The ten episodes that comprise Series [season] Two of Pie in the Sky originally aired in the winter of 1995. Such is the show’s writing, direction and acting that it remains as entertaining now as it was then. The series stars Richard Griffiths [best know as Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon] as Henry Crabbe; a semi-retired detective inspector who has opened a restaurant [in his wife’s name for legal reasons] called Pie in the Sky.
New York City. Summer. It’s hot and muggy and Richard Castle, the bestselling mystery writer has fallen into another mystery even as he scrambles to finish his Nikki Heat novel. As usual, Castle is procrastinating – and this summer he has a shiny new toy to play with thanks to his daughter, Alexis, who has made the mistake of introducing her father to Twitter.
While the Castles vacation in The Hamptons, a foot washes up on the beach. The police think it’s a shark attack but Castle, as usual, thinks it might be something more. And now he has put himself in the middle of the investigation, tweeting his theories as he goes. The police are amused, but could he be right?
On Thursday evening [CBS, 10/9C], CSI: Crime Scene Investigation will go where it has never gone before – a science fiction convention. Hodges [Wallace Langham] and Wendy [Liz Vassey] are attending WhatIfItCon when they run into each other. She’s dressed as Yeoman Malloy from Astro Quest, a Star Trek-like classic SF series, while he’s carrying a very tricorder-like prop from the show. Before they can get over their amazement at encountering each other in such unlikely circumstances, the dead body of Jonathan Danson [Reg Rogers] is discovered in the captain’s chair on a replica AQ set constructed for the con.
When it’s discovered that Danson’s downbeat re-imagining of the series caused a major uproar, suddenly the list of possible suspects increases exponentially. Dr. Penelope Russell [Battlestar Galactica’s Kate Vernon], who is making a documentary on the AQ phenomenon; Melinda Carver Jaime Ray Newman], Danson’s financier, and one particular trio of fans would seem to be the most likely candidates, but can anyone else be ruled out?
The title A Space Oddity works on three levels: it serves as a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Pace Odyssey [as parodied by Mad Magazine]; it was the title of David Bowie’s third album – the one that made him a rock star, and it reflects on the sometimes overly zealous way fans can fixate on a beloved series/movie/novel. On yet another level, it could be a reference to an imagined romance between Hodges and Wendy, in an Astro Quest setting… And wait until you see the reference to the Klingon language! Don’t blink, though, or you’ll miss Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore’s cameo.
Written by Galactica veterans David Weddle and Bradley Thompson [from a story by Naren Shankar], A Space Oddity is a well constructed mystery that makes use of fannish temperament, professional jealousy, and even the set of the Astro Quest bridge to full advantage. The romantic imaginings of Hodges and Wendy make a fun counterpoint to the grimmer aspects of the mystery – and you will not believe what classic Star Trek phrase ends the teaser… Michael Nankin [another Galactica veteran] deftly weaves the dark, the prosaic and the humorous of the episode together to create an entertaining CSI investigation.
Final Grade: A-
Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys is an odd and interesting manga. It’s about a group of men who formed a club when they were kids and now find the symbol they used for their club appearing in their adult lives.
As Kenji and his friends come together for the funeral of one of their old gang, Kenji receives a letter from the deceased – a letter that includes the symbol [which the others in the gang have long since forgotten]. At the same time, there is a mysterious fellow who calls himself Friend, who performs feats, like levitation, above a stage floor on which is inscribed the circle. There’s also a mysterious girl who is troubled by unusual noises that emanate from something big in the night.
Disappearing families, deaths made to appear to be suicides, seeming supermen – and the evilest twins in history – make for an exciting read. Urasawa balances the mundane and the unusual with deftness. He has a gift for delineating a solid character with a minimum of information, and his layouts are fresh and frequently subtle. The story’s complexities – it frequently moves between time periods and groups of characters – are intriguing, and Urasawa builds layers of mystery which each shift.
I finished the two hundred-pages of Volume One: Friends in almost no time at all. Indeed, 20th Century Boys practically read itself to me – Urasawa’s storytelling skills are that sharp. If this isn’t classic storytelling, I don’t know what is.
Final Grade: A
The winter premiere of The Closer [Mondays, TNT, 9/8C] is following a pretty hard act – it’s mid-season cliffhanger, and so we both learn the fate of Detective Sanchez [Raymond Cruz] and witness Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson’s [Kyra Sedgwick] reaction to Fritz’s marriage ultimatum. Even better, there’s an apparent case of suicide that coroner Dr. Morales [Jonathan Del Arco] won’t sign off on – and he’s extorting Deputy Chief Johnson into taking the case [or he’ll take it to another division, making her team look like idiots!].
The deceased is a recovering drug addict and con man who seems to have gone straight – though that doesn’t jive with the recollection of his ex-wife which is, in turns at odds with the experience [or at least testimony] of his pastor [church in a slating rink!] and cancer-suffering girlfriend. Add in the after effects of the cliff-hanger’s two-pronged dilemma – and the presence of Brenda’s parents [Barry Corbin and Frances Sternhagen], who are visiting for a few days before setting out on a Hawaiian cruise – and you’ve got all the ingredients for a truly odd mix of confusion, misdirection and pathos. The episode, Good Faith, is also notable for actually having scenes that do not require the presence of DC Strong.
Upcoming episodes feature a body found in the trunk of a car, and a suspected rapist/murderer whose lawyer has a track record of successfully defending sex offenders.
As usual, The Closer is written well enough to give us a few moments pause over each ep’s mystery, but it remains most notable for giving us a strong lead character that continues to grow as a person – and as a high-ranking member of the Los Angeles Police Department. Though this is Sedgwick’s show, there are moments for several members of her team as well as J.K. Simmons’ Assistant Chief Pope [who gets some really good stuff in the premiere].
All in all, The Closer hasn’t yet lost a step. It remains one of the best [and most watched] programs on cable television.
Final Grade: B
I’ve just seen the two-hour premiere of season five of Lost [ABC Wednesdays, 8/7C, beginning on Jan. 21st]. You think it was strange and wild and exhilarating before? Just wait until you see what’s next!
Although my agreement with ABC is that I can’t give away plot points, I can, perhaps, give clues. I can tell you that Vincent’s back – and that Sawyer plays a more prominent role. I can tell you that things have changed between Benjamin Linus [Michael Emerson] and Sayid [Naveen Andrews]; that Hurley [Jorge Garcia] has reached his limit on lying – and that Sayid’s life may depend on him; I can tell you that a potential legal problem may change Kate’s [Evangeline Lilly] and Aaron’s lives, and that Charlotte [Rebecca Mader] may not be well. And speaking of Hurley, remember Dave? And Charlie’s enigmatic appearance at the mental institution [“I’m dead. And I’m here”]? I can safely say that Hurley sees dead people.
There are lots more clues that I could give you in that vein, but when the events to which they allude happen, all that’ll happen is that some answers will be given [like why Hurley finally reaches his limit with The Lie] and more will be asked [like what’s happening to the people who were left on the island]. Even the titles of the two parts of this season’s premiere have titles [Because You Left & The Lie] that are carefully gauged to give hints that spawn unexpected answers and set the stage for more [and possibly bigger] questions. As is always the case with Lost, context is everything.
Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof co-wrote Because You Left and Stephen Williams’s direction keeps up a pace that matches that of last season’s three-hour finale. Revelations are given in quick bursts and emotional moments in almost a state suspension – but no scene lasts for more a few moments. The Lie, written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and directed by Jack Bender, keeps up that pace, for the most part but lingers a bit more over the key emotional sequences, giving them more heft as the give and take of answers and questions mounts.
I have to say that I enjoyed the season five premiere episodes as much as the three-part season four finale. Everyone we care about gets a choice moment or two and the plot forges onward. The rollercoaster ride that is Lost is definitely maintaining the quality level it regained last season.
Final Grade: A+
There was an overwhelming amount of great TV, this year [and, as you’ll see not too much later, an almost equally overwhelming amount of excessively bad TV]. Given the truly amazing amount of quality to be found between the networks and the various cable outlets, I’ve decided to list my favorite fifteen shows of the year.
With the announcement that Sanctuary [Sci-Fi, Fridays, 10/9C] has been renewed for a second season, perhaps those who those who don’t like to commit to a new series for fear it’ll be cancelled will now give TV’s first green screen series a chance. Two upcoming episodes are good examples of the kind of quirky quality that series is developing.
Quick refresher courser: Dr. Helen Magnus [Amanda Tapping], a one hundred fifty-seven-year old scientist has established Sanctuary – a home for “abnormals” [creatures benign and otherwise that are not of the perceived normalcy – mermaids, a missing link, children with unusual fear reflexes]. She provides homes – or cages if necessary – for these beings. She is aided by her daughter, Ashley [Emilie Ullerup], forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Will Zimmerman [Robin Dunne] and tech wizard, Henry Foss [Ryan Robins] .
In this week’s ep, The Five, Magnus’ lecture to an underground group in Rome, on abnormals, leads to a meeting with Nikola Tesla [Jonathon Young] who warns her of an impending assassination attempt. Tesla has a few secrets, himself – the only one I can telegraph is that he sleeps during the day.
The episode is fast paced and smart, but has its moments of emotional truth that support the action. We get to see Magnus’ ability to improvise – and the rest of her team show initiative in the way they aid her from their home base. The CG sets and effects are improving and now have much more weight than early on. Even Tapping’s wobbly English accent is much more consistent.
On December 5th, Drs. Magnus and Zimmerman take a mini-sub to investigate the slaughter of a clan of mer-people and find an abnormal unlike any they’ve ever seen. Requiem is a bottle show – a one-set episode – and as such, relies on tour de force acting by Tapping and Zimmerman. Both actors are called on to run through a gamut of emotions in a situation where an unseen menace seems to be influencing their behavior.
Based on these two episodes, Sanctuary is deserving of its renewal and an even larger audience.
Final Grade: B+
As an X-Phile who sat through every single episode of the The X-Files [yup, all nine seasons and the first movie], I have to say that it was disheartening to see a mere eighteen people in the theater for the first matinee of The X-Files: I Want To Believe. What was even more disheartening was watching the film unfold to pretty much stony silence from the assembled [I’d hardly call it a crowd].
You don’t need to have watched the television program to understand what’s going on in I Want to Believe, but it certainly helps when it comes to some of the inside jokes and character moments. Even a non-X-Phile can follow the plot – which revolves around a specific urban legend – and the relationship between former FBI agents Fox Mulder [David Duchovny] and Dr. Dana Scully [Gillian Anderson] is apparent even to the uninitiated [though some of their exchanges might not have the same impact for those new to the X-Files experience].
Duchovny and Anderson slip back into their roles so well, it’s like they’ve always been there and there are pleasantly surprising performances from newcomers to the X-Files, Xzibit [as a sceptical FBI Agent who seems like a Skinner-in-training, but without the people skills] and Billy Connolly as a psychic pedophile ex-priest. Amanda Peet, as Agent-in-Charge Dakota Whitney, is merely adequate. Callum Keith Rennie, as the primary villain, brings a suitable menace to his performance.
Unfortunately, the plot is pretty average – to the point where the B-plot [Scully’s efforts to save the life of a boy with a deadly brain disease] is actually more involving. On the plus side, series creator Chris Carter – who co-wrote the script with Frank Spotnitz – does a good job of creating the murky, atmospheric feel that made the series unique to the proceedings. That compensates for many of the film’s flaws.
The X-Files: I Want To Believe is an adequate way to kill a couple of hours, but it’s not likely to spawn the kind of fervent glee that the best episodes of the series generated. I fear this will be the last new X-Files adventure/investigation. Pity… [Please note, stay through the credits and you’ll see a glimpse of Mulder and Scully that is particularly memorable for Scully fans – two words: black bikini.]
Final Grade: C+
When Monk returns this evening [USA, 9/8C], the emphasis is not on the mystery – which would normally not be worthy of Adrian Monk’s [Tony Shalhoub] attention – rather, the main subject is dealing with the loss of a friend. On the show, Monk’s therapist, Dr. Charles Kroger [Stanley Kamel] has passed away because of a heart attack.
When Monk buys a house to get away from a neighbor child who plays Chopin incessantly, a potential new therapist, Dr. Neven Bell [Hector Elizondo] suggests that it might be because he misses his late friend – who also loved Chopin – a suggestion that has Monk suggesting he needs a different therapist.
While shopping for a shower head – with one hundred holes, no less – a handyman named Jake [Brad Garrett] suggests he could drill a couple extra holes in it for home. In no time, Jake is finding flaws in the house and Monk looks like he’s fallen into a money pit. Then something happens to tie in the “renovations” to the death of the house’s previous owner.
By playing against the model puzzle mystery of the usual Monk episode, Mr. Monk Buys a House proves to be one of the better season premieres for the long-running cult hit. More than usual, the ep deals with that side of Monk’s character we’ve usually only gotten to see in his relationship with Natalie [Traylor Howard] – that part of Monk that is capable of great friendship. Because of the sincerity of the ep – and the final scene, which ties into a dedication to Mr. Kamel – an ep that could have come off as soppy, is, instead, genuinely poignant [something you don’t get everyday in series TV].
Garrett and Elizondo are both very good, but the ep belongs to Tony Shalhoub, who makes the OCD Monk even more vulnerable than we’ve seen him in the past – and that’s a pretty difficult feat! Monk has been up and down in quality over the last few seasons, but as Mr. Monk Buys a House illustrates, when it’s on, it’s still capable of a quiet brilliance.
Final Grade: B+
When the third season premiere of Psych [USA, Fridays, 10/9C] airs this evening, pseudo-psychic Shawn Spencer [James Roday] is going to be thrown for a loop in ways he never anticipated. First, off, his best and partner in the Psych detective agency, Gus [Dule´ Hill] is basically given the choice of staying with the agency and losing his highly remunerative day job, or keeping his day job and quitting Psych. Second, his mother, Madeline [Cybill Shepherd] is in town – and his father [Corbin Bernsen] knew she was coming. To further complicate matters, the CEO [Christopher McDonald] of the company where Gus works has a haunting problem – the kind of case that only Shawn and Gus can handle.
As in Psych’s lead-in, Monk, this evening’s case isn’t the primary focus of the ep – The Ghost in You. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice something unusual in the way that Shawn’s investigative scenes are shot that is integral to the case’s solution. But what really matters in the way that Shawn’s relationship with his father is challenged by the arrival of Madeline – but her impact isn’t just on the Spencer men.
It seems that Madeline is a psychologist who used to work with the police department. She has returned to not only visit Henry and Shawn, but to see if Detective Carlton Lassiter [Tim Omundson] is fit for duty. The sparring between them is quite literally priceless.
While Psych initially seemed like a series based on a gimmick, it has become a dependable source of entertainment because its writers know just when to lay off the shtick and spring a dramatic moment on us. The Ghost in You is no exception. Between trying to figure out how to keep Gus involved in the agency, without getting him fired at this day job – and dealing with the emotional rollercoaster ride that his mother’s surprise [to him] visit produces – as well as the agency’s latest case, we get to see sides of Shawn that we don’t usually see [which ties in, thematically with the Monk premiere that precedes it].
The Ghost in You is a solid ep that allows Roday and Hill to do their Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor of detectives thing to full advantage, while giving the show’s guest and supporting cast an opportunity to add texture and colors to the proceedings. It may because of the unusual shift of focus, but this is one of the best eps of the series, to date.
Final Grade: A-