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Jun 19 2017 12:00pm

Grantchester 3.00: Christmas Special Episode Review

Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy … Grantchester has returned. And this episode, which aired in the U.K. last December, opens with a rehearsal for a Christmas pageant. Thus, the aforementioned tidings.

In the past, I’ve been harsh with hunky vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) and his pals, which has distressed fans of the series. So, in the spirit of the season—Season 3, if you’re counting—I will endeavor to review these episodes charitably. 

Everyone’s preparing for Christmas 1954. Sidney and the curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) struggle with the lights for the tree. Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) is baking up a storm. Cathy Keating (Kacey Ainsworth) has her eye on a telly for the family, but Geordie (Robson Green) vetoes the idea. And isn’t Dickens the puppy a big, handsome boy now?

Yet casting a shadow over the holiday preparations is a certain elephant in the room, which everyone chooses to call “The Situation.” (You can hear the capital letters whenever it’s mentioned.)

[There is freedom only in a situation…]

Aug 22 2016 12:30pm

Inspector Lewis 8.03 Series Finale: “What Lies Tangled” Episode Review

Youthful professor Adam Capstone, being all perky first thing in the a.m., glances out his office window to see a young woman cast a dubious look in his direction. Paying her little mind, he goes to his desk and opens an innocuous-looking package that came in the morning mail. Only, that package isn’t innocuous at all. It contains an explosive device that...


We have our first corpse in “What Lies Tangled,” the this-time-we-mean-it final episode of Inspector Lewis.

Everything here is tangled up in knots, mathematical knots that are the basis for a field of study known as knot theory. It’s a complicated, mind-bending thing that even smarty pants DI Hathaway (Laurence Fox) can’t explain easily.

The central question, which we do understand, is this: Who would want to murder a 34-year-old professor of geometric topology?

[You might better ask, “Who wouldn’t?”]

Aug 15 2016 12:30pm

Inspector Lewis 8.02: “Magnum Opus” Episode Review

If the Morse-Lewis-Endeavour universe has taught us anything, it’s that there’s a never-ending supply of Oxford-related philosophers and scholars whose work can inspire murder mysteries. For “Magnum Opus,” inspiration comes from Charles Williams, a cohort of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and, with them, a member of the Inklings literary group at Oxford in the 1930s. The prolific Williams wrote poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction. “Theology, supernatural novels, and he was a bit of a mystic,” D.I. Hathaway (Laurence Fox) helpfully explains to D.I. Lewis (Kevin Whately) and to us.

Williams espoused a concept he called Co-inherence, which holds, to quote one character, “that we are all spiritually connected and can, through ritual, share suffering; ease one another’s burdens.” As in Galatians 6:2 “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” That symbolic transfer of pain or regret (or guilt) is an awfully appealing philosophy for someone carrying the weight of past suffering or mistakes (or crimes). It’s also a tantalizing main ingredient for an episode of Inspector Lewis.

Add a heaping dollop of alchemy and pinches of Edgar Allan Poe and Carl Jung. Sprinkle with some A.E. Waite, noted mystic and co-creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. Fold in the requisite amount of intellectual snobbery, student high jinks, and a choice guest star or two, and you have the perfect Morse-Lewis-Endeavour concoction.

[Final season to taste...]

Aug 8 2016 1:00pm

Inspector Lewis 8.01: “One for Sorrow” Episode Review

Archaeological excavations are underway at Oxford, and the student diggers have unearthed something they probably didn’t expect to find: a dead body wrapped in recycling bags. 

It’s enough to send police cars screaming to the scene, followed at a slightly less frantic pace by Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) and his no-longer-unrequited love, pathologist Laura Hobson (Clare Holman). 

“Do we make a wish?” asks Lewis, peering down into the old stone well where the body was stashed.

“I did,” says Dr. Hobson wistfully. “It involved gin and a slice of lemon.”

Poor Dr. Hobson. She might not have gotten what she wished for, but Lewis fans did. We got another series of Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery

[Gin and lemon optional...]

Jul 11 2016 12:00pm

Endeavour 3.04: “Coda” Episode Review

At the gangster’s funeral, police officers and journalists are tucked none too discreetly behind trees and tombstones—but not Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans). He’s off taking his sergeant’s exam, as he promised his boss Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) he would. And, ever the smarty pants, he finishes so quickly that he has time to do the crossword as well.

Thursday scans the cast of characters at the funeral with disgust. These are just the type of thugs that left him with a bullet lodged precariously inside him. “They’re all villains,” he growls. (A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.)

Meanwhile, somewhere in Oxford, the housewives gather for bingo with their favorite cheeky caller Paul Marlock. And, at the Wessex Bank, Cedric Clissold, of Clissold Fashions, arrives to collect the cash for his company’s payroll.

It’s all more or less business as usual in Endeavour. Thus, we know we’ll barely make it through another minute without another corpse.

[When your number is up...]

Jul 4 2016 12:00pm

Endeavour 3.03: “Prey” Episode Review

Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” wafts through our speakers as the montage begins. A blond woman; a hedge maze; a dark-haired woman pushing a baby carriage; an au pair who seems suspiciously attentive to the father of her charges; a woman in a hospital bed connected to life-support; a scientist in a lab; a tent in the woods; Spanish lessons; dead animals; more dead animals; and Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) in a dreary flat, with a view of a brick wall and Bach on the turntable.

It’s June 5, 1967, day one of what would become known as the Six-Day War in the Middle East. It also happens to be the fourth anniversary of a crime in which a young woman was beaten and left for dead. That unsolved case continues to plague D.I. Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). So, when the au pair, a Danish girl named Ingrid Hjort, is reported missing and her last whereabouts were near where the earlier attack occurred, Thursday naturally sees a link.

That’s just one of many dots that will have to be connected in this hunt for a killer. The hedge maze at the start is an appropriate image. “Prey” takes some sharp turns and tantalizing detours en route to the heart of the mystery.

[Who knows where the trail will lead?]

Jun 27 2016 3:00pm

Endeavour: 3.02 “Arcadia” Review

An artist named Simon Hallward is sleeping peacefully in his flat when the clock strikes 5 a.m. and the place goes up in flames. Accidental or deliberate? You can guess what our friend Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) thinks.

His suspicion is enough to convince D.I. Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) that Hallward might have been done in by someone else—and from what we’ve seen, murder seems a likely assumption.

Endeavour has himself a case. He also has himself a new colleague, one WPC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards, late of The Golden Compass and Skins). If her name is any indication, we have a pretty good idea where this will lead. (We know by now that characters in Endeavour are rarely named arbitrarily.) Morse has already pronounced her work “commendably thorough.” That’s a veritable valentine.

One person who hasn’t been receiving valentines is Leo Richardson (Richard Dillane), head of the Richardson’s supermarket chain. Someone has been leaving threatening letters for him in his stores. A rumor that Richardson’s is selling embargoed sugar from Rhodesia brings protestors out in force. And the merchandise in Richardson’s stores has been tampered with. The consequences are dire—someone’s already died from the tainted food.

Things are turning ugly in Series 3, Episode 2 of Endeavour. And that’s not even counting the bloater paste Mrs. Thursday packed for Fred’s lunch.

[Cheese and pickle suddenly sounds mighty appealing...]

Jun 20 2016 12:00pm

Endeavour 3.01: “Ride” Episode Review

When we last saw our hero Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) in Series 2, Episode 4, “Neverland,” things did not end well. His boss and mentor, D.I. Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), was critically injured and Morse had been put in prison. That sort of experience will change a man. It certainly changed Morse.

He’s since been released, his named cleared, and the case files sealed for 50 years. (They can be opened in 2017, if you’re counting.) Still not ready to rejoin the police force, he’s essentially gone into hiding in a “dacha” by a lake, where, being Morse, he chops wood while wearing a shirt and tie.

Endeavour being Endeavour, the opening minutes of “Ride” are jammed with seemingly unrelated events that we know will coalesce at some point. Newsreel footage of daredevil Donald Campbell’s death while trying to set a new water speed record tells us this is 1967. The gent being released from prison wearing a spiffy suit points to a gangster element in the story. A shadowy figure rolls a gold coin through his fingers. There’s a stately home, a casino, and a traveling carnival. There’s also a “rather toothsome” red-headed bus conductor named Jeannie Hearne. Why she might be targeted for murder is anyone’s guess.

Then, from out of nowhere, comes Morse’s college friend Anthony Donn. He invites Morse for a drive to a surprise destination. With nothing else on his agenda, Morse agrees to go along for the ride, only to stumble upon his old police colleagues investigating Jeannie’s murder in the woods near his house.

[Fasten your seatbelts, et cetera...]

Jun 16 2016 11:00am

Will We Dig The Tunnel?

In addition to the return of Endeavour on Masterpiece Mystery this week, PBS will air The Tunnel, a French-English co-production from 2013. If the initial episodes are any indication, this police procedural might be worth digging into. Fair warning to those who prefer their mysteries on the mild side, however—there’s uncomfortable stuff ahead.

We begin near Calais, France, with an ordinary worker on an ordinary day at the Eurotunnel between England and France. Things seem quiet enough, until he spots the body of a woman in the service tunnel intentionally placed on the line that marks the border between England and France.

The French police investigative team, led by Elise Wassermann (Clémence Poésy), recognizes the woman immediately as a high-profile member of the French parliament, an anti-immigration hardliner. “Her head is in France,” Wassermann tells her English counterpart, Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane), as they view the body. “She’s French. So it remains a French investigation.”

Le Boom. That’s him schooled.

Wassermann’s single-minded fervor for her work intimidates even her own colleagues. Roebuck, on the other hand, takes a laissez-faire approach. It’s fairly evident that if he were pushed to back off, he would go quietly—only stopping to pick up some croissants for the wife and kids at home. All in a day’s work, really. Except, when the crime scene team tries to move the body, they find the dead woman has been neatly sawn in half. A few minutes later, we learn that the “body” is composed of two distinct halves from two different women: the French MP and an English prostitute.

This is now officially an international incident. Time to put diplomacy into action.

[Hands—and other body parts—across the water...]

May 23 2016 3:00pm

Wallander 4.03: “The Troubled Man” Episode Review

Early morning. Håkan von Enke (Terrence Hardiman) begins his day as he always does, winding the Mora clock in the front hall of his beautiful historic home. Taking the same walk. Thinking the same thoughts. Just as he described to Kurt Wallander in Episode 2: “A Lesson in Love.”

Only this time, von Enke doesn’t come home from his walk. This time, that troubled man disappears without a trace.

Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) is asked to investigate von Enke’s disappearance, in part because he’s a detective, but mainly because Håkan von Enke is the father-in-law of Wallander’s daughter Linda (Jeany Spark), which makes it a family matter. Wallander wants to set Linda’s mind at ease. Plus, he’s curious about the secrets Håkan revealed to him in Episode 2. It was pretty big stuff related to a high-level government cover-up that goes back 30 years. Wallander figures it’s related to Håkan’s disappearance.

Local detective Nils Ytterberg (Simon Chandler, who’s had roles in many of your favorite British mystery series from Midsomer Murders to The Bletchley Circle to Vera) isn’t having much luck finding Håkan. He’s happy for Wallander’s help, and Wallander is happy to be helpful, given that he’s been suspended from duty in Ystad.

For Kurt Wallander has troubles of his own.

[Each man is a half-open door...]

May 16 2016 12:00pm

Wallander 4.02: “A Lesson in Love” Episode Review

It’s dark, it’s foggy, and our man is buttoned into a pea coat and looking unsettled. In other words, Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) is back in Sweden where he belongs, and everything’s as it should be—for the moment.

Then, a couple of thugs zoom up on a motorcycle, pummel him for no apparent reason, and leave him face-down in the parking lot. And it suddenly becomes clear...

Wallander is too old for this stuff.

He’s 55 and—who’d a thought—a doting grandfather to little Klara (Kitty Peterkin), who lives in Copenhagen with Wallander’s daughter Linda (Jeany Spark) and his son-in-law Hans (Harry Haddon-Paton, fresh off a couple of seasons wooing Lady Edith on Downton Abbey). The stage looks set for Kurt to settle into playing happy families. Even Baiba Liepa (Ingeborga Dapkunaite), Wallander’s Latvian love interest from “The Dogs of Riga” in Series 3 returns for a surprise visit that makes Wallander’s heartbeat quicken.

Can we hope that Kurt Wallander has found peace and happiness at last?

[Hope is a four-letter word...]

May 9 2016 2:00pm

Wallander 4.01: “The White Lioness” Episode Review

The final series of Wallander on Masterpiece Mystery has an uncharacteristic start. For one thing, our Swedish detective friend Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) is in South Africa for some sort of international police conference. More uncharacteristic than that, Wallander is soaking in the sunshine, jogging, inhaling...smiling.

“I have been a police officer for 40 years,” he types on his laptop. Then he backspaces and corrects: “nearly 40 years.”

If this were anyone else, we might think we’re watching a man ready to glide into his golden years. But this is Wallander, a man of steady habits, most of them bad. He doesn’t glide.

Over cocktails on a veranda, a local police official surprises Wallander by asking for his help with a case. A Swedish woman living in South Africa has gone missing. The police haven’t been able to find her. Her husband, also Swedish, is kicking up a fuss. Can Wallander intercede to settle the husband down?

[We’re one step ahead of the man...]

May 2 2016 1:00pm

Grantchester 2.06: Episode Review

It’s the last episode of Series 2, and we’re still dealing with the fallout from Gary Bell killing Abigail Redmond in Episode 1.

Gary was executed for Abigail’s murder, and hunky vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) hasn’t quite gotten over it. He’s drinking to excess, hanging on past last call at the pub, and dribbling communion wine down his chin in church. Heavens!

He also beat the dickens out of Geordie Keating (Robson Green), because that’s what you do when your best friend disagrees with you. At least that’s what you do when you’re Sidney Chambers.

For it is Sidney’s god-given talent to crap all over his nearest and dearest and never apologize for it. That includes everything from pummeling Geordie to drunkenly, sloppily groping a barmaid to neglecting to visit Gary Bell’s mother in her time of grief. And, for the parents of the murdered girl, he has no time or sympathy at all.

Sour Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) visits Geordie and takes note of his battered face. Geordie tells her he wants an apology from Sidney—a reasonable person might figure he deserves one. Mrs. M is not, strictly speaking, a reasonable person.

“Your pride’s dented. Don’t pretend it’s anything else,” Mrs. Maguire replies in her own inimitable style of compassion. After all, Sidney is the one who deserves everyone’s attention and sympathy. “He’s lost. And we’re all lost without him,” she tells Geordie.

[What doth every sin deserve...]

Apr 29 2016 2:30pm

2016 Edgar Awards—A Night of Milestones

The annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards dinner, hosted by the Mystery Writers of America, was a night of milestones—starting with the Edgars themselves, which turned 70 this year. That’s 70 years of celebrating the best of mystery fiction, crime fiction, suspense, thrillers, and true crime—all the stuff we love to read and watch, all the stuff that gives us a chance to escape, even as it makes our hearts pound and our mouths go dry.

The Edgar Awards dinner is a glamorous event, a room full of men in tuxedos and women in gowns, all of whom could devise imaginative ways to kill each other during the interval between the entree and dessert. But, none of them would because they love each other, really. It’s a competition of the friendliest rivals. “It really is an honor to be nominated,” Lori Roy told me. “And that’s the last cliché you’ll hear from me this evening.”

[And the winner is...]

Apr 25 2016 2:00pm

Grantchester 2.05: Episode Review

Amanda (Morven Christie) has thrown herself into Sidney’s campaign to have Gary Bell released from prison. She’s calling in favors from her rich, influential friends. She’s meeting Sidney in a tea shop and ordering his tea with not too much milk, just the way he likes it. She’s talking about hope.

Sidney (James Norton), looking all puppy-dog-in-the-rain, is smitten all over again.

In Episode 4, Amanda announced she’s pregnant. In this episode, nothing is mentioned about her pregnancy. At least she’s drinking tea and not martinis.

Gary Bell, as far as we know, did indeed kill the girl he’s been convicted of killing. Sidney visits him, bearing packets of cigarettes that Gary eagerly tears open to retrieve the trading cards inside them, ’cause Gary’s just a dopey kid really.

Sidney thinks Gary should have been acquitted because he didn’t mean to kill the girl. It just, you know, sort of happened when he held her down and poured turpentine down her throat. And anyway, she asked him to. Gah!

You can decide whether Sidney has the right idea.

[Blessed are the stupid...]

Apr 18 2016 1:30pm

Grantchester 2.04: Episode Review

Grantchester Season 2 Episode 4 Review

We’re back to the Gary Bell story from Episode 1, in which Gary is on trial for murder and Sidney plans to testify in Gary’s defense. “Tell the truth,” Sidney advises him. “Have faith, the jury will believe you.”

Is it a spoiler to remind ourselves that Sidney’s advice isn’t always  or should I say, isn’t ever  spot on?


We’ve seen enough Grantchester to know that Canon Sidney Chambers (James Norton) is no paragon of wisdom, judgment, or virtue. But he’s hunky and sometimes he takes his shirt off. Alas, in this episode he doesn’t take his shirt off. (Now that is a spoiler, and I apologize for it.)

The mystery portion of our program, which becomes less of a focus with each passing week, involves a parishioner named Reggie Lawson who believes he’s being haunted by his ex-wife’s ghost. Sidney encounters Reggie at her grave in the churchyard. Reggie asks Sidney to perform an exorcism at his home to lay her spirit to rest.

[Oy gevalt!]

Apr 11 2016 10:15am

Grantchester 2.03: Episode Review

Things between Sidney Chambers (James Norton) and Margaret Ward (Seline Hizli) have progressed to the point where they’re kissing in front of the parishioners. Has the Hunky Vicar taken a step in the right direction at last?

Mrs. Maguire the housekeeper doesn’t think so. She thinks Margaret is disrespectful.

“She calls me Sylvia!” says Mrs. M.

Well, you call the vicar Sidney, say I. What do you expect?

And anyway, we’re not here for a soap opera. At least I’m not. I’m here for a mystery. It begins as soon as Sidney enters his church to find a young man sitting in a pew weeping, his hands covered with blood.

Poor distraught Theo Graham confesses that he murdered his landlord, cutting him from here to there with a straight razor. Thus the blood. Only when Sidney goes to investigate (because Sidney investigates stuff), he finds the landlord very much alive.

[Good Lord, deliver us...]

Apr 4 2016 2:00pm

Grantchester 2.02: Episode Review

If your TV series is set anywhere in the vicinity of Cambridge in the 1950s, the story will eventually turn to Soviet spies. Real-life agents Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who were recruited to Cambridge and fled to the Soviet Union in 1951, made that link indelible.

The real village of Grantchester is walking distance to Cambridge. Thus, this week on the TV series Grantchester, fictional hunky vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) is up to his clerical collar in Soviet espionage.

It starts with a climbing accident and the death of an academic named Valentine Lyall. Only Lyall wasn’t scaling mountains, he was climbing one of the towers of King’s College Chapel at night—a thing Cambridge guys did (do?) for fun. And he fell. Or he jumped. Or something more complicated than that.

[Let’s go with the last one...]

Mar 29 2016 10:30am

Grantchester 2.01: Episode Review

The first words are “What the Dickens?” uttered by the curmudgeonly housekeeper Mrs. Maguire. Seconds later, Sidney Chambers (James Norton) strips down to swimming trunks, lest we’d forgotten he’s the Hunky Vicar. His BFF, Geordie Keating (Robson Green), also in trunks and less hunky only by comparison, gets all theosophical wondering why God chose to make Eve from a rib and not, say, a toe.

Then the two of them dive into a pond on a lovely summer’s day...and we dive into Series 2 of Grantchester on Masterpiece Mystery.

The idyllic picnic scene doesn’t last long, though. Before you can say Holy Communion, Sidney’s accused of breaking a few commandments with an underage parishioner whose father wants to tear him apart.

Apparently, being a vicar who inspires fervent devotion from all and sundry has its drawbacks.

[Have we mentioned the vicar’s hunky?]

Sep 21 2015 11:30am

Arthur & George: Part 3

From the start of Arthur & George, we’ve been bouncing back and forth between fact and fiction. The characters in the story were real people. The premise and circumstances are real as well. How the events surrounding them transpired, well, much of that appears to be pure conjecture in this dramatization.

Let’s take for example the connection between George Edalji  and the nefarious Hayden Price, whom we are told was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s nefarious Professor Moriarty.

Early in Part 3, George (Arsher Ali) tells Arthur (Martin Clunes) that the two met in prison, where Price saved his life. George understandably feels indebted to Price and despite knowing the type of character he is, George maintains a relationship with him after they both have been released from prison. That’s a swell story, but none of it appears to be based in fact.

So when we finally reach the heart-pounding climax of the miniseries, you can’t be blamed for wondering just how much of this stuff really happened.

[The answer might surprise you. Or it might not...]