TV sets checklist starts with 'Graceland'

By Tom Von Malder | Jun 18, 2014
Photo by: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Aaron Tveit, left, and Daniel Sunjata star in the TV series, "Graceland."

Owls Head — During the last decade or so, TV dramas, especially the police procedurals, have moved toward quirky main characters -- think "Cracker" -- that are more important than the plot. A few are reviewed below. Plus, foreign shows have as a plus unique settings, sometimes tied in with local lore.

Graceland: The Complete First Season (Fox, 3 DVDs, NR, 547 min.). This is one of the new brand, limited-run series (12 episodes; season two started this month). While most of the action may be more typical TV fare, it does have the unusual premise of sticking FBI undercover agents, DEA agents and one Customs agent as housemates in a seaside house seized from a Southern California drug lord. The criminal owner liked Elvis; hence, the residence is called Graceland.

The show is added by the casting of two-breakout stars: the boyishly handsome Aaron Tveit as FBI rookie Mike "Levi" Warren (TV's "Gossip Girl," several Broadway productions, including "The Normal Heart") and the rugged Daniel Sunjata (TV's "Rescue Me," Broadway's "Take Me Out") as FBI legend Paul Briggs, who is to mentor Warren. Warren, tops of his just-graduated class at Quantico, wanted a Washington, D.C. posting as he has eyes on becoming a deputy director one day. Instead, he is shipped off to So Cal and learns at the end of episode one that his real assignment is to investigate Briggs. Through the first few episodes, the viewer does not know if Briggs is dirty or not, but he certainly has a way around proper procedure and he saves Warren's life in that first episode. Other housemates are played by Manny Montana (Joe Tuturro, FBI), Brandon Jay McLaren (Dale Jakes, Customs), Vanessa Ferlito (Charlie DeMarco, FBI) and Serinda Swan (Paige Arkin, DEA). The show has a lot of visual style and is an interesting watch. Extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and a look at the real Graceland. Grade: season 3.25 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The FBI: The Complete Eighth Season (1972-73, Warner Archives, 6 DVDs, NR, 1,315 min.). This is old-school FBI, but for its next-to-last season, even this version of the FBI was changing, as it had to face new types of criminals and crimes. As the set's box states, "The Seventies' unique blend of stylish cynicism began to get its grip on the country as selfless ideals started to get traded in for selfish dreams." The core FBI squad remained with FBI Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who died May 2), Assistant Director Arthur Ward (Philip Abbott) and Agent Tom Colby (William Reynolds). Among the up-and-coming actors who appear as guests are David Soul, Robert Urich, Mariette Hartley, Martin Sheen, Sondra Locke, Patrick Wayne, Lara Parker and Belinda Montgomery, as well as veteran actors Dean Stockwell, Edward Mulhare, John Anderson, Ross Martin and William Windom. Episodes include a businessman who arranges his own kidnapping; the theft of a statue form an NYC art auction; forged historical documents; Erskine poses as a blind chess master to stop a spy ring; jewel thieves are chased down the Rogue River; a plane crash sets a murdered free and injures Erskine and Colby; and Erskine goes undercover as a caterer at the wedding of a mob boss' daughter to prevent some assassinations. The set is manufactured on demand and available online from Grade: season 3 stars

Sebastian Bergman: The Cursed One Parts 1 & 2 (2011-12, Sweden, MHz Networks, 2 DVDs, NR, 176 min.). Bergman certainly qualifies as one of those quirky lead characters; in fact, he is a bit hard to like. (I have seen the series referred to as "the Swedish Cracker." It is based on two novels by the writing duo Hjorth Rosenfeldt.) Bergman, played wonderfully by Rolf Lassgard (the original "Wallander" series), is Sweden's most famous criminal profiler and has written a definitive, best-selling book about the workings of the criminal mind. He is strong-headed, politically incorrect and abrasive, but also very intuitive. Yet, his personal life has been ruined by a great tragedy, the loss of his wife and young daughter in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Aimless and turning to sexual addiction to cope, he has become his own worst enemy and has not worked with the police in 12 years.

However, he begs Police Chief Torkel Hoglund (Tomas Laustiola) for a chance to work on the case of a 15-year-old boy, whose heart was cut out. It turns out that the first suspect was a neighbor of Bergman's mother, and Bergman has arrived two weeks after his mother's death to put her estate in order. The case is a bit complicated in the relationship of various people, but I did have a good idea of who the killer was and of one of the themes that emerged. Yet, the first 90-minute movie is only the set up for the second, when, after Stockholm police realize they have a serial killer, Bergman realizes the killer appears to be modeling his attacks on those of a deadly criminal Bergman put behind bars years ago. Bergman, by reviving his work for the police, is finding new purpose in life, and he also makes a remarkable discovery among his mother's papers. The filming style is interesting as it often, during conversations, has brief cuts to past action, photos, or how the crime might have occurred. Grade: season 3 stars

Scott & Bailey: Season One (2011, Great Britain, BBC, 2 DVDs, NR, 270 min.). This British series, shown on PBS, centers on the crime-fighting duo of Detective Constable Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones of "Coronation Street" and who played a humanoid incarnation of the iconic TARDIS in a 2011 episode of "Doctor Who") and Detective Constable Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp). Jones conceived the show with fellow "Coronation Street" graduate Sally Lindsay, who plays her sister, Alison Bailey, on this series. Their idea was a more factual, gritty version of "Cagney & Lacey." Scott and Bailey are both members of the Major Incident Team of the fictional Manchester Metropolitan Police, and is filmed in the Greater Manchester area. The writer is award-winning TV writer and playwright Sally Wainwright.

Scott's character is the more subtle. She is a wife and mother of two daughters. Bailey is noisy, argumentative and painfully single, as the show opens with her being dumped by her boyfriend of two years (Rupert Graves as Nick Savage). At a dinner during which Bailey expects him to propose, Savage instead breaks up with her, saying she drinks too much and does not change her clothes enough. She soon learns that the truth is he can no longer afford his flat and is moving back in with his wife and two teenage sons. So it is a bit ironic that the first case they deal with in the series emotionally mirrors Bailey's recent experience. Bailey does not go away quietly though; in what amounts to blackmail, she demands a major concession from Savage as "compensation" for her last two years. Be warned that some of the slang is incomprehensible. There is a behind-the-scenes bonus feature. Grade: season 3 stars

DCI Banks: Season One (2011, Great Britain, BBC, 2 DVDs, NR, 270 min.). Also shown on PBS is this series based on the Inspector Banks novels by Peter Robinson. The tenacious Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks is played by Stephen Tompkinson (TV's "Ballykissangel"), while his headstrong partner Annie Cabbott is portrayed by Andrea Lowe of "The Tudors." The series is set in Yorkshire.

In the two-part opener, two houseboats are burned, killing two people, but was the motive murder or to destroy evidence of a counterfeit art ring? Banks takes an instant dislike to the father of the female victim, whose young wife is a very cold fish. Despite warnings that his career could be put in jeopardy, Banks keeps pushing the physician and even strikes him once, after he makes a racist comment to one of Banks' co-workers. Meanwhile, Cabbott ill advisedly starts an affair with the art expert they bring in on the case. Two other books are adapted as two-part episodes for this season. The second case involves a woman who is found dead on the moors with her throat slashed that comes eerily close to the murder of a young girl in the center of town. The third case has Superintendent Rydell recruit Banks to find his missing teenage daughter. I like a lot of the camera work in the opening "Playing With Fire," which is based on the novel "Aftermath." Grade: season 3.5 stars

Dolmen (2005, France, MHz Networks, 3 DVDs, NR, 542 min.). In this mini-series, young police Lt. Marie Kermeur (Ingrid Chauvin) returns to her home, the tiny island of Ty Kern off the coast of Brittany, to marry Christian Brehat (Xavier Deluc), a famous competition sailor, with whom she had grown up. However, instead of a wedding, there is a funeral, as her brother Gildas (Luc Thuiller) is found dead at the bottom of a cliff (a cliff he never went near, by the way). Then, one of the large stone outcroppings called menhirs begins to bleed, with blood identical to that of the victim.

The menhirs  -- think of them as a mini-Stonehenge -- are tied in with the old island legend/history of the Shipwreckers, starving islanders who, centuries ago during a famine, misdirected ships heading towards the lighthouse to make them crash on shore so they could be looted and their crews slaughtered. That is, until one of the wrecked ships turns out to be from the island, and the six Shipwreckers are killed and placed on the menhirs.

Gildas is not the only victim, however, and the menhirs continue to bleed. Each victim also holds the same cryptic note: "For Marie. He will judge. From the stone, blood will spill." Kermeur, against her will, is taken off the case because of her brother being a victim, and Lucas Fersen (Bruno Madinier), a top policemen from the Department of Ritual Crimes in Paris is assigned to the case. The island holds many secrets, especially among the four main families, including the wealthy Kersaints who live in the island's castle. The story is very intriguing and pulls you along. I am not sure about the attraction that develops between Kermeur and Fersen, but the director certainly plays up Chauvin's looks and assets (it becomes a bit of distraction, like when she changes clothes in front of Fersen and wears plunging necklines). There are six 90-minute episodes. Grade: mini-series 3.25 stars

Blood on the Docks: Volume 1 (2011, France, MHz Networks, 2 DVDs, NR, 269 min.). Based on the novels of Graham Hurley, what this series had going for it is its unusual setting, the port city of Le Havre in northern France. Jean-Marc Barr plays Police Capt. Richard Faraday, who is a by-the-book guy and has a deaf son (Jean-Marie Hallegot as Lulu) who is striving for a career as a news videographer. His video efforts play a small part in the first case and an even larger one in the second. Lulu also starts to work for his father's secret lover.

In the first episode, a 15-year-old girl falls from a roof and later an immigrant is killed. The department's lieutenant believes both deaths are drug-related  and she is pushing that agenda, as there will be a vote on her department's budget in three weeks. She believes real estate developer Bazza Swaty is a drug dealer. Swaty actually is sort of friends with one of the policeman (Bruno Solo as grizzled rogue cop Paul Winckler), who advises him about players on Swaty's soccer team. A key part of the first episode is tracking down a young witness (Telesphore Teunou as Doodie). Some of the best acting is a scene between Doodie's mother (Valerie Moreau) and Faraday.

In the second episode, Winckler has to take the place of a key officer, just prior to a sting being run against Swaty. In the third, a young man who is part of a group of social activists is chained naked to the rail line as the commuter train approaches. plus an acquaintance of the victim, an elderly portrait photographer, has disappeared. Finally, the decapitated body of a young man is found on the beach. Grade: series one 3 stars

Suits: Season Three (Universal, 4 DVDs, NR, 11 hours 44 min.). This legal series has become one of my favorites. Gabriel Macht stars as Harvey Specter,  high-powered counsel, now firm partner and mentor to legal prodigy Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), who has the ongoing problem that he was hired by Harvey even though he does not have a law degree. Gina Torres plays managing partner Jessica Pearson. Mike is dating legal aide Rachel Zane (Meghan Markle) now.

What I like about this season is there more of Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman), one of the funniest characters on TV. He is so earnest in seeking his own glory -- and a partnership -- that most of his plans go awry, but he still is an expert lawyer. There is a lot of humor in his battles with Nigel (Adam Godley), who is the British version of Louis, while very touching is the episode that deals with Louis' breakup with Sheila. Much of the season deals with defending oil executive Dr. Ava Hessington (guest star Michelle Fairley) from charges she bribed a foreign government for pipe line approval and, later, that she actually paid to have six protestors murdered. Gary Cole reprises his season one role as former Manhattan District Attorney Cameron Dennis, now a special prosecutor in the Hessington case. The season ends with a major decision by Mike that changes the relationship between he and Harvey. Bonus features include deleted scenes, a gag reel, an alternate ending for the final episode, three behind-the-scenes features and webisodes. Grade: season 3.75 stars; extras 3 stars

Teen Wolf: Season 3 Part 2 (MGM, 3 DVDs, NR, 528 min.). "Teen Wolf" continues to be a favorite, a highly entertaining show with a likeable cast, especial Dylan O'Brien as Stiles Stilinski, and this whole half season is about trying to rescue Stiles from the evil that has taken over his body. This includes Stiles checking himself into a mental hospital. Meanwhile, Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) is trying to adapt to being an Alpha and the whole issue of whether he needs a pack or not. A new character is Kira, a new student with remarkable powers. There are two major deaths, and one is a shocker. The sole extra is a look at the show's fans. Too bad they did not include some of the after-show talk program. Grade: episodes 3 stars

Warehouse 13: Season Five (Universal, 2 DVDs, NR, 260 min.). Other than Secret Service Agent Pete Lattimer's silly hairdo this season, and sometimes even sillier attitude, this was a nice conclusion to the show's run. The six final episodes included homages, such as the Spanish telenova episode and the Renaissance Faire one, and the final battle was to stop the warehouse from relocating. Some blog writers indicated they were upset with the "sudden" shift in the relationship between Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) and fellow agent Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly), but I was okay with that. Bonuses include the holiday episode, "The Greatest Gift"; deleted and extended scenes; six podcasts; a behind-the-shelves look; and a gag reel. The show was a lot of fun during its five seasons of hunting down and neutralizing dangerous artifacts. Grade: season 3 stars

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