Tag: TV Series review

Streaming Review: The Hardy Boys, Season One

The latest Hardy Boys series was released in December 2020 by Hulu and in the Spring of 2021 on YTV in Canada. The series itself was filmed in Canada.

The Plot 

The Hardy brothers: Sixteen-year-old Frank (Rohan Campbell) and twelve-year-old Joe (Alexander Elliott) live in “The City” (No word on whether they’ve ever met The Tick). Their world is shattered when their mother is killed.

Their detective father (James Tupper) decides the best possible thing he can do is to dump the boys on his wife’s sister Trudy (Bea Santos) in his wife’s hometown, so he can go investigate a case that relates to his wife’s killing. The hometown is dominated by their mother’s estranged mother Gloria Esterbrook (Linda Thorson, The Avengers) and she has plans of her own for Frank and Joe. Frank and Joe begin to find what they believe to be clues to their mother’s death.

What Works

In my initial review of the first episode, I was not happy that the show’s creators saw fit to back away from the typical close ages that Frank and Joe share in the books, but I can’t help but feel the age gap works.

In the books, Frank and Joe are essentially peers. Frank’s a Senior, Joe’s a Junior, and that’s about it. By putting four years between them, they do a lot of things. They more easily have the two go to separate locations. They each have their own distinct friend group, with Joe particularly close to the adopted daughter of a local police lieutenant Biff Hooper (Riley O’Donnell) The decision also adds a level of drama and conflict between the brothers that you just don’t get in the books. So for a series like this, I can look back and see they made the right decision.

The era of the series is not discussed but it’s clear it’s set before the Internet which makes for a lot more interesting adventure. They have to actually find out things rather than ask Google or search an app. They can’t just be called on a cell phone. Watching this series makes you realize how hard our device-saturated world makes the work of the writer.

The story also does have some consequences and dwell on things that were rarely addressed in the kid’s mysteries I saw. Frank, Joe, and their friends tell lies and deceive a lot of people, including the local police, in order to continue their investigation. There are consequences to this that do pay out and they have to deal with these consequences. Also, Fenton leaving his grieving boys alone for weeks on end is also called out.

In that vain, I think Trudy’s an interesting character. In years past, she’d be the typical clueless adult that the Hardy Boys would run rings around. While initially she fills that bill, she’s not a fool and while she’s not a detective, you don’t have to be one to figure out the Hardy Brothers are hiding something. The way her character is handled is interesting as well as who she is by the end of the story.

Linda Thorson is always a delight and her performance as Gloria Esterbrooke is intriguing. Esterbrooke is written as a character you’re not supposed to figure out what exactly she’s up or or where she stands, and Thorson’s performance is pitch perfect. She makes every scene she’s in better.

The mystery itself has some good twists and intriguing elements that definitely keep the guessing going. Also compared to the storyline of the Nancy Drew TV series, this series didn’t go near as dark.

What Doesn’t Work

With a single storyline for a kids/teen show told over thirteen forty-five minute episodes, this series is too long. While there are some interesting features of this series as we talked about above, the major approaches to the making the series last longer is padding out the story or making it more convoluted than it needs to be.

The great example of both points is the effort by Frank’s grandmother to recruit him into an elite private school. This is a huge focus of Gloria’s efforts for several episodes, quite a bit of time spent there by Frank and the story goes….nowhere. It’s a tedious plot point that’s given so much airtime because we’ve got more than nine hours of story time to fill.

It’s also what we’re told the stakes of the adventure might be. A typical kids mystery will have the kids save a town or a farm. By the end of this, the fate of all humanity hinges on what three guys found in a cave near a small town and what the Hardys do about it. And because this plays into the solution, the solution to the mystery is also ludicrous.

That’s just ridiculous and what’s even more ridiculous is having the kids go around and enroll in school (because Fenton’s long absence pressed through Summer.) Then there’s the question of which girl Frank likes, is it Callie or the new girl at school? These sort of questions are trivial when the fate of the world is at stake. As it is, these just get added to the padding and there’s a lot of it.

Of course, it would be fair to point out that by its nature, the story is not made for me. However, it’s hard for me to imagine Generation Z and Generation Alpha being into a padded thirteen episode series that’s set when their parents were kids.

The Hardy Boys wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. It teased a second season, which is coming, but I have no interest in seeing it. I could see some parents thinking this might be a good way to introduce their kids to detective stories, but I think there are better options. The series was set in the 1980s and 90s and was so authentic to the era that it could have been released then. There are a good number of kid-based detective TV shows and movies that were made in this era that are better than the Hardy Boys and available on DVD.

Rating: 3.0 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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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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