicts a previous season’s story featuring Steve’s younger brother. Further, it has the characters acting really out of character. It’s the worst episode of the series.

“The Consulting Detective Mystery,” is a bit of clunker. Father Dowling makes a deduction as to who committed a crime. He’s wrong, leading to an innocent ex-con losing his job. This leads to Sherlock Holmes appearing in order to restore Father Dowling’s confidence. It’s not a great setup and the actor playing Holmes doesn’t work. It’s not as bad as, “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery,”  but it’s weak and poorly executed.

The rest of the box set is serviceable and fun. Father Dowling was never a big budget show, and it never featured television’s most clever mystery writers. It was a show you could enjoy with the whole family. Another reviewer described the show as “cute,” and I’ll go with that. This season, in particular, features Father Dowling and Sister Steve working to save a cute zoo monkey framed for murder. It’s easy viewing with a bit of nostalgia for simpler times thrown into the deal.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: Pie in the Sky, Series One

Pie in the Sky  is a British TV show that aired for five  series between 1994-97 and chronicles the adventure of Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe (Richard Griffiths) who would like nothing more than to retire and run his restaurant with the help of his account wife Margaret (Maggie Steed). Instead, while he opens his restaurant and serves as its chef, he’s subject to constant recall by his boss Assistant Chief Constable Freddy Fisher (Malcolm Sinclair.) This set collects the ten hour long episodes in the First Series.

The pilot episode is included, and  it was the worst episode of the first series. In fact, it tempted me to take the whole box set back to the library and be done with it. I’m glad I stuck with the series but the first episode was a hurdle to get over.

The writers had to get the concept of the series written, and it’s that Crabbe wants to retire after twenty-five years to open his own restaurant. However, things go awry on his last case.  He’s framed for taking a bribe from an escaped criminal. Fisher knows Crabbe’s really innocent but there’s no proof and Fisher instead proposed to hold an inquiry into the bogus charges over Crabbe’s head like a sword of Damocles. If he continues to be “on leave” and available at Fisher’s whims, Crabbe can run his restaurant most of the time. If on the other hand, Crabbe decides he’d rather not, then he can prepared to get accustomed to the joys of jailhouse food.

The plot was fine, but the episode got bogged down in giving us way too many details about everything. The lighting was terrible, and the character’s motivations were somewhat unclear.

However, once Pie in the Sky got past its first episode, it took off and became quite enjoyable.  The big change were the characters.

Inspector Crabbe became far more clearly defined. The first episode couldn’t quite decide if he had been frustrated by his inability to move up the ranks as Fisher had. Unlike Fisher,  he wasn’t a Machiavellian schemer. Thankfully, the idea of Crabbe acting out of envy for Fisher was dropped which made him more appealing.

Griffiths  does a great job portraying Crabbe as a crusty, wise eccentric with a strong ethical core that leads him into constant conflict with Fisher. At one point in this series, he’s offered retirement if he drops a case, and he takes  a firm ethical stand. Time and time again, he’s shown to be good-hearted and trying to do the right thing.

Mrs. Crabbe grows quite a bit from the series opener, where she was defined as an accountant unimpressed by good cooking.  Steed and Griffiths have an incredible chemistry and she shows herself a smart and well-defined character with a great sense of humor and opinions of her own. She also is tender and supportive of her husband in a way that makes for a sweet relationship.

I should also give some praise to Bella Enaharo who plays Detective Constable Cambridge. At first glance, she’s little more than a respectful, low-ranking officer on the police force. However, she really grows to be an interesting and fully developed character.

The strength of the show is its characters. The stories are mostly solid tales that are good Comedy Dramas with mystery an occasional and less-developed element.. The writers have strong political viewpoints that work their way into the story. Most of the time, it’s not too strident. Indeed, the series is an example of how to soft sell your political ideas. However, sometimes the writers’ political views make the plots more predictable than they otherwise would be.

If you can get past that as well as the pilot,  this is a very enjoyable and pleasant series with great characters, a good premise, and some fairly interesting stories.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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TV Series Review: Broadchurch Series 1


In the first series of Broadchurch from 2013, a small English town is shaken by the death of eleven year old Danny Lattimer (Oskar McNamara) and Alex Hardy (David Tennant), a detective inspector newly arrived in Broadchurch and lifelong local Detective Seargeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) are charged with investigating the case, and along the way they unearth many buried secrets of Broadchurch’s citizens.

While Tennant is the best known star in the series internationally, it’d be a mistake to assume that this a series about the investigators alone or primarily a David Tennant vehicle. The series is just not about the mystery, though there are plenty of clues and red herrings, but how this affects an entire community and then there are separate plots that work their way through Broadchurch: How the family handles this as well as learning of the husband’s infidelity, a discouraged minister, an ambitious young reporter, a self-proclaimed psychic telephone repairman, and then the suspects: some are hiding something, but in a few cases, we learn that people we’ve been suspecting have only been trying to hide a very painful past. It’s not a story with disposable characters.

As such, the middle four episodes feel like an ensemble piece and a very good one at that. What Broadchurch does is make characters who feel like real people.  There are secrets but most of them aren’t off the wall things. There’s real human conflict at work.

My favorite character outside of the leads was Reverend Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill of Doctor Who) who was really revealed to be a strong character despite starting off looking much more like

In the hands of an amateur or a weak creative team, this type of story becomes a mess of characters running around. At the same time, the series succeeds on a directorial level. The way the story of Broadchurch is told is superb and nearly flawless with music, acting, and storytelling working together to tell a narrative. This is brilliant filmmaking and art on television which is just not something you see.

The mystery is good, although it’s probably the weakest part of the series. There are a lot of clues and red herring thrown in throughout the series. It’s hard to sort through, and the most important clues are ones that Alex Hardy knows but doesn’t share with the audience. Still, there are a few clues to the killer that the attentive viewer can pick up.

While this is a great series, it’s one that really requires parental discretion and is definitely not for the whole family.  The series deals with serious issues that surround the death of a child and what could motivate it. While it was produced for broadcast television, it was produced for British broadcast television which has different standards than broadcasts in other countries. There’s very little sexual content or  violence  but some language that would not make it on American broadcast television.  For the most part, , the use of these elements in the series were not gratuitous which is a tribute to the talent of the creative team to tell a good story.

Overall, this is a great example of what Television can be but so often isn’t.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: The Father Dowling Mysteries, Season One

The Father Dowling Mysteries was a delightful mystery series starring Tom Bosley (Happy Days) and Tracy Nelson as Chicago-based Father Frank Dowling and Sister Stephanie “Steve” Oskowski, a priest and nun constantly finding themselves in the the thick of mysteries. The duo first appeared in a 1987 TV movie before joining the 1989 NBC line up as a mid-season replacement before moving to ABC in 1990 for another mid-season replacement season and its only full season. Having aired on NBC and ABC, the DVD release, of course, comes from CBS Home video. Father Dowling was a character created by Ralph McHenry in a series of popular novels, but the novels really don’t appear to have come much into play in the stories.

The first season set collects the 1987 Movie, “The Fatal Confession” as well as the seven episode first season of Father Dowling.

Ultimately, this isn’t a series made by the cleverness of its mysteries or bone-chilling suspense, or CSI-like crime scene details. In the end, Father Dowling stands firmly on the charm and chemistry of its two protagonist and Bosley and Nelson are wonderful to watch.

Bosley is very believable as Father Dowling. He does a perfect job creating that balance that’s required in a clerical detective. Dowling is clever, but he’s also compassionate. He cares about catching the bad guy but he also cares about people’s souls and lives. In so many ways, Frank Dowling is a bit of a throw back to a gentler era in television that spawned characters like Andy Taylor. He was truly good and kind, and also didn’t take himself too seriously.

Sister Steve is street smart but also very compassionate. The biggest flaw with the way the series played the character was that in each episode, they had to have her do something you wouldn’t typically expect a nun to do usually in the line of duty but sometimes not: beating the neighborhood boys at basketball playing pool, fixing a car, mixing drinks at a bar, or teaching an aerobics class. It was all in the line of work. Sometimes, it was humorous, though it times it could get goofy and a little repetitive. The first few episodes had her being able to do every single thing well. Thankfully, in the “Face in the Mirror Mystery,” they finally had her undertake a task she couldn’t do well: rollerskating.

Rounding out the regulars were Father Dowling’s cranky housekeeper Marie (Mary Wickes) and the very particular Father Phil (James Stephens) who would appear in the first and last episodes of the 1989 series before becoming a regular. As for the episodes themselves:

“The Fatal Confession” had some good moments in it as Father Dowling looks into the apparent suicide of a former parishoner, but the last quarter of it or so was just too much like a soap opera

“The Missing Body Mystery,” the feature length first episode of the 1989 series begins with a man stumbling into St. Michaels and dying. When Father Dowling returns after calling the police, the body is gone. His stability is called into question and the bishop wants to relieve him and replace him with Father Phil. It’s a great story and a solid beginning.

“What Do You Call Girl Mystery,” is a story about a slain high-priced call girl that manages to tell a good story without being exploitative or sleazy.

“The Man Who Came to Dinner Mystery,” is probably the only clunker in the first season. Steve’s ex-fiance (played by Nelson’s then-husband William Moses) witnesses a murder but when he shows up with the police, the body’s gone. Even worse someone’s trying to kill him. This story not only has a similar plot to a much better episode that aired two weeks previously as a well as a weak conclusion, but it tries to create dramatic conflict over Steve’s decision to become a nun and fails.

The main problem is that we’re told that Steve was almost ready to marry her ex when she ran off to the convent to become a nun. Why would a young woman make this very radical decision? All of the reasons Sister Steve gives such as “it was the right thing for me” don’t really ring true. It’s impossible to believe a nun would say or if someone wanted to be a nun with such weak reasons, that the Catholic church would allow it. Of course, treating the subject realistically may have required too much religiosity for network TV executives liking. But if you can’t do it well, why do it at all? Why try introduce a dramatic subplot that’s not believable?

The season got back on track with the two part, “Mafia Priest Mystery,” in which Father Luciana, the son of a mafia family becomes Father Dowling’s new Assistant. He’s trying to make a break with the family business but is drawn into an effor to help his brother Peter go straight and finds himself framed for murdering the DA. This is a great story with a lot of tension, suspects, and situations. We do learn whodunit about half away through the second episode but there’s still some great suspense including a delightful train chase. I also appreciate how the episode highlights both Frank and Steve’s compassion as they deal with and minister to members of the crime family even while trying to find the killer.

“The Face in the Mirror Mystery,” is actually a pretty decent story despite the fact that the premise of an “evil twin” of the main character has been done to death. This is  a great cat and mouse game between Father Dowling and his twin brother Blaine, though the payoff scene is a little silly.

The season concluded with, “The Pretty Baby Mystery,” which has a woman chased by armed men leaving her baby in the church. Father Dowling and Steve try to find the mother and end up getting arrested by the Feds. This is another episode that really respects the characters’ vocation and differentiates them from the typical TV detective. The episode also marked the return of James Stevens as Father Phil, who has become the Bishop’s assistant.

Overall, the first season of Father Dowling was thoroughly enjoyable. It manages to be a mostly well-written family friendly detective series with likable characters. It treats its main characters with respect, but also manages a great deal of humor and warmth. I’ll look forward to future seasons.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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