Last month I shared what I’ve been reading lately. Being the unoriginal guy that I am, I figured this week, it would be what I’ve been watching!
A decade after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (number three in the franchise), an Indy take-off show hit the airwaves. Now, many of you know Tia Carrere best as Akivasha, the evil sorceress in Kevin Sorbo’s Kull, which was reportedly to be the third Conan film starring Schwarzenegger (though there’s a different story about a third film: that’s fodder for another post). But Ah-nuld passed and instead we got a forgettable film with no relation to Robert E. Howard’s actual Kull character. I’m kidding! Not about the Conan/Kull stuff – that’s all true. But that’s not why you know Carrere, who was of course Cassandra in Wayne’s World; and she had a prominent part in Arnie’s True Lies.
For sixty-six episodes, covering three seasons, she was Sydney Fox, a Professor who traveled the globe, chasing down items of antiquity. Or, at least a couple decades old, anyways. Which is why the show is called Relic Hunter. She is assisted by Nigel, a dweeby assistant professor (played by Christien Anholt). Lindy Booth, who pops up in various productions (mostly made in Canada) is her useless, brainless, bimbo of an office assistant, foisted on her because her father is a donor to the school. Booth had two notable appearances in A&E’s A Nero Wolfe Mystery.
Carrere is smart, athletic, a kick-ass fighter, and gorgeous. I think that one key to the show lasting three years was the writers’ ability to manage a scene with her in her underwear in most episodes. In episode four, she ends up in a mud fight with a buxom female whose shirt was pulled open, while Nigel and guest star Louis Mandylor (Martial Law – another nineties action show with a gorgeous female lead; Kelly Hu), watch in enjoyment. The show knew how to use Carrere’s looks and physique. She is pretty impressive in her fight scenes, though. AT first, Nigel can’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag. Though, he does chip in here and there over time. And Carrere gets in a lot of fights!
Borrowing an element used in Clive Cussler’s books, each episode opens with some event from the past, setting up the quest for the relic in the present. Early on, there’s Buddha’s bowl, Al Capone’s gun, a viking rune stone, Elvis’ guitar, and a baseball glove with a lineage back to the 1946 World Series (that episode is Red Sox fanboy’s dream).
There are competing rogue archaeologists, and bad guys with evil intentions (Elvis’ guitar has a Cold War story line). Often, there’s some humorous twist related to the item’s recovery, at the end of the show. Relic Hunter is a bit cheesy, and it’s absolutely formulaic, but it’s fun. And there’s nothing taxing about watching Carrere run around on screen for 45 minutes.
I’m not much of a fan of Anelina Jolie’s Lara Croft. I think that Carrere would have been well-cast in the part. The aforementioned Kelly Hu, who appeared in the first The Librarian movie around the same time, could have also played Lara.
Oh well. I guess they worked out okay with Jolie. Next up is a search for Theseus’ ball of twine. The history stuff is fun in this show. I’m streaming it free on the Roku channel.
Last week I talked about Donald Westlake. This week, the name-drop is Elmore Leonard. The book Get Shorty made me a Leonard fan. It was laugh out-loud hardboiled crime. It’s just a great read! And the movie, with fine performances by John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, and others, is worth multiple viewings.
Epix made a streaming series, also named Get Shorty, with season one airing in 2017. Two more seasons have followed, and it’s airing on Amazon Prime. I only saw that first season, which I re watched last month. And now I’ve started on season two.
I guess what I’d say is that Get Shorty is based on the premise of Leonard’s original novel. But it is a far cry from an adaptation. It’s a new series based on the idea Leonard put forth in the book. Which is fine. But it’s got different characters, and it’s much harder edged, and far less funny.
Chris O’Dowd is Miles (the Chili Palmer role). He’s a mobster, working for a Nevada mob boss named Amara. He and buddy Louis are cleaners – they clean up and get rid of bodies of Amara’s enemies. Miles cons their way into producing a movie, teaming up with Rick Moreweather (played well by Ray Romano) to try and make an epic historical drama, The Admiral’s Mistress. Season one deals with Miles trying to balance his two jobs.
I like the show well enough that I’ve started season two (Prime has all 27 episodes; except #2 of season 2 – really???). That’s where I’m at. It’s got more than it’s fair share of violence, sex, and profanity. There’s humor mixed in, but not really too much. There seems to be a major character change in Miles in season two, and I’m not too thrilled with that direction, but we’ll see.
If you like hardboiled fiction, movies and television, you should check this out. If you just want to see Leonard’s brilliant dialogue, and the book Get Shorty, this isn’t going to give it to you. I like it, but don’t love it. I do think that O’Dowd and Romano were very well cast in their parts, and bring a lot to the show. I highly recommend the Get Shorty movie. And the sequel Be Cool is fun, though not as good.
SIDE NOTE – A few months ago, I binge-watched O’Dowd’s 2006-2013 Brit-com, The IT Crowd. It is HILARIOUS! The most laugh-out-loud show I’ve seen since Ricky Gervais’ The Office (the American version didn’t do much for me). O’Dowd and costar Richard Ayoade are absolutely hilarious as IT geeks buried in the basement of a big corporation. I can’t recommend that show enough.
I have long intended to give Burn Notice the in-depth treatment which I did for Leverage. I have watched this superb USA Network show all the way through at least three times. And I’m doing a full re-watch now with my son. We just saw the Sam Axe movie this past weekend.
Michael Weston (played by Jeffrey Donovan), is a spy who is burned – kicked out of the job and made persona non grata. Without being told any reason why. He is dumped in Miami (where he grew up and his mother still lives), and begins trying to find out the why of it all. The show ran for seven seasons and got to wrap things up in the finale.
Mixed in with trying to ‘get un-burned’ and get his job back, Michael takes on jobs, helping people get out of tough situations. Also, quite often, some very bad person finds a way to blackmail him into using his excellent skill set to do their nefarious bidding. And Michael has to walk a tightrope to stop them.
He has help from his former girlfriend, Fiona, a trigger-happy Irish gun runner (played by an uber skinny Gabrielle Anwar), and Sam, an ex-Navy Seal buddy who likes mohitos and being a kept man. There’s also Michael’s mom, played by Cagney and Lacey star Sharon Gless. There’s a pretty neat episode where she reunites with Tyne Daley).
Michael almost NEVER has just one problem to deal with. A key to the show’s success is that he is constantly facing multiple complications, stretching over several episodes. Or even a whole season. Some can be amusing (his mother wants him to do something for her), while others involve lots of innocent people dying if Michael can’t prevent it).
There are lots and lots of bad guys throughout the series – some really evil. The show grabbed some fine guest stars for both one-shots and recurring roles, including Tim Matheson, Jere Burns, Tricia Helfer, John Mahoney, John McGinley, Kristanna Loken, Patton Oswalt, and Audrey Landers (males my age remember her and her sister Judy), among others.
The show includes an ongoing narration from Michael, in which he gives running tips on how to deal with spy situations. “To build a listening device, you need a crappy phone with a mic that picks up everything, but you want the battery power and circuits of a better phone.” He would then continue the explanation while building said device on screen. These spy tips, and the narration, are an integral part of investing you in the show.
Burn Notice had action, nice scenery, likable main characters, rotating villains, good guest characters (some who appeared multiple times over the year), constant challenges, and changing story lines. As with Leverage, I think that Burn Notice was a consistently excellent show that never got tired, or jumped the shark. It stayed high quality up to the very last scene. And because the series’ cancellation was announced ahead of the final season, there’s a planned ending that is both powerful and satisfying for long-time fans.
There’s also the back-story TV movie, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, which was actually the solution to a salary dispute that Bruce Campbell was having with the show.
I go through phases were a show is one of my Top Five. Then I watch another favorite, and maybe it bumps something out. Though Justified is always number one, and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. is number two, Burn Notice (along with Leverage) is one of the shows that consistently rotates in and out. I’ve never been disappointed when I go back to it. I don’t think it could have been much better than it was. Many episodes involve Michael and team solving the problem using a con, which reminds me of….yes, Leverage. Love me some Burn Notice.
Tod Goldberg wrote several Burn Notice tie-in novels. USA did the same with Psych (William Rabkin), and Monk (Lee Goldberg – Tod’s brother). You can definitely hear Jeffrey Donovan’s voice as you read Tod’s books. Definitely worth reading for fans of the show.
While Burn Notice was running, Matt Nix had another series on USA, called The Good Guys. It was a buddy cop show featuring a pair of mismatched partners. Bradley Whitford (Josh in West Wing) was the heart of the show as a complete train wreck living off one glory act years before. It only lasted one season, but it’s a fun show.
I also watched Steve Carell’s Netflix series, Space Force. It had some funny moments, but they were too few and too far between. It’s more dumb than clever. And ‘dumb funny’ doesn’t do much for me. It’s why I can’t stand Dumb and Dumber, but love Galaxy Quest (clever funny). Carell’s Kokomo scene was great, though. John Malkovich and Carell, and the occasional laughs make it worth a watch if you like either actor, but it’s not a ‘keeper.’
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made it’s Black Gate debut in the summer of 2018 and has returned annually since.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’
He organized ‘Hither Came Conan,’ as well as Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.
He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI and XXI.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.