Tag: TV Series review

TV Episode Review: The Hardy Boys: Welcome to Your Life

The new series of the Hardy Boys kicks off with the episode, “Welcome to Your Life.”

The series makes a lot of changes to the Hardy Boys formula and characters. For those who have never read the books, the Hardy Boys were two teenage boys: Frank (age 18) and Joe (age 17) living in the upstate New York town of Bayport. Their father is Fenton, a private detective, and their mother is Laura, a librarian.

Frank and Joe are not complex characters in the book. They are distinct. Both are smart and physically capable, however Frank is more of a geek and more cautious, and Joe is more physically capable and more given to making rash, impulsive decisions.

The TV series takes things in a different direction. It looks to be set in the late 1980s where Frank and Joe (Rohan Campbell and Alexander Elliott) live with their parents in “the city.” Frank is sixteen and Joe is twelve. Frank is a nerd, but he’s also a good baseball player. We spend the first few minutes of the series seeing the boys interact with their mom who is then killed in what appears to be an auto accident. On top of that, their father Fenton (James Tupper) decides to move them back to their mother’s hometown of Bridgeport for the summer. At first blush, this seems incredibly insensitive, but its for their own safety due to information it’s implied he’s hiding.

In Bridgeport, they meet their grandmother (Linda Thorson) who is glad to see them and eager to go about the business of micromanaging their lives. They also meet the townsfolk who are mostly friendly, even though we’re given some hints of something suspicious a few times. And both a flashback prologue and a couple moments later on hint at the ongoing mystery the Hardy boys are eventually going to resolve to solve.

This first episode doesn’t do a lot for me. There’s definitely room to flesh out the Hardys and make them more three dimensional. However, the writers seemed to have approached this using the most cliched methods of modern storytelling. Killing off a parent as a plot point and in order to make the characters more relatable is the most overused tool of modern writers. And here it’s handled in such an uninspired way that it feels obligatory.

At the same time, the change in ages also changes the dynamic in ways that don’t work well. In the book, Joe and Frank were peers. Plus they’ve made Frank not only a genius nerd but a talented athlete, leaving Joe’s defining characteristic as “the younger one.” Which is a bit of a step back from the balance in the books, not a step forward.

Probably, the biggest problem with this first episode is its length. It’s over forty minutes and feels padded. It ends on a strong note, but in order to get to that note, it has a lot of time where it’s dragging through its runtime to get to the punchline. This particular episode would have been better at 20-22 minutes, which is more typical for a kid-centric TV series. Based on this episode, I’m also skeptical that the writers have enough mystery and enough twists to justify the thirteen-episode, season-long plot arc.

That said, no performances were bad. The interesting clues left me a bit curious to see what will happen next. I’ll watch at least one more episode to see if the series picks up its pace and moves beyond all the set up in this first episode. This may turn out to be a good series when it’s all said and done, but this first episode was rough.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

A Look at the First Two Episodes of T and T

T and T was a 1988-91 syndicated television series starring Mr. T as T.S. Turner, a former boxer who was wrongfully convicted of a crime until attorney Amanda Taylor (Alexandra Amini) clears him. He becomes a private detective and teams up with her to help the wrongfully accused.

As a kid, I loved Mister T and but never got to watch more than a  few minutes of the show as at that age, I never had control of the television. So I was curious to find out what I missed when I found it streaming on Tubi.

T and T was from an era where Canadian-produced first-run syndication series were quite popular and this was a half hour program which could come in handy for local TV stations looking to fill a block of programming. The budget for the show is modest and the show definitely looks of its era.

The child actors and supporting actors on this series range from competent and professional to either monotone or over the top. Ms. Amini comes off a bit flat in the first episode, but in the second, I think she’s much better.

Mister T. carries the show in these first two episodes. Mr. T’s charisma and warmth make Turner an endearing character. Turner isn’t quite the larger than life character of Mr. T’s most famous roles, Clubber Lang and B.A. Baracus. He’s slightly more down to earth. He’s a professional who cares about people, does his job, and carries himself with style. In these first couple episodes, Turner spends a lot of time wearing nice suits and the look really works for Mr. T.

The first two episodes are, “Extortion in Chinatown” and “Mug Shot.” The first involves Turner and Taylor trying to help a shopkeeper and his son in Chinatown. “Mug Shot” finds Turner and Taylor trying to help out a teenage boy who was duped into delivering crack.

These are pretty boilerplate detective show plots and the story plays out in a typical manner. The storytelling is workmanlike and not all that surprising. Like a lot of Mr. T projects during this era, T and T is concerned about teaching good morals, with the high popularity of Mr. T among 1980s youth. These episodes weren’t too preachy, but there were a few pieces of dialogue that were a bit off. (Though it could have been the acting.)

The show was hurt by its half hour length. By nature of the format, both Turner and Taylor were working together and operating in very different worlds. I don’t think there’s enough time to do this properly in the half hour runtime. I did find that there was a four part story (originally a TV movie) and I might check that out in the future.

Overall, T&T is an okay show. If you like Mister T and are intrigued by the idea of him as a 1980s private detective and are willing to overlook a few production quality issues, this is a fun show to watch, and the half hour length makes it a quick fast-paced watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

T and T is available for streaming on Tubi for free with ads.

Telefilm Review: Cannon/Barnaby Jones: The Deadly Conspiracy

A young woman who works at an oil company calls a congressional staffer promising to blow the whistle on her employer. This is overheard by the head of public relations who plots her death. A wine delivery man with a record is set up at the patsy for raping and killing the woman.

Frank Cannon (William Conrad) is hired by the an attorney for the accused, while the Congressional staffer hires Barnaby Jones (Buddy Ebsen), thus setting up a rare crossover between two TV detectives. Cannon had appeared in Barnaby Jones’s first episode.  Both programs were produced by Quinn Martin who used Cannon’s presence to jumpstart Barnaby Jones. Here the two detectives have both been on multiple seasons and would in effect be sharing star billing and solving the case together. 

This is a good story. Like many Quinn Martin detective shows, it was not a whodunit. Who is pretty clear from the start. However, there are all kinds of mysteries to solve along the way such as why, and what the goal of the titular “Deadly Conspiracy” is.

I liked a lot about the conspiracy. Their goal is complex, but it makes sense and also seems realistic and believable. While the conspirators are willing to kill for their goals, unlike other villains, they don’t just kill. They’re able to throw roadblocks in front of our heroes in ways that don’t involve homicide, which I think makes for a more interesting plot.

Both Conrad and Ebsen are given a chance to shine, and overall the team is very well-balanced with both playing nearly equal parts in the action and detective work. The guest cast is a notch above the typical guest cast with a lot of recognizable  actors including Diana Douglas and Francis De Sales.  Barry Sullivan shines as the chief villain.

There are two versions of the story available. The Season 5 DVD of Cannon contains a modified version of the story that’s trimmed down to a single episode of Cannon with an alternate (and in my opinion inferior) ending. The Season 4 DVD of Barnaby Jones collects both episodes and I recommend that version. While several episodes of existing programs were backdoor pilots for possible detective programs, this was the only crossover episode for two established 1970s Detective programs. It does its job well and deserves to be seen in its complete form.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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Streaming Review: Philip Marlowe, Private Eye: Season 2

In the 1980s, Powers Boothe starred in the HBO series Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, a series based on Raymond Chandler’s short stories featuring Marlowe (or other detective characters Chandler created who were indistinguishable from Marlowe.

The second season is available for viewing on Amazon Prime and features two stories that were released as Marlowe stories in the collection Trouble is My Business as well as four others.

Boothe plays the lead and delivers a solid performance. However, some great actors have taken on this role, including Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and Gerald Mohr. I wouldn’t put Boothe in their league. There are moments where it  feels like he’s trying too hard to create an effect of being a hard-boiled private eye and those are the moments where I find myself taken out of the story. That said, there have been worse takes on Marlowe, and I think Boothe works more often than not in this season.

The rest of the cast was fairly solid and believable. The main guest stars turned in good performances (including a young Robin Givens) and the supporting players all felt authentic.

The costume designs are great and did a superb job of capturing the era. On the other hand, compared to other period productions of the era, the sets and cinematography are pretty unremarkable. Nothing takes you out of the story with obvious anachronisms from the 1980s in the 1930s sets, but they also don’t evoke the era. They feel more like settings that existed unchanged from the 1930s to the 1980s.

The real highlight for many are the stories by Chandler. If you want to see adaptations of most of these stories, this is the only way to see them. As far as I know, four of them weren’t even adapted to radio. What comes across as a bit of a cheap feel for most of the production does work pretty well in telling the stories of the mean streets that Chandler does.

So overall, this isn’t close to being the best on-screen Marlowe presentation or production, but the trappings do well enough to be able to communicate some great overlooked hardboiled tales from the pen of Raymond Chandler, which makes this series worth checking out for fans of Philip Marlowe.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Telefilm Review: Murder She Wrote: The Deadly Lady

In “The Deadly Lady,” some time has passed since The Murder of Sherlock Holmes as the episode shows Jessica has a proof copy of a new book and is working on yet another. Wealthy financier Stephen Earl is apparently killed in a storm on a boat with his daughters, who will each receive $25 million at his death. Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) suspects foul play and calls Jessica Fletcher in for her advice and he meets the man’s daughters, most of whom seem to have little love lost for him. At the same time, a drifter named Ralph (Howard Duff) comes to Jessica’s house seeking work and she gives him some work and befriends him.

Thanks to a local newspaperman, she sees a picture of the financier and realizes it’s the drifter, which means he didn’t die in the storm,  clearing one of his daughters who confessed to the “murder.” However when his body washes up on the beach, Jessica has to find out who killed him and why.

What Works:

The scenes between Howard Duff and Angela Lansbury were just superb.  Stephen Earl/Ralph is trying to sell Jessica a false story, several in fact, so that he can stay on the down low in Cabot Cove, though Jessica uses her deductive skills to see through most all of them. She’s still very kind and empathetic towards him and genuinely likes him, which gives her some added to motivation to solve his eventual murder.

We meet our first two Cabot Cove recurring characters. Tom Bosley (Happy Days, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home) would play Sheriff Tupper for the first four seasons on Murder She Wrote before leaving the role to become the lead in The Father Dowling Mysteries. In this episode, Tupper is a solid small-town lawman who does what needs to be done and refuses to alter his ways for high-powered, wealthy out-of-towners who descend on the town in the wake of news of Earl’s death. 

This episode features Claude Akins’ first episode as fishing boat Captain Ethan Clagg, an irascible character who enjoys taking good-natured shots at his friends in Cabot Cove. Akins makes the character work which is a challenge because that type of character can easily become annoying.

Dack Rambo does a nice-turn as the sleazy, money-grubbing husband of one of the daughters. He’s one of those characters you love to hate and Rambo’s quite good at making the character come to life.

What You Just Have to Accept:

Cabot Cove is supposed to be a small town in Maine, but this introductory episode is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of feeling like it’s set there.  The actors attempt New England rural accents with varying degrees of success, and some exteriors shots look passable, although the eagle eye will notice several dead giveaways that this was shot in Mendocino, California. 

It’s the type of production issue that’s fair to acknowledge, but not fair to hold against the show. It was good enough for its time. I just needed to bring my own imagination and suspension of disbelief to buy this location as being in Maine.

What Doesn’t Work:

Sherriff Tupper calls Jessica in when he thinks there might be a murder, but then when he finds an important crime scene, the story implies he told a deputy to not tell her where he was. The deputy then takes a phone call right in front of Jessica,  revealing the location and Jessica goes out there, with Sheriff Tupper none to happy to see her.

The whole sequence is a bit of pointless padding that goes against Tupper’s character as we’d seen it in the episode.

While Murder She Wrote is sometimes criticized for having plots resolved with Jessica finding the solution but the audience isn’t let on until she gives the solution to others, this particular episode has the opposite problem. The clues and overall solution are too simple and easy.  Though that may not be  the worst thing for the first hour-long episode.

Overall Thoughts:

A murderer who crosses Jessica Fletcher’s path is in serious trouble, but it’s pretty much hopeless for the murderer who decides that Cabot Cover is a good place to commit a killing.  The murderer caught in this episode won’t be the last one to try that fool’s errand and suffer the consequences.

While the mystery is a simple affair, Angela Lansbury carries it often with style, helped by a great guest performance by Howard Duff. This story gets the regular run of hour-long Murder She Wrote episodes off to a fine start.

Rating:4.0 out of 5.0

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