Lou Grant: s03 e13 – Kids

Lou and Mark

We’re into the back half of season 3 of Lou Grant, with a low key episode poised equally between parallel and contrasting stories sufficiently well-balanced that they couldn’t be defined as A and B.

The official peg for the episode is that the Trib is preparing a series on child labour, for which Rossi is interviewing child star actor Carly Mitchell (Elizabeth Bliss), and Billie is shunted off into a minor role tackling more obviously serious aspects of the problem, down at the courts, to which the episode pays little more than lip-service.

The other story is Lou himself, in his role as Coach to a junior league baseball team, getting involved in the life of basically good kid Mark Donner (Matthew Labyorteux) after discovering that he appears to be being neglected by his divorced mother Meg (Jenny Sullivan), who seems more interested in dating men in the evening than staying in with her son.

Both kids are 12. Carly is leading what anyone who assume is an idyllic life. She’s a star on a soap opera, totally professional, immensely popular, been offered a spin-off show of her own and, yes, you guessed it, very unhappy.

Yes of course, this is venturing into cliche drawer territory, but Bliss’s playing made young Carly a welcomingly calm presence, aware of her responsibilities to everyone, not least the father who gave up his job to manage her career, whilst growing increasingly upset at how her father, who regarded it as his job to worry for her, failed to listen to her wishes: for some normality, like regular schools, friends, Jacques Cousteau movies at the marina, and her prized seashell connection, which he threw out because it smelled, and it nearly made a Network Vice-President faint (can’t say vomit in 1979).

This was the catalyst for Carly to run away, maintaining contact only through Rossi, who was pretty paternalistic about her but respected her need to not be given back to her parents. She’s on the point of agreeing to be taken back when she collapses with some unknown complaint she’s been keeping quiet (from the stomach-grabbing, I suspect it was appendicitis). Once everyone’s reunited, Rossi manages to get the parents to listen to Carly, who wants to give up acting entirely, but who still won’t let Rossi put this off-the-record story in the paper!

Lou’s story was of an entirely different tenor though ultimately it boiled down to the ame thing, a kid not getting enough attention. Carly had love and attention but it was all being paid to an image of her she wasn’t inside. Mark just isn’t getting attention. He lives with a divorced mother who has had to look after him alone since he was two, who has to work to support them, who married young, didn’t go out one night from when he was two to seven and now wants a bit of a life for herself (you can’t say she wants to get in some vigorous sgagging in 1979).

The problem is that when Meg is there, she’s no good at boundaries, seting limits and discipline, the kind of attention a 12 year old needs when their testing boundaries. Mark is trying to make Lou into a father figure, his own living out of town and being too busy to even come see him, even to the extent of trying to set him up to date Meg (who thought that was what Lou was interested in). But he was in danger of losing himself: ranting at an umpire who called him Out, fuming at Lou that it was his fault he didn’t swing, stealing an expensive baseball bat from the store where his Mom works, breaking Lou’s window with a baseball when Lou tried to stop him blaming everybody else and making excuses and understand his responsibility.

In the end, Mark wound up starting down the path towards rehabilitation. His was a mental, not a situational change, so you had to take it a bit on trust, but the show’s general prime time penchant for happy endings told you that that was what it would be.

Two minor points about the episode: the imdb cast list for this week revealed that the only other kid on Lou’s team that was given a name was being played by a young Michael J Fox, whilst Jenny Sullivan, a nicely attractive actress of a certain age, seemed very familiar to be, both in her face and especially her throaty voice without me being to place just who I was recalling.

(Don’t watch)The Watch

Back in the early Nineties, the BBC did a five-part adaptation of Alan Plater’s fifth and final novel, Oliver’s Travels. I have long since regarded it as the most perfectly miscast series in broadcasting history. Absolutely everybody, down to the least walk-on part, was wrong. It was sort of a miracle in that respect.

Today, I’ve seen the first photos and information released about the forthcoming BBC America eight-part series, The Watch, ‘inspired’ by Terry Pratchett’s City Watch books.

Oliver’s Travels no longer stands alone.

Person of Interest: s03 e14 – Provenance

Implausible but watchable

Watching and blogging a television series from beginning to end, the same day each week, is a vulnerable process, since you cannot bring the exact same set of sensibilities to bear every single Tuesday. Though it’s not happened so far with Person of Interest, it’s too much to expect for the entire run to go unaffected, and this has been the case today. Feeling at a low ebb, mentally as well as physically, due to various things going on, and watching one of those almost-never standalone episodes, ‘Provenance’ wasn’t going to lift me out of my prevailing mood. Perhaps I should have taken a week off?

The episode was a genuine standalone, its only connections to the ongoing story being at top and bottom. Reese returns from Italy, with a new suit, ready to resume his job, with a Number already on hand. At the end, the crew gathers to celebrate their success with drinks, and Reese places a glass at an empty place round the table, for the one who isn’t there.

After so many intense, serialised weeks, a one-off with no ulterior significance would have to be pretty damned strong to make it and this wasn’t. The Number was Kelli Lin, real name Jai Lin (Elaine Tan), a high-flying events planner who, it quickly turned out, was an international, world class art thief specialising in cultural artefacts of tremendous value. She was also, under her real name, a Chinese former Olympic Silver Medallist being chased by her own Jean Valjean, Interpol Agent Alain Bouchard (Henri Bulatti).

Jao basically had two skills in life: gymnastics and very high power stealing. She had a little daughter being held hostage by a Czech gang requiring her to repay her debt to them, as represented in New York by Cyril (Gene Farber) who was obviously never going to let her go.

It was this conception, gymnast and thief, that bent the plausibility curve out of shape for me and left me unable to get into the episode in the way I usually do. It was the usual, well-constructed thriller: the team start off aiming to frustrate the theft by Jao, in whose wake bodies drop like flies (Cyril was doing it behind Jao’s back) and then had to switch to carrying out the theft itself to protect Jao’s daughter and bring the Czechs down.

Even then, to achieve the required happy ending, logic had to be bent to get Bouchard, who’d pursued Jao across Europe for years, to slip her a key so that she could escape.

No, on another day, of fairer frame of mind, I could buy this and enjoy it for what it was, but not today. Today, I was not receptive to what I could only see as a weak episode by PoI standards. Next week will be better.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Wisting parts 7 & 8

I wouldn’t expect too much from me on this pair of episodes because, though the second half of the series is turning out to be more interesting and less conventional than the first with its serial killer, I happen to be watching it with a head full of cold that is not doing anything for my mental acuity. It’s an effort to go beyond Good Procedural, Keep It Up.

For instance, I remember a scene in which a young blonde reported a feeling of being followed to Bejaminm, the youngest member of Wisting’s team. Since she had no evidence whatsoever beyond ‘feeling’, he couldn’t do anything about it. Now the girl, Linnea Kaupang, has gone missing, didn’t come home last night, reported it to the Police, now headed by the efficient-but-distracted-trying-fior-a-baby Torunn. I remember the scene but I can’t remember if that was last week or in a previous one.

Linnea’s case is meant to parallel the Cecilia case over which Wisting has been suspended. Not directly: one involves the faking of evidence to convict a probably innocent man, the other the police not taking a matter sufficiently seriously (with no reason to do so until hindsight intervenes. Benjamin, who conducted the intial interview is getting steadily further involved, especially after Linnea commits suicide.

Or leaves a suicide blog note. The Police have to investigate all options, they can’t just take on trust the word of a mother who wasn’t that close to her daughter but who treats the merest suggestion of conflicts as a direct accusation of being a bad mother.

Meanwhile, Wisting is investigating the Cecilia case from his own records. Someone did plant faked evidence. Nils was all over the case like a cheap suit, and he was relocated from Oslo for taking shortcuts. nd Frank, still obsessed with his niece’s death, convinced Haglund did it and not respecting any niceties about the caswe, is so blatant a suspect that it can’t be him unless the show is pulling an unusually subtle double-bluff.

He end up with Torunn on sick leave, no-one in charge, Linnea’s parents bad-mouthing the Police across all the press, Line getting involved again (as in fucking naked on her Dad’s couch) with ex-boyfriend bad-boy Tommy (why is this relevant?) and a resigned Haglund giving Wisting the clue to identify who fitted him up.

It all made a lot more sense watching this but as i say, my head’s away with the fairies right now. I am going to make myself a coffee and give it the rest of the day off. I’d better be better for the finale, next weekend.

Lou Grant: s03 e12 – Hollywood

Forties sob-sister journalist

After demonstrating how well it could tell a story over two episodes, Lou Grant went back to single episode mode and showed just how good it could be in its basic style. The show gave itself a stylistic twist, with voiceovers from Lou himself, and stylish, if somewhat overmixed soundtrack combining to create an atmospheric story that went back thirty years, leading to an ending that left you still caught in the haze of the past, without a glib response.

It began with an old, abandoned Mexican food restaurant, Baby Duarte’s Cantina. Lou discovers it by chance, doing a favour, taking a Diner meal across to its owner, the reclusive Mrs Polk (Nina Foch). She never leaves the place, she never sees anybody. Inside, the Cantina is exactly as it was when it was shut, just dust.

Baby Duarte used to be an LA name, a Filipino boxer, a local success and, afterwards, such a sweet guy. His place was popular with the Hollywood crowd until, one night, Baby was murdered, in a back booth. The murder was never solved, though the suspects were Hollywood folk, racey actress Laura Sinclair, her two agents (and reputed lovers) Lee Wittenberg and Ken Holmes, and Director ‘Wild Man’ Moran.

Laura. who reputedly also had a mobster lover, kissed Baby in front of her two Agents.moran, already drunk, was refused a drink by Baby, who he provoked into beating his down. Mrs Polk, widow of Baby’s co-owner, discovered him at 3.45am, shot dead.

It’s an old murder of a forgotten name. At first, the Trib does a picture series on the Cantina. Then the team get involved in the old story. They interview the surviving players, Holmes and Moran. They interview Thea Kaft (Margaret Hamilton), the hard-boiled reporter who covered the story in the Forties, who supplies cuttings. Slowly, the story enlarges. Animal befriends Mrs Polk, a lonely woman trapped in a past that has captured her and refuses to let her leave. She’s a woman of her times, of her raising, a note the show slips in unobtrusively.

Can Billie or Rossi or Lou solve the crime after all these years? Billie discovers that Laura Sinclair, who supposedly cracked up a few months later and died in a Sanatorium in Indiana, is neither dead nor insane: she got out of the business, gew her hair. put on her glasses annd married a Doctor, becoming a fat, placid, contented mother.

I was beginning to think this was going to stay unsolved, because the atmosphere, the sense of times past and irrecoverable, so gracefully captured, was the main point of this episode, but there was a sting to the tale, a sting that left  you sad and helpless to its pointlessness.

Animal interviewed Mrs Polk, softly, gently, sympathetic. And out of that sympathy he understood what had happened. Mrs Polk had loved Baby, been in love with him. To us, and to him, there seemed no obstacle: he was single, she was widowed. But there was an obstacle, an insuperable obstacle. Baby was ‘coloured’. He came from Manilla, he wasn’t white. Mrs Polk wasn’t raised that way. It was against the Law (the look in her eyeswhen Animal told her, very gently, that that Law was changed, twenty-five years ago versus her soft comment that it was a good Law). Baby had a dream, of owning a chicken farm. he wanted a wife, he wanted to go back to the Phillipines. Mrs Polk loved him so much.

There was no heat to it, not now, not thirty years later. Just a hopeless sweetness, and the human heart in conflict with itself. Good Law? No. Yet it was not the Law but Mrs Polk’s upbringing that killed Baby Duarte, forgotten name of Los Angeles.

It waas, after all, so long ago. but without leaving 1979, the episode had spent its life there, and it was hard to emerge from it.

Person of Interest: s03 e13 – 4C

Hero and asshole

As I’ve mentioned in passing before, Person of Interest has the ability to turn a one-off episode into an integral part of an ongoing art with a naturalness no other series can master. ‘4C’ is the last part of a six-episode sequence that started with Joss Carter’s final takedown of HR and her subsequent murder, and yet it’s a procedural Number of the Week, whose subject, Owen Matthews, computer programmer and all-round asshole (Samm Levine), has nothing to do with anything that’s been going on before or after him.

John Reese came back last week to save his friend, Harold Finch, but not to return to his job. Instead, Reese is going to lose himself, a one way flight to Istanbul. Except that his flight is suddenly overbooked and he’s bumped, and equally as suddenly a place opens up on a flight with a stopover in Rome. Reese can spot Finch’s meddling a mile away, and he doesn’t want it.

That’s not the whole of it. The pretty stewardess, Holly (Sally Pressman) asks if he’ll change seats to enable a newly-wed couple to sit together, which he happily does. His new seat giives him a view of Matthews, being transported by two ~US  Marshalls. His phone receives a text: 4C: Owen’s seat number.

There’s just one problem about all this. No, actually there are three. Someone’s trying to kill Owen (with a mouth like his, you should be surprised?) and has incapacitated one of his Marshall’s. And Reese doesn’t want to know. It’s not his job anymore, not his responsibility, he will not be manipulated llike this by Finch. The third one is, Finch isn’t doing this. he’s as much in the dark as Reese is. This is the Machine, operating by itself.

But on a commercial passenger flight from America to Europe, there are no avenues for walking away. Owen has too many attackers, Columbians, Israelis and National Security. With only the willing and optimistic Holly, who will deliver the crucial little speech about helping each other in an entirely naturalistic manner, to trust, Reese has to take the job.

It’s a tight, stream-lined thriller, with Caviezel at his most magnetic, even in sloppy clothes and a baaaad shave. Shaw is used as a sideline to discover why Owen is a target for her former Agency, making Owen a Relevant rather than Irrelevant Number. This leads to an almost touching scene wwhere, having drugged her former trainer, Hersh, he explains that Owen is about to become a National Embarrassment: there’s a near-fatherly concern for whether Shaw’s ‘new employers’ are treating her well, which draws the line we all of us would have used at this moment: ‘They haven’t tried to kill me yet.’

The final moment comes when the last assassin standing, on board as the coach class steward, takes over the plane and tries to fly it into the ground, requiring Finch to take over the controls and land the plane using a toy flight simulator attached to his computer back in the Library, but there’s a hppy ending to it all, and we sigh with relief.

Owen, who has caused all this feverish activity because he’s not just a programmer but the guy who set up and ran a Darknet Drugs trading facility, to take violence and death out of the trade, is smuggled off by Reese and fitted out with a new identity by Finch. Who happens to be sat with his back to John and Holly when they finish their coffee. What’s needed now is a graceful climbdown by Reese, which Finch facilitates by never once acting as if anything has changed. he explains that the Machine is, of necessity, manipulative in the way Reese hates, because Finch designed it so that the human intervention should always be the last part of the process.

That gives Reese chaance to joke about getting a new suit, so that he can get back to work. With that, the personal turbulence is ended and the show can reset itself for the final phase of the third season.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Wisting – episodes 5 & 6

Escape or Rescue?

There’s a large part of me that feels I should be splitting this entry into two blogs, not just two parts. BBC4’s established approach of broadcasting double episodes on Saturday nights has worked beautifully to date, but when a ten episode series is actually two five episode series joined at the hip, there has to be an awkward middle week when we watch the end of a story and the beginning of a storym, making an integrated blog about the two nigh on impossible.

So episode 5 brought the adaptation from Jorn Lier Horst’s novel The Caveman to an end. Most of the story was technically adept, procedurally straight and well executed, showing Wisting, frantic about his missing daughter Line burning through false trails very quickly in searching for the serial killer, Richard Godwin. He was so frantic that the Norwegian way of polite, sensible policing went out of the window: Wisting got his gun out of the car without asking permission.

But this wasn’t getting anyone anywhere, until Special Agent Bantham, who hasn’t let on yet that he’s shagged Line two nights gone, an unblelievable dereliction of duty, is clot-headed eniough to try leaving her a desperate voicemil, from the command room, when they’re testing her phone for voicemails! This was the bit that blew credibility out of the water: this was Follow the Money levels of scriptwriting incompetence.

But it was the catalyst to spark the final phase. One of Line’s contacts from the Viggo story is brought in to identify the suspect who finally fitted Godwin’s profile, Ole Linge, who has a cottage in Sweden. Meanwhile, following my former friend Linda’s maxim that escape is more interesting that rescue, Line has got herself out of the boot of Godwin’s car when he goes for a shovel to dig its wheel’s out and stumbled through the snow to in dilapidated barn, whilst the Police fly by helicopter to the scene.

Unfortunately, Godwin has traced her steps. To try to escape, she smashes an oil-lamp to set the barn alight and climbs its rackety walls to the roof, only for Godwin to follow her with a hammer. But the burning barn attracts the Norwegian helicopter. Wisting arrives in time to prevent Godwin tipping Line’s semi-conacious body into a well, but in grappling with the killer, gets his arm broken by the hammer. He’s in danger of going into the well himself, but Maggie Griffin, who’s trailed Godwin for so many years, gets her emotional fulfilment, shooting Godwin, who ends up dumped in the well, fittingly, by Wisting, when he makes a dying attempt with the hammer.

So: it was all good, well-made, active stuff, nothing of any great originality, nor any high tension if I’m being honest. What interested me more was the various aspects of the ending. The Norwegian Police got the credit. Xmaswas almost here and Hammer’s wife, free of her cold turkey, wanted to buy him a present. Wisting saw Maggie off at the airport, grateful to the woman who saved his daughter’s and his life, seeing her off with a hug that hinted at a certain wistfulness on his part, afterwards that was.

Even Thomas, Line’s (twin?) brother, was back. But not to stay for Xmas, just to check on his sister. He finds waiting to become a priority with his father too tiring. His Dad loves him, he knows, but he isn’t interested in him. An interesting ending.

Part 2.

The other Lier Horst book to be adapted for this series is ‘The Hunting Dogs’, which, according to Wikipedia, immediately preceded ‘The Caveman’. but which, according to imdb, came out the year after. Certainly its been adapted as following more or less directly on from the Godwin case – Wisting and Line have recovered from their injuries, she’s changed her hair-style (bad move) and grown it out a couple of inches – and the opening scene is a TV interview about the Godwin case, but without access to the translated book, I can’t say whether this is simply good screenwriting.

Either way, the hook is that the interview is an ambush for Wisting. There’s a second, unexpected guest, a lawyer named Philip Henden, who accuses the completely blindsided Wisting of having tampered with vidence that saw an innocent man serve 17 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

Personally, and without wishing to turn scrriptwriter myself, I would have liked to see Wisting turn to the camera nd say, “The first thind I note is that Mr Henden has said he hs concrete proof without showing that proof or even saying what it consists of. The second is that instead of taking this proof to the Police so it can be investigated, he’s chosen to announce it as a fact on television without giving the slightest notice of his intentions, to go for a cheap publicity stunt and one-sided headlines rather than have it pursued seriously,” but of course it’s asking a lot of the none-too-fluent or quick-thinking Wisting to come up with anything like that. Nevertheless, I’d have liked to see such smartassery get a swift kick in the balls.

We had already met the supposedly innocent murderer earlier in the series, the newly-released, innocence-protesting Vidar Haglund, the man who the obsessive and somewhat pathetic Frank Robeck believes killed his niece.

There was one thing that very definitely assured me that we were not in Britain: Wisting was not constantly doorstepped, followed and beseiged by the jackal press. He was, on the other hand, suspended from duty whilst the independent Office of Police Control looked into reopening the case. And indeed, Hansen’s deeper investigation of the evidence, resting on Haglund’s DNA on smoked cigarette butts that was the only thing linking Haglund to the crimescene, suggested he was genuinely on to something.

There was, I thought, a missediopportunity here, what with Wisting’s status and character as an ordinary guy. Just for once, just for once, they might have had someone say that they completely understand that they cannot investigate allegations against themselves and they reaklise they have to be suspended until conclusions are reached. Dammit, you can still go on and investigate yourself depite all the rules and proocedures you break, but is it too much to ask fior somebody to recognise the reality of things?

To be honest, despite the poor reviews given on imdb to the back half of this series, I find this story instinctively more interesting, and I can already see potential shapes for the course of the remaining episodes. Robeck is adamant that Hhaglund killed not only Cecilia, the girl he was convicted for, but Ellen: we see him cleaning and checking his rifle. Hammer is on course to react stupidly to everything again. Torunn, who we discover is diabetic (at her size? Obviously type 1 then) is asked to take over as acting Chief Investigator, with Hammer passed over.

And then there’s Line. She’s been as bombshelled byher own paper as her father, and she doesn’t like it. To try to force Wisting’s story off page 1, she pursues the murder of an unknown middle-aged man, killed in a park, and guarded by his faithful dog. Line gets the man’s ID and address from the dog’s microchip, finds his house has been broken into and gets a punch and several kicks from the escaping burglar. She still writes the story but, of course, it isn’t allowed any nearer than page 5.

Trying to get her Dad to understand what’s happening, she invokes the Law of Jante. I’ve never heard of this before but I could guess its meaning quickly (it’s a nordic equivalent of the Australian Tall Poppy syndrome): Wisting will be torn down simply because he has achieved a position of prominence and achievement that cannot be accepted.

As a last note, as Wisting leaves, he has an angry exchange with the Police Commissioner, blaming her for Cecilia’s death: after ten days, she had released a vital tape to the Press. It forced the case to an arrest but, according to Wisting, it forced Haglund to kill Cecilia. I shall be very interested to see how that pans out.

So, here we are again, at the beginning. I hope my anticipations for this story will not prove to be hollow.