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Police Story (1973)
Even for an anthology series, this is a hard one to sum up with a few words
- In watching most anthology series; no matter how broad in the subjects covered, you eventually get a feel for the sentiments of the series' producers. They're happy or hard. They like classically structured drama or flashy twists of irony. They're hopeful or cynical... especially when it comes to stories about the police and criminals. What's oddest about "Police Story" for me is that I expected a more clear cut pro law enforcement party line from Joseph Wambaugh, in the mode of Jack Webb and "Dragnet." Instead, episodes feature bad men who are good at the law and good men who are useless, as well as by the book heroes and delusional would be saviors. Few episodes give much in terms of comforting closure about the problems faced by a 1970s America in metropolitan decline.
- It might be as simple as, Jack Webb was an unapologetic fanboy when it came to the law and those "on the job," while Wambaugh was a retired LAPD officer with a deeper grasp of the complexity of the real work. It's hard to imagine such a morally ambiguous look at police as people being aired on US television today. This week our star is a good person who's going to fail, next week our hero will hit a suspect or his own wife. No back story to soften the impact, no follow up to reassure us of kismet, just a close up at an ugly period in our shared past.
All the show's strengths come together for Christmas
- "Police Woman" has a tendency for uneven results, sadly. Acting, writing, direction as well as how well the basic sentiment of the plot has held up since the 70s can vary drastically even within a single episode. But in the final season, they managed to produce a genuine gem that in a better recalled series would be held up as an annual holiday classic.
- Lloyd Nolan, is perfectly cast as "Waldo," a social security pensioner who casually runs rings around both seasoned local police and the FBI. The opening teaser manages to giveaway all the major plot points, but can't undercut the impact of just how charming it all plays out as you sit back and watch. I won't spoil the experience by over sharing more.
- A handful of the era's goofy bits do a good job of dating the story. Like scenes when the detectives turn to their fancy com-poo-ter to analyze the crime pattern and predict the next crimes. Seem more like wishful thinking than reality even today. And the story point about the old lady who lives on cat food is based on a well intended 70s myth about the plight of the elderly, that fell apart as soon as people realized cat food tins cost more than human tuna cans. But the story's core about the forgotten and the discarded, the old and the poor is as timely in 2016 as 1977. A stand out episode worth keeping a lookout for when (with luck) it airs more regularly during future holiday seasons. Merry Christmas to Waldo, Pepper and you.
Billy & Billie: Incesticide (2016)
Seems to have been a rushed "wrap it up" job
- Given that it ends with the revelation that both Billy and Billie have died, I guess this counts as the series finale. That term (finale) is deliberately absent from the episode and its plot outline so as not to dull the story impact, I again guess.
- The episode is told in the form of interviews with the people present in the lives of the two, given in static single camera close up talks. Without the benefits of the time or budget found in a full second season, the results have a feel like ripping out the final acts of a play and adding as epilogue: So, Romeo's dead and so's Juliette, and we're all super bummed.
- As received, this gives just enough to offer an academic "Oh, that happened" resolution and not a visceral level of closure needed for romance or drama.
I'm very conflicted about this series right now.
- The basic concept of a master mole/terrorist embedded in the FBI and much of the script details in both the characters' dialog and actions seem clunky and forced to me.
- An example of all of the above occurs in episode one when Simon Asher explains to fellow FBI cadets that hijab wearing Muslim cadet, Nimah Amin likely requires her own space in keeping with modesty traditions in Islam. A needless point to make to nearly all American adults in 2015, but then he proceeds to let himself into her closed room uninvited and in direct violation of his own insights.
- Every character has similar grand gaffs that could be signs that they are operating on their own hidden agendas, but coming as often and obviously as they do it's hard to weed out the good insights from the bad writing.
- The underlying mystery interests me, and maybe just maybe when the season ends it will all come together with gold and glorious clarity. But for now... good clues? bad scripts? I don't know. Episode three airs next week and I do plan to keep watching.
A great hour of television
From the beginning, Ferguson breaks with the standard show format to warn that on this night they'll only be one guest and that subjects covered might prove too sensitive for some viewers. It was a fairly smart choice given that Stephen Fry is a fond and frequent visitor to the United States (lucky for us) but Ferguson (since 2008) is one of us... and doesn't get to fly home an ocean away. What followed is one of the smartest, fast paced, insightful and fun hours ever on a late night talker. The subjects flow effortlessly from the anniversary of Arthur Conan Doyle's birth, his (Doyle's) skills as a practicing physician, drug use, religion, travel, the rise of anti-gay law in Russia, and so much more. Fry, always know as a half Jewish, out gay, atheist has rarely if ever had the moment to show his other status as one of the sharpest minds in entertainment. Not just clever... for an actor, but as always rumored... legitimately a gifted thinker. He shares many beliefs and ideas that from a less skilled source would have proved more then worthy of Ferguson's preamble caution. A great hour of television.
Lone Star (2010)
A lot of strengths and one fatal flaw... for me
To get the praise out front, I have nothing but positive thoughts about the casting, direction and even the quality of the writing that went into the episodes that aired. I watched, and would have continued to watch if it had continued.
I liked so much about the show, but I couldn't get past my nagging annoyance at the basic premise that a life long con man (Bob Allen) fell in love with two clueless marks at the same time. The morality of it doesn't bother me, part of the joy of fiction is to be able to root for the clever villain from time to time. It was the impracticality of it is what ruined it for me. I believe in love, and complicated tragic love is the best of all... at least in fiction. However, saying that this man lied on a near constant basis to both these women and came away calling it love over extended my suspension of disbelief.
The fix could have gone at least a couple of ways:
- "Dexter" style. A bit bold and dingy even for FOX. Own that this is a fundamentally damaged if not broken man in need of far more then just the love of a good woman. A man so "off" from human norm that he can't even begin to feel or identify something like love even thought he desperately craves to have it at any cost.
- "How I Met You Mother" style. Would have meant changing one scene in the premiere episode. When Bob Allen was asked at or near the end of the premiere, why? Regarding his choice to maintain the double life even as it was becoming dangerous. He answered (more or less), "Because I love them (the women) both." Had he answered, "Because I love one... and one can destroy me." I would have been completely hooked. Which one does he love? Can that same woman destroy him? Does she know what we know... or maybe even more? It's a cheesy gimmick, but season after season shows make the central plot mystery device work.
I was surprised that in the near universal critical praise the show received from professional media, that no one seemed to share my apprehensions about the show. And I was sorry that it left the air before the bodies started to stack up... "Dexter-style."
The Inside (2005)
Too extreme for its own good
Watch out for the most absurd suspect, and that's your killer. A rule of thumb that almost never failed. From an elementary school aged thrill killer, to a married middle aged police detective who's homosexual crush on a suspect turned him into a serial rapist, to a criminal profiler who skins herself to death to better know her case subject. No motive was to thin or shallow for this series to whip out and under explain in the final minutes. To its credit although the plots were gimmicky in nature, the absurdity was darkly stylized and clever. And the rock solid acting was always a saving grace. It was a good weekly dose of dirty/weird fun that should never have been expected to catch on with a larger audience.
Maybe I'm just too old for this crap
Recently I've developed a apatite for off beat and original mysteries, so I was intrigued by the basic concept behind this series. But in reality, this series is painfully derivative of the melodrama mini series that flooded the mid-80's airwaves (most notably: "Lace" and "Celebrity" both from 1984). Add to that a cast that fails to rise above a mediocre script, and a sound track that is filled to super saturation with period pop that long ago over stayed its welcome with people like me who've already heard "Time After Time" many times too many. It's actually daunting to think about putting in another 19 hours to find out who killed any of these cardboard cut out characters.
If I didn't feel like I'd already seen this one, and if I still had a tolerance for the tired hair bands of the 1980's, and if I just didn't find whiny little adolescent model based soap operas so annoying, I'd probably watch this series. Oh, that's right, I did. Many times, twenty years ago, when this was still a somewhat original idea.
The John Larroquette Show (1993)
Too bad it never really found its audience.
From the start "The John Larroquette Show", was bright, literate, willing to touch on sensitive issues, and hilarious to boot. But its audience was marginal by network standards, and each year it received a makeover in hopes of boosting the ratings. Season launching episodes were not at all subtlety titled "Changes", "More Changes", and "Even More Changes" as fair warning to long time viewers. By the beginning of the fourth and final season "The John Larroquette Show" had in many ways become indistinguishable from the rest of prime time television. Still quite funny thanks to a very talented collection of actors and writers, but its rough edge was gone.
Running Mates (1992)
Most of all I remember being disappointed by this made for HBO movie. Diane Keaton, Ed Harris, and most of the rest of this cast are respected actors with long lists of well received works to their credit. It's shocking to see them all together in a movie that manages to come up just short in nearly every respect.
Millennium Man (1999)
Adaman is an U.S. Army made robotic soldier with the mind and memories of a serial sex offender lose in a Latin American country. As the wife of the local dictator tries to escape the country with her ex-husband's help, Adaman kills the ex-husband. His (the ex-husband's) mind is placed in the body of Adam, Adaman's robot twin and sent out by the scientists who created them both to destroy their prototype error. The U.S. and local armies strike up a deal to capture them both.
Lots of back story, that serves no purpose. Lots of deal making and back-stabbing, confused by the fact that the lead characters are indistinguishable from each other. Action and sex, poorly shot around to meet broadcast television standards. These things make the story hard to follow.
Harsh gel filter colored scenes, intermixed with black and white or soft focused sepiatone brown shots makes it painful to watch.
This movie is so bad, it's not even laughable.
Far better then you'd expect from a few semi-retired porn icons
Essentially the same story Blake Edwards released two years later ("Switch" (1991)) told by a cast of B-movie actors, scream queens and ex-porn stars. In my opinion it's actually the better of the two movies. Deeply flawed don't get me wrong, but far better then Edwards' go at the same subject.
Written and directed by Chuck Vincent (also well known for his XXX origins), "Cleo/Leo" is far bolder then most gender switching comedies. I think it must have grown out of Vincent's need to have a late night premium cable friendly T&A showcase that he could sell more so then any artistic drive. But for whatever the reasons may be, sexists Leo, trapped inside the desirable body of Cleo, goes farther then most and as a result actually ask more questions of him/her self then most. Side by side against it companions in the vary small genre of reincarnated sex change centered comedies this little movie is at times surprisingly unflinching, and funny to boot.
Don't get me wrong, as I said its flaws are many, and worse still this seldom re-released video is very hard to find. So don't kill yourself looking for it, and more importantly don't kill me if you find it disappointing. But it is a cute B-movie and worth the watching time if you some times like your comedies cheesy, cheap, and adolescent.
Ys: Book 1&2 (1990)
A precedent setting role playing game.
"Ys Book I & II" in many ways is your standard RPG (Role-Playing Game) about a boy who would be hero (Adol), out to destroy the "great ancient evil" (Dark Fact) which has blighted his homeland for generations from atop Darm Tower. The story is as strait forward a cliché as it sounds and the graphics are standard late 80's simplicity, but as one of the earliest CD-ROM games it blazed some brilliant new trails in its use of fill in cinematic story telling and true voice narrations. It also shocks the first time player with the revelation that just when you think it's over, that's only "Book I". In a stylish revolution stolen by every "Zelda" game since, the first challenge (Book I) is followed immediately by a longer, harder challenge (Book II).