Tag Archives: CSI

The Fall

The-fall-highres_8colI don’t think I knew about this show when it originally aired in the UK (early summer 2013). It’s on Netflix Instant here; it never aired on US TV.

There are a lot of police procedurals on TV. Way more than the world will ever need. There have been nearly 750 episodes of CSI and its spinoffs. And they just ordered another CSI spinoff focusing on computer crime. And don’t get me started on Law and Order (original, Criminal Intent, SVU, UK, Elevator Inspector’s Unit). So…most of them aren’t even good shows. They’re completely unrealistic with their ludicrously attractive casts, featuring police women in 6″ stiletto Louboutin shoes, lab scientists who are inexplicably present during police raids, SWAT missions, interrogations, the incredibly posh sets that no government could afford for what little lab resources they have, and their superhuman ability to zoom and ‘enhance’ CCTV footage to make a picture clear enough to identify perps and even take their fingerprints off the water bottle they can see through the camera. They are all stupid shows. The only good ones are those that either a-makes the situation goofy or b-show the darkness that comes with the job. Psych is my favorite version of the former, and Luther is a great version of the latter.

The Fall is neither as dark or as devastating as Luther. But it has a lot going for it, and is infinitely more worth watching than any episode of CSI (even that one Quentin Tarantino directed).

Reason the first: Gillian Anderson.

3619467-high_res-the-fall.jpgI have seen very little of her acting, as the X-Files scared the crap out of me when it was on TV–I was 12 when it premiered.

But I did see her in the recent miniseries of Bleak House and she was wonderful in it. In The Fall, she plays DSI Stella Gibson. She travels from the Metro Police to Belfast because of a missing woman. If Stella Gibson were a man, the character wouldn’t be much different, and would be a bit of a cliché. Cold, unemotional, focused on the hunt for the killer. Serial killer, Gibson believes after examining several similar cases. Gibson is smart, logical, eminently capable, and confident to a fault.  She asks to be introduced to a fellow cop because she thinks he’s handsome (she doesn’t say that last part). When she starts talking to him, she just casually (but pointedly) mentions her hotel’s name and her hotel room number. I don’t think I would ever have the guts to do something like that, but omg I wish I had that sort of confidence. I had to stare at the screen for a minute with my mouth open to recover from that scene.  The guy gets the hint and shows up later, and Stella is just as take-charge in that scene as she is during press conferences. Her character and her performance are very interesting and fascinating to watch.  She does approach her job as a hunt, and uses her ability to understand the killer to help find him.

Which brings us to reason the second: Paul Spector

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Jamie Dornan plays the killer. He hasn’t been in much before (an American show, Once Upon a Time), but he’s about to be much more famous. He’s playing the lead in the 50 Shades of Grey movie.  A movie I plan to avoid with all resources available to me. Same strategy I’ve applied to the books, and it’s worked so far.

In the Fall, the viewer spends almost equal time between Gibson and Spector. We see the killer prepare, research, stalk.  We see him kill. We also see him at his mediocre job, with his wife and children. We see his infatuation with the babysitter. It’s a bit like Dexter, in that we see from both points of view. But though Dexter is a terrifying person and a serial killer with a much higher body count, I find Spector far more terrifying. Dexter has his ‘code’, his set of morals, and that makes the bitter pill easier to swallow.  Spector goes after professional women, brunette, pretty. He strangles them, slowly. He bathes them and paints their fingernails after they’re dead. And then he goes home to his wife (a neonatal nurse) and 2 children. His daughter suffers from night terrors. He has a normal life, and when he is with his family he seems like a normal man. In the end, he is able to keep his family together, which keeps him from being exposed as a killer. He is able to feign normalcy well enough to be assumed innocent.

Which leads us to the big problem with this show.  The ending. After 5 nailbiting episodes, the show ends with a cliffhanger.  The hunt is on a break, because Spector has left town. It’s not just a cliffhanger, it’s more of a no-ender. No resolution, no pause to collect thoughts, just a fade that leaves you thinking you must have accidentally hit pause and of course there should be another 5-10 minutes to this damn show! Frustrating!

The good news is that they are filming the second series soon. From what I’ve read, it should pick up exactly where the last one stopped. Right back to the pursuit.

This is a minimalist show. Not a lot of dialogue. Sparse. This makes it difficult for me to qualitatively describe what I liked so much about it.  I can only say that it was well-made, well-written, well-acted, and kept me interested without the need for big twists and unexpected coincidences. And how many shows can you actually say that about nowadays? Very few. I totally recommend watching it.  But keep in mind that you will be irritated when you reach the end.

 

Broadchurch

broadchurch_thumbnail_02_webLet me preface this by saying I think my expectations for this show were just too high. And I don’t think I accurately anticipated what the show was.  It’s not CSI.  It’s not a procedural, and the real focus of the show is not finding out whodunnit, even though such a suspenseful show will inevitably leave you constantly wondering whodunnit–for the love of god just tell me who did it!!!  The show is really more about how one crime, and one secret, can impact so many people in a community.

The first episode sees Alec Hardy (David Tennant) as the newly-arrived DI in the small seaside town of Broadchurch.  His arrival is a shock and a disappointment to DS Ellie Miller, who hoped to be promoted to DI.  Their relationship is off to a great start, and is further improved by Hardy’s gruff and aloof demeanor and his refusal to accept coffee and foods she brings him.

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The normalcy of life in Broadchurch is disrupted mere minutes into this first episode, because the body of a small boy has been found on the beach.  The reactions of Hardy and Miller could not be more different. Hardy is calculating and professional.  Miller is emotional and reacts like a civilian. Two reasons–Hardy has seen this sort of case before, and Hardy doesn’t yet know the people who he must now suspect of committing murder.  For Ellie, on the other hand, this is very close to home.  She recognizes the boy immediately as Danny Latimer, her son’s best friend.

The most horrible part about the first episode (and possibly the entire series) is the long slow buildup to Danny’s fate being revealed to his parents.  They don’t know he’s missing.  He leaves early daily for his paper route, so they assume he’s at school.  It’s midday before his Mom realizes something’s amiss.  The scene where she runs to the beach and needs to be restrained is gut-wrenching.

BroadchurchOver the 8 episodes of the first series/season, we learn to suspect everyone.  And Ellie Miller does as well.

First, there’s the Latimer family.  Why didn’t anyone notice Danny was missing?  Where were they?

Latimer family

Mark, the boy’s father, is particularly suspicious.  The entire time I watched the show, I couldn’t decide if he was a really bad actor or a really horrible character.  I will admit I irrationally disliked him due to the fact that he looks like my not-very-nice uncle.

But there’s also the Mom–something is up with her too.  And the daughter, Chloe?  She’s got a secret boyfriend who is too old for her (I’m not making a value judgment; he’s literally legally too old for her).

But the community is full of shifty characters keeping secrets.  Arthur Darvill (Rory!) plays the local vicar/reverend.

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Automatic suspicion there, obviously, given that it was a young boy that was killed.

David Bradley (Filch!) plays Jack Marshall, who runs the local news agent.  He’s haunted by his past and his story is both tragic and conflicting.

NYET290-1024_2012_102725_highBecause this is Britain, the interfering and immoral media show up to take advantage of the tragedy of Danny’s death. They run afoul of almost everyone, airing secrets and pointing fingers.

What started out as a small idyllic community is shown to be deeply and incredibly flawed.  The point that the show makes is that the secrets were always beneath the surface. It’s just this one event that has brought them all out.

And eventually we get to a killer, an answer.  But the answer just brings up more questions. We want to categorize what happened, but it’s difficult to do so.

Spoiler warning. Proceed no further if you haven’t seen all 8 episodes.

Here’s where I think they went wrong.

Sometime in episode 6, things took a shift and suddenly it hit me that it was probably Joe. I wasn’t certain.  I was still hanging onto my thoroughly-random theory that it was Grandma Latimer. But that scene at the skate park with Joe and Ellie made me realize that Joe was a pretty good guess.  Something about the music made him suddenly seem ominous and wrong-footed.  And I’m not the only one who thought this.  I discussed the episode next day with two co-workers and they both had the same feeling that it must be Joe.  The combination of the music and the acting and the directing acted like a bit neon sign pointing to Joe as the culprit suddenly.  The last two episodes, I was really hoping that it was a red herring and Joe was not the killer, because it just wouldn’t have surprised me.  And it didn’t.

I knew, for absolute certain, that Joe would be the killer. I knew it at the exact moment that Ellie looks down on Susan Wright and asks ‘how could you not know’ what was going on in her house?  That was a huge neon sign, a big red flag, an X marks the spot.  Don’t say shit like that.  That’s tempting fate, big time.  I knew it had to be Joe once she said that.  And it’s worth nothing that Beth said the same thing to Ellie at the end.  Digression–Beth has no room to talk, since she had no idea that her husband was cheating on her, her daughter had a secret boyfriend, and her son was going out late at night and on weekends to go paintballing, steal pheasants, and hug grown men. She had no idea he had a second cell phone or that he’d had a row with his best friend.  She should keep her mouth shut.

Back to the point: It’s not supposed to be a ‘surprise!’ kind of reveal.  It’s more the slow realization that everyone was keeping secrets, and then the slow horrible reality that it was almost definitely Joe. And then the aftermath.  They reveal Joe as the killer 14 minutes into the final episode, which left a lot of time for aftermath.  The scene when Ellie confronts Joe was brilliant and awful, and mirrored that first scene on the beach, when Beth is dragged away kicking and screaming.

The majority of crime shows (and there are a million of them) deal with the procedure of solving the crime, and make very little of the emotions of those affected by the crime.  Does CSI dwell on the grief of the murder victim’s family? Nope.  Does Law & Order spend time on the wife of the murderer? Not unless it helps them solve the crime.  It’s all about the solution and has nothing to do with the aftermath.  I sometimes find myself thinking things like ‘hey, family, stop interfering with the investigation!’, because you’re rooting for the answers, not for closure for those involved.

Broadchurch seems to have an opposite mission statement. It’s all about the effect.  When Hardy finds out it is definitely Joe, that secret weighs on him. He knows he has to tell Ellie, and Danny’s family.  He has to burden others with this horrible truth.  In instances like this, when the killer is someone you know, the truth can only ever make you feel worse.  It can only leave you angry with yourself and questioning everyone in your life because how can you ever trust someone again?!  It’s rare that a show really embraces such a heavy resolution. 

But at the same time I found some parts of the show irritating.  There were a lot of threads that were picked up for a minute, dropped, and never resolved. So many false clues and revelations that turned out to mean nothing.  And some of them were never discussed again.  A note though–we, in the US, did not get to see the full episodes.  Like a bunch of complete morons, BBC America decided to take out 15-20 minutes of each episode in order to fit in commercials.  Why couldn’t they just have made this a 90 minute program and actually show us the whole thing? One of the scenes I know they left out was after Joe is revealed as the killer.  Apparently Mark confronts Joe in the jail cell.  We didn’t see that.  That’s not a small scene.  And, really, we had to miss a lot.  Over 8 episodes, we would have missed almost 2 hours of content.  That’s pretty unacceptable.  And, from what I read, almost every scene they cut had Joe in it.  That seriously alters the way we perceived the show and him as a character.  I’m interested to compare the full episodes to what we saw. Of course, I can’t.  It’s not out on DVD yet in US format. And I can’t find any release date for a US format version anytime soon. You’re on my list now, BBC America execs.  And it’s not a good list.

They’ve already announced a 2nd series/season of the show will be aired in the UK. They haven’t revealed who will be part of the 2nd series, or really any details about it, its setting, its plot, or its cast.  News came in this week that David Tennant has signed up for the American remake of the show, that will air on Fox.  I think this is terrible news!  He’ll be on TV…in what will probably be a worse show, he’ll have an American accent, and it will (I wildly speculate) prevent him from being in the 2nd series of the original.  Boo!

No word yet on Olivia Colman.  I think she’s quite a brilliant actress, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tuning in every week for David Tennant.  I don’t know if I will want to watch without him.

Fun fact before I end this post.  Chloe’s boyfriend is named ‘Dean Thomas’ in the show.  That name will sound familiar to anyone who reads Harry Potter.  The actor who played Dean Thomas in Harry Potter (Alfie Enoch) has a brief cameo as a journalist in Broadchurch.

 

 

 

 

The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley CircleThe Bletchley Circle aired on PBS during April & May, though it aired in the UK in 2012.  Just a few weeks ago, iTV announced that they would be making a second series of the show.

Like Sherlock, this series (season) consists of only 3 episodes, 1 hour each.  Really, it’s more of a miniseries, and I was entirely prepared to describe it that way until I learned about a second season.  Miniseries don’t have further seasons, so I guess it is a drama series.

The show follows 4 women in 1950s London.  All four worked at Bletchley Park, the center of code breaking intelligence for the Brits during WWII.  Due to the Official Secrets Act, everyone had to hide their involvement in wartime divisions, etc., until something like the 1970s.  So these characters lead normal, horribly dull lives. No one knows that they’re code-breaking savants and were very important to wartime efforts.  They don’t get any recognition, even from family and friends.

It’s no wonder that Susan GraySusan Gray, the main character, is desperately in need of something to do. She has a dull husband and 2 kids, and is chained to the stove like any good ’50s housewife. After hearing reports on the news about a string of unsolved homicides, she can’t help but see some patterns in the details.  At first, she tries to go directly to the police, but she can’t work out all of the specifics of the crime without enlisting her 3 friends–whom she hasn’t seen since the war ended–to help her read the patterns. Gray would, if born today, end up an engineer, a statistician, a math professor. She’s exacting, efficient, a little too meticulous, a little boring.  She’s played by Anna Maxwell Martin, who I recognized from her roles in Bleak House (Esther Summerson) and North & South (Bessy Higgins).  I think AMM does a great job of portraying someone totally trapped by gender norms, who allows her life to be decided by feelings of what she should be doing.

In her determination to solve the puzzle and find the murderer, she enlists her three wartime compatriots:

Bletchley Circle MillieMillie, the free-spirited, world traveling, modern woman. She lives on her own, she’s tough, she takes care of herself.  You can tell how modern and independent she is because she is the only one who wears pants.  She is my favorite, obviously.

Bletchley Circle LucyLucy is the youngest and most naive.  She is very useful, though, because she has an eidetic memory.  Unfortunately, she also has an abusive, douchebag husband.  Lucy is maybe the most reluctant of the four. The violence they encounter during this investigation is probably worse than anything she’s ever imagined.  After all, they didn’t even have CSI back then–not even the original CSI.  They weren’t used to seeing dead bodies dissected and splashed about.  She explains that it’s also worse for her because her memory allows her to see bad things over and over again in perfect and horrible recollection.  That would not be my superpower of choice.

Lastly, there’s Jean.

Bletchley Circle JeanShe is the bossy older one, and she’s a librarian.  She looks and seems everything dowdy and unattractive at first.  There’s a quiet, assiduous power about her, though.  She is integral to the group because she has contacts in other libraries and with other intelligence workers that they use to dig up info on their killer. Jean is more reserved and less emotional, but she’s competent and hard-working.  She’s a Hufflepuff, in essence.

The ladies use their code-cracking skills to see other patterns in the killings–the girls were all on a journey, which they eventually narrow down to one specific train from St. Pancras.  He must be on the train too, then.

They discover over the three episodes that the man is a necrophiliac (they don’t use this word, but it’s made clear that each of the victims is raped after she’s killed).  They realize he has struck before, in other areas of England, and always pins the crime on someone else.  Shortly afterward, he does the same thing with his victims in London, but the girls (especially Susan) are adamant that the police have the wrong man.

It all comes back to the war. They discover the real killer is a man who was trapped underground during the blitz–trapped underground with a dead woman.  God only knows what he did with her body while he was down there, but it’s clear he’s trying to relive that with his victims.

As with any good mystery (as opposed to a police procedural), the authorities refuse to listen/believe what is truly going on.  The girls are on their own.  Susan, in particular, ventures too far in her search for the killer.  All the girls end up in peril, but Susan is alone with the man twice. He follows her home, threatens her family. I won’t say more about what happens next.

Primarily, I think this was a show about women.  In some ways it reminded me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was originally titled Men Who Hate Women. You have these horrible murders, all perpetrated against young women by a man.  You have strong female character(s) determined to stop them.

Of course, they’re radically different in setting and style, but the theme of misogyny and violence toward women is a commonality.  The Bletchley Circle shows the lives of very smart, capable women.  In their best circumstances, they are under-utilized and bored as housewives/waitresses/librarians.  More often, they are ridiculed by other men, criticized or hit by their husbands.  Even Susan’s husband, who is the most empathetic man in the show, doesn’t understand why Susan can’t just stay home with the children like a good wife would do.  Everywhere they look, they’re told to conform to what society believes they should be and do.

At the same time, these four women work together remarkably well, care about each other, and are deeply committed to solving this crime.  To saving other girls from this horrendous fate.  Not to sound totally ridiculous, but it is about women protecting women.

The people who worked on this show did a great job recreating a particularly bleak time in English modern history.  While America was having a huge economic boom in the late ’40s and early ’50s, the Brits were still whipping out their ration books and dealing with economic crises left and right.  It was a really austere place and time, even when you don’t consider the losses of the war (people, but also entire buildings and neighborhoods destroyed in the blitz).  The show captures the dull lives, the last lingering period of tradition before the upheaval of the ’60s.  The director even said they avoided sunlight when filming. They wanted to capture the lack of saturation, the lack of bright color that seemed to pervade the national consciousness during that time.

This wasn’t the greatest show in the world.  There were parts of the plot that were thrown in and then cast aside without much explanation.  The resolution didn’t make things precisely clear.  The bad guy ends up dead, but it’s not clear to the audience that the women have enough evidence to prove he was the one who killed those other girls.  I found myself wondering if they would be believed when they told their side of the story.  And what happened to the man falsely accused of the crime? Last we heard, he was scheduled to hang for it.  Now what? I suppose I’m supposed to have good faith and just assume it all worked out, but the justice system isn’t like that and I worried that despite the killer being dead, the nightmare was far from over.

On the other hand, I think it was a unique and interesting story.  I like period dramas as a rule, I like women protagonists as a rule.  If this had stretched for 10 episodes, I might not be as fond of it, but I’m definitely up for another 3-4 episode season (series).

TV Show Review: Whitechapel

Whitechapel tv series

Preparing for the premiere of the new period drama Ripper Street, BBC America recently aired the entirety of a similar series: Whitechapel.

Both series use the name of Jack the Ripper to place their shows within a rich history of mystery, of horrific crime, and of a specific place in London. Whitechapel is a small area of London, NE of the Tower of London. It’s pretty unremarkable when you consider all the things that have happened during the course of London’s history (see my post on Boris Johnson’s Life of London), but it is known world-wide because of Jack the Ripper, and because of all the things that changed for modern society, for the press, and for police work during the one year that Jack the Ripper terrorized the neighborhood.

It has been almost 150 years since Jack the Ripper committed his crimes, but he is still the best known serial killer in the world, and a source of endless fascination and theoretical postulating. So both of these shows are anchoring their (relatively standard) police dramas to the J-t-R myth in order to draw in viewers.  The problem inherent in this strategy is that after you talk about Jack the Ripper, almost every other case and every other villain is going to be anticlimactic.

Whitechapel was first broadcast in the UK in 2009 (US in 2011), and has had three seasons (series) so far. A fourth season is set to premiere in the UK this year.

This is a modern police procedural, but it attempts to draw a line between past crimes and current ones.  The first season is 6 episodes, all following a Jack-the-Ripper copycat. The main characters include:

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DI Chandler (middle): The OCD new leader of the schlubby old-school homicide detectives in Whitechapel. Much of the show is devoted to his relationships with the other detectives, and his own neuroses. Played by the very posh Rupert Penry-Jones

DS Miles (left): This character is played by Phil Davis, who I recognized immediately as the murderer/cabbie from the very first episode of Sherlock. While watching that episode, I remember thinking that this guy was a great actor, so I was thrilled to see him in something else.  He plays Chandler’s second in command, and the two often butt heads on how to manage the other detectives and how to pursue cases.  But he is a very human character and fulfills a void left because of Chandler’s lack of connection with others.

Edward Buchanon (right): Edward is a Ripper-ologist during the first series, lending his expertise to the search for the copycat.  After that, the idea the show takes is that current crimes can be compared to older crimes and historical information can help to point police in the right direction. While this might be true on a large scale (e.g. knowing that women are more likely to kill by poisoning), I fail to see how comparing one specific modern crime to one specific historical crime can be considered accurate. There has to be a reason why the modern crime would happen in the same way as the historical crime. You can’t just assume a correlation!  At any rate, Edward manages the historical archives and offers his advice based on these historical data.

The first series, as I said, deals with a Jack the Ripper copycat.  I found this series the most exciting, and was let down when the following series dealt with the legend of the Kray brothers.  Their fame has not quite reached this side of the pond, so I had no connection with them.  In the third series, instead of focusing the entire 6-episode arc on one villain, there were three two-part episodes. I think this worked a bit better.  The last villain in particular, called the Mantis, was pretty scary.

I think season 2 was the low point for me, but it started to recover in season 3. DI Chandler’s OCD continues to plague him and his relationships with his fellow policemen are strained and rearranged due to his emotional problems.  Often, people with OCD are portrayed on TV in humorous or quirky ways (e.g. Monk) and it was interesting to see someone in a more serious role with this affliction.  It wasn’t humorous at all.

Miles and Chandler are full-fledged characters, but everyone else fades easily into the background. I could only name one other character on the show. That’s not the mark of good writing.

Plus, do we really need another police procedural? Is this different enough from CSI, Law and Order, Copper, etc. etc. etc.  Probably not.  So if we don’t need Whitechapel, do we need Ripper Street?

Ripper Street

Ripper Street premiered a few weeks ago in the UK, and in the US shortly after.  I’ll withhold judgment until I watch at least the first series.  Unlike Whitechapel, it is a period drama, taking place in 1889 in Whitechapel.  From what I can tell, it’s Copper in London.  I have hope for it because I do love Matthew Macfayden.  But I hope that attaching the Jack the Ripper name to the series isn’t the only thing they’ve done to make it more than your average cop show.