What I’m Watching: June 2021

What I’m Watching: June 2021

Here we are, almost halfway through June, and I can hear you asking, “Gee, I wonder what Bob has been watching?” Seriously. I can hear it. This isn’t just me putting off the hard work of starting up A (Black) Gat in the Hand this week. I watched some stuff for the first time, and revisited a few things.

GET SHORTY

The late Elmore Leonard was a terrific writer. His characters and his dialogue were outstanding. He excelled at hardboiled, and could spice it with humor as needed. 3:10 to Yuma (The original and the remake are fine films) is based on one of his early short stories – the man could write Westerns. My all-time favorite TV show, Justified, sprang from his Raylan Givens short story, “Fire in the Hole.”

Leonard has been the source of over two dozen movies and television shows. His 1990 novel, Get Shorty, helped re-launch John Travolta’s career. With Gene Hackman, Dennis Farina, Danny DeVito, and Delroy Lindo, it’s a great watch. And a highly recommended read!

In the summer of 2017, EPIX launched a ten-episode series starring Chris O’Dowd (who was GREAT in The IT Crowd) and Ray Romano. It’s been renewed twice, for a total of twenty-seven episodes. The third season finale aired on November 3, 2019. There has been ZERO noise on whether the show will get another season, or be canceled. Get Shorty is running on radio silence. Kinda odd, really.

I love the book. I love the movie. I like the series. It is not an adaptation of the novel. I would say that it’s based on the concept of Leonard’s book. In the series, a mob soldier wants something more and ends up laundering his boss’ money by producing a historical epic in Hollywood. That’s a variation from the book, where a small-time loan shark runs down a skip and forces his way into the movie business while dealing with an unfriendly mobster from back home.

The series is a lot darker than the book, with a lot less humor. The story line continues on with no relation to the book; or its sequel, Be Cool (which was an okay movie).

If you’re looking for Leonard’s prose or dialogue on screen, you’re not going to get it. In fact, there’s not a lot of Leonard in this series. But Get Shorty is a hardboiled, neo-noir series worth watching. The plot consistently moves forward utilizing legitimate conflict, arising out of competing but complementary goals for the main characters. That’s what makes the show work.

I’m midway through season two as I write this essay, and I’m watching more episodes daily. All three seasons are available on Amazon Prime. And a bonus is that Adam Arkin produced many of the episodes. His father Adam appears in a few episodes. Adam and Alan bring something to every project they work on. Alan’s brother Matthew also shows up.

SUPPLEMENT: Finished binge-watching this weekend (my son took over the PC). I liked season three more than season two. And they certainly left it on a cliffhanger moment with the final scene. Hopefully Epix will run it for at least one more go-round. I think it’s still a compelling show, and I’m interested in how the story line progresses.

CON MAN

Last week, I wrote about the delightful horror/comedy flick, Tucker and Dale vs. EVIL, which starred Alan Tudyk. Tudyk co-starred with Nathan Fillion in Firefly, which has a devoted cult following. Tudyk wrote, directed, and starred in Con Man, a streaming series with 10-20 minute episodes. Ir ran for two seasons, covering twenty-five shows.

Tudyk is Wray Nerely, who stared in Spectrum, a scif show that was canceled in its first season, and then developed cult following. Nathan Fillion (Jack Moore) was the captain on the show. Nerely got stuck in low-budget science fiction movies for the rest of his career, but wants to do better things. Instead, he unhappily makes the rounds of fan conventions. Meanwhile, Moore has gone on to a career as a star.

As you can guess by now, if you’re a fan of Firefly – or you like the whole ‘convention scene’ – this is a really fun show for you. Scifi/geek culture folks are all over the place, including Felicia Day, Lou Ferrigno, (in a funny, out-of-the-norm bit) and Sean Astin, to name a few. I liked the Starship Troopers thing.

Nerely is something of a train wreck, and his ‘manager’ (hilariously played by Mindy Sterling) doesn’t exactly help. There is much comedic misadventure, with lots of guest stars being funny. Tudyk is both a good guy, and his own worst enemy.

You can tell pretty quickly whether Con Man is your type of thing or not. And if you’re in, you’re going to enjoy it. Nerely references Tudyk’s appearance in Justified (he was brilliant in that episode). Con Man provides a lot of entertainment in bite-sized pieces. This is a very easy show to binge watch. I tore through it in a weekend.

Tudyk is an under-appreciated actor (and you should check out his IMDB page for an impressive list of voice credits) and this is a good show.

PSYCH

I wrote a pretty decent look at one of my favorite shows, Leverage. I’ve watched it all the way through at least three times. And I’m looking forward to the reboot next month – even though it looks like Timothy Hutton was kicked to the curb, seemingly based on as-yet unproven accusations. I plan on writing a similar-type essay on the excellent Burn Notice. And also, on Psych.

I may have re-watched more episodes of Psych than any other show. It’s a buddy cop show, with a twist. James Roday is Shawn Spencer. His dad, Henry, played by Corbin Bernsen (Major League), was a hard-nosed cop who taught his goofball son to be Sherlock-Holmes like observant. Circumstances force Shawn to pretend his skills are really supernatural gifts, and he opens a psychic detective agency. His childhood friend Burton Guster, who goes by Gus (as well as a VAST array of ridiculous nicknames which Shawn introduces him by), provides some balance in the agency – named Psych. Dule Hill (West Wing) is Gus, and he’s a treat.

Timothy Omundson (Galavant), Maggie Lawson, and Kirsten Nelson add to the cast. The show ran for eight seasons, never jumping the shark and wrapping up in March of 2014. It managed to both provide closure to the series, and end on a cliff-hanger. There was a made-for-Peacock movie in 2017 that picked up the story, and a follow-up in 2020. Neither was as good as the series was, but it was still fun to see Shawn and Gus in action again.

For me, Psych is one of those shows where I can just pick an episode and watch it for no rhyme or reason. The one with the dinosaur, or the mummy in the museum, or the martial arts one, or…you get the idea. There is one reoccurring dark thread, involving a serial killer known as the Yin-Yang killer. It’s a little heavy (and features Ally Sheedy), but otherwise, the show is all laughs.

There are lots of pop culture references dropped in. The makers were clearly baseball fans. It stays funny without resorting to ‘dumb.’ Like Columbo (which I wrote about here), there are plenty of familiar faces who drop in as guest stars. Some topics cross-reference over the life of the series, like a couple different things related to Val Kilmer, and to Kurt Smith and Tears for Fears.

The trouble that Shawn constantly gets he and Gus into; Henry’s exasperation with his son (he knows that Shawn is faking it); Lassiter’s drive to solve cases before Shawn does; the total weirdness of Woody, the coroner (Kurt Fuller): The show entertains every episode. You constantly find something to laugh at, while the characters race to solve (or prevent) the crime. Out of 121 episodes, there were very few I didn’t care for. This show consistently delivered.

Psych, Burn Notice, and Royal Pains all ran about the same time on USA Network. They also overlapped with Monk for a few years. That’s some excellent TV, and Psych more than holds its own. In season one, Shawn is extremely self-absorbed and even a bit unlikable. They eased up on that in season two, and the show really takes off from there. If I had to rank my Top Five police/detective shows – which is a pretty tough list to break into – it’s right there in the mix. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

All the seasons of Psych are on Prime, and also on Peacock. The two movies are also on Peacock. There was a special episode after season seven wrapped up, that was a musical. Lots of singing. That’s the only episode I’ve only watched once. And I think the only one not available for free. It’s not terrible, but I don’t need ‘Psych does Cop Rock.’ If you saw Galavant (which was hilarious), you already know that Omundson (Lassiter) can sing.

COLUMBO (THE ABC YEARS)

Speaking of detective shows I rewatch…I wrote a short essay about Columbo a couple years ago. Peter Falk and Columbo may well be THE perfect match of actor and part. Columbo opens by showing you the murder. You know ‘whodunit’ from the very outset. And yet, the show can be watched over and over and over again. Because viewers want to see Columbo in his rumpled trench coat, head cocked to one side, cigar in hand (man, he smokes a lot!), saying “Oh, just one more thing.”

Columbo wrapped up its initial run (which was on NBC) in 1978. Eleven years later, ABC rebooted the character with a TV movie. There would be a total of 24 such movies. I’d not seen about half of them, so I did a full run-through of the ABC movies. They’re a mixed bag, with some really dumb stories, and the guest stars don’t quite have the same cachet as in the original (though, there are some pretty good ones).

Bottom line – it’s good to see Peter Falk being Columbo. I much prefer the originals, but these are worth watching if you like the original show. And most of them are worth more than one viewing. Columbo is an iconic character, and a great TV show.

I also watched the initial Columbo movie, Prescription Murder, which came a few years before the TV show and laid the groundwork for Falk’s performance. That’s probably a future essay of its own.

ALL of the Columbos (not counting the Bert Freed TV episode from 1960) are free on the streaming channel, Tubi.

THUNDER IN PARADISE

I’ve been introducing my thirteen year old some to some of the classic big budget action films of the nineties (kickstarted by me watching the three Expendables movies for the first time a few months ago. Fun stuff). Which also led me to remember a show I watched back then – Thunder in Paradise. Lasting only one season, it was pure nineties cheese. Hulk Hogan (Spencer) is an ex-Navy Seal. As is Jack Lemmon’s son, Chris (Brubaker). They have developed Thunderboat; kind of a less-independent Kitt from Knight Rider. The government cancels an order based on the prototype, and Hogan and Lemmon end up in a non-paid action adventures; with their super boat.

Popular wrestlers of the day pop up all over the place: Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake, Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, Jimmy ‘The Mouth of the South’ Hart (nicknames were very big back then!), Sting, El Giagante – they’re all here.

Hogan has a stepdaughter who fills the requisite ‘cute little girl’ role. His jerk father-in-law (Edward) is Patrick Macnee, the legendary Avenger (no, not the Marvel kind). The female lead was dropped after the pilot, and supermodel Carol Alt moves up; she’s a bartender.

I was going to do a full rewatch, then write an essay. I couldn’t do it. The two-part pilot and the third episode (featuring Sting as the arch villain) was too much. I had to stop. Chris Lemmon sounds like his dad sometimes. And he looks a little like him. Since I’m a Jack Lemmon fan, that works for me. There are plenty of gorgeous bikini-clad babes around. But the dialogue, the acting, the plots – this isn’t one of those ‘it’s so bad, it’d good.’ It’s just pure cheese. I gave up.

UNDER SIEGE

After introducing my son to Time Cop (Van Damme), and then the first Terminator movie (Ah-nuld), it was on to Steven Seagal. He didn’t care for the Van Damme, but he definitely wants to watch more Terminators. I was never much of a Seagal fan, but I did like Under Siege. Sean enjoyed it. And I think it holds up; I still like it. The idea of the cook on a battleship foiling a terrorist take-over (by Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey) is a bit silly. But it works. And notice I didn’t say ‘single-handedly.’ Because he’s assisted by a former centerfold (original Baywatch babe Erika Elaniak) who jumps topless out of a cake. I did mention silly, right?

You know, of course, in classic Hollywood fashion, there was a meeting that went:

Under Siege was a hit. Great. How can we do a sequel?”

“How about terrorists take over a train that Seagal is a passenger on? He’s retired now, and  owns restaurant. He befriends the chefs on board and together, they defeat the terrorists.”

“It’s a go!”

I don’t recall being particularly enamored with Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, but we might work our way to that one. Seagall was exculded, but otherwise, the Expendables movies are a nice blue-print for picking actors from the old big budget action films. Die Hard and Lethal Weapon are probably coming up before more Seagal.

LOKI

I thought Wandavision was garbage. I abandoned it around episode seven. Over half of every episode stunk. I’ll never bother to finish that one. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier started much better, but had a disappointing finish. The social proselytizing (“She’s not really a terrorist; just a misunderstood disadvantaged youth”) threw a wet blanket on it.

So, I was cautiously optimistic as Loki dropped. Tom Hiddleston has been awesome in the role. There was talk that he might appear in BBC’s Sherlock during season four. Even saw a pic of him with Mark Gatiss and Amanda Abbington at San Diego Comic Con. Might have saved that show, which went from excellent to a festering pile of refuse after season two. Hiddleston might have salvaged that once fine show. No such luck.

SPOILERS – Go to Disney+ and watch Loki. Then come back here. Do it! END SPOILER ALERT.

This show starts in 2021, after the Battle of New York. Loki is in custody of the Avengers. And it’s funny right out of the gate. We find out where Loki lands when he escapes with the Tesseract. And shortly thereafter finds himself in the custody of the Time Variant Authority (TVA).

Owen Wilson is an agent for the TVA, and he will be the series’ costar. I think Loki works on two levels, one episode in.

First, it’s funny. There is plenty of humor throughout the episode. The Infinity Stones made me laugh out loud. Now, normally, that isn’t a topic for mirth, right? It’s not cheap funny, or stupid funny – it’s just good funny.

But it’s balanced with character. We get more of what’s inside Loki than in all the Marvel movies combined. And Hiddleston is terrific. I have a hard time imagining anybody else playing this Loki for Marvel.

I very much liked Timeless. We’ll see how a ‘Marvel Time Cop’ goes. Extremely promising start.

I also liked that Loki tells us what really happened with D. B. Cooper. And Justified did the same. Working in the D. B. Cooper robbery hijacking is always neat!


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Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made it’s Black Gate debut in the summer of 2018 and returned in 2019 and 2020. The 2021 ru is on the way.

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 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 organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series.

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.

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Thomas Parker

Prescription Murder is actually my favorite Columbo, for two reasons. First, the character was new and it’s fun to see Falk figuring out how to play him; he’s still recognizably Columbo but the character hadn’t yet ossified into schtick (as he had by the post-70’s “return” seasons you mentioned), and second, it’s the closest Columbo ever came to a “fair fight” – Gene Barry’s psychiatrist was on to Columbo’s methods very quickly. (The pitying, “Aw, Doc, you almost made it” look on Falk’s face when Barry blunders into Columbo’s final trap is priceless and is my single favorite moment of the series.) I watch Prescription Murderevery few months. The Second pilot, Ransom for a Dead Man is also one of the best.

Soyka

I think one reason you root for O’Dowd’s character, despite his considerable faults, is his devotion to his kid (who in this version is shorty) and the accent. A kind of everyman (though highly flawed) trying to figure out what he wants, just like the rest of us, who are thugs for hire without the violence.

Aonghus Fallon

Watched ‘Under Siege’ for the first time ever a few months back (mainly because it was on Netflix) and thought it did exactly what it said on the tin. One thing that made me laugh is the love interest (?) who mentions that she had a bit part in ‘Hunter’ when listing her resume – by coincidence, ‘Hunter’ is also available to watch on Netflix. It was pretty popular back in the day, but I’d never seen it. I’d recommend it, if only to remind yourself just how generic a lot of cop shows were back then. All those tropes! Like the way the camera focusses on the bad guy’s shoes! When did they stop doing that? It’s also eerily watchable (well, I watched half a dozen episodes in a row).

Aonghus Fallon

While not being actively bad, Dyer’s slightly wooden delivery, his height and fitness made me suspect he was an ex-sportsman and check him up on Wiki. Even though it ran for ten years, ‘Hunter’ merits just one sentence! I guess Kramer sort of carries the show, but then – being an actual actor – she would. Browsing Youtube I came across an interview with Daniel J. Travanti who was kind but essentially dismissive of Loyd Michael Warren’s performance in ‘Hill Street Blues’ (he played Bobby). Until then I’d never realised LMW was another ex-sportsman (something that would have immediately obvious to an American audience) I guess because ‘Hill Street Blues’ had a large cast and Warren’s limitations (whatever these were) wouldn’t have been so obvious.

Thomas Parker

I never watched Hunter when it was broadcast, but now I find it fairly enjoyable in a low-rent, half-parodic way. Dryer is just doing a poor man’s Clint Eastwood and does it fairly well, I think. There’s no element of the show that can be taken the least bit seriously; once you relax into that, Hunter can be a pretty good time.

Aonghus Fallon

Pretty much!

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