Tag: negative review

Audio Drama Review: The Trial of Sherlock Holmes

The Trial of Sherlock Holmes finds Sherlock Holmes whisked away to a secret courtroom and forced to answer to charges of being a public menace and is forced to relive three little known cases.

This is a more comedic take on Holmes and Watson. Essentially in less than an hour, we’re given three remembered mysteries and the framing story about the trial which is itself a mystery and we’ve got a lot of comedy mixed in.

The acting is broad but decent. The five-member cast play their ensemble roles well and make all of their characters quite distinct. The writing is fine. While I knew from the start, there was something wrong with the judge, I didn’t figure out until 2/3 of the way through what he might be up to. The story explores the idea that Holmes’ rivals (aka detectives who sprang up soon after him) emerged during the time he was presumed dead after “The Final Problem.”

The story and its comedy veers towards the silly, and has its hits and misses. So the stories are mostly off-beat.

That said, doing a Sherlock Holmes comedy is hard. I’ve heard some awful attempts and by comparison, this isn’t half-bad. It’s unremarkable but it’s relatively short, occasionally funny, and a relatively pain-free listen. If you’d like to hear a silly Sherlock Holmes comedy that isn’t truly horrible, this might be worth trying.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

The story can be downloaded for free from the Wireless Theatre Company

 

 

Radio Series Review: My Friend Irma

My Friend, Irma came to radio in 1947 starring Marie Wilson as Irma, a quirky young secretary from Minnesota who came to New York and was befriended by Jane Stacy (Cathy Lewis and later Joan Banks) who took her on as her roommate. The series is all about their misadventures. 

It would be spun off into two films as well as a TV series. The series was created by Cy Howard, who would go on to create Life with Luigi and it’s stylistically similar in many ways as well as both series featuring legendary  voice actors Hans Conried and Alan Reed. 

The series had a lot of running jokes. Conried’s character Professor Kerplotkin would greet Irma and Jane with an analogy to two things with the latter being a back-handed suggestion Irma wasn’t quite all there and would apologize stating it was “a little joke” he’d picked up somewhere. Mrs. O’Reilly, their landlady would show up and also get insulted by Professor Kerplotkin. The Professor would also complain about his room in the most over the top way possible and make a suggestion of something romantic with Mrs. O’Reilly (played by Jane Morgan and later Gloria Gordon) only to pull the rug out from under her with yet another insult.

Irma’s shiftless boyfriend Al (John Brown) would always try to turn any situation to his own benefit through (often poorly thought out) schemes. When he ran into a situation where he didn’t know what to do, he would say, “There’s only one man who knows what to do,” dial a number and then say, “Hello, Joe….Got a problem.” Nothing is inherently funny about this but Brown’s delivery practically wills it into a laugh line.

Probably the biggest running gags in the series center around Irma and could be paraphrased, “You know how weird Irma is?”

Marie Wilson deserves a lot of credit for her performance. It’d be easy for a character like Irma to become annoying, but she rarely does, and it’s the writing that sometimes makes Irma too whiny. Her comic delivery and timing is great and helps to sell the show. She’s particularly adept at having Irma’s mixing up messages other people tell her to deliver to sound completely natural.

The supporting cast is good Again, it’d be easy for them to come off badly and for the most part, they don’t. While they all know Irma’s a little bit off, they’re all supportive. Her boss, Mr. Clyde was mean but most comedy bosses during that era were mean, so that was to be expected.

My biggest problem in the series was Jane Stacy. On one hand, she could be nice to Irma and help her out and she could also be long-suffering with all the problems Irma caused. On the other, she often could lose it. In addition, she was the one who introduced the episodes and talked to the audience. She tended to deliver the meanest and most cutting remarks about Irma not only to other characters, but to the audience.

I came to view Jane as Irma’s “friend” who resents having her around and complaints constantly to other people about Irma. I found Jane insufferable and two-faced. I had negative reactions to other Cathy Lewis characters because I’d think of Jane Stacy when I heard them. Joan Banks’ take on Jane Stacy and Mary Jane Croft’s character of Kay Foster weren’t any better but they didn’t have as much time to wear on my nerves as Lewis did.

Numerous casting changes occurred in the course of the program, and not all of them are well-documented or observable. The bulk of episodes in circulation are from the show’s earliest days from 1947 to the spring of 1949, so many casting or character changes are unexplained within the radio program as any transitions occurred in episodes that were lost. There was a total of three episodes in circulation for the three year period between March 1949 and January 1952, and a smattering of episodes for each year from 1952-54. While I have limited exposure to later casts, the original cast, with both Brown and Conried is probably is the best the show had, though the later actors did fine.

Overall, My Friend Irma is a decent comedy. While it’s far from my favorite, it has some laughs. There’s little continuity, so you don’t suffer that much as a result of the missing seasons.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Telefilm Review: Casebusters

In Casebusters, an elderly ex-cop turned security company owner (Pat Hingle) who sometimes acts like he’s a cop sometimes has his two grandkids come to spend the Summer and they get involved in solving crimes.

This Wes Craven directed short film appeared on the Wonderful World of Disney back in 1986 and given its 45 minute length it feels like a backdoor pilot for a TV series. Growing up, I watched a lot of the Wonderful World of Disney, but didn’t have any memory of this unlike other films from the era such as Little Spies or Earth Star Voyager.

Casebusters does a lot of things that kids movies of the 1980s and 1990s did: kids get involved mysteries, thwart hapless bad guys, and save the day. It’s big problem is it doesn’t do much of it well. The sister (Virginia Keehne) is into mysteries into a superficial way but, we don’t get to know much about the siblings and their characterization is inconsistent times.

The villains aren’t all that interesting. Many kids films of this era would have broad and colorful villains who provide a lot of humor, but this couple is just kind of there.

Nor do we get any zany action or over the top chase scenes, or a real sense that the kids are in serious danger but escape at the last moment. I know kids films of the era and this one didn’t check any of the boxes you’d expect or provide anything interesting instead.

The best part of the film is Hingle, who is likable enough as the grandfather and Ski (Gary Riley), who showed a little potential to develop into an interesting character if the show had been picked up as a series.

Other than that, Casebusters was a disappointing viewing experience. I’d hoped to find a forgotten Disney classic from the era of my childhood that, like the best Disney live action films of the era, still held some appeal for adults. Instead, Casebusters is a film written for kids, and written down to them. The result is one of the most lifeless productions I’ve ever seen from Disney. The only fascinating part of the film is why it was made in the first place. Hopefully, Disney brings back better quality productions from the era.

Rating: 1.25 out of 5

TV Series Review: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

In 2008 Alexander McCall Smith’s book series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency came to television with a pilot movie produced by the BBC in cooperation with HBO.

The series follows Mma Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott) as a woman who starts the first female-led private detective agency in Botswana. She hires young secretary Grace Makutsi (Aniki Noni Rose) and wins the affections of local JLB Matekoni (Lucian Msamati.)

The series premiered with a feature length telefilm that tracked closely with the first book in the series in 2008 and in 2009 followed up with a six episode series.

The acting is solid and the characters mostly work. The series was shot on location in Botswana with unique and beautiful cinematography and gives it the sort of authenticity that a series like this needs to work.

The writing on the show was mixed and some of this goes back to the original novels. After the first novel, the books became cozy. There were less serious crimes or no crimes in whatever investigations were going on.

Potential problems and challenges would be raised for our heroine and friends, but they would be resolved sometimes with little to no action by any character in the book. They’d thought about it, worried a little, went on with their life, and the problem went away on its own. That may occur in life, but it doesn’t make for particularly gripping drama.

Doing a straight adaptation of the books would never work on television, so what we get are a mix of stories based on incidents in various books that were changed as well as original story ideas, and even an element or two to make the series more politically correct, as well as reflecting the reality of then-modern Day Botswana.

This had mixed effects. Some of their changes worked well. They did a good job with how they developed the relationship with Mma Ramostwe and JLB Matekoni. The first book contains both of Matekoni’s proposals, the first which Mma Ramotswe refuses and the second which she encourages and accepts. One change the pilot film made was that she does become engaged to him by the end of the film. The series explores both reasons why she’s reluctant and also his feelings.

Msamati’s performance as JLB Matekone helps the production stay true to who he was in the book. Matekone would never go up and have a big conversation with someone else about his feelings, but he still feels deeply. Msamati’s facial expressions and body language can convey that a situation is killing him on the inside without saying a word.

In the books, Matekoni comes down with depression for medical reasons that are irrational. This was intended to illustrate how depression can often come into play in people’s lives. Here, the storyline of him needing to leave unexpectedly is used to better dramatic effect as he’s trying to sort out his relationship with Mma Ramotswe.

I also thought that in the later episodes, they did a good job giving Mma Ramotswe personal stuff to work through. In the books, a male detective establishes a competing agency, the Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency and at another point, her abusive ex-husband comes to town. In the first instance, the detective is a potential problem that is easily foiled, never becomes a threat to her agency, and leaves town after one book. In the books, she also meets her abusive ex-husband with no real problems. In the TV show though, the competing detective isn’t so easily dispatched and is kind of menacing. The ex-husband returns and poses a huge challenge to Mma Ramotswe and brings her to a point of crisis. The finale of the season is very good for that reason.

While the series is on target with its character development. Some of the plot ideas don’t work. It’s not necessarily that the writers didn’t have good ideas but that they didn’t have a good idea for this show. For example, they take a story from the book but have the denouement end in a way that’s absolutely absurd. It was funny, but not in a way that fit the tone of the show. In another episode, a solution of a case was changed from a simple domestic problem to actual attempted murder so that Ma Ramotswe could gather all the suspects around the table like Hercule Poirot and tell what happened. That doesn’t fit her, plus while the writers made that big change to the plot, they didn’t make enough little changes to set the situation up or to change the consequences or to provide any foundation for why the consequences didn’t change. It really was a mess.

There were also a few cases where elements were added and changes to make the show a little more edgy or a little more cynical than in the book, but with little rhyme or reason. Perhaps, it’s one of the hazards of having HBO in on the production, but to me it didn’t work.

Overall, despite a few wrinkles in its execution of its mystery plots, the series is a solid adaptation of the story of the novels. If you’re a fan of the novels, it’s worth watching. If you’re not a fan of the novels, it’s worth seeing for the characters and location work. But if you’re looking for a truly great mystery series, you may want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Slick Bracer, P.I.

Slick Bracer, P.I. was a 2011 Summer series for Decoder Ring Theatre. Unlike the ongoing Red Panda Adventures and Black Jack Justice, the series was written by Eric Decker.

It starts Peter Nichols as Private Eye Slick Bracer and features a soundtrack and feel that places it in the late 1970s or early 1980s as opposed to the more golden age setting of the two regular series. It featured Christopher Mott as the extremely stereotypical Detective McGillicuddy.

In many ways, the series does feel a lot like the Sid Guy, Private Eye series with its comedic send-up of detective tropes. It’s not quite as adept. While it does sound like the actors were having fun, this doesn’t work quite as well.

Each episode tends to rely on running gags, most of which weren’t that funny the first time. Every episode, Slick’s secretary tells a caller that’s “Slick’s not there” however her words slur together into “Slick snot.” And Slick gets furious about it. Every single episode.

I did enjoy the last episode, “Slick Bracer and the Perils of Public Radio.” It did seem to be written with a lot of knowledge of the subject, which led to some funny jokes and even a nice running gag about a coffee mug.

Overall, this was not good, but it did have its moments.
Rating: 2.25 out of 5

You can listen to Slick Bracer, Private Eye on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

Graphic Novel Review: The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine

The Prisioner, Volume 1:The Uncertainity Machine collects Titan’s four-issue Prisoner mini-series . Set in modern times, an MI-5 agent resigns in disgust when his partner (and romantic interest) is left behind on a mission in the Middle East and he finds himself captured and taken to the Village.

There’s some good things to say about the book and most of it has to do with the art. The art is pretty good throughout, with some really nice high points. The big two-page spread when our hero wakes up in the Village is spectacular. The writing isn’t bad. Each individual chapter throws our hero and the readers for a new loop, so there’s cleverness behind these stories.

What doesn’t work is  the big picture stuff. What writer Peter Milligan really fails to capture with the Village is the dissonance of it. In the TV show, it was a place that appeared to be the most pleasant place you can imagine, but it was contrasted by a sinister secret. In addition, the nice feel of the Village is designed to make it easy and comfortable to turn traitor. In this book, the Village never tries to make itself seem alluring. Instead, it’s full of people who do nasty things while wearing 50-year-old clothes for no good reason.

In addition, the book’s explanation of who is Number 1 is not only nihilistic, it’s also a bit daft. Overall, if you’re looking for a psychological spy thriller comic, this is not a bad one to read. However, as a comic book take on the Prisoner, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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Review: Elementary, Season Two

Season 2 of Elementary saw the modern-day Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) continuing to consult for the New York Police Department, with Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) as his junior partner who he is training in being a detective.

This season has them returning to London for one case and running into Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Rhys Ifans) who becomes a recurring character throughout the season.

The mysteries are solid, although they tend to take a fairly predictable turn of Holmes getting one or two incorrect solutions before arriving at the truth. The mysteries have a strong tendency towards intrigue and deep conspiracies as plot elements.

Probably the highlight of the season was their take on Inspector Lestrade (Sean Pertwee). In this story, Holmes’ assistance of Lestrade led to national notoriety. However, when that assistance ended due to Holmes’ drug use, Lestrade ended up on the downswing unable to cope with the unreasonable expectations set. It’s interesting exploration and Lestrade is a fun character with a nice little arc.

The series struggles on several fronts though. Of all modern Holmes adaptations, Elementary’s First Season featured the strongest supporting cast in Captain Gregson (Aiden Quinn) and Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill.) It really felt like we saw less of them, particularly Captain Gregson. Bell had a mini-arc in the season where Holmes’ arrogance caused an injury which nearly ended Bell’s career. This arc was interesting, although the resolution wasn’t particularly satisfying.

The biggest problem is the relationship dynamic between Holmes and Watson. In the traditional Holmes and Watson relationship, Holmes is exceedingly brilliant compared to Watson. Watson’s no fool, but he lacks the pure brilliance of Holmes. What Watson typically contributes is determination, physical courage, and a better understanding of how human beings work. He also has a great awe for his friend’s power.

This is where the decision to gender-swap the role of Watson becomes problematic. To have a woman as in awe of Holmes, and to have Holmes as superior to a woman partner, would be seen in today’s era as sexist.So the writers made Joan Watson a novice detective to become almost Holmes’ equal in deductive ability by the end of the season.

The problem with this approach is, for the Holmes/Watson dynamic to work, Holmes must be head and shoulder above all his compatriots, considering how hard he can be to work with. With difficult detectives of any gender, if they are just slightly above average compared to other detectives, why put up with the headaches of working with them?

To be honest, Holmes is often insufferable throughout this second season. He remains manipulative and self-absorbed. He harasses the family of a friend who died of a drug overdose after decades of sobriety and raises the possibility of foul play because he’s afraid of eventually relapsing himself. He’s rude with a lot of people who clearly didn’t deserve such mistreatment. (Editor’s note: no one deserves mistreated.) His story line this season is one of trying to keep Watson close, because he needs her for his well being and equilibrium.

What the season seems to show is she has no need for him. She is a strong, independent woman who makes her own choices, is her own person, and has no need for anyone. She needs the work but is perfectly capable of doing it without him by the season’s end.

The original Holmes and Watson dynamic was interdependent. They needed each other, and that’s the key to any dynamic joint detective program. Failing to capture this hurts the series.

Not helping it was a story arc woven through the season that seemed more Soap Opera than Sherlock Holmes where Watson had a relationship with Holmes’ brother because they could. The plot twists and turns were outrageous and seemed to be trying to compete with the bizarre and wild plot turns on the BBC Series Sherlock. While I’ve criticized many things about Sherlock, the series has an undeniable sense of style that allows it to pull of most of its wild plot turns. Elementary lacks that and so many of these plot ideas fall flat.

The series isn’t bad, particularly when it comes to its mysteries. Yet, Season 2’s fundamental problems with characters and characterization make it okay at best.

Rating: 3.0 outof 5.0

 

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