Tag Archives: Procedural

TELEVISION: CSI Cliffhanger Makes the Most of Petersen & Fishburne

This season, CSI [CBS, Thursdays, 9/8C] has been a real rollercoaster ride. It started with the death of Warrick [Gary Dourdan] – followed by a murderer who used dead people to create some very warped art; an unsolved case involving an engaged couple; a killer hypnotist and even the return of Lady Heather [Melinda Clarke]. Along the way, Gil Grissom [William Petersen] has been looking less like the clue sniffer we’ve come to know and more like a man who has just about run out gas.

CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION

When he reveals to his team that he’s leaving, at the beginning this week’s episode, 19 Down…, it may come as a surprise to his team, but even without all the publicity about the new cast member, we’d have known before they did – and actually, Catherine Willows [Marg Hellgenberger] surprises him by not being surprised.

When what starts off as just another day in Vegas turns into something greatly different – a murder ties into a long imprisoned serial killer – and Grissom gets that intrigued look again. The tie-in is to Nathan Haskell [Bill Irwin – think Jack Coleman’s HRG gone stone bugfrak crazy], who killed at least eight couples before he was caught. Turns out that Haskell is doing a series of closed circuit Q&A sessions with a university class taught by one Dr. Raymond Langston [Laurence Fishburne].

19 Down… is the fall cliffhanger for CSI, so they’ve really shot the works. The pacing is [if you can believe it] even crisper than usual and the way it ties into the season’s prior unsolved mystery is not just clever, it’s very close to genius. Co-Executive Producers Naren Shankar and Carol Mendelsohn have created a terrific puzzle for Grissom and his team and every member of the core cast gets a meaty moment to shine – as when Hodges responds to the news of Grissom’s leaving [for just one example]. Director Kenneth Fink keeps things tight and suspenseful.

Not many weekly series can maintain a high level of quality through nine seasons, and CSI’s ninth season isn’t over yet, but between the announcement of Grissom’s leaving and the introduction of Langston, it would seem likely that the show is going to maintain that high level. It also seems likely that the transition of the series from Grissom’s era into Willows’ era will be a reasonably smooth one. For now, at least, I have to say that this is my favorite fall cliffhanger, so far.

Final Grade: A

DVD REVIEW: M Squad – The Complete Series: Hard Boiled Cop Drama on Chicago’s Mean Streets!

What Dragnet was to Los Angeles, and Naked City was to New York, that’s what M Squad was to Chicago. The hard-boiled cop show starred Lee Marvin, in his first major leading role, as Lt. Frank Ballinger of the so-called M Squad. In Ballinger’s words, M Squad “is a special detail of the Chicago Police; we work on cases when requested by other departments, and when there are special circumstances.” Most of the show’s one hundred and seventeen episodes dealt with homicides. The Timeless Media Group collection of the complete series marks the first time the series has been released on any form of home video.

MSquad_Box Art

Although Lt. Ballinger had occasional support from various fellow detectives, the only other series regular was his immediate superior, Captain Grey [Paul Newlan] – as hands-on a boss as any cop could hope for. Ballinger’s cases ranged from deaths caused during escape from a robbery [caused by a cleverly disguised sailor hoping to get away when his ship sailed], to the case of a married businessman killed in an apparent robbery after breaking up with his mistress [the dead man’s wife was a friend of Captain Grey’s wife].

The series ran for four seasons and, beginning with the second, featured a theme composed by Count Basie. For all four seasons, the episodes’ scores were composed by jazz greats like Benny Carter and John Williams [who went on to score Star Wars]. Coupled with the stark black & white, noir-ish cinematography, M Squad was an effective combination of sizzle and substance.

Marvin’s Ballinger could be as brusque as Jack Webb’s Joe Friday, but was a bit on the empathetic side when dealing the victims of the crimes he investigated. He could be fooled by a pretty face, but not for long – and he had a very Sam Spade-like attitude to female criminals. He was smart and intuitive, and as perfectly capable of taking down bad guys with his fists as with a gun.

I could bore you with a list of guest stars who went on to bigger – if not necessarily better – things [among the ones listed on the box are two future Star Trek stars, a vigilante and a policewoman-to-be] but I’ll leave the fun of spotting them to you.

As for the quality of the set, it varies. Originally, Timeless planned a best-of set because they didn’t have access to all one hundred and seventeen episodes. The missing episodes were supplied by fans, making this a unique achievement. The result is something rare – a complete set of episodes from a groundbreaking, fifty-year old series that led the way in writing, direction, performance, production values and scoring.

There are no features included with the set – other than the liner notes that are duplicated on the back on of the slipcase and the interior foldout box, and a CD of Count Basie’s theme and jazz selections from the show’s score.

The variable quality of the episodes keeps the set from getting an A+ for content, but, as all episodes are definitely watchable, it doesn’t lose much.

Final Grade: A

TELEVISION: Cold Case: Solid Procedural Enters Sixth Season

It’s hard to believe, but Cold Case [CBS, Sundays, 9/8C] has been setting the ghosts of the past to rest for over five years. The sixth season premiere, Glory Days, follows the familiar pattern – after we see the final moments of Michael “Bad Moon” McShane [Aaron Hill] in 1973, a piece of evidence is discovered in the present that suggests he was killed much later than was previously thought. Enter Lilly Rush [Kathryn Morris]  and her team of cold case investigators.

Cold Case, S6

“Bad Moon” was a football star who disappeared the night before the championship game. The investigation puts together a picture of how his last few days were spent by questioning various of his friends, coaches, tutors and such. There’s his teammate, Tom “The Breeze” Bernard [B.J. Britt/Clifton Powell], who lost his scholarship because McShane reported his ill health; Steve Pratt [Sean O’Bryan/James Karen], the alumnus who recruited McShane [and treated him to dinner once a week – and gave him extra spending money for books]; Assistant Coach Walters [Tom Griffin/M.C. Gainey], who was aware that the team’s unofficial, off-campus doctor was giving them steroids, R. Boretski [Justice Leak/James Read], McShane’s tutor, who, McShane threatened to reveal was cheating on class work for members of the football team.

With lots of suspects, there are lots of stories – some of them touching, some funny, and some false. The procedures through which the team solves the case may be familiar but the variations provided each new set of circumstances and suspects allow for enough variety to keep the series feeling fresh – especially when each ep is anchored by music of the period [here it’s by BTO and Steely Dan].

Another ep furnished by CBS, Wednesday’s Women, the third ep of the new season, deals with a group of women who drove from Philadelphia to Mississippi to help run Freedom schools under the cover selling Tupperware®. In it, what was thought to be a hit and run turns out to have far greater implications. The ep’s guest cast includes Olympia Dukakis and Carl Lumbly, among others.

The Cold Case ensemble [Morris, John Finn, Thom Barry, Jeremy Ratchford, Danny Pino and Tracie Thoms] is reliably together and between the regular cast, the guest stars and the consistent writing, the show remains one of the more watchable procedurals around.

Final Grade: B

TELEVISION: Dexter: Life Gets Interesting For Dexter!

A couple of interesting things happen over the first four episodes of the third season of Dexter [Showtime, Sundays, 9/8C]: Dexter [Michael C. Hall] commits a spontaneous act that calls into question Harry’s Code, and Dexter makes a friend in the person of an Assistant District Attorney named Miguel Prado [Jimmy Smits]. The spontaneous act is the murder of Prado’s brother, whom he thinks is a drug dealer named Freebo [Mike Erwin] – and the manner in which he has to cover up this act while dealing with the police investigation and Miguel.

GQ

Otherwise, Dex’s life is pretty good. He no longer has the FBI on his trail; he and Rita [Julie Benz] seem to be in a good place [and he dotes on her kids], and his sister, Debra [Jennifer Carpenter], seems to have sworn off men, drinking and smoking – if not cussing. The thing of it is he doesn’t refer to himself as a monster every so often, either. Somehow, while he would probably vehemently disagree, Dexter is becoming more human – maybe not much more, but enough that it is noticeable.

The Showtime series does continue to play with the idea of morality, though. Dex’s moment of spontaneity has him rethinking Harry’s code even further when he spies a creepy guy asking Rita’s daughter Christina Robinson] for directions in a supermarket. His fierce feeling of protectiveness for the kids is as human as anything he’s ever felt. Couple that with his growing friendship with Miguel, and there are moments that find him seeming practically normal.

Dexter continues to be one of the most compelling dramas on television. From its opening sequence that emphasizes the violence of the everyday, to the odd relationship between Dexter and Rita, to his day job as a blood spatter expert for the Miami-Dade Police, Dexter is an examination of all the kinds of violence that permeate our existence. It has some of the best dialogue anywhere and a cast that serves it up perfectly – and manages a perfect balance between drama, melodrama and gallows humor.

The exceptional ensemble also continues to warrant intriguing arcs as well. Angel [David Zayas] gets promoted to sergeant – and has to deal with the sometimes unhappy responsibilities that come with his new position. Vince [C.S. Lee] has an article printed in a prestigious forensics journal but can’t find a way to persuade anyone to help him celebrate his success. Debra finds her swearing off of men challenged by a most unlikely guy – and is harassed by Internal Affairs to spy on the new guy in the division, Quinn [Desmond Harrington]. The richness of the plotting and the depth of the characterization remain amongst the absolute best on TV. Even the jaunty theme music is oddly creepy and utterly appropriate.

Dexter may not be for everyone, but for those of us who are into it, it is a treasure.

Final Grade: A

TELEVISION: Criminal Minds: As Promised Someone Dies!

There are many reasons that I gave up on Criminal Minds [CBS, Wednesdays, 9/8C] – among them, a seemingly deliberate bad treatment of women and unctuous and predictable writing. Both are present in this season’s premiere, subtly entitled Mayhem. It’s the resolution of the terrorist investigation/car bombing cliffhanger that ended the show’s third season.

Criminal Minds, S4

You may remember the scene: members of the team moved to their various SUVs and one exploded. Turns out that in the case of the one that exploded, its passengers hadn’t quite gotten into it [can you say cheat?] and were blown back by the explosion, not instantly killed. Not only that, but a passer-by calls 911 – of course no one is allowed to approach them because it was established that the bombers were actually looking to follow up the initial bomb with one to take out the initial response team[s].

So, we’ve got a badly injured woman. How she survived being scraped along the street for twenty yards, leaving a trail of skin and blood, is beyond me [when we get a glance at it, her back is so much hamburger]. Meanwhile the male agent is blown into the air and comes down across the street and is only shaken up and cut from the SUV’s windows – or so it seems. Actually, it’s later shown to be bad enough to have both agents requiring emergency treatment.

In the meantime, we get a bunch of fairly predictable events – the injured agent driving the ambulance to a hospital that has been barricaded, another agent discovering the second bomb and appearing to die saving everyone… the usual – and the only member of the team that comes off well is, once again, Garcia [Kristen Vangsness].

Sadly, all of the episode’s major reveals were obvious to me well before we reached them [before the teaser was over, actually]. And the promised death once again put a woman through all kinds of agony – a Criminal Minds staple. Not that Mayhem was totally ridiculous – it was beautifully filmed [though the hamburger shot could have been briefer] and Vangsness’ performance was excellent. On the other hand, Joe Mantegna’s David Rossi was reduced to the role of bystander and Paget Brewster’s Emily Prentiss was little more than window dressing.

Overall, then, Mayhem reminded me why I seldom watch Criminal Minds. It was overblown fooferaw and pretty much a waste of my time. Don’t let it waste yours.

Final Grade: D