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Tidy with a Promise for More
Part two of the final episode of Season 12 of the Murdoch Mysteries is a fairly tidy resolution of the dark and darker penultimate episode. There are plenty of twists and turns balanced with some series predictability, red herrings galore, and promise for both good and bad on the horizon. Not brilliant, but a good fun ride. More importantly, it was a largely satisfying episode both as the completion of a two-part arc and of a season. Worth a watch.
The Crown: Mystery Man (2017)
Just Watch the Last 10
The final episode of season two of The Crown is largely difficult to follow. It covers a slice of British history not typically covered in American schools, spends the vast majority of its screen time focusing on new and ancillary characters, and is frankly not terribly interesting as presented. (A 7 out of 10.)
Fast forward to the last 10 minutes - the spotlight is finally on the characters that drew the viewers to the series, the actors whose chemistry and exquisite performances have kept the viewers hooked - they are powerful, real, and mesmerizing. A look at not just a relationship that has captivated onlookers for over 60 years, not just a peek at the complexities of royal marriage; but a slice of the very essence of long-term marriage relationships and the nature of commitment. It is raw, honest, and nothing less than exquisite. The director lingers on one quiet camera shot just long enough to make the viewer feel that they are an unseen voyeur on an intimate moment. It is beautifully crafted. (An 11 out of 10...because for things this good, "These go to eleven".)
Watch the last 10 minutes of the final episode of season two multiple times - it just keeps getting better.
Last Two & Tragedy Abounds
Well it's the last two Murdoch Mysteries episodes of the season, so it must be darker than dark and bleaker than bleak - at least this is both the pattern set for us over more than a decade of the long-running series and what is presented in Darkness Before the Dawn Part One. The episode opens with tragedy in the making and quickly flashes back and then catches us up on the darkness in everyone's lives. The thread which binds Brackenreid's marriage is more fray than line; young Brackenreid is in physical peril and in a messy romantic relationship with serious legal ramifications; Watts is investigating a case which is being shut down by another station; Julia has made a career decision which she may soon regret; Murdoch seeks the ever-eluding promotion (but those around him are manipulative); and the ambitious (but never fully trustworthy) Miss Hart clearly won't let anything stop her career plans. The only potential light-hearted aspect the episode is Crabtree and Effie (a potential paring which was foreshadowed many episodes back), but as they are seen largely sniping at one another in this offering, and so not much relief from the shadows that suffocate. On the positive side (scant as it may be), the episode packs a lot of storytelling and plot setup into its 44 minutes, so no one will be bored. However, since the series does have a history of this dark tone for the penultimate episode of the season, the viewer can only watch it with the distinct feeling that this is another in a long line of dark tunnels and that the majority of our characters will come through battered (with perhaps a key loss along the way) but ready to get back to the business of pedantic mystery solving by the beginning of the next season - and this is the problem as it reduces the feeling of true drama and turns it into a turn of the century soap opera. Perhaps a focus on a single problem or two would have heightened the sense of peril? ...something to consider for the end of Season 13...
Good Mystery if Not for Cherry
One Minute to Murder is a solid offering from the Murdoch Mysteries. It centers on a typing contest with both Crabtree and the loathsome Miss Cherry as competitors. The mystery has plenty of twists, sufficient Murdoch-style problem solving, and Crabtree-related humor. Unfortunately, it also has the before-mentioned Miss Cherry, who has been and continues to be simply annoying and of little value to any episode she graces. Her character is a black hole determined to suck in and destroy any light of joy from the Murdoch tales. Perhaps future episodes will free the viewer from further Cherry-related gravitational decay.
Let's Recap Folks!
Yes, Manual for Murder is largely an episode meant to recap previous cases and recycle some footage, but after over 180 episodes, a recap isn't really a bad thing - just an expected thing for a long-running series. With Julia and Murdoch's book on the market, someone appears to be killing people in the same ways shown in some of their more infamous cases. There are twists to keep things interesting, and while we get the return of hotel detective Colin Mochrie, it's sad to say that we have seen him deliver a better performance than this in the past. The resulting episode is "meh" - not awful, not brilliant, with a few moments very much worth the viewer's time and others that are easily dismissed. There is a tease of possible things to come, so at least a single viewing is warranted by the long-time Murdoch fan.
Somber and Well Crafted
Sins of the Father brings us a very personal mystery for Murdoch to solve as his father and people from his family's past are front and center. Murdoch largely ignores his own potential grieving, presumes the worst of those from his past, and projects his beliefs on his coworkers. It is somber fair. However it is also a well crafted mystery and ultimately an exploration of holding grudges, repentance, forgiveness, and how we handle the sins committed by those close to us during our childhood. An episode of character growth to be appreciated.
The mystery center of Murdoch and the Undetectable Man is just what we have come to love and expect from the Murdoch Mysteries. A solid mystery, plenty of clues for the viewers, a proposed science fiction solution to the crime, and Murdoch working his way through it all. This episode also brings the return of Tesla who we met in the very first episode of the long running series. A classic Murdoch to sit back and enjoy.
Zamprogna, Gail, and Bernard = Amazing
A surprisingly strong midweek offering from GH - worth watching just to Maurice Bernard unleash his strength as father and mobster (which are a passionately effective combination) alone; however the best of the episode is the heartfelt man-to-man between Max Gail and Dominic Zamprogna as grandfather and grandson, man to man, discussing life and its challenges with honesty, and clarity, mutual respect, and without soapy sentimentality. Both actors were highlights of GH in 2018 and having them together again, even for a brief scene, was an absolute delight. It is no surprise that both were nominated for Daytime Emmys - well deserved indeed.
Good Teams - Emotional Underlayer
Six of the Best presents us with Murdoch and Watts investigating the murder of an orphaned boy. It's an emotional-based episode for both men as they confront, react to, and ultimately come to terms with and grow from their own childhoods. Murdoch Mysteries is best when the meat of the characters is intertwined with the case being solved and that's what makes this offering a solid and engaging one. Yes, there are preachy moments of social commentary (which we have come to expect over the past decade), but this episode permits at least cursory exploration of the opposing view which adds a light layer of ponderous complexity to the tale. Watts and Murdoch have come to play so well off on one-another and that is reason enough to watch the story unfold. On the supporting sub-plot front, we have the newly-minted and somewhat curious team of Ruth and Julia. As more backstory on Ruth is offered up, she becomes more likeable and very very funny - especially as she exasperates, surprises, and even charms Julia. She even makes the often icy and uppity character of Julia more human and relatable. Very good offering.
Another Murdoch-Lite Episode
Arabella Cinderella is yet another Murdoch-Lite episode offering for season 12 of the long-running series. Murdoch is filling in for the still-gone Brackenreid and he is largely kept out of the mystery solving. Instead of being involved in the primary plot line, he and Julia spend their time fussing about an ill-written book (which brings with it the distinct smell of "potential new episodic plot arc" wafting in its wake). The mytery solving muscle of the tale is the team of young John Brakenreid and Watts with Crabtree providing support. They themselves are actually the most engaging aspect of the story. There are plenty of witnesses to be inteviewed and clues left to the viewer, but again the resolution is too painfully obvious within moments of the episode's start. It's a shame really, as the "who and why" are the things of which classic mysteries are made, but a combination of scenery-munching guest stars, over simplistic writing, and lackadaisical direction take away much of the puzzle that is necessary for a solid episode. Maybe next time.
Personal Plot Lines are the Focus
Pirates of the Great Lakes is not a great episode - as mysteries in the Murdoch-verse go, the mystery solving is fairly standard with no particularly engaging guest characters or plot point to make the viewer really care who dun what (OK, there is a nice Murdoch "invention" at the end, but its too little too late). Add to that an out-of-town detective who is more grating stereotype than compelling character and this episode could be one to pass by. The real reasons to watch Pirates are the personal subplots. First and foremost is the fallout of the revelation of Brackenreid's daughter from a previous relationship (and more importantly the pushback from Brackenreid's wife's and son) and a nice bit of long-overdue character development for Higgin's bride (she drives Julia to distraction, but proves to be much more than we have seen in the past). In the end, not a good choice for the mystery lover or a new viewer to the series, but for long-time Murdoch devotees, it's worth a visit to catch up with old friends.
Secrets and Lies is a Murdoch-light offering. There is very little of Murdock in this episode which starts in the middle, catches us up, and eventually shows at least one aspect of the aftermath. Brackenreid and his past are the focus of this episode which tries very hard to be relevant and provide a depth of backstory to his character, but it unfortunately felt too forced, shallow, and ultimately unsatisfying to really work. When Murdoch was on screen, there was a sense of brotherhood and loyalty which hit its mark; and John Brackenreid was the true standout of the offering both in the writing for his character and the performance by Charles Vandervaart (who just keeps getting better); but overall the episode seemed to suffer from canon continuity issues and was simply frustrating.
Just Too Obvious
Drowning in Money offers the viewer an apparent double suicide of an affluent couple for Murdoch to solve. The premise is interesting, the pacing solid, the red herrings plentiful, and there are clues available for those of us at home. But even with a good setup, the "who dun it" is simply painfully obvious and much too early. A fellow viewer was working college math homework, popped his head up and identified the solution to the mystery based on one early scene alone without even seeing the setup - and he was right. Just too obvious. Even the subplot with Crabtree's auto business was predictable from its introduction. Muroch Mystery writing can be she should be much better. Maybe next time.
On Par with The Accident
Brother's Keeper is an episodic offering which on par with the excellence of The Accident (Seasion 11, Episode 7). The writing is tight, the pace interesting and exciting, the solid mystery is one that engages the viewer to play detective at home (with plenty of flashbacks - both theoretical and factual); and the performances are beautifully emotional. There is a light and airy subplot about Higgins trying to support his lovely bride in the manner in which she is accustomed (which permits Crabtree to be equal parts annoyed and compassionately helpful), but the meat of this tale is Watts, his past, and his choices. Daniel Maslany is restrained perfection for this sad and relevant tale of family and how far we go for the ones we love.
So the first thing you have to do is...
The Halloween offering of season 12 of Murdoch is a lot of things: It is Halloween-themed (right down to the opening music); it is funny; it is an homage to a number of predecessors including 1950's sci fi movies and the X Files; and it is a departure from every other Murdoch Mysteries episode...ever. It is also NOT a number of things: not a period-piece mystery; not to be taken too seriously; and most of all, not given a proper ending.
If Sir. Sir? Sir!!! is watched on a streaming service after its original air date, odds are that the viewer would have to pay attention to the release date details to even notice that the episode was a special All Hallows' Eve offering. It is more in line with the Christmas episodes of Murdoch which take place largely outside of story arcs and serve primarily in an attempt to entertain the viewer in the spirit of the season instead of advancing character story arcs in any meaningful way or allowing viewer interaction in any real mystery solving puzzle.
Perhaps the strongest motivation to watch is that the actors seems to be having a ridiculous amount of fun on screen. That said, the episode simply ends "wrong." While any number of epilogue moments would have bolstered this well-trodden-tale, a 10 second clip of Crabtree simply talking about how we just enjoyed a reading of his latest manuscript would have made the whole viewer experience feel at least relevant and as time well spent. Bottom line: fun idea with colorful execution, but it only works if you know at the onset what is coming.
Solid Mystery with Lots of Humor
The Spy Who Loved Murdoch starts off with the Murdoch Mysteries recurring spy character Terrance and an immediate murder to solve. The episode is quick moving, interesting, and very very funny. We are treated to Murdoch's goatee'd impersonation of the murdered diplomat and his fluent French to aid him is solving the crime and saving the world. Julia is delightfullly agitated and somewhat jealous through much of the episode which contributes to the fun. In a pleasant subplot, George invents the stay at home vacation and helps the son of a new tenant at his boarding house with an investigation of sorts. As usual, Crabtree is charming (though the story does little to aid the advancement of the main plot) and enjoyable. Twelve seasons into a series and The Spy Who Loved Murdoch is a solid mystery with plenty of both character and situational comedy. A terrific way to spend an hour. Enjoy.
Enough With the Politics Already
Murdoch Without Borders centers on Greek immigrants in Toronto and the politics which surround them. In a related subplot, Julia tries to save the life of an immigrant who has been slated for deportation. While the episode gets right onto the trail of a murder quickly, any sense of solving a mystery is largely lost for the first two thirds of the story. Instead, men are stupid and puppets of the government, women are smart and compassionate, Canadians are racist, and immigrants are good honest folk. It is one-dimensional, political, and frankly dull. When they finally get back to the business of mystery solving in the last third of the episode, things are interesting enough, but it takes too long to get there and there is very little pay off. Enough with the politics already, Murdoch Mysteries are better when the mystery and the characters we have grown to know and love are the center of the episode. Maybe next time.
My Big Fat Mimico Wedding brings us to Higgins'wedding day with his socialite fiancé, Ruth Newsome. After walking out on his position as a Constable in episode two of the season, Higgins is ready for his expected new position as a Newsome in the community, but his own life is unexpectedly in jeopardy. Solving the "why" sends our main cast down the investigative path. Supporting stories include Crabtree's duties as best man and his related interactions with Ruth's outlandish relatives. The episode is played for comedy and screwball silliness. The resolution of the mystery, while mildly interesting, is not terribly difficult to predict, but satisfying. Sometimes its just nice to enjoy watching familiar characters solve a new puzzle and this is one of those times. Enjoy.
Just Not Interesting
Operation: Murder gives a Julia-centric mystery. Moonlighting as a student surgeon, Julia suspects hospital-based foul-play and initiates an investigation. Unfortunately, this is exactly the problem with the episode. Murdoch and Crabtree are relegated to cursory detective roles (Brackenreid doesn't even grace the screen) and Julia's arrogant style of...well everything...just doesn't make for an interesting episode. Crabtree's blossoming romance is the only mildly engaging element of the offering but anyone who has watched the Murdoch Mysteries before can likely guess the outcome. The best bit of Operation: Murder is curiously enough the last 90 seconds of the episode where Murdoch gets to display why we started watching Murdoch in the first place. Overall though, just not all that interesting.
A Solid Season Opener
The Murdoch Mystery Mansion brings us Murdoch and his wife moving into their new home - designed by Frank Lloyd Wright no less and including a "potato-cooker" (which behaves curiously like a modern microwave oven) designed by Murdoch himself. However, the first night in their new home is not one spent alone as Wright owns the rights to use the building as a showcase of his architectural artistry for the time-being, and the result is a house-warming party that is part Murdoch's invitees and part Wright's. A death quickly interrupts the evening and the detective work quickly ensues.
The mystery is interesting, the detective work reasonable, and the side story (which includes both the upcoming nuptials of Higgins and his fiancé's requirement that she find a wedding date for Crabtree) is entertaining. A solid way to open the twelfth season of the Murdoch Mysteries.
Gets Better Every Time You See It
As I did not read the Venom comic books, this reviewer's knowledge of the character Venom was admittedly a minimum. Saw this movie in the theater opening weekend and was so pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Not perfect by any means - but in an era when we are deluged with big budget superhero movies, Venom quickly carved out its own piece of the super-real-estate. It is big, bold, fast-moving, unapologetic, and very very funny.
Tom Hardy is all-in and a terrific flawed and relatable character set (as both human Eddie Brock and his symbiote Venom) and Michelle Williams is a sharp-witted and modern partner. In fact, the vast majority of the cast is so remarkably likable (with the noted and obvious exception being the perfectly icky and slimy Carlton Drake (with some scene-munching supplied by Riz Ahmed) that the viewer can't help but enjoy the ride and forgive any cinematic weaknesses.
With Venom now available for the home-viewer, this origin story is a no-brained go-to for multiple viewings - and it just gets better every time you see it. Enjoy.
Maurice Bernard and Max Gail are Amazing Together
The 21 December 2018 offering from General Hospital is another exceptional demonstration that Maurice Bernard and Max Gail are the finest acting partnership on daytime television today. While both actors are worthy of high praise on their own when it comes to engaging the emotions of the viewer, the chemistry and respect between them continues to resonate in a beautiful and heart aching story arc of familial love, regret, and responsibility; which will ultimately end on the road that all parents and their adult children are destined to tread.
Camping: Birthday Party (Part 2) (2018)
A Sad Waste of Talent
The final episode of Camping should have brought some sense of...something, anything...to the viewer: closure, understanding, entertainment at the very least. Unfortunately, the only feeling left for those of us masochistic enough to watch all eight episodes of this season is a sense of waste: wasted talent on screen, wasted opportunities in the script and story arcs, and our own wasted time.
It's not just that the ending is dissatisfying, it's that those characters that were sympathetic are given little to no positive resolution, those that deserve cinematic punishment get a free pass, and the queen of manipulation ends up triumphant on her throne and poised claim her next victim. Why exactly did we watch this series? Only Harry is given an epidodic ending with any promise (but, alas, it is likely to be short lived).
This whole series could have been so much more.
Thanksgiving at Murray's gives us Margaret (and her plus-one of choice) getting invited for Thanksgiving with the foodie clique at the retirement center. Unfortunately for the Cool Kids (but essential for the the viewer) the foodies are also unrepentant snobs who do not exactly have giving thanks in their hearts and minds for the holiday meal. The result is over-the-top, silly fun. Again, the guest stars of the week are such a treat as the faces are familiar and the comedic timing perfect. This outing gives us Charles Shaughnessy, Julia Duffy, and Clyde Kusatsu to provide big, broad, comedic performances. The writing was a little uneven for this episode, but the actors delivered so much more than the written word, with Leslie Jordan packing the most entertainment punch. Don't overthink it, just enjoy.
Camping: Birthday Party (Part 1) (2018)
Don't Do Drugs Kids, Don't Do Drugs
The penultimate episode of Camping finally brings us to Walt's birthday party. Carleen is still missing, Harry is babysitting Orvis (with some Kathryn-unapproved entertainment to be had), and a combination of reluctance to follow the printed schedule and boredom lead to openness to Jandice's suggestion that all of the adults at the party take drugs. What follows is a lot of honesty, relationship destruction and reconciliation, and a general anti-husband sentiment. It's like watching an accident in progress: even with all of the cringe-worthy vignettes playing out, you can't take your eyes away until it is over. There are a couple of redeeming moments, but it's not a pleasant way to spend 30 minutes of you life. The biggest take-away is one that we all heard in school: don't do drugs kids, don't do drugs.