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Apr 14 2014 11:15am

Bletchley Circle Cast: (l to r) Julie Graham as Jean, Anna Maxwell Martin as Susan, Sophie Rundle as Lucy, Rachael Stirling as Millie

The first series of The Bletchley Circle reminded us that sisterhood is powerful. So it’s no surprise when Jean (Julie Graham) feels compelled to defend the innocence of a former Bletchley Park codebreaker, even when the woman refuses to defend herself.

It’s 1953, ten years after Jean crossed paths with Alice Merren (Hattie Morahan) at Bletchley. Now Alice is facing trial for the murder of John Richards, a fellow scientist with whom she’d had an affair all those years ago. Alice hasn’t denied involvement in his murder, but she hasn’t confessed to it either. That’s enough proof of doubt for Jean, who resolves to demonstrate Alice’s innocence. But Jean can’t do it alone; she needs the other members of the “Bletchley Circle” to help her.

(This trailer's from ITV's UK run of the series in January.)

“Blood on Their Hands” (a two-part episode that concludes next week) packs a lot of plot into a scant 45 minutes, and the show’s creators don’t waste any time reviewing the material from Series 1. So, first, a recommendation: If you don’t have total recall of previous episodes, you’ll want to revisit them; it will help put this story in context.

[Will the circle be unbroken?]

Mar 29 2014 12:00pm

Father Brown, the BBC series starring Mark Williams has been airing on select American Public Television stations. The show is as cozy as it can be—from the top of the parish church steeple to the bottom of the garden—and it’s a perfect diversion for everyone who’s been missing Miss Marple, but I’m not sure you’d recognize this TV Father Brown as G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown.

The new TV Father Brown is doughy and disarming in his apparent naïveté, just like the character in the short stories. But he’s also a modern thinker; surprisingly tolerant and broad-minded. (Imagine the original Father Brown pressing his hands together in a Namaste greeting! )

The series is set in the 1950s not the 1910s, ’20s and ’30s when Chesterton was writing. And Father Brown is a priest in a village populated by the cast of characters one normally finds in villages conceived for cozy mystery TV series: the gossipy church secretary who bakes prize-winning scones and grows prize-winning roses; the flirty titled lady with an eye for anyone in trousers; the police detective who grudgingly accepts the amateur sleuth’s help....

[Recognize anyone yet?]

Mar 7 2014 4:00pm

If you’ve been pining for the return of Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey since they solved their last case back in 1988, I have some good news for you.

Even if you’ve never heard of Cagney &  Lacey (perish the thought!), listen up.

The girls are back in town—except this time the girls are Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey and the town is Manchester, England. The ITV series Scott & Bailey, available on some Public Television stations (including WGBH in Boston, KCET and KPBS in southern California, and WLIW in the New York area), is close enough to Cagney & Lacey to be an unmistakable homage, yet original enough to stand on its own.

[Let’s hear it for the girls...]

Nov 21 2013 9:45am

On the list of stuff we want to see, let’s put Quirke, a new BBC series based on the novels of John Banville writing as Benjamin Black. Set in the 1950s, the series stars Gabriel Byrne as Quirke (no first name necessary), chief pathologist in the Dublin city morgue. The cast includes Stanley Townsend (you’ve seen him in Zen and Sherlock) and Michael Gambon (yeah, yeah, he’s Dumbledore; but he’ll always be Maigret to us).

The first three episodes are based on the novels Christine Falls, The Silver Swan, and Elegy for April. Will they air in the U.S.? That’s a mystery. Right now, the U.K. air date is still given as “sometime this autumn.” Nevertheless, there’s lots of talk about this series... and now we’re talking about it, too.

Nov 7 2013 9:45am

The good news and the bad news is that the final four episodes of Poirot are being broadcast in the U.K. now. David Suchet wanted very much to give fans a complete set of the Poirot stories, and the producers wisely agreed. So, while we’re thrilled that we have more Poirot to look forward to, we’re naturally sad that this will be the end. We’ve been watching him since 1989, after all.

The Big Four, Dead Man’s Folly (featuring Zoë Wanamaker reprising her role as crime writer Ariadne Oliver), The Labours of Hercules, and Curtain: Poirot’s Final Case will be coming to the U.S. sometime next year. For now, we have a teaser of Dead Man’s Folly, filmed on location at Greenway, Dame Agatha Christie's home in Devon. Yes, it is a little galling, Ariadne, that we'll have to wait for more!

Oct 3 2013 8:45pm

Death on Deman by Paul ThomasDeath on Demand by Paul Thomas is a police procedural featuring Maori detective Tito Ihaka and set in Auckland, New Zealand (available October 8, 2013).

Tito Ihaka possesses all the qualities that make a police procedural protagonist: street smarts, an insolent manner, an appreciation for the female form, and a facility with snappy banter, most of which would be unrepeatable in polite company. Although you know he’s a dedicated lawman, he’s always just this side of the line that separates good guys and bad guys.

Yallop bookmarked the paperback and put it aside. “Why are you a cop, Ihaka? We both know it’s not for the money.”

Ihaka shrugged. “A bloke’s got to do something.”

“That’s it?”

“And I’m good at it.”

“Yeah, but you’d be just as good playing for the other team—and much better rewarded.”

“…a brainbox like you doesn’t ask a question without knowing the answer, so you tell me: why am I a cop?”

Yallop leaned back, pink with admiration for his own perceptiveness. “Becoming a cop was the only way to prevent yourself becoming a crim. As you’re well aware, you’ve got deep-seated antisocial tendencies. If you weren’t a cop, sooner or later they would’ve come to the fore. So the answer to the question is: self-awareness.”

[That’s one answer, anyway…]

Sep 30 2013 10:30am

In this series of Foyle’s War we’ve been exploring the idea of trust in the postwar world. Who are friends? Who are enemies? Who do you rely on to keep you safe and secure?

The answers are neither easy nor obvious. “Sunflower,” the final episode of Foyle’s War, makes that painfully clear.  For if you subscribe to the idea that the proverbial “enemy of my enemy” really is your friend, you will find yourself with some uneasy friendships.

Once again, Foyle’s War reminds us that all lines are blurry and the definitions of “right” and “good” are always relative to the situation at hand. How else could one explain the British government enlisting the help of Nazis mere months after the end of World War II?

[Just because I understand doesn’t mean I approve…]

Sep 23 2013 3:40pm

Inside a lovely home, a phone rings. A woman answers it. She listens for a moment, says two words into the receiver, places it back in the cradle, picks up a briefcase and a passport and slips out the door before her husband looks up from his afternoon paper to notice she’s gone.

What begins as a scene of ordinary domesticity turns into something else. And that’s the point. The end of World War II brought an end to “life as we know it” in England. All the things people were sure of before the war—being able to trust their neighbors, for instance—are uncertain now.

“Do I need to remind you how much you can trust me?” Foyle asks Arthur Valentine late in this episode.

It couldn’t hurt, but it probably won’t mean much to an intelligence officer like Valentine. From where he sits, this is a suspicious world; no one can be trusted and everyone has an ulterior motive. He’s not the only one who feels this way.

[This statement is false…]

Sep 16 2013 11:30am

The basic premise of Foyle’s War—a police inspector left to enforce the law on the homefront during World War II—came to the end of its natural life when the series timeline reached the end of World War II. But Foyle, and his creator Anthony Horowitz, weren’t quite ready to give up.

So, happily, Foyle’s War is back because, as characters explain in an early scene in this episode, “We have a new war, a new enemy… the Soviets.”

Welcome to Foyle’s Cold War.

[Just don’t call me Comrade…]

Sep 9 2013 9:30am

Martha and Clive are preparing for their “silk” interviews, so we can rest assured that this episode will toss plenty of roadblocks in their way. Not to mention the roadblocks we know Martha will create for herself.  ’Cause she wouldn’t be Martha if she didn’t make everything much more difficult than it needs to be.

We start with the Tony Paddick case.

John Bright, the junior clerk we know can’t be trusted, delivers the neatly wrapped prosecution case files to Billy Lamb. They’ve been sent over by another chambers that, for reasons unspecified, has decided it no longer wishes to pursue the prosecution.

Billy hands the case to Martha. It will be a slam-dunk, he assures her, and prosecuting will demonstrate her versatility to the committee reviewing her QC application. Plus, she’ll be opposing poor little Noah Zeigler, a barrister from her own chambers who’s universally acknowledged as dead weight.

When Noah finds out Martha is his opposition, he’s all ready to settle, but Martha refuses. She wants her day in court.

[Martha…  Martha… Martha!]

Sep 2 2013 9:30am

Things have settled down now that Silk has stopped trying to throw every trick in the one-hour TV drama handbook at us. (Martha doesn’t make even one unanswered call to her mother in this episode!)

The cases are slightly more interesting, too, although there’s a thing with dogs that I didn’t quite grasp in which the pupils, Nick and Niamh (Tom Hughes and Natalie Dormer), are sent into the courtroom without adult supervision and go bashing around like a couple of toddlers in pedal cars. Please, somebody reassure me that this is not really how the justice system works in the U.K. Tell me that precious, inexperienced “baby barristers” don’t sit in a courtroom frantically Googling information that they will use seconds later to exonerate their clients.

At least Nick has traded his wooly hat for a mass of curls that flop fetchingly over his sparkling blue eyes.

Martha’s hair looks cuter, too. She’s ditched the ponytail (apparently that’s only for court). She’s driving around in a shiny Alfa Romeo convertible. And she’s flirting with a judge. In other words, five minutes into this episode I hate her again.

[What’s a girl gotta do to get some love around here?]

Aug 26 2013 10:00am

“Another courtroom drama?” you sigh.

Yes, but this one has Rupert Penry-Jones, English accents, fancy robes, and wigs.

So you agree to give it a try.

Now, would it be cruel of me to say that in episode 1 the wigs are the most entertaining part of Silk?

Call me harsh; I know there are those would disagree with me—especially considering that Silk has run for three years in the U.K., which means someone likes it—but there’s not much here that we haven’t seen before in…oh, let’s say… every courtroom drama ever.

Maxine Peake stars as Martha Costello, a barrister poised to “take silk”—the term used to describe lawyers who ascend to the status of Queen’s Counsel. She’s a feisty workaholic, who has family issues, drinks beer straight from the bottle, and has been known to wake up at her desk at 5 a.m. with her face drool-stuck to a legal brief. (Admittedly, the drool is implied.)

Rupert Penry-Jones, yet again in hunky charmer mode, is Clive Reader, a fellow barrister who’s also hoping to take silk. He’s smooth, cocky, prefers more costly intoxicants, and hobnobs with the posh set (he went to Harrow). He’s never drooled in his life.

[Stop me if this sounds familiar…]

Aug 19 2013 11:00am

“Yes, you’re right…Hitchcock did it first,” Alan Cumming tells us in his introduction to The Lady Vanishes on Masterpiece Mystery.

You might well ask why anyone would try to do it again. Hitchcock remakes never come close to the originals in style or substance. (Simmer down Disturbia fans, the judge assures us that film is not a remake of Rear Window.) The same might be said about this one, but that is not necessarily a criticism.

The 2013 TV version of The Lady Vanishes, starring Tuppence Middleton, is lively and entertaining, and it kept me guessing until the very end, although (or because?) it doesn’t bear much resemblance to Hitchcock’s 1938 film. (If you want to see the Hitchcock version, you can watch it here.) Instead, it  seems to hew more closely to its original source material: The Wheel Spins, a 1936 novel by Ethel Lina White. Our heroine is back to being Iris Carr as she was in the book—she’s Iris Henderson in Hitchcock’s movie—and the setting is the Balkans instead of an unnamed country in an unnamed part of Europe.

The fundamental premise of the story is the same: a middle-aged English governess named Miss Froy mysteriously vanishes during a train journey; Iris brings the woman’s disappearance to the attention of her fellow passengers, who refuse to believe her and, in fact, insist that no such woman ever was aboard the train.

[Strangeness on a train…]

Aug 1 2013 12:00pm

A Crack in the Wall by Claudia Piñeiro is a contemporary mystery from Argentina (available August 6, 2013).

Pablo Simó and two colleagues at the architecture firm where he works know precisely what happened to Nelson Jara. That happens to be information they swore to keep to themselves, however, and they’ve kept their vow for three years. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, a young woman visits their office and inquires about Nelson Jara. Does anyone there know him? The architects exchange significant glances. What do they do now? Surely not tell her the truth. And yet:

How can Pablo deny what he knows, and what Marta knows, and what Borla knows: that Nelson Jara is dead, buried a few feet beneath the heavy-wear tiles over which the three of them walk every day on their way into or out of the office, under the concrete floor of the parking lot, exactly where they left him that night, three years ago.

Within the first six pages of A Crack in the Wall, Claudia Piñeiro eases us into the day-to-day doings of a bored and unremarkable middle-aged architect, then flips his life upside-down so we see there’s a great deal lurking beneath the surface of his ordinary existence.

[His foundation is looking a bit shaky…]

Jul 29 2013 9:30am

“They come at you through what you care about,” D.I. Fred Thursday tells Morse, explaining the intimidation tactics of mobsters and thugs.

He’s talking in generalities about one specific “face” called Vic Kasper. Thursday and Kasper have history dating back to Thursday’s time working in London. Kasper resurfacing in Oxford as the proprietor of a nightclub called the Moonlight Rooms does not please Thursday one little bit.

We know who Thursday cares about: his wife and kids. He cares so much he maintains a non-negotiable policy of checking his work life at the front door. He’d do anything to protect his family from the darkness he sees during the course of a workday. Home is a sacred thing.

But what about Morse? What does he care about? Based on what we know of him as an older man, his one true love is music, and “home” is a place with a phonograph, an unopened bottle, and a sharpened pencil for the crossword. Not much to threaten there. Still it makes you wonder: was Morse’s life always that way?

This week we find out—a bit—as “home” intrudes on work in a variety of ways.

[Can Morse go home again?]

Jul 22 2013 9:30am

Endeavour series creator/writer Russell Lewis must be a fan of The Lion in Winter. If you are, too, prepare to be awash in allusions to it in this episode, starting with Jenny Seagrove’s first scene with her husband, played by Martin Jarvis. She’s Nora, he’s Henry, and they’re engaged in a power struggle over British Imperial Electric, the munitions factory that is their family business. Their sons are Richard and Johnny. The family estate is called Chinon Court. If you know the movie, which is about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, you get the idea. If you don’t know it, rent it for goodness sake!

But enough of that. We are here to talk about Endeavour Morse and this episode gives us plenty to talk about.

We open with preparations for a royal visit. Princess Margaret is scheduled to tour the factory and if things go well British Imperial stands to sign a substantial manufacturing contract for its new surface-to-air missiles. The officers of Morse’s station are responsible for security during the visit and Chief Superintendent Bright couldn’t be more pleased with himself about the assignment, especially after he actually exchanges a few words with the princess. Then, just as Bright is regaling the station with the tale of this encounter, the phone rings—as it will—and we know things are about to change.

[If it’s for me, tell them I’m not here…]

Jul 15 2013 9:30am

Is your knowledge of opera as limited as mine? Well, lucky for us, Endeavour Morse’s knowledge of opera is vast and comprehensive. And that turns out to be lucky for him, too, because his “specialist knowledge” makes him invaluable to this week’s investigation.

As the episode begins, Endeavour has been reassigned to “general duties,” essentially back to being low man in the unit. DS Peter Jakes (Jack Laskey) has taken over as DI Thursday’s assistant, driver, and right-hand man. We pretty much knew that change was coming based on last week’s episode. Jakes outranks Morse, and the official hierarchy was bound to be restored once Chief Superintendent Bright—a stickler for such things—had his feet securely under the table.

Then a call comes in. Someone’s killed a woman and left her brutalized body inside an empty boxcar in a rail yard. And DC Morse, thanks to the unprecedented event of his arriving early at the office, just happens to be the first man on the scene to investigate.

[Call it “La forza del destino.” Morse might…]

Jul 8 2013 9:30pm

Shaun Evans as young Detective Constable Endeavour Morse, circa 1960s OxfordCall me fickle: just as I was mourning the loss of Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway, along comes another man to steal my heart. His name is Shaun Evans, and if there are photos of him frolicking on the beaches of the French Riviera or cavorting in Las Vegas, I don’t want to see them.  For me, he is Endeavour Morse, a young man with an old man’s countenance, the mind of a mathematician, and the soul of a poet.

This week’s episode of Endeavour, which kicks off a four-episode series, is thoroughly satisfying for old school Morseophiles. Writer and series creator Russell Lewis fills it with word play and brain teasers, such as this one for the cruciverbalists: “Running over a dune is an effort (9 letters).” So confident is he that we crossword-solving lovers of Morse will puzzle this one out, the answer isn’t even divulged in the script.

[Get yourself a pencil and paper, we’ll wait…]

Jul 2 2013 12:00pm

"Intelligent Design" is the final episode of Inspector Lewis, featuring Kevin Whately as Lewis, guest star Edward Fox, and Laurence Fox as HathawaySo that’s it then. The last episode of Inspector Lewis leaves us with plenty of food for thought, plenty of beautiful Oxford scenery, and plenty of dead bodies.

Because punctuality is a Lewis hallmark (the show, if not the character), our first corpse arrives promptly within ten minutes of the opening credits. It’s Professor Richard Seager, a biochemist found in his own driveway, under the wheels of his own car. Dr. Hobson informs Lewis that the good professor was knocked down and driven over several times, and the murder inquiry is officially open.

Of course the “good” professor isn’t so good after all. We already know this, because when we meet him he’s in the process of packing up the contents of his prison cell and preparing for his release into society. (The book on his shelf is The Atmosphere of Heaven by Mike Jay about the Pneumatic Institution, a late 18th-century scientific research lab.)

Seager’s been incarcerated for running over and killing a young girl while he was driving under the influence of alcohol.

[Nope… not good at all…]

Jun 24 2013 3:00pm

Inspector Lewis: Ramblin' Boy with Babou Ceesay“Be nice,” Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent warns Lewis not once but twice in this episode. As if Lewis wouldn’t be nice! (“I’m always happy; my face is misleading,” he explains to Dr. Hobson.)

Still there is a bit of topsy-turvy in this episode, starting with guest star Peter Davison. He was Albert Campion in the 1990s series based on Margery Allingham’s mystery novels and he was the fifth Doctor Who (which might explain the secret message in the closing credits of this episode). He’s usually a good guy, but he’s an obnoxious rich guy here. Is he convincing? You tell me. I sure wanted to slug him for talking to Lewis the way he does!

More topsy-turvy comes when Hathaway checks out for a week in Kosovo to rebuild an orphanage. Or, as Lewis puts it, his “churchy pals roped him into some do-goodery.”

While Hathaway’s rolling paint onto cinderblock, Lewis is presented with a new temporary partner, one Detective Constable Alex Gray, freshly promoted and eager to begin work. Lewis isn’t enthusiastic about breaking in the new guy, but Gray is really appealing and when he pulls out an electronic cigarette because he’s trying to quit smoking you can see Lewis figuring the lad just might have potential. (Hathaway’s cigs are always a problem for Lewis.)

[Smoke ’em if you got ’em…]