“New Tricks” Series Still Has Imaginative Plots

A-New Tricks 11“New Tricks” Series Still Has Imaginative Plots

Can you teach “New Tricks” new tricks? Can it survive when only 1/4 of the cast is still around from the old days as part of the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad? In Season 8, actor James Bolan left and he was replaced by Denis Lawson as Steve McAndrew. In the first story of Season 10, Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong) was asked to leave the team and was replaced by the walking encyclopedia Danny Griffin (Nicholas Lyndhurst).

And then, DS Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman) fell for a French detective and SHE decided to leave the squad! This is the equivalent of John Nettles leaving “Midsomer Murders” and comes as more of a shock because Nettles’ leaving his series was set up ahead of time. Well, Redman was replaced by Tamzin Outhwaite in the role of DCI Sasha Miller, and her presence in the last two episodes of Season 10 caused much friction between her and the others.

Thus does “New Tricks, Season 11” begin in a 3-DVD set from Acorn Media. The sole survivor from the original cast is Dennis Waterman as Gerry Standing; and he is the only one of the men that seems to put a lot of energy into his role. Both Lawson and Lyndhurst seem to walk through their roles, showing some complexity mostly when having personal problems. Outhwaite is perky enough, but memories of Amanda Redman can never be erased. Not fair, perhaps, but that is what happens when cast changes are made in long running series.

Quite a bit of the 60 minutes given to each story is taken up with those personal problems: Sasha’s ex-husband, Steve’s ex-wife and wayward son, Danny’s…well, no need to go on. Personal problems have long been an element of police shows and nothing I say is going to change that.

On the positive side, most of the 10 plots are quite good, some quite imaginative. In two or three, a current crime is linked with a “cold” one. In one episode, the death of a young student sends the cast on a search for a certain boy’s name, which turns out to be something quite different, making this the grimmest mystery episode since the last one in “Foyle’s War.”

As I said, it is really not fair giving negative criticism to a cast because it is not as good as the original. “New Tricks” is still a very enjoyable police series with a difference. Still worth the watching.

Don Rickles Plays a Nice Guy in 1976 Sitcom, CPO Sharkey

 

A-CPO SharkyDon Rickles Plays a Nice Guy in 1976 Sitcom, CPO Sharkey

If you like Don Rickles, you will like “CPO  Sharkey, Season 1,” now available on a set of 3 Time Life DVDs. This 1976 sitcom copied the “Sgt. Bilko” formula by casting Rickles as a Chief Petty Officer at a San Diego naval base. Unlike Bilko, he really cares for his men but thinks that sarcasm is the best way to whip them into shape.

Since it i 1976, his men include one Polish, one Jewish, one Puerto Rican, one soul-filled Black, one Italian, and so on. Rickles does get very close to being offensive to this and that ethnicity, but that is the basic problem with his character. As Don Rickles, he must be caustic; as CPO Sharkey, he must be likable. Very often, these two aspects don’t seem to fit. Yet this is farce, so one takes it as it is.

He is of course surrounded by serious and goofy personages. His superior officer, Capt. Quinlan (Elizabeth Allen), is an attractive woman, whom he learns to respect. His best friend, CPO Robinson (Harrison Page), is the voice of reason and always willing to act the Black stereotype when Sharkey’s comments go too far. The 6-foot-6 Seaman Pruitt (Peter Isacksen) is Sharkey’s so-so efficient assistant in the barracks, while Lt. Whipple (Jonathan Daly) is the “expert” (with Bugs Bunny teeth), who always knows best and is usually proved wrong.

Each of the 15 episodes runs about 24 minutes and there are no subtitles.

A-CPO Sharkey 2Season 2 brings one major cast change–Elizabeth Allen’s Capt. Quinlan is replaced by Richard X. Slattery’s Capt. Bruckner, the only person who can cower Sharkey; and one minor cast change–an Italian recruit is replaced by one from the Near East. Also Lt. Whipple loses his beard!

To emphasize the similarity between this show and “Sgt. Bilko,” two of the Sharkey plots are nearly identical to those of two in the Bilko series.

 

Still there are plenty of laughs, for those who like low comedy.

 

Restored “Poirot” Series is Completed at Last

IMG_20150607_0001Restored “Poirot” Series is Completed at Last

   At last! The Acorn Media series of Hercule Poirot DVDs starring David Suchet, restored with subtitles in the order of their original UK telecasts, is now complete with the issuing of “Poirot, Series 13.” For reasons that can only be guessed at, the Public Television stations showed four of the five, leaving those who wished to see the final episode to wait for the DVD.

“Elephants Can Remember” and “Dead Man’s Folly” are quite good, sticking mostly to the original novels. The latter can be compared with the film version of 1986 starring Peter Ustinov as the Belgian sleuth. “The Labours of Hercules” drops the framing device of the original and manages to cram three or four of the “labours” (British spelling) into a new framing device that does not quite work. But for those unfamiliar with the original (which was really a set of independent short stories), no harm is done.

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Miss Lemon and C.I. Japp rejoin Poirot in a silly mystery

“The Big Four” is Agatha Christie’s worst Poirot novel and is noted only for the appearance of Hercule’s twin brother Achille! The televersion drops this altogether, but the story is quite silly even without it. But how good it is to see Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran), and Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) again.

“Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” is very true to the book. As David Suchet explains, they didn’t have the heart to film this last; so it was filmed before “Dead Man’s Folly” to leave the cast and crew in a better frame of mind. There is a 19-minute interview with Suchet as a bonus.

So there we are. All of the Poirot novels and short stories are out and available for repeated viewings by fans and fans-to-be. Thank you, Acorn.

Modern Costumes Ill Fit Shakespeare’s Poetry in “Two Gentlemen of Verona”

Modern Costumes Ill Fit Shakespeare’s Poetry in “Two Gentlemen of VeronaA-SH-Two Gentlemen of Verona [RSC]

Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” is an early comedy that foreshadows many of the elements to come in his more mature works. A young woman dresses as a young man, three men are in love with the same woman, a father stands in the way of true love, rings are exchanged and one is given inappropriately, and other elements that audiences had grown to expect.

Technically, this play is a “romance” (as opposed to farce or problem comedy). Some of it takes place in the woods where is found a band of brigands that might have been the inspiration for the overly scrupulous Pirates of Penzance some three centuries later.

At any rate, the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon gave a lively production of “Two Gentlemen” in 2014, and it can be seen on an Opus Arte DVD. I did not follow with a text, but I am sure that it is complete, including all of the silly banter between the clownish servants Speed (Martin Bassindale) and Launce (Roger Morlidge). Taking a chance, they use a live dog to play Crab (Mossup), who steals the scenes from Launce.

The young lovers are youthful enough. Proteus (Mark Arends) loves his Julia (Pearl Chanda) in Verona until he goes to see his best friend Valentine (Michael Marcus) in Milano and falls in love with his friend’s beloved Silvia (Sarah MacRae). But her father the Duke (Jonny Glynn) prefers the loutish Turio (Nicholas Gerard-Martin)…and so on.

The pacing is quick and the dialogue is well spoken (although the subtitles are most welcome); but now and then the cast is directed to shout at one another or the women to shriek with delight. This play is about witty speech, not histrionics.

And that is why I can’t see why the director decided to set the action in the 1960s. Watch the version shown as part of the BBC Complete Shakespeare television series to see how gorgeous the Renaissance costumes are and how perfectly the heightened language fits them. At the RSC, the costumes could not have been more boring. Proteus spends most of the play in slacks and a white shirt; Julia’s dress in the early scenes could not look shabbier; Turio, who should be a dandy, is given a faded colored sports jacket; and Silvia, invariably described as goddess-like, is first seen doing something like the twist in a plain dress. Shakespearian speech sounds wrong in 1960.

Still in all, if updating doesn’t bother you, the production is very much worth seeing.

Foyle’s War 8

 

“Foyle’s War 8” Tackles Grim Problems Still With Us

A-Foyle's War 8Whether or not “Foyle’s War, Set 8” is an end to this impressive series (and scriptwriter Anthony Horowitz hopes not), the third story ends in the most unforgettable way. But let me lead up to that.

It is now 1946 and Foyle (Michael Kitchen) is working for MI5. He is assisted by his driver and confidante Samantha Wainwright (Honeysuckle Weeks), now the wife of MP Adam Wainwright (Daniel Weyman) and is “PWP.” Foyle’s bosses are the intense Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington) and the stuffy but efficient Sir Alec Meyerson (Rupert Vansittart). These two ran the SOE (Special Operations Executive) that I have written about twice.

Once in my review of the dramatic series “Wish Me Luck” and again in my review of the documentary “Secret War,” I explained that the purpose of the SOE was to send agents, many of them women, into German-occupied countries to disrupt the enemy’s war efforts as much as possible. Unhappily, the operation was quickly blown; and through incompetence or ego or both, those in England refused to believe it and kept sending agents. This is what the third story, “Elise,” of Set 8 is all about. And this is the one with the…well, let the viewers see for themselves.

“High Castle” links the Nuremberg trials with the need for oil by the western and Russian powers. The theme is the corruption in those governing the “sleep with the enemy” consequence that inevitably results where oil is concerned.

“Trespass” brings in the problems of not only anti-Semitism but of the age-old tendency to blame someone, anyone, for whatever ills a society is facing at the present. There is always the “fearless leader” who springs up to lead a campaign for a religiously/racially/politically [choose one] pure population. And of course, there are always the morons who will follow their accepted master.

Yes, this last series, now out on the Acorn Media label, is pretty grim. Each episode runs about 95 minutes, and the subtitles are always helpful. What? Oh, yes. PWP meant back then “Pregnant without Permission.”

 

 

Richard II

Richard II” Gets a No-nonsense ProductionA-SH-Richard II RSC

I vowed never to watch any Shakespeare with David Tennant after he butchered the poetry of “Hamlet” in the 2009 telecast. Then I saw only the cover of the Opus Arte DVD release of the Royal Shakespeare Company production of “Richard II”; and there he was, dressed in white running shoes and some casual modern garb, sitting on a throne. I groaned and expected the worst.

What I got was possibly the best “Richard II” on video, shot during a performance at Stratford-on-Avon in 2013! The text is loudly and clearly spoken. Except for speaking his lines too quickly, Tennant respects the poetry of the text—and Richard’s character is that of a poet miscast as a king—and gives a creditable performance.

Others in the cast include Emma Hamilton (Queen), Michael Pennington (John of Gaunt), Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke, later Henry IV), and Oliver Ford Davies (York). Jane Lapotaire does a star turn as the Duchess of Gloucester in the first scene, while the rest of the cast keeps up the pace in what is after all a very talky play.

My only disappointment is Lindsay, who gives no subtlety to his Bolingbroke. There should come a point at which the audience knows whether he came back from exile only to reclaim what Richard had stolen from him or he was definitely planning to seize the crown from the start. But when I direct the play myself, I will make it clear. Perhaps in this production Director Gregory Doran did not choose to do so.

The stage is a single set, consisting of a balcony and dimly colored backdrops that do not change from scene to scene. (Nor did it in Shakespeare’s time, so my comment is not negative.) The costumes in the first two scenes are quite colorful; but from then on the men are dressed in the dullest colors, designed perhaps to contrast with Richard’s Christlike white garment.

Putting all this aside, the lines are beautifully read, sometimes shouted. Moreover, this is one of the very few Shakespeare videos that is a staged production and that has subtitles! At last.

A very long pause in a scene with Richard and his cousin Aumerle (Oliver Rix) leading to up a kiss is utterly unnecessary or at least given too much stage time. And an interesting change is making Richard’s killer in the penultimate scene not Exton but Aumerle. This is why the tiny scene (V. iv) in which a certain Exton says he will kill Richard is omitted.  Other than that, the text is just about complete.

The two scenes Shakespeare intended to be funny—the throwing of glove after glove onto the ground as challenges (IV, i) and the pleading of Aumerle’s parents that King Henry should and should not kill their son (V, iii)—get the laughs they usually do.

The tracking is very helpful: each new scene gets its own track. This increases the educational value of this disc considerably. The running time is 165 minutes and there is a short interview with Tennant and a commentary. The latter is poorly done, because the sound track of the film is too loud and it is hard to hear what the director is saying. Didn’t any sound engineer or quality control person spot this?

All in all, this is still a grand “Richard II” and not to be missed.

Note.  The “Richard II” seen as part of the Complete Shakespeare series on Public Television and still available on DVDs has an excellent Richard in Derek Jacobi but it does have some cuts. An older production on VHS only with Michael Pennington in the lead role is hard to get and not worth it. Pennington is far too old for the role and almost all the scenes in which he does not appear are cut! There are one or two other videos which I have not seen.

Nevertheless, I will still recommend this Opus Arte disc as the one to have.

Henry IV, Parts 1, 2

A-SH-Henry IV RSC

Royal Shakespeare Company Performs Both Parts of “Henry IV”

Very few go to see Shakespeare’s 2-part “Henry IV” for the political plot. Rather they go to see Sir John Falstaff. My favorite video version, albeit abridged, is that included in the 1960s “An Age of Kings” with Robert Hardy as Prince Hal and Frank Pettingell as Falstaff. The BBC Shakespeare series has Anthony Quale as Falstaff, while the new “The Hollow Crown” butchers the poetry of all the plays in that series and is not worth considering.

Not long ago, Kultur released both parts of “Henry IV” as it was seen at the new Globe Theatre with an excellent Roger Allam as Falstaff, but he was given far too many “funny” bits; and the lack of subtitles made it difficult to follow many of the lines.

And now the Royal Shakespeare Company has produced an interesting “Henry IV, Parts 1 and II,” sold on the same label either separately or as a boxed set. Each Part is on 2 DVDs, each play with a running time of 168 minutes, plus some interesting bonus features and optional running commentary. Best of all, there are subtitles. But there are faults.

The next most popular character in Part I is Hotspur, who forms one vertex of a triangle: Hotspur is all for Honor, Falstaff  thinks it merely a word, Hal seems utterly unconcerned with it until he decides to surprise them all.  I think the best Hotspur is a very young Sean Connery in “An Age of Kings.” Tim Pigott-Smith is quite good in the BBC series. However, in this RSC production Trevor White looks far too old for the part and overdoes the hyper-energetic aspects of the character while underplaying the humor of it.

The comic scenes are paced very slowly, but most of the jokes fall flat. The scene with Ancient Pistol (Antony Byrne) misses fire, but those with Mistress Quickly (Paula Dionisotti) and Doll Tearsheet (Nia Gynne) are very nicely done. I am afraid that Jasper Britton’s King Henry is far too bland, while Alex Hassell’s Prince Hal is adequate but never outstanding.

Antony-Sher-Falstaff-and--008As for Antony Sher’s Falstaff, his take on the role is fascinating. In an interview, he says he sees the part not as a comic role but as a character one. Sher’s face has a certain manic look to it but one of intelligence. While I won’t say he is the best Falstaff of the lot, he is certainly a different one.

Given the complete text (only the Epilogue is omitted) and subtitles, I would recommend this set above all the rest. But do not ignore “An Age of Kings” by any means!

Lord Lucan

A-Lord Lucan

Two Points of View on an Unsolved Mystery

A most fascinating 2-DVD set has appeared on the Acorn Media label, “The Mystery of Lord Lucan” (2013). In 1974, Lord Lucan, a self-described professional gambler, told a close knot of his rich friends that he had just saved his wife Veronica from being murdered by a person unknown, who had just killed their children’s nanny. The wife claimed that Lucan was responsible for both crimes, having mistaken the nanny for his wife in the dark basement. The next day, a car Lucan had borrowed showed up in Newhaven and he was never seen again.

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Lord Lucan himself

The story is dramatized—and there is no question in the script that Lucan was an out and out villain—in a series of flashbacks. It is all beautifully acted by Rory Kinnear (Lucan), Catherine McCormack (Veronica), Gemma Jones (Lucan’s mother), and a solid cast of secondary characters. The rich have never been shown in a worse light in any film I can recall: utterly arrogant, indignant that their unearned income is being so heavily taxed, and willing to close ranks around any of their class no matter what crimes have been committed.

One of them complains that judges don’t understand people who don’t have to work for a living. Lucan is a prime example of a human who considers himself superior to almost all others and is therefore not bound to follow any of the rules. Since the rich make the laws, it would seem that they are also exempt from obeying them.

Christopher Eccleston plays the most detestable of them all, John Aspinall, who runs a private gambling club and cheerfully advises Lucan to do what must be done to gain control over his beloved children. To watch him is to hate him.

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Julian Wadham as himself

The second disc holds “The Trial of Lord Lucan” (1994). With Julian Wadham as Lucan and Lynsey Baxter as Veronica, it begins with the attempted murder and has the police catch up with Lucan in Newhaven. The rest has flashbacks of scenes redone in the later dramatization and is devoted to the (imaginary) trial in the tradition of “Andersonville.”

Wadham is remarkable in simply sitting still and registering no emotion whatsoever—except for one moment in which a friend gives damaging evidence. Here the stars are Sir Charles Moore (Robin Ellis) for the Defense and Sir James Hallows (James Faulkner) for the Prosecution.

The characters who played important secondary roles in the 2013 drama are not as prominent here; but the assumption is that the viewer has seen the “Lord Lucan” before watching “The Trial.” Grab this set.