Monday, 21 September 2020

Mannix season 3 (1969)

Mannix boasts one of the best opening credits sequences in television history and one of the best theme tunes (written by Lalo Schifrin who also did the theme to Mission: Impossible). That opening credits sequence sets the tone - there’s going to be a tough handsome hero, lots of action, lots of violence and lots of beautiful women. Glamour, action, excitement.

And that’s exactly what Mannix delivers. In its day it was just about the most violent and action-packed series on American network TV.

The third season aired on CBS in 1968-69.

Like the character he plays Mike Connors was Armenian and, unusually for the time, his ethnic origins are emphasised in the series. He gets regular opportunities to demonstrate that he speaks fluent Armenian. The cultural stresses involved in making a life in a new land are also emphasised, particularly in relation to Mannix’s dad. Mannix is in most ways a red-blooded all-American hero, but he’s a red-blooded all-Armenian-American hero as well.

When it comes to onscreen cool few people could touch Mike Connors. Joe Mannix gets beaten up regularly but although he’s often bruised and battered he never loses that cool.

Joe Mannix also has few peers as an action hero - he drives racing cars, he’s a pilot, he’s proficient in just about every sport, he was a high school football star, he had a distinguished war record in Korea and he has a black belt in karate. Mannix has testosterone coming out of his ears. Being hyper-masculine he has no qualms at all about showing his sensitive side. You might think a guy like this would be beating women off with a stick and you’d be right. Mannix might be a male wish-fulfilment fantasy but it’s a positive wish-fulfilment fantasy. As a hero he’s the real deal. And it’s done with style and frenetic energy.

One of the enduring clichés of the private eye genre is the antagonistic relationship between the PI hero and the cops. Mannix is a bit of an exception to this rule. Mannix is on quite friendly terms with the police. He gets on pretty well with Lieutenant George Kramer (Larry Linville) who appears in several early episodes and he gets on very well with Lieutenant Adam Tobias (Robert Reed) who becomes a semi-regular character. Mannix doesn’t let anyone walk all over him but he doesn’t have the chip on his shoulder that many fictional PIs have. He’s a relatively up-market private eye and he knows it’s in his best interests to work with the cops rather than against them. His relationship with the cops is also a reflection of his boundless self-confidence, his charm and his general likeability.

One of the most appealing things about this series is that it’s so wildly out of sync with modern sensibilities. I’m not talking about political incorrectness here. What makes Mannix likely to shock contemporary viewers is its optimism and its belief that uncomplicated old-fashioned heroes are not only real but are to be admired. Mostly though contemporary viewers will be struck by the fact that there was a time when good television programs didn’t have to be ironic.

Mannix is representative of the best of American network TV of its era - high production values, a charismatic star (with good support from Gail Fisher as his patient secretary Peggy), great guest stars and remarkably consistent scripts. Everything about the series is slick and professional. Mannix gets to drive some wonderful classic American convertibles (in this season a Dodge Dart GTS 340). He has a car phone - very unusual for the late 60s and something that makes it clear that Mannix is at the rich and glamorous end of the private eye spectrum. Even his office is classy and stylish. His job brings him into contact with an enormous number of women, all of them beautiful (even the ones with homicidal tendencies).

The whole package is glossy, polished and ultra-cool.

Everything about the series is just right. This is perfect television entertainment.

Episode Guide

Eagles Sometimes Can't Fly is overly earnest with a contrived ending. A young black guy and his Indian friend are causing trouble in a liquor store but they’re really just having a bit of harmless drunken fun. Then two other guys and a girl arrive and they’re after more than harmless fun. It ends with two people dead. The setup, which makes it difficult for the first two guys to prove they weren’t involved in the robbery, is quite clever. But really just a bit too earnest.

In Color Her Missing a PI is thrown to his death from the window of an apartment belonging to attorney Charles Egan. The dead PI and Mannix were old buddies. Egan has an alibi of sorts, a girl who saw him when he was out driving in the country a the time of the murder, or so he claims. The police cannot find any trace of the girl. Mannix doesn’t like Egan one little bit but he also doesn’t like the idea of an innocent man going to the gas chamber so he agrees to try to find the witness. And then things get really complicated. And of course Mannix gets beaten up, but then Mannix always gets beaten up. It’s a pretty decent episode.

Return to Summer Grove takes Joe back to his home town. An old college buddy is facing a murder charge and that’s just the start of his problems. And Joe has some issues from the past that he needs to deal with, mainly his uneasy relationship with his father. It’s a solid enough episode.

The Playground sees Mannix trying to stop a movie star from getting killed. Mitch Cantrell (Robert Conrad) is a particularly arrogant obnoxious star and he likes to maintain his reputation for not scaring and he doesn’t want a bodyguard. Mannix detests Cantrell but he has a job to do. Whether Cantrell wants his life saved or not Mannix intends to save it. But first he has to figure out exactly what is going on. The movie studio setting is used very effectively. A good episode.

A Question of Midnight takes Joe Mannix to Pleasant Valley California, only it isn’t so pleasant. Two years earlier Dr Ben Holland had his licence withdrawn after a patient died at the Pleasant Valley Hospital and now he’s in trouble for practising medicine without a licence. His girlfriend thinks there was something suspicious about the way Dr Holland lost his licence. She hires Mannix to find out what really happened. And Mannix finds out plenty. A very sound episode.

A Penny for the Peep Show has some interesting twists and turns. There are three desperate convicts on the run, and there’s an attache case containing $312,000 but that’s the least valuable item in the case. A very good episode.

In A Sleep in the Deep Mannix is hired by Ellen Stone to find out if the scuba diving accident in which her husband Roger was killed was really an accident. Mannix finds that Roger had some secrets. Pretty young Barbara Stoner is one of those secrets. Barbara’s father has some secrets too. As does shipping tycoon Andre Korvak. There’s also lawyer Tom Hewitt, who’s in love with Ellen Stone. And there’s Korvak’s glamorous European actress girlfriend. Not to mention the guy who’s been shadowing Mannix from the beginning. Not one of them is telling the truth. The solution to the puzzle is a bit unexpected for a Mannix story but it’s a very good episode.

In Memory: Zero a private eye named Benson, a man of whom Mannix had a rather low opinion, has been murdered. Now someone is also trying to murder Benson’s secretary Maggie Wells. Maggie wants Mannix to find out who’s trying to kill her, but she has absolutely no idea why someone would want her dead so Mannix doesn’t have much to go on. Luckily he finds out about the parking ticket and then everything becomes clear. Another solid episode.

The Nowhere Victim begins with an old man hit by a car but when the driver goes back to find the man he’s vanished. The driver’s wife, worried that they may have killed somebody, hires Mannix to find out what happened. And Mannix finds himself in the middle of a Mob war. A very good episode.

In The Sound of Darkness Mannix suffers temporary blindness which is a problem since he’s being stalked by a killer. He will have to learn to defend himself without his eyes. An idea that has been done quite a few times. It’s done reasonably well here.

In Who Killed Me? Mannix is hired to solve a murder, but he’s hired by the victim. This one has a pretty clever plot. Great stuff.

Missing: Sun and Sky is a kidnapping story, but the kidnap victim is a horse. A very valuable racehorse. The horse was onboard a cargo plane and the circumstances of the disappearance are very puzzling. It seems like an impossible crime, but Mannix has been hired by the insurance company and he’s going to have to find the answer. A solid mystery episode with several likely suspects. And of course Mannix gets beaten up. It’s not a proper Mannix episode unless he gets beaten up.

Tooth of the Serpent involves yet another friend of Peggy’s who’s in trouble. Eve Chancellor’s husband is a tough police detective, maybe too tough. And her rebellious son Cap has managed to get mixed up in something that is likely to turn out to be both dangerous and illegal. Mannix has to sort it out. Mannix doesn’t actually get beaten up this time but he does get thrown down a lift shaft so he still ends up battered and unconscious. This one has quite an ingenious plot. Unfortunately director Paul Krasny goes way overboard with the tilted camera angles which get distracting. It’s still a clever episode.

In Medal for a Hero evidence is found suggesting that Peggy’s deceased husband was a crooked cop. Mannix of course doesn’t believe it. It’s an OK episode.

Walk with a Dead Man is nicely devious. Mannix is on his way to meet a client when he gets warned off and then shot at. It’s a blackmail case and maybe Mannix should have realised that if someone is prepared to shoot him to stop him seeing the client then it’s likely the case has more to it than meets the eye. Someone is playing games with him. A very good episode with some nice twists.

The case Mannix takes on in A Chance at the Roses is one he really knows he shouldn’t waste his time on. There’s an eyewitness that says the guy shot a pharmacist during a robbery and the assailant ran out the door straight into the waiting arms of the police. But the guy’s wife wants him to take the case and Peggy wants him to take the case and faced with a united front from two women Mannix just doesn’t have a chance. He takes the case. There are some very good twists in this “nothing is as it seems to be” story.

Harlequin's Gold sees Mannix pitted against pirates! Not just pirates, but Australian pirates. It has a nice opening sequence in which a shambling bum wanders into a bar and asks some strange rambling questions about a ship. The shambling bum is none other than Joe Mannix. The pirates come later, and Mannix will also have to look out for sharks. This is an enjoyable episode.

Who Is Sylvia? is another very solid episode. His old Korean War buddy Phil invites Joe to a party, only Joe finds out that it wasn’t Phil who invited him, it was Phil’s wife Kathy. Kathy thinks someone is trying to kill her. In fact she’s sure of it and Mannix is convinced as well. There are some nice twists and while they might not be entirely original they’re handled skilfully. The key to the case is Sylvia, but exactly who is Sylvia? This episode does suffer just a little from having to be very coy about sex but other than that it’s exceptionally well done, with a great performance by Jessica Walters as Kathy. Good stuff.

In Only One Death to a Customer someone is hunting Mannix but he doesn’t know why. He just knows they want him dead. He figures out who it is pretty quickly, and you will too. It’s telegraphed just a bit too obviously. Not a terrible episode but everything is just a bit too obvious.

In Fly, Little One Mannix has to solve a case involving pirates and buried treasure. Well actually it’s just a regular robbery but the mentally disturbed nine-year-old girl who is the key witness thinks it’s about pirates and somehow Mannix has to separate truth from fantasy in her story. Mannix gets to show his gentle side, and since he’s so sublimely confident in his masculinity showing gentleness is never a problem for him. Not a great episode - it relies a bit too much on people doing the obvious. But still reasonably enjoyable.

In The Search for Darrell Andrews another private eye has a fatal accident but he’s earlier told Mannix that he thought he might be in line for such an accident. So Mannix has no doubt that this was murder, and obviously he intends to find the killer. But can he do so without risking Peggy’s life? As usual Mannix gets himself into a dangerous situation and the way he gets out of it is much too contrived. In fact the whole episode suffers from lazy writing. The various plot strands just don’t come together. This is one of the rare Mannix episodes that is pretty much a washout.

Murder Revisited presents us with an intricate mystery after a political fixer is murdered. There are two million witnesses - at the time he was murdered he was talking on-air to a sensationalist TV interviewer. You expect Mannix to run into cute blondes but this time there are two of them - twins. Two cute blondes (both potential murderesses) means double the trouble but double the fun. This one has quite a clever plot. A very good episode.

War of Nerves starts with a girl and a horse both disappearing. It seems like it’s going to be a typical rural paranoia story, with a city slicker (in this case Mannix) running afoul of crooked small town types. There is however a major twist and it becomes a paranoia story of an entirely different stripe. Far-fetched perhaps but very entertaining.

In Once Upon a Saturday Mannix spends the day at the carnival run by his old friend Bev. Carnivals are fun, as long as you don’t get killed, and this is the kind of carnival where you could very easily get killed. The big problem with this story is the implausible motive. The carny setting however is great and is used cleverly, so it ends up being an OK episode to finish the season.

Final Thoughts

Despite a couple of weak episodes towards the end the third season of Mannix is great well-crafted stylish entertainment. Highly recommended.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea season 4 (1967-68)

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea got off to a great start. The first season is about as good as American TV science fiction gets. It has a perfect blend of espionage, political intrigue and not too outlandish science fiction elements. The second season is almost as good, albeit with some slightly more outrageous elements. Things really started to fall apart in the third season. The budget was cut and it shows, the series degenerated into endless Monster of the Week stories, the monsters were often lame, the scripts were weak and there’s too much out-and-out silliness. There are some good episodes but the series was clearly in trouble. Season four, which went to air in late 1967 and early 1968 was a bold attempt to get the series back on its feet.

There was a move away from Monster of the Week stories, there was at least a partial return to the very successful season one formula, there was some investment in new props (such as the full-size rear section of the Flying Sub) and gadgets, an effort was made to improve the special effects and the scripts were stronger. There was a focus on keeping the action happening. There were some good sets. Everyone seemed to be making a bit more of an effort. Even the opening credits got jazzed up a little.

With many science fiction TV series there’s a problem with networks getting more penny-pinching thus leading to declines in production values. There’s no real sign of that here.

The cast remained unchanged but there are signs that most of the regulars are trying a bit harder. Richard Basehart tries to vary his performances, sometimes adding amusing touches of irascibility and sometimes mixing them with an appealing hint of whimsicality. On occasions both David Hedison and Bob Dowdell (as Chip Morton) get to stretch their acting talents just a little.

Part of the problem with the third season was that Irwin Allen was trying to make three science fiction series all at the same time - Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel. It was not surprising that some of the focus was lost. When The Time Tunnel was (very unfortunately and very undeservedly) cancelled it allowed more attention to be given to the final seasons of the two surviving series both of which represented marked improvements on the previous year.

Season four might be a little uneven but the best episodes compare very favourably to the best stories of the first two seasons. The series was showing definite signs of getting back on its feet. Its cancellation at the end of this season must have been quite a disappointment to everyone involved.

Episode Guide

In Man of Many Faces Admiral Nelson assassinates rival scientist Dr Randolph Mason. Of course we know that can’t be true, and Captain Crane knows that can’t be true, but can he prove it? Admiral Nelson and the slain scientist were bitter rivals. Nelson is convinced that Dr Mason’s latest project is not merely dangerous, it could destroy the world. But that doesn’t mean that he shot Dr Mason.

The Seaview somehow has to reach Dr Mason’s secret installation within 24 hours or the Moon will crash into the Earth. That’s not the only problem for Seaview and its crew. Thee’s a killer on board, and he can take on the appearance of any crew member.

The plot might sound hokey but it works quite well in practice. This is a well-executed episode which doesn’t look as cheap as many later season episodes. The best thing though is that it’s a return to the formula that made the first season so terrific - a combination of thriller and science fiction elements with no monsters in sight. An extremely good episode.

In Time Lock Nelson is kidnapped by Alpha, a collector of military memorabilia in the distant future. What Alpha actually collects are generals. Famous generals of history. Then he turns them into mindless automatons. This collector’s agents have taken over the Seaview’s lab. There are various attempts by Seaview’s crew to recapture the lab, while Nelson makes various attempts to escape his obviously crazy captor.

Time Lock actually has a few interesting ideas but they’re not fully developed. You might think collecting historical generals and turning them into zombies is pointless but there is a reason behind it. Nelson’s growing suspicion that what Alpha is doing might be illegal in his future society and that this might be used against him is potentially interesting but not quite enough is made of it. Budgets were very low in the fourth season and that’s a problem in a time travel episode that really needed its future society to be fleshed out a bit. Time Lock is a missed opportunity but it’s not a total failure.

The Deadly Dolls are puppets belonging to puppeteer Professor Multiple. He has been entertaining the crew. He was supposed to have gone ashore after the show but he’s still aboard and now his dolls are taking over the ship. The idea of having the crew replaced by exact doubles is one of more overused tropes in 60s science fiction television but in this case it’s done with style and wit, and a certain amount of intelligence. Plus the episode features Vincent Price as Professor Multiple. There’s obviously the potential for a great deal of silliness in a story such as this but in fact it mostly succeeds in being clever and slightly sinister rather than silly. And there are some actual science fiction concepts as well. Overall a very good episode.

Fires of Death plunges us straight into the action in spectacular fashion, with a volcano erupting and the Seaview being tossed about like a toy in a bathtub. What they’re trying to do is to stop the volcano from erupting since it’s going to destroy half the southern hemisphere. Scientist Dr Turner aims to be able to stop it. It soon transpires that Dr Turner is no vulcanologist - he’s a 500-year-old alchemist mining the volcano for elixir stones to prolong his life. To assist him he has a century-old golden man. The whole thing is completely nuts but the action is non-stop, the effects are remarkably good and somehow it all works. It’s great stuff.

In Cave of the Dead Commander Van Wyck (guest star Warren Stevens) and Admiral Nelson are aboard the Flying Sub investigating the disappearance of four Navy ships. They find something very strange indeed. After flying through a storm that wasn’t there the Flying Sub is forced down by gunfire from a square-rigged sailing ship and they find an island, where there is no island. In a cave they discover skeletons, an old dagger and a curse. Is it the curse of the Flying Dutchman? Now this is an episode that in season three would have been nothing but full-on silliness with pirates with outrageous accents but in fact Cave of the Dead tries to be a bit cleverer than that. It actually tries to rely on building an atmosphere of subtle unease. Admiral Nelson has seen all these strange things but no-one else can see them. He starts to think that he knows what’s going on but there’s no way he’s going to be able to make anyone believe it.

William Welch isn’t one of the more high regarded television writers of the era. The word hack has been applied to him. In this story however he does a pretty decent job.

There are no goofy social effects or silly monsters and there’s some real creepiness and some real suspense. Even when Nelson figures out what has to be done it seems impossible that he’ll be able to it. A very fine episode.

In Sealed Orders the Seaview has to deliver a neutron warhead to Cook Atoll for testing. There’s a radiation leak and then the crew starts to vanish. Other strange things happen as well. It’s another attempt to get away from the Monster of the Week formula and to create an atmosphere of weirdness and unease. Some very simple social effects are used quite cleverly. Even the revelation at the end is reasonably plausible. A good episode.

Journey with Fear is the Chip Morton in Space episode. The Seaview is tasked with launching a manned outer space mission but ends up on Venus and is captured by aliens from another planet. It’s an ambitious episode that works reasonably successfully.

Terror is another alien invasion story, but this time it’s plants from another planet. The good news is that there are no guys in rubber suits masquerading as killer plants. The only plant we see is an orchid in a pot. Which means no goofy special effects. The plants just take over people’s minds. There’s nothing startling or wildly original here but at least it’s not cheesy. An OK episode.

With Fatal Cargo we’re back to guy-in-a-rubber-suit monster stuff, with a white gorilla running loose on Seaview. But this is a kind of unstoppable super-gorilla, controlled by a mad scientist. This one is definitely cheesy. Not one of the better episodes.

Rescue is very much a return to the spirit of the first season. No monsters here, just a taut  multi-stranded thriller story. Seaview is searching for a secret hostile underwater submarine base. Seaview gets disabled and is lying helpless on the sea floor. The Flying Sub gets sunk. It’s a race against time to rescue Captain Crane in the Flying Sub plus there’s an enemy submarine lurking about plus there’s a saboteur aboard. This episode is notable for Admiral Nelson being continuously irritable and exasperated although to be fair he can hardly be blamed given that everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. It’s an adrenaline-rush episode and it’s excellent.

The Death Clock plunges us straight into the action. There’s an accident in the reactor room. Captain Crane gets a hefty dose of radiation and is left in a coma. While in the coma in sick bay he shoots Admiral Nelson. He never left the sick bay, and yet he did. But did he shoot the admiral today or tomorrow? And is it now tomorrow, or maybe it’s yesterday? Captain Crane is going to have to do something about tomorrow but a very dangerous man will try to stop him and that dangerous man is Captain Crane.

So obviously this is a time-travel episode and it’s a pretty good one. No monsters in this one but some puzzles, some paradoxes, some chilling moments and quite a bit of cleverness. David Hedison gets to do his cold-blooded psycho killer thing which he does to very good effect. This really is a top-notch fourth season episode.

Secret of the Deep is a monster episode but not a bad one, and not too silly. A senior Allied intelligence officer joins the Seaview to track down a secret underwater base run by renegade scientists. The scientists have created giant mutant sea creatures capable of destroying all American shipping, the aim being to blackmail the government. The monster stuff isn’t overdone, there’s a fine villain and that villain’s ultimate fate is a very nice touch. Overall not outstanding but an acceptably enjoyable episode.

Blow Up begins, as the title suggests, with an explosion aboard the submarine. Admiral Nelson miraculously survives thanks to a new emergency breathing device but he seems changed, and not in a good way. He’s paranoid and unstable and he makes decisions that could be leading to disaster. This is a psychological drama episode and it’s quite good but perhaps stretches credibility a bit. Richard Basehart gets to do some serious scenery-chewing. At least there are no monsters.

With Deadly Amphibians we’re back to guys in rubber suits. The amphibians are an advanced race living beneath the sea and they want to take over the world, using Seaview’s nuclear power. Naturally the Seaview gets sunk (yet again) and for good measure the Flying Sub gets sunk as well. And the amphibians have some nasty powers that make things look pretty grim for Admiral Nelson and his men. As guys in rubber suits episodes go this one is not too bad. And at least it’s fast-moving. Kind of fun.

The Abominable Snowman is, yes you guessed it, a guy-in-a-rubber-suit monster episode. The Seaview is sent to Antarctica to rescue the Paulson Expedition but when they get there they find a tropical paradise. And crewmen start getting brutally killed. And the two survivors of the expedition are unconscious so they can’t answer any questions. Of course the viewer knows that an abominable snowman is loose on the submarine, but where did he come from? There is an explanation, but it’s not very good. This one might have worked better with a less silly monster - there’s no reason why the monster has to look like an abominable snowman. A routine monster episode.

In The Return Of Blackbeard the legendary pirate Blackbeard, dead for two hundred years and more, takes over the Seaview. He intends to blow up the yacht of the Shah (of Iran presumably) and retrieve the priceless golden throne of Solomon. This one relies too much on ideas the series had already used too many times. On the other hand Malachi Throne is insanely outrageous as Blackbeard, Del Monroe has fun playing Kowalski as a pirate after he’s been recruited as Blackbeard’s First Mate and Richard Basehart gives a very amusing tongue-in-cheek performance. Enjoyably goofy.

A Time To Die is quite ambitious when it comes to ideas. The Seaview’s clocks start doing strange things. They encounter a giant undersea reptile which proves to be merely inquisitive. They suddenly lose all radio contact - with everybody. Admiral Nelson starts to get really concerned when the submarine surfaces and he takes a look at the night sky. Those constellations are not in the right places. The night sky did look like this once, a very very long time ago. Someone is playing tricks with time. The tricks with time idea is developed reasonably well. Henry Jones is great fun as the mysterious Pem. This otherwise very good episode is let down a little by some very poor special effects but it’s still a fairly strong story.

Edge of Doom presents Admiral Nelson with an unpleasant situation. Seaview has to deliver a vital piece of equipment but Nelson has been informed that there maybe an impostor among the crew and the impostor may be Captain Crane. He will have to lay a trap for the impostor, and hope that the information he has been given is correct. Apart from the exact double angle (which was always a far-fetched and clichéd plot device) this is a reasonably tense spy drama episode with no silly monsters. And David Hedison’s performance is pretty impressive.

Is The Terrible Leprechaun really the worst-ever episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea? I’d have to say yes. It’s basically a very routine episode about threats to yet another secret defence installation at the bottom of the sea. But with leprechauns. The leprechauns make a mediocre episode truly awful. Maybe with a whimsical approach it might have worked as a Lost in Space episode but apart from the leprechauns everything is taken dead seriously, which just makes it worse.

Nightmare has a nicely mysterious opening. Captain Crane is test flying the Flying Sub when he receives a radio message from Seaview indicating that they’re in trouble and that he must return to the submarine immediately. This happens moments after Lee sees a UFO. When he gets back to Seaview it appears to be deserted but he can still hear the crew. And them some guy he’s never seen before tries to kill him. And all this is in the first  few minutes! This episode has plenty of tension and lots of paranoia. Excellent stuff.

Savage Jungle is an alien invasion story. Large parts of Italy have suddenly been overrun with tropical jungle. When the Seaview arrives to investigate it gets turned into a jungle as well. The aliens are trying to change the whole planet into a steamy primeval jungle with an atmosphere suitable for their lifeforms, and fatal to humans. The miniaturised jungle fighters are a nice touch. The special effects are pretty good, especially the submarine trapped by underwater vegetation. The interior of the sub totally infested with jungle plants looks terrific. And to top it all off, it has a decent plot and an excellent villain. A very fine episode.

The Lobster Man is a guy-in-a-rubber suit story but with a few interesting elements. A crustacean from outer space has crash landed in the ocean and Seaview has picked him up. He’s not your standard shambling monster. He’s highly intelligent, polite and articulate and everything he does is calm and deliberate. But what is his agenda? Is he friendly or hostile? No-one is sure. A reasonably well thought-out script although it’s just a little bit flat at times. Still a fairly decent episode.

Man-Beast is a monster story but it tries to be an intelligent monster story. Captain Crane is the guinea pig testing a new ultra-deep diving technique but it has one slight side-effect - it turns him into a werewolf! It’s a silly premise but handled reasonably well. It’s kind of fun.

Flaming Ice is an alien invasion story. As usual the aliens went Seaview’s nuclear reactor. To get it they threaten the submarine with death by freezing and death by roasting. While the plot isn’t dazzling this one does have a lot going for it. It has Australian actor Michael Pate (always fun and a favourite of mine) as the alien leader. It has  great makeup effects. The sets are excellent - the ice caves are exceptionally good. It’s a very visually impressive episode. On the whole this one works for me.

Attack is another alien invasion tale. Seaview is searching for a flying saucer that went down in the ocean. Admiral Nelson and Kowalski in the Flying Sub find it, or at least the aliens find then. Aboard the Seaview there are other problems. There’s a stowaway named Robek and he claims to be an alien, but a good alien who wants to save them from bad aliens. Aliens have tried that line before so Captain Crane isn’t exactly convinced that Robek is telling the truth. Maybe this one’s a bit too reminiscent of too many earlier episodes but it’s still decent enough.

No Way Back is the final episode of the season, and of course the last ever episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. It was not a bad way for the series to bow out. It certainly starts in spectacular fashion. Seaview is blown to bits and everybody is killed. And this before the opening credits! This can’t be the way things end, can it? Of course things turn out to be more complicated. Mr Pem, the megalomaniacal inventor of a time travel machine (from the earlier episode A Time To Die), has returned and he’s back to his old tricks. Now he persuades the Admiral to let him build a new time travel device, to save Seaview. Admiral Nelson naturally doesn’t trust Pem but he has no choice other than to go along. In the course of which he meets Benedict Arnold, aboard Seaview.

Thee’s not much in the way of special effects in this one but it’s a decent story and it has a bit more emotional punch than most episodes (appropriate given that it was the final episode). And Mr Pem is a delightful villain. On the whole a worthy ending to a great series.

Final Thoughts

The fourth season turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. A vast improvement on the previous season, and while it’s not consistently up to the standards of the first two seasons the best episodes rank right up there with the best of those seasons.

The final season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Public Eye (season 7, 1975)

Public Eye was an unlikely television success story with an even more unlikely star. This series chronicling the career of downmarket private eye Frank Marker was made initially by Britain’s ABC Television and later by Thames Television. Seven seasons were made over a period of ten years from 1965 to 1975.

A few months before the seventh season went to air The Sweeney arrived on British television screens and things were never the same again. The Sweeney was shot on film, mostly on location, and with non-stop action and violence. Public Eye, shot on videotape and possibly the most low-key crime series ever made and with virtually zero action and violence, must have seemed like an anachronism by comparison. Despite this Public Eye continued to be immensely popular. There were plans to make an eighth season, shot on film, but star Alfred Burke felt (almost certainly correctly) that the change to film would destroy the series’ distinctive flavour.

Public Eye in fact had looked even better in its earlier seasons shot in black-and-white. It looked seedy, grimy, claustrophobic and down-at-heel but that’s exactly what Frank Marker’s life is like. He’s a private enquiry agent (the British name for a private detective) and he’s the least glamorous screen private eye in history. He doesn’t handle murders and jewel robberies. His cases are the kinds of routine cases that keep private enquiry agents a step ahead of starvation. He dislikes divorce cases but he does them anyway when he has to. Having served a prison sentence (he was set up as the fall guy) the world is not exactly his oyster. It’s the only job he knows how to do and it’s the only job he can get, and he likes working for himself.

Alfred Burke was in his late forties when the series began. He was the kind of character actor who will never starve, being one of those actors producers like because they can be relied upon to give solid performances, but he was never ever going to be a star. And then along came Public Eye and he found himself the star of a long-running hit series. It was a case of a perfect match between an actor and a series. Ubli Eye is almost aggressively unglamorous. It needed a star who looked very ordinary, a bit homely and decidedly battered. But what it really needed was a star with a unique kind of charismatic anti-charisma. Alfred Burke was the man for the job.

There are two other regular character in the later seasons. The first is Frank’s friend Inspector Percy Firbank (played delightfully by Ray Smith), a cynical but honest and pretty decent copper. The odd friendship between the two men is one of the joys of these later episodes. The second recurring character is ex-cop and private enquiry agent Ron Gash, for whom Marker works for a while. Gash is in some ways a lot more upmarket than Frank and in other ways a lot sleazier, or at least a lot more flexible when it comes to ethics.

Public Eye had already experimented with ongoing story arcs in the Brighton-based fourth season. That experiment is repeated in this final season. It’s almost unique for a private eye series of this vintage for events in one episode to have consequences in later episodes but Public Eye was no conventional private eye series.

This is subtle drama and very character-driven. Some of the plots are extremely clever but it’s the effect that events have on people that is always the main focus. There’s very little action. Frank Marker is not a man of action. From time to time he gets beaten up but that’s just an occupational hazard. He doesn’t believe in fighting back, for the very good reason that he would just get a worse beating. He does however, on occasions, find ways to get his revenge. It can be handy to have friends in the police.

Frank is no crusader for justice. Not that he has anything against justice, but ensuring that justice is done is not part of his job description. He’s been in the game long enough to be content to do what he’s paid to do.

Episode Guide

In Nobody Wants to Know Frank is hired to find a missing witness. Joe Martins is a small-time villain facing a fifteen-year stretch unless his upmarket girlfriend Janet Harper can be found to provide him wth an alibi. Janet has disappeared. It sounds like a routine case so Frank is a bit surprised when some goon tries to warn him off. He’s also curious about the horse doping which has nothing to do with Janet or Joe Martins, or does it? He’s also curious as to why nobody wants to talk or co-operate. Even Frank’s friend Inspector Percy Firbank doesn’t want to know either, and then suddenly he gets interested.

That last case left Frank battered and bruised and suffering from a very uncharacteristic case of self-pity in the next story, How About a Cup of Tea? Percy Firbank tries to help him. Mrs Mortimer, the lady with whom he had a not-quite-but-almost romance in season four (the Brighton season), tries to help him. Maybe she’s still sort of in love with him but she doesn’t know. Frank kicks them both in the teeth. Percy finds a case for him but that makes things worse. He has to persuade a tenant to vacate a house and the woman’s self-pity, ironically, irritates him. A good episode focused mainly on Marker himself rather than the case.

How About It, Frank? brings Marker some aggravation with an ambitious Detective Chief Inspector and it brings him a possible opportunity. And of course a case. It’s a background check for a computer company on prospective new recruit Brian Hart. Hart is a pretty good guy with a marriage that seems destined for trouble. 

That case from the first episode keeps coming back to haunt Frank. His first instinct was to just forget all about it and maybe he should have gone with that first instinct. The opportunity is a partnership with Ron Gash, an ex-copper who is now doing pretty good business as a private investigator. It’s tempting but Frank is not exactly a team player. A very good episode.

They All Sound Simple at First brings Frank a case that he almost enjoys. He’s now working for Ron Gash and the case is very simple - a Polish cabinet-maker is owed seven hundred quid by his brother-in-law for an antique clock. In fact it’s a complicated family drama and nobody actually cares about the clock. It’s the kind of Public Eye story that could be very downbeat but it’s given a slightly light-hearted and rather amusing treatment. Rather enjoyable.

The Fall Guy presents Frank with a routine divorce case but there are odd things about this case right from the beginning. And things get odder. Nothing is what it seems to be. Is Frank being used? Maybe, but maybe he isn’t the only one. A very good episode.

What's to Become of Us? brings Frank a client who appears to be a wealthy man who wants his wife found. She walked out on him and he just wants to know that she’s OK. The trouble is that everything the client tells him is a lie and when he’s confronted he tells even more lies. Frank could be annoyed but actually he’s amused although also a bit saddened. It’s the combination of slightly whimsical humour with an undercurrent of despair that this series does so well. Frank is also starting to wonder if it was a good idea working for Ron Gash. Frank actually likes Ron but their methods just seem to be incompatible. Another good episode.

In Hard Times Frank has just opened his new office and his first clients are a couple of hoodlums. They want him to find a friend of theirs, although perhaps friend is the wrong word. It’s a case that doesn’t appeal to Frank but he needs the money. He also gets to know the local police and they don’t appeal to him either. It’s all a bit sleazy but that’s the job. A very good episode.

No Orchids for Marker is the name of the episode and by the end of it it’s safe to say that Frank Marker is very very sick of orchids. His job is to babysit some rare and valuable orchids, for an eccentric old lady. He finds it hard to imagine that anyone would seriously wish to steal orchids, or do harm to orchids. He thinks that perhaps there’s something more going on here? Which of course there is. A nice mix of cleverness and whimsicality in this one with a neat twist. A very good episode.

In The Fatted Calf Frank is employed by a wealthy businessman whose spoilt son, currently studying sociology at university, has decided to drop out to join the workers’ struggle against capitalism. He’s become involved with a professional agitator but he may be more involved than he realises. An OK episode.

There’s some real suspense in Lifer. Frank is hired by a middle-aged man, a Mr Biddle. Mr Biddle wants Frank to find his wife who has run off with another man. In fact it’s not his wife Mr Biddle wants to find, it’s the other man, and it has nothing to do with his wife. There’s a score to be settled, a very old score. But some things can never be set right. Some lives can never be put together again. It’s a story that manages to be emotionally powerful without being manipulative or sentimentalised. A very very good episode.

Take No for an Answer brings a young woman to Frank’s office. She’s worried about her Dad. He’s the chief clerk in an engineering firm. She thinks he’s in trouble. And of course she’s right. It’s all to do with those boxes of carbon paper in his sheds. Lots and lots and lots of carbon paper, and how they got there is a sad and embarrassing story. Frank also comes up against a very smooth con-man who likes to fight dirty, but Frank can play dirty too. A reasonably good typically low-key episode.

Fit of Conscience opens with the collapse of a tower block, killing four people. A man employed by the council convinces himself that he is partly responsible and he hires Frank. But what is it he wants Frank to find out, and (more importantly) exactly why does he want to find out such things? Frank is certainly puzzled. This is another fascinating human drama, with people not even sure of their own motivations.

Unlucky for Some presents Marker with a case that is as routine as could imagined. Mrs Waterfield runs a respectable family hotel. She suspects that her daughter-in-law Paula is fooling around behind her son’s back, but she never did like Paula so she realises she may be biased. She wants Marker to find out exactly what, if anything, Paula is up to. What she actually is up to comes as a surprise and that could be good luck or bad luck depending on one’s point of view. A very good episode to close the season.

Final Thoughts

It’s a pity the eighth season didn’t happen but in British television there was a prevalent attitude that it’s better to quit while you’re ahead. In 1975 Public Eye was still extremely popular with both viewers and critics and the seventh season allowed it to go out on a high note, with no signs at all of a falling off in quality. This is truly one of the all-time great private eye series. Very highly recommended.

My reviews of the sixth season can be found here, and my thoughts on the surviving black-and-white episodes can be found here.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Perry Mason season 2 part one (1958-59)

By the time the second season of the Perry Mason TV series began its run in 1958 the series was already a major hit and well on its way to being a television classic.

Most season one episodes were based on Erle Stanley Gardner novels but in season two there a lot of original teleplays.

Perry Mason not only established the hour-long television drama format (and made superb use of its possibilities) it also raised the bar when it come to production values and general slickness. There were other very good American television crime dramas in the 50s but Perry Mason looked a lot more polished. It’s very professionally made and the professionalism shows.

If there’s a weakness in this series it involves the D.A., Hamilton Burger, and Lieutenant Tragg. It’s actually an unavoidable weakness. Every week we see poor old Tragg very pleased with himself after making an arrest only to have his case collapse in court, and every week we see Burger defeated in court by Perry. Which gives the viewer the impression that they’re both a bit on the incompetent side. But it’s also obvious that Mason doesn’t think they’re incompetent at all. He may think they’re inclined to be overzealous but clearly he considers both men to be very good at their jobs. There’s not much that could have been done about this. It’s an obvious advantage in a TV series (or a series of novels for that matter) for the prosecuting counsel and the arresting police officer to be regular characters appearing in every story, but they always have to lose. We just have to imagine that when Perry Mason is not defending they probably win pretty often.

It’s also necessary for dramatic purposes to have the courtroom confrontations between Mason and Burger seem tense and even acrimonious so every so often a scene has to be thrown in to show that they actually have considerable mutual professional respect and are on very friendly terms. Interestingly enough in the books the relationship between them actually is rather strained.

Perry Mason has been released on DVD in half-season sets, which in the case of season two means fifteen episodes in each set. This reviews covers the first half-season.

The Episodes

The Case of the Corresponding Corpse is an original teleplay. George Hartley Beaumont is supposed to be dead but he isn’t and that fact has been discovered by a sleazy insurance investigator. It leads to blackmail and murder. A good episode.

The Case of the Lucky Loser is based on a 1957 Erle Stanley Gardner novel. Amateur archaeologist Lawrence Balfour (Bruce Bennett) is off to the Sierra Madres. His wife Harriet kisses him goodbye and heads off home. Except that he isn’t going to the Sierra Madres and she isn’t going home. He follows her, she meets a man named George Egan and Lawrence Balfour shoots Egan. But Lawrence Balfour isn’t charged with the murder of Egan. His nephew Led Balfour is charged with killing Egan in a hit-run driving incident.

This is an interesting one because we know the explanation for all these events. That explanation is relatively straightforward. But this is a Perry Mason story based on an Erle Stanley Gardner novel so we need to remind ourselves that anything that seems to be straightforward almost certainly isn’t. And this case turns out to be a long long way from straightforward. There are finish plot twists, fascinating points of law and surprise items of evidence. When we finally think we’re starting to see what it all means we discover that there are even more plot twists to come. An excellent episode.

In The Case of the Pint-Sized Client a 14-year-old boy asks Perry for some legal advice. It seems he’s found something and wants to know if he can legally keep it, but he’s not prepared to say what it is he’s found. The answer becomes obvious when the boy’s grandfather is charged with armed robbery and murder. The boy had found the proceeds of a robbery in an abandoned house, and the police found the money hidden in the house in which the boy and his grandfather live. The big problem is that one of the employees of the finance company that was robbed has made a positive ID of the old man, even though all the robbers wore masks.

The Case of the Sardonic Sergeant is a tale of money to burn, or rather money that should have been burnt. When American forces on Corregidor in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese in 1942 they burnt several million dollars worth of currency to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. Sixteen years later some of that money has started to turn up. It appears likely that someone in the finance and accounting section at a large military base is passing these bills. And Major Lessing, the Finance Officer, has been murdered. Or so it appears, although there is the matter of the suicide note. Master-Sergeant Dexter is accused of the murder and Lessing’s widow persuades Perry Mason to defend him at the court-martial.

What happened on the night that Major Lessing died is important, but maybe not as important as finding out exactly what happened on Corregidor in 1942. Maybe this one stretches plausibility a little but it’s clever and very entertaining.

In The Case of the Married Moonlighter a young man named Danny who works nights in a diner to put food on the table for his family is charged with murder. He certainly has a motive - a guy went in to the diner ostentatiously flashing a huge bankroll and Danny could sure use that money, especially give that his wife wants to divorce his because he can’t provide for her and the kids. Perry as usual bends the rules quite a bit, there are some nice red herrings and it’s all pretty satisfactory.

The Case of the Jilted Jockey is obviously a racetrack story and they can be rather fun. Jockey Tic Barton has had some bad breaks and a year ago he had a serious fall. But now things are looking up. He’s riding a great horse in a major race and a win will cement his comeback. The owners have confidence in him, the trainer has confidence in him, plus he has a wonderful wife. Then his wonderful wife drops a bombshell. She wants him to throw the race, for $10,000. If he doesn’t she’ll divorce him. He suspects the offer originates with a smooth-talking gambler named Johnny Starr. What he doesn’t know is that his wife intends to run off with Starr anyway.

Tic’s problems are only just getting started. Pretty soon he’s wanted for murder. It’s a typical Perry Mason setup - Perry’s client has not merely a motive but a genuine desire to commit murder but what happens if you’re going to commit a murder and someone beats you to it? And there are several other very good suspects. This is a story in which timing is important - there are in fact several events the timings of which are crucial but that doesn’t become apparent until close to the end. Perry has no idea of the identity of the actual killer until very very late in the day but when he does figure it out he zeroes in on the guilty party with devastating efficiency. Throughout the trials scenes Perry does some very nifty cross-examining, leaving the witnesses and poor old Hamilton Burger equally bewildered. It’s classic Perry Mason.

The Case of the Purple Woman involves an art collector, an art dealer, the art dealer’s wife, his secretary and a painter. It also involves a painting. The Purple Woman is a painting by a famous 19th century artist but it’s an obvious forgery. The puzzle is how the collector, a bit of an expert in this artist’s work, could have been taken in by a clumsy forgery. It’s an important puzzle because it’s the key to a murder. A solid episode notable for the ending which sees Perry and Hamilton Burger being very chummy, showing that their fierce courtroom rivalries are simply all part of the job.

The Case of the Fancy Figures starts with a case of embezzlement. Martin Ellis is serving a prison term for the embezzlement from the firm of Hyett, Brewster and Hyett. Now evidence has come to light that proves his innocence and the the guilty party was Charles Brewster, a partner in the firm and the son-in-law of the firm’s founder Jonathan Hyett. Brewster is arrested, recessed on bail and then murdered. Martin Ellis’s guilt in this instance seems obvious. Of course the truth is much more complicated.

The clever bit in this story is the revelation of the real murderer, which has Paul Drake kicking himself. It’s an average Perry Mason episode, which means it’s still pretty good.

The Case of the Perjured Parrot is based on one of Gardner’s early Perry Mason novels. It happens to be an excellent novel and I posted a very brief review here a long while ago. This case takes Perry into small town America where a woman has been accused of murder. At the coroner’s inquest the District Attorney (not Hamilton Burger but a local) produces his star witness, a parrot. The parrot was an eyewitness. Perry tells the coroner he doesn’t mind the parrot being introduced as a witness but he does insist on being allowed to cross-examine the bird. Of course a parrot can't commit perjury. Or can he?

While the parrot naturally provides some amusing moments there’s a typical and reasonably effective Perry Mason plot here as well, which centres on the question of identity but not in the way we’re led to believe it will. Not quite as good as the book but there’s still plenty here to enjoy.

The dream that gets shattered in The Case of the Shattered Dream is a diamond, the Pundit Dream. It belongs to the girlfriend of a diamond merchant and prize sleazebag. He needs the diamond to pay off gambling debts. At the heart of the plot is an elaborate con. But this guy is as dishonest in his relationships with women as he is with money, in spite of which women seem to adore him. Perry does his usual magic in the courtroom. The plot works satisfactorily. It’s not one of the best episodes but it’s very solid and very enjoyable.

There are many possible motives for murder. Including goldfish, as we will discover in The Case of the Glittering Goldfish. Actually in this case it’s not so much goldfish per se, but a miracle cure for sick goldfish. It cures an ailment that is very common and invariably fatal so the treatment is something that everybody who keeps fish is going to want. Which means there’s likely to be a tidy sum of money in it. Enough to provide a motive for murder. The complication is that lots of people had lots of other motives for wanting Jack Huxley dead.

This is one episode that can definitely be said to play fair with the viewer - the clue that leads Perry to the solution is out there in plain sight and it really does lead to only one possible conclusion. If, like me, you manage to miss it you’ll kick yourself. A very neat and enjoyable episode.

The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll begins in a nicely convoluted way. A young woman, Mildred Crest, picks up a hitch-hiker, another young woman named Fern Driscoll. The car crashes and one of the women is killed. But which one? And why is a private detective named Davis trying to retrieve certain letters which he believes are in Miss Driscoll’s possession? It seems that both these young women were on the run. And then there’s the  corpse, killed by an ice-pick. The woman who isn’t dead is facing a murder charge but luckily she has legal representation - Perry Mason has accepted a retainer from her, to the amount of thirty-eight cents.

Mason’s client is actually facing quite a few charges, including possibly another murder charge. Of course Mason is confident she’s innocent on all counts but D.A. Hamilton Burger has pretty strong evidence pointing in her direction on every one of those charges.

This one has a surprise ending that might seem to come out of nowhere but in fact the vital clues that lead Mason to the solution are there, you just have to be watching attentively to spot their significance. So it’s once again an episode that can fairly be described as fair-play. And it’s another very very good episode.

Final Thoughts

The first half of the second season is every bit as strong as the first season, which means it’s very very good indeed. It sticks to a rigid formula but the scripts and the performances  are terrific. This is superbly crafted television.

And the DVD transfers cannot be faulted. Very highly recommended.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Star Trek Operation - Annihilate! (1967)

Operation - Annihilate! is the last of the twenty-nine episodes of the original Star Trek series. It was originally broadcast in April 1967. It was written by Steven W. Carabatsos.

I watched the whole of the first season a while back but for some unaccountable reason I overlooked this episode, an oversight which I am now correcting.

Mass insanity has been wiping out Federation colonies, spreading from one star system to another over the course of many years. Now it appears that it has reached the planet Deneva.

Captain Kirk has a personal stake in this - he has family on Deneva.

A team from the Enterprise beams to the planet’s surface where they are attacked by the obviously insane inhabitants. They do discover the cause of the problem - a plague of strange single-celled organisms, like dinner plate-sized amoeba. What they don’t know is how to destroy the creatures. If they cannot destroy these creatures then the mass insanity will spread to other planets, which means KIrk may have to take very drastic steps indeed to ensure that the organisms never leave the planet. Drastic steps, like nuking the entire planet and its one million inhabitants.

To make matters worse Spock has been infected. The good news is, they now know how it works. The infestation of this alien life form causes unbearable pain which results in madness. The bad news is, they have no idea how to treat the infestation without killing the patient. Being a Vulcan Spock can endure the pain, for a while at least. How long can Kirk wait before resorting to the nuclear option, which will mean Spock will have to be killed as well. And there’s a complication arising from that personal stake mentioned earlier.

This is obviously a paranoia episode, with the threat being more frightening because it’s mindless and irrational. Paranoia had been a major ingredient of much of American pop culture in the 50s but it was mostly anti-communist paranoia. This episode represents a much more 1960s type of paranoia - the fear of the whole of society being driven mad by inexplicable forces. This actually makes Operation - Annihilate! more in tune with modern sensibilities, with people responding in fear to things that cannot be seen (such as viruses).

The feel of the Deneva colony is interesting - bright airy with ultra-modernist buildings but rather sterile. And, with all the inhabitants cowering inside and the public space deserted, it’s spooky but in a subtle sort of way. The episode makes good use of the modernist architecture which can look friendly and cheerful with plenty of people around but with no people at all it looks a bit stark and inhuman. A bit like the universe perhaps, which doesn’t seem too terrifying if we imagine it teeming with life but seems absolutely horrifying if we imagine it as devoid of life.

The basic plot was already old by 1967. It’s reasonably well executed but it works mostly because of the acting by the three leads. Leonard Nimoy does a fine job of convincing us that he’s just barely managing to hold agonising pain at bay. William Shatner does just as well, conveying Kirk’s horror at the decisions he may have to make and his exasperation at his powerlessness to find a way out with commendable subtlety. Yes, William Shatner could be subtle when he wanted to be. DeForest Kelley is good as well, portraying Dr McCoy’s appalled horror when he makes what could be a very very costly error.

There are some overly contrived elements, including the old chestnut of the ludicrously simple solution to an apparently insoluble problem.

Star Trek has often been mocked for its aliens that look just like humans with funny eyebrows but in this episode it offers us a creepily alien alien - a life form so alien that any kind of mutual comprehension is impossible. This is an alien that just destroys because it’s in its nature to destroy. Aliens that have some agenda don’t seem as scary as aliens that will destroy us without even being aware of it (again, a bit like viruses).

The fact that the aliens remain enigmatic is both a strength and a weakness of this story, but on the whole it’s a strength. Trying to explain the motivations of aliens inevitably makes them seem less alien because the motivations usually end up sounding human - the desire for empire, greed, the struggle for survival as a species, political domination, etc. In the case of the aliens in Operation - Annihilate! it’s not even certain that these aliens are capable of wanting anything. It’s hinted that they’re all part of a single organism but does that organism possess intelligence? Or consciousness? That question is left nicely ambiguous. What is certain is that these aliens cannot be reasoned with or negotiated with. As with viruses it’s not even possible to say for sure that they are alive in a sense that we can comprehend. They may be more like biological machines. 

Perhaps they’re a kind of virus, but a virus that infects societies rather than individual creatures.

One thing this episode does do effectively is to convey the sense that the universe is likely to be a very strange place, and a hostile place - but hostile in ways that we may never understand. So a hackneyed idea is made more interesting and disturbing than we might expect.

The special effects may seem a bit crude but I don’t know how else the aliens could have been rendered. The only other option would have been not showing the aliens at all - having them be invisible like viruses. The disadvantage of that would have been to make them seem like a disease which would have made them a more familiar threat, and thus less effectively weird. On the whole I think the choices that were made in terms of showing the aliens were probably the correct ones.

The major weakness is that the personal element in the story, involving Kirk’s family on Deneva, is not developed at all and ends up being an unnecessary distraction. There are also one or two plot holes concerning the method by which the aliens travel from planet to planet.

I’m always inclined to prefer stories with genuinely weird aliens. This is an underrated episode which plays to the strengths of the series by focusing on the responses to the threat by the three main characters. Overall this one is pretty good, and an effective season finale. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

The Sweeney season 3 (1976)

The Sweeney returned for a third season in late 1976. The series has revolutionised the British cop show and was now at the peak of its popularity and about to spawn two feature films. It blended action, toughness and humour in a way that has never since been quite equalled. It can be brutal and it can be dark but it never quite crosses the line into nihilism. Things go wrong, cases go unsolved, people get hurt, but there’s no point in wallowing in self-pity over it. When things do go wrong Regan and Carter get drunk and then the next day they’re back on the job because life goes on and the job still has to be done. And there’s still plenty of booze to be drunk and plenty of skirt to chase so why complain?

The Sweeney’s brutally realistic approach to the police shocked many people the time but audiences found it to be invigorating. Detective Inspector Jack Regan and Detective Sergeant George Carter were cops who seemed believable. They weren’t wholly admirable people but then if you’re a Boy Scout you’re not going to last very long in the Flying Squad, a squad tasked with investigating serious robberies (which generally meant violent robberies) and other crimes of violence. The criminals they deal with are usually pretty vicious.

The Flying Squad was at this time being rocked by corruption scandals and police corruption is a recurring theme. If you want to catch big-time criminals you have to spend a lot of time with those same criminals. You have to drink with them. You have to get to know them. You have to get to know which ones are prepared to act as informers. The people you have to use as informers can be serious low-lifes and thugs. It’s the only way to get the job done but the possibility of being corrupted is ever-present. This kind of honesty was also pretty startling at the time, but again audiences liked it because the series was honest about it.

In the world of The Sweeney there are good cops and bad cops. The bad cops are worse than the criminals, but fortunately there are good cops as well. Regan and Carter are good cops. They bend the rules, sometimes they bend them a great deal, sometimes their methods are questionable, but fundamentally they’re honest. And they get the job done. If they have to bend a few rules and break a few heads, well that’s the way it is.

The Sweeney steadfastly refuses to idealise the police but it certainly isn’t anti-police. It just accepts reality. As Graham Greene once put it, human nature isn’t black and white, it’s black and grey.

The Sweeney also manages to be incredibly stylish without being glamorous. The world of The Sweeney is seedy and sometimes sleazy, and often grimy. The people that Regan and Carter deal with can be heroic, they can be cowardly, they can be petty and vindictive, they can be kind and generous, they can be winners and they can be losers. But they all have an intensity and an immediacy to them. They feel like real people. The fact that this series is not afraid to make characters larger-than-life or absurd or eccentric makes those characters seem more believable. People really can be pretty strange. The situations can be bizarre but real life can be bizarre. This is life on the streets, for good or bad.

The fact that the series was shot almost entirely on location gives it a vibrancy that is a million miles away from the artificial world of the traditional shot-in-the-studio shot-on-video feel of previous British TV cop shows. The pursuit of realism can be a dead end if it’s done the wrong way, but The Sweeney does it the right way.

Episode Guide

Selected Target starts the season in style. Colly Kibber, a big time villain just released from prison, is believed to be planning a big job. A very big job. First he has some some business to attend to with his former cell-mate, Titus Oates. He thinks Oates informed on him. Kibber then gives his wife her marching orders. He has a replacement for her already lined up. Or rather, two replacements, both call girls. Scotland Yard has a mammoth surveillance operation in place to foil Kibber’s plans and this is what worries Regan. He doesn’t like such mammoth operations. He’s not exactly a team player. Which story has all the trademarks of this series - plenty of violence, a bit of sleaze, crisp dialogue and a script that combines deviousness with cynicism. Excellent episode.

In from the Cold involves not just cold-blooded criminals, but very cold criminals (you’ll have to watch this one to know what I mean). Regan spots a villain named Billy Medhurst in a fish and chip shop. Medhurst was involved in a robbery a couple of years earlier in which a policeman was shot and crippled. Now he’s got Medhurst in custody but can he keep him under lock and key? And what is Medhurst’s shady lawyer up to? Not to mention Billy’s wife. It all hinges on steaks. A lot of them. A typical episode but a very good one with the usual mix of humour and violence.

Visiting Fireman throws pretty much everything at Jack Regan. It starts with a known villain being arrested for a robbery but the villain has an alibi and it’s Regan who supplies the alibi. Which causes Jack all sorts of problems, with maybe even his career being on the line. Then Turkish policeman Captain Shebbeq arrives and wants Regan’s help on an investigation he’s conducting into long-distance lorry hijackings in Turkey. Regan and Shebbeq are old mates so you won't be surprised to hear that Shebbeq’s main interests in life are football, booze and birds. There’s a lot more to the truck hijackings than meets the eye, things that ordinary policeman shouldn’t get mixed up in. They could get killed or they could see their career go down the gurgler. This episode really does have everything. It even has Regan and Carter doing a song-and-dance routine. There’s also Helga, the very cute German barmaid at the Turkish Club. This episode is totally over-the-top but enjoyably so.

Tomorrow Man deals with cyber-crime, 1976-style. The Flying Squad think computer whizz-kid Tony Gray (John Hurt), just out of prison after serving a sentence for manslaughter after killing a woman in a traffic accident, is up to something big. They have no idea what it is since they don’t know anything about computers. Regan however finds a charming young lady named Dr Smart (yes really) from the Home Office who does understand such things. Gray’s plan is a good one and he always seems to be a step ahead of Regan and Carter who are meanwhile busily engaged in trying to figure out how to get Dr Smart into bed.

In Taste of Fear a couple of army deserters commit a particularly violent robbery. Catching them should be easy but it isn’t and DI Regan has another problem - a new sergeant on the Flying Squad, named Hargreaves. Regan has serious doubts that the man can be relied on, but he can’t be quite certain whether he’s going to have to get rid of him or not. If he does it will be the end of Hargreaves’ career. Sometimes Jack Regan hates his job.

Bad Apple presents the Squad with an unpleasant case, investigating possible corruption in a divisional CID. Regan goes undercover at the Blue Parrot club which disbelieved top be making payoffs. Haskins and Carter sift through the paperwork, looking for anomalies in prosecutions that could be pointers to the culprits. A good episode.

May helped Regan keep his sanity when his wife left him so he owes her and now May’s son has got himself into a spot of bother with the law. An elderly moneylender has been badly beaten and a witness puts young Davey at the spot and the police find five hundred quid hidden beneath the seat of his motorcycle. And then Davey does a runner so now he’s really in trouble and May wants Jack to get him out of it. It turns out that Davey has managed to get himself into some truly spectacular trouble and not just with the law. A very good episode.

In Sweet Smell of Succession when gang boss Joe Castle goes to his eternal reward there’s a fine collection of villains ready to take over his firm, but they’re all too greedy to coöperate and the wild card is Castle’s son Steven (Hywel Bennett). Steven seems too soft to survive in such a world but what he lacks in muscle he makes up for in low cunning. Joe Castle’s mistress Arleen (Sue Lloyd) is another wild card. She has what could be the key to Steven’s scheme. Another very good episode.

In Down to You, Brother a middle-aged retired villain has a message for Regan, but what exactly is the message? It appears to be related to a big job that was pulled six years earlier but Regan starts to suspect that the message was something quite different. One thing coppers and villains have in common is that their careers play havoc with their personal lives. Especially when a daughter is involved. A clever little story.

In Pay Off George Carter gets involved with a woman named Shirley. Shirley’s feller Eddie disappeared a year earlier and she thinks he’s dead. She persuades George to look into it.  Eddie was a very small-time villain but he may have been involved in an armed robbery which turned into an embarrassing fiasco for the Flying Squad. George’s emotional involvement causes a lot of problems for both himself and the Squad. You really don’t have much chance of having a personal life when you’re on the Squad, a lesson George is about to learn. Another very good episode.

Cowboys are riding the range in Loving Arms. Well, not cowboys, but cowboy guns. Six-shooters, just like in the Old West. They’re not real, but they can shoot and they’re more dangerous than real guns. Regan stumbles across the case when a shopkeeper, an old soldier, swears blind that the Colt .45 he was held up with was real. And sooner or later someone is likely to get killed. It’s the sort of slightly offbeat story that made this series so appealing. Good stuff.

Lady Luck is the name of the episode and Jack thinks that that fickle lady has decided to smile on him. He gets some very good information from an unexpected source - an attractive middle-class housewife. Marcia Edmunds in her forties but well preserved and rather attractive which is just as well since she doesn’t want to be paid in money for the information. She wants to be paid in sex. There are two problems however. Had Jack known who she was he would have declined her kind offer. And the information hinges on an unbreakable alibi that Jack will have to break. The alibi angle is handled very well as is the very awkward situation that Jack is faced with. Much of it depends on how long it would take for Marcia’s souffle to rise. An excellent episode.

On the Run is a manhunt story which really ramps up the violence level. And the politically incorrectness level as well. A violent psychopath named Cook is sprung from custody by  his former cell-mate Pindar. Pindar is shacked up with his Rich ageing boyfriend who is besotted with him. As the net closes on Cook he becomes increasingly murderous. A violent story that keeps getting more violent but still a fine episode with which to close the third season.

Final Thoughts

This series was riding high in 1976 and it’s easy to see why. The third season has all the ingredients that made The Sweeney the most memorable cop show of its era (and possibly the best British cop show ever). The series then took a break while the two spin-off movies, the not-so-great Sweeney! and the much better Sweeney 2) were shot before returning for the fourth and final season in 1978.

The third season of The Sweeney is highly recommended.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Harry O season one (1974)

I’ve spoken about the genesis of Harry O in my review of the two pilot episodes.

The first season falls into two distinct phases, the San Diego phase (which is superb and quirky) and the Los Angeles phase (which is more conventional but still very good).

In the first thirteen episodes of the first season Harry Orwell is based in San Diego. In mid-season the series was radically revamped.

One of the things I like about Harry Orwell as David Janssen plays him is that he’s not overly likeable. In an odd way that makes him very likeable. He’s not unpleasant but he can be very direct, occasionally in a slightly hurtful way, he can be irritable and he doesn’t go out of the way to ingratiate himself with people. So when Harry does do something considerate it’s likely to be genuine.

This was not the first private eye series to use San Diego as a setting. There was also a 1960 series called Coronado 9. It was not a commercial success but it was quite interesting and really not that bad at all. But San Diego seemed to be the kids of death for TV private eyes. Coronado 9 was a flop and the network demanded that Harry O be relocated to Los Angeles, which was a much more conventional and therefore safe setting. I think it’s rather a pity. San Diego seems like the kind of town that provides an ideal setting for a private eye series.

Harry O - the San Diego episodes

In the first thirteen episodes of the first season Harry Orwell is based in San Diego. In mid-season the series was radically revamped.

The San Diego episodes are similar in feel to the first pilot. They’re slightly darker and slightly more cynical than most private eye series of that era. Harry is grumpy and taciturn and his back troubles him a lot. Underneath he’s a nice guy but he’d hate for anyone to find that out. The stories are sometimes mildly quirky but mostly it’s Harry himself who gives the series its mildly offbeat tone. There’s also the fact that he mostly gets around by bus, with is decidedly unusual for a TV private eye. He has a car, an old British Austin-Healey sports car, but it’s hardly ever running.

A private eye has to have a contact in the police force and Harry’s contact is Lieutenant Manny Quinlan (played by Henry Darrow). Manny thinks Harry is sentimental and quixotic and exasperating. In spite of this there’s an uneasy but real friendship between the two men. It’s pretty typical of the relationships between fictional private eyes and fictional cops but Darrow and Janssen are sufficiently good actors to make it convincing.

The first episode of the Harry O series is Gertrude. It’s written by series creator Howard Rodman and it’s everything that the second pilot isn’t. Gertrude is quirky and the structure is kinda loose and the tone is whimsical with an edge of weirdness. David Janssen who had given a solid but very straightforward performance in Smile Jenny, You're Dead gives a delightfully off-kilter performance in Gertrude. Harry Orwell is bad-tempered and kind-hearted, he’s cynical but sentimental, he’s conscientious and indifferent to his work. He has a bullet in his back and he’s in constant pain but somehow he manages to regard the world with wry amusement. He is immoral but he respects Gertrude’s strict morality.

He doesn’t even know why he took this case, except that Gertrude sounded on the ’phone like an interesting eccentric and her story made no sense so it seemed like it might be interesting. Gertrude’s brother Harold has gone AWOL from the Navy but the Navy seems very very upset about it, which suggests that there’s something about the case that the Navy is keeping to itself. The only concrete clue is Harold’s left shoe. And as Harry explains in his voiceover narration, a clue is also anything that doesn’t happen the way it’s supposed to and that visit from the Shore Patrol certainly didn’t happen the way it was supposed to.

David Janssen in Harry O season one
In this episode a lot depends on the weird chemistry between David Janssen and guest star Julie Sommars (who plays Gertrude). Gertrude could easily have been merely a crazy person but there’s something about her that makes it plausible that Harry feels compelled to pay it absolutely straight with her. This is a great opening episode.

The Admiral's Lady is the wife of a retired U.S. Navy admiral and she was out on her yacht alone and is now missing presumed drowned. The admiral won’t believe that she could be dead and he hires Harry to find her. What Harry finds is another dead woman and some dirty little secrets regarding quite a few respectable wealthy married women.

There’s also the admiral to deal with. He’s a stubborn cantankerous old devil but he’s a fundamentally decent sort and Harry takes a liking to him. Harry is not sure what the truth is about the admiral’s wife but he has a fair idea the admiral’s not going to take it well.

It’s a straightforward but solid private eye plot made much more interesting by the fact that it’s about characters who are flawed and complicated but they’re people who are doing their best and they feel real. A good episode.

In Guardian at the Gates Harry gets the most obnoxious client who could possibly be imagined. Paul Sawyer is an architect and supposedly a genius. Someone has tried to poison his dog. The suspicion is that next time they might go after Sawyer himself. Who would want to kill Paul Sawyer? Every single human being who has ever met him. It seems like it’s going to be a thankless job for Harry but on the other hand Sawyer does have a pretty blonde daughter (played by Linda Evans). The plot is OK but it’s the character interactions involving the miserable old curmudgeon Sawyer, the daughter (who’s a bit weird and a bit all over the place) and Harry that make things interesting. Harry finds out what genius really means and he’s pretty happy not to be a genius. It’s a good episode.

Mortal Sin presents Harry with a tricky problem. He has this friend who’s a Catholic priest. A man confessed to murder, to the priest. The priest cannot break the Seal of the Confessional. But what about Harry? He can try to find the murderer but he’s not going to get much help from his friend the priest. The idea of the priest being unable to reveal the identity of a murderer because of his vows is not original but originality is not that important. What matters is how well the idea is handled. Here it’s handled pretty well and the main focus is Harry’s search for the killer starting out with virtually nothing to go on. It’s a pretty successful episode.

Coinage of the Realm has Harry looking for a guy called Yorkfield. Yorkfield has never been of any use to anyone in his life but now he can be of a lot of use to his daughter who needs a kidney transplant. Only problem is that a couple of hitmen are also looking for Yorkfield. In this episode Harry does the curmudgeon with a heart of gold thing but David Janssen makes it believable and does it without any phoney sentimentality. Harry’s entrance to Yorkfield’s apartment, with a fire-axe, is a nice very Harry O touch. A very good episode.

In Eyewitness Harry is hired to find out if a black kid is guilty of murder or if he’s been set up as a patsy by a rather nasty ghetto pimp. It would help if Harry could find an eyewitness. There is no eyewitness, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Not a bad episode.

In Shadows at Noon Harry is committed to a mental hospital. It was his idea. He’s trying to find out about a girl named Marilyn who turned up at his house with a story about wrongly committed to the hospital. Harry discovers that getting out of a mental hospital is a whole lot harder than getting in. And he discovers that there’s a lot more to Marilyn's story. There might even be murder. It’s a very good episode with a kid of bitter-sweet feel to it.

Ballinger's Choice has Harry hired by Margaret Ballinger women her husband Philip goes missing. It sounds to Harry like there’s another woman but Margaret is sure it’s not that. Philip turns up again but several people have turned up dead. There’s a series of nasty little emotional entanglements behind all this. There’s some pretty decent misdirection in this tale, and an interesting clue (a character reacting slightly oddly to a certain situation). There’s a chase at the end but this is Harry O so it’s not your regular car chase, it’s a boat chase. A good episode about human frailties.

Second Sight presents Harry with an apparently paranormal case. A psychiatrist tries to hire Harry as a bodyguard but the psychiatric then vanishes. A blind author with an uncanny ability to predict murders before they happen tells police where the body can be found. People involved with this author seem to either disappear or get murdered quite often. This not surprisingly makes the police rather suspicious of her and there’s also the vexed question of the nature of her blindness. It’s quite a clever if convoluted mystery plot. A good episode.

There’s nothing Harry hates more than bodyguard work and he doesn't like it any better when it’s a bodyguard job for the police which is what he’s landed with in Material Witness. He has to protect a doctor who witnessed a gangland execution and she hates cops and she’s determined to be difficult. It’s an OK plot but as always it’s David Janssen’s performance that makes it something special. A good episode.

Forty Reasons to Kill is a two-parter. A hippie gets beaten to death and a large amount of cocaine is found on the body. Lieutenant Quinlan figures, reasonably enough, that dead hippies with drugs on them are probably drug dealers. Harry knew the hippie and doesn’t agree. The investigation takes him to Vadera County. As anyone who has ever watched American television knows all American small towns are incredibly dangerous places (much more dangerous than big cities) and small town sheriffs are always corrupt psychopaths. The dead hippie was trying to buy some land from fabulously wealthy rancher Glenna Nielson. Glenna is beautiful, possibly unstable, probably dangerous. She’s the sort of woman a smart private eye keeps at arm’s length so naturally Harry falls for her. And as happens to most city folk who are unwise enough to visit small towns Harry finds himself in the local jail, charged with first degree murder. Lots of clichés in this episode and it’s all a bit routine but it’s well executed and there are some fun supporting performances from Broderick Crawford and Craig Stevens.

Accounts Balanced is a story in which we know who the bad guy is, and then again we don’t. Maybe nobody does. It starts when Harry’s ex-girlfriend hires him to check up on her husband. It seems like just another case of a husband having an affair, except for a couple of niggling little details. Another pretty solid episode.

The Last Heir is a country house murder mystery but it also owes a large debt to a certain very famous Agatha Christie story. In this case the country house is built on top of a gold mine in the middle of the desert but the principle is the same. Letty inherited the whole of her father’s fortune. Her family (two sisters and a brother plus a great-nephew and his wife) are entirely dependent upon her for money and once a year they have to travel to her house to collect their allowances and be humiliated. Letty thinks her family are trying to kill her. Her family thinks she is trying to kill them. One of them has hired Harry as protection so this time there are seven people at the annual family gathering.

In true classic murder mystery style all the cars are sabotaged and since there’s no phone they are completely cut off until the next delivery truck arrive in a week’s time. And then the corpses start to pile up. It’s a clever and devious little tale and keeps us in doubt right up to the end. Great stuff.

Harry O - the Los Angeles episodes

Midway through season one the series received a complete makeover with Harry moving to Los Angeles. The entire supporting cast was dumped and replaced by new characters.

A lot of the wonderfully quirky features of the San Diego episodes were eliminated. Harry no longer catches buses. His Austin-Healey sports car now runs most of the time. He no longer has his boat that looked like it was going to take a lifetime to restore to seaworthy condition.

On the other hand there’s still Harry himself, shuffling about in what often seems like an absent-minded haze, being cantankerous and about as unglamorous as a private eye can be. And a major plus is one of the new regular characters, Lieutenant Trench (Anthony Zerbe), a cop who looks decidedly unfriendly but is actually rather amiable. He’s a most engaging and eccentric character. He likes to give the impression that he hates private eyes and considers Harry to be one of the crosses he has to bear but it’s clear that he likes Harry and has great respect for the value of his instincts. He’s the perfect foil for Harry and their repartee is a highlight of the L.A. episodes.

There’s also his sergeant, Roberts, who hardly ever speaks. And there’s Betsy, Harry’s slightly ditzy airline stewardess neighbour who takes Harry’s ’phone calls. So while some of the surface quirkiness of the series has disappeared some of that quirkiness has crept back in in the form of slightly eccentric supporting players.

In fact the overall impression given by the L.A.episodes is that the producers were trying to placate the network by making the series seem more conventional while what they were actually doing was to make its quirkiness a bit more subtle.

For the Love of Money opens with Harry having just relocated to L.A. and now he’s been hired by a secretary who wants to return $25,000 worth of bonds she stole from her boss. But her boss says half a million is missing, and the bonds belong to his clients and they’re not insured. This episode introduces Lieutenant Trench and sets up his odd relationship with Harry.

Disappointingly Harry seems to have given up catching buses. On the other hand his personality is pretty much unchanged which is pleasing since that’s the show’s major asset. It’s a reasonably solid episode.

In The Confetti People a client, Jack Dawes, tells Harry he’s just shot and killed his artist brother Arthur. Problem is there’s no body. There seems to have been no crime but something strange is certainly going on. That artist brother seems to make a habit of getting murdered. Jack may be a little on the crazy side. And everybody involved in the case is probably lying, for an assortment of reasons. There’s something odd about some of Arthur’s paintings as well. It’s a very decent episode with plenty of amusing verbal exchanges between Harry and Lieutenant Trench.

It’s pretty much a given that any private eye series is going to include an episode centred around jazz musicians. An episode like Sound of Trumpets. Harry fishes an old black trumpet player named Art Sully out of the water. Everyone assumes Art was drunk and fell in, but he didn’t fall. Art thinks someone is trying to kill him. Everyone assumes that Art is drunk and crazy. He’s certainly drunk but maybe he isn’t crazy. Everybody has tried to help Art but they can’t but Harry is going to try anyway. In this episode Harry is back to riding buses! It’s not a bad episode, not startlingly original but it’s well executed.

In Silent Kill Harry is trying to prove that his client, a deaf-mute, is not guilty of arson. Arson that resulted in three deaths. It’s a fairly routine story and it doesn’t do anything interesting with the deaf-mute angle.

Double Jeopardy starts with a girl riding a horse on the beach. Somebody shoots her, right in front of Harry. Harry doesn’t see the actual shooting but he sees a guy making off down the beach on horseback. The guy, an aspiring actor named Todd (Kurt Russell), is the obvious suspect but the evidence is circumstantial. That's not good enough for the dead girl’s father, a former gangster. He wants his own justice. Harry will have to work fast to give Todd a chance. Harry has to come up with some clever detecting in this one but luckily he gets some help from his ditzy airline stewardess neighbour Sue (Farrah Fawcett). It’s a good episode.

Lester is an odd young man and he’s Harry’s client and he’s a suspect in a series of sex murders. Harry uncovers some evidence that could point to Lester as the criminal, but not necessarily. It’s a reasonable enough plot but the real interest here is provided by the interactions between Harry and Lester, and they’re enough to make this an intriguing episode.

In Elegy for a Cop a police officer is trying to save his junkie niece from herself and it costs him his life. Harry Orwell wants this killer really badly for very strong personal reasons (which I’m not going to mention since it’s a bit spoilerish. This episode, and it’s a good one, serves as a kind of epilogue to the San Diego era of Harry O.

Street Games has Harry trying to save a young drug addict who witnessed a murder. The girl, Nancy, is played by Maureen McCormick. Yes, Marcia Brady as a junkie. It’s a routine story but well executed. It sums up a lot of the differences between the San Diego and the LA episodes - had this one been done as an early-season San Diego episode it would certainly have been a lot darker and a lot better.

Final Thoughts

The San Diego episodes count as some of the best private eye TV ever. The LA episodes are more conventional and not as dark but on the plus side the chemistry between David Janssen and Anthony Zerbe as Lieutenant Trench provides some real zest and some real sparkle. Overall despite the mid-season change of pace season one of Harry O is good enough to be considered in the very top rank of private eye TV series. Very highly recommended.