Favorite Kinds of Storytelling: Learning to Work Together to Solve Problems

There are some things that we can all pretty much agree are part of a good story, whether on the page or on the screen: compelling characters, an interesting setting, a well-crafted plot. These things are basic to most great stories. But then we have our own individual tastes, the particular things we hunger for and that make us excited about one story more than another.

The two of us have spent some time thinking about exactly what we most want out of stories. Here’s what we came up with.

Avengers How Do We Do This As a Team

Erik here. What I most want out of a story can be summed up as: Problem-Solving. I want to watch characters go through the process of confronting a problem, considering how to deal with it, and figuring out the best solution. I want to see not just the successful results but all the steps it took to get there. I want to know what the characters did, how it worked, and why it worked.

The obvious sort of story for me to go to is a mystery in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle / Agatha Christie tradition, where the narrative centers around a problem that needs to be solved and the climax comes with the detective meticulously explaining how they worked out that the vicar’s charwoman is actually the long-lost sister of Lady Dudsworthy and the poison was hidden in Colonel Flusterton’s peppermint lozenges.

But I also enjoy other kinds of stories that explore other kinds of problem-solving. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is full of problem-solving and process, from Gandalf working out the magic word to open the doors of Khazad-dum to Frodo and Sam donning orc armor to sneak across Mordor. My favorite part of the novel is the Council of Elrond, when our heroes sit down and spend a chapter just talking about the problem, possible solutions, and the limits of their options, rather than rushing off into heroic battle. Jane Austen’s novels also offer a kind of problem-solving, especially my favorites Emma and Pride and Prejudice. Even though the problems are about relationships and social interactions, Austen’s characters approach them with the same attention to what is possible, what is not, and how to best go about achieving their goals.

On tv, I love shows like Leverage and Burn Notice that focus on the practical details of how their characters pull of heists or get out of scrapes. I also enjoy shows that focus on the processes of problem-solving in more human, less technical terms, like Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. Some of the movies I enjoy the most combine solving practical problems with working out conflicts between people, like The Avengers and Pacific Rim.

 

Eppu here. My favorite story moments involve a bunch of characters learning to work together. I haven’t yet found a good existing name to describe the device with. The closest ones I’ve found are We Work Well Together (a trope) and team building, but both have a slightly different focus. For the lack of a better term I’m calling mine Learning to Work Together.

Specifically, what I like is the hard-to-capture process of the characters realising (usually after a struggle or struggles) how to fit into a working whole all the separate strengths that each person brings. Optimally, of course, it will be a well-working whole at least from the point of view of plot. It’s nice if the characters will end up at least appreciating if not outright liking each other, too, even if there might be tense moments. At the very least they will have to deal with each other well enough to fulfill their goal(s).

Many ensemble stories tack on a sequence of Learning to Work Together to explain how the characters become a unit after they find each other. Some devote more time and effort into it, but for others the process of getting to know your teammates is more or less handwaved aside to make space for the all-important plot. While plot is necessary, I don’t think it should override everything else: I’m looking for a balanced story—preferably with a good heaping of Learning to Work Together.

Some favorite screen examples include Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Hunger Games, Marvel’s The Avengers, and the series Leverage (although arguably the latter might better fit under We Work Well Together). One of the reasons I ended up liking Pacific Rim much more than I expected was the attention that was given to the formation of team Raleigh and Mako, with Pentecost hovering at the rim. (Badum-CHING! [Sorry!])

Satisfyingly protracted versions are shown in the series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Elementary. While Murdoch Mysteries concentrates more on the problem-solving aspect, now and then recurring side characters or one-off visitors get wonderful sequences of Learning to Work Together. And, come to think of it, several of my favorite Doctor Who episodes involve the characters figuring out who the others are and how to interact with them effectively (“42”, “Blink”, “Silence in the Library”, and “Midnight” to mention a few).

Examples in novels and novellas that I’ve read recently include A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, and Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy, Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle, and Kate Elliott’s Crossroads series also sprinkle in many instances of Learning to Work Together whenever characters make new connections.

 

The best stories for the two of us to co-geek over as a couple are stories about groups of people learning to work together in order to solve problems. When we sit down to rewatch a favorite tv series or reminisce about our favorite books together, we go back to the stories about how different people can come together, learn to respect and trust one another, and use their own individual talents to work through a problem that none of them could solve on their own.

Made into a sound bite, Erik’s favorite stories are about “How do we do this?” and Eppu’s favorites are about “As a team.”

Image: screenshot from the 2012 Marvel movie The Avengers

Creative Differences is an occasional feature in which we discuss a topic or question that we both find interesting. Hear from both of us about whatever’s on our minds.

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Rating: Doctor Who, season 4

Next up in our rewatch-and-rating project is Doctor Who (new series), season 4. Here’s what we thought:

  1. “Voyage of the Damned” – 7.5
  2. “Partners in Crime” – 9
  3. “The Fires of Pompeii” – 6
  4. “Planet of the Ood” – 6
  5. “The Sontaran Stratagem” – 6
  6. “The Poison Sky” – 5
  7. “The Doctor’s Daughter” – 4
  8. “The Unicorn and the Wasp” – 10
  9. “Silence in the Library” – 10
  10. “Forest of the Dead” – 10
  11. “Midnight” – 9
  12. “Turn Left” – 5
  13. “The Stolen Earth” – 4
  14. “Journey’s End” – 4.5

Season 4 is a brilliant one studded with fantastic episodes. The overall average for the season is an impressive 6.9, and even the lowest-rating episodes of the season are a couple of 4s—no real stinkers this time around. Part of what makes this season so great is the Doctor’s new companion, Donna. After pseudo-girlfriends Rose and Martha (who both had their moments—especially Martha), Donna and the Doctor are just chums traveling time and space, which makes for a fresh dynamic. Catherine Tate puts in a wonderful performance as Donna, letting us see the vulnerability and warmth of heart under her brassy exterior. She and David Tennant also play wonderfully off of one another in their comic scenes. There are also some ingenious episodes this season, making drama and terror out of things as mundane as shadows and repeated words.

The least successful episodes for us were “The Doctor’s Daughter” and “The Stolen Earth,” both coming in at 4. In “The Doctor’s Daughter,” the Doctor gets insta-sorta-cloned to produce a soldier daughter in a bog-standard sci-fi story about two warring races who have forgotten what they were fighting over in the first place. “The Stolen Earth” is the set-up to a two-parter about the Earth (and other planets, including, bafflingly, Clom) disappearing from space as part of a nefarious plot. Most of the episode is spent watching various familiar characters fail to do anything of any particular use. Both of these episodes have a shaggy-dog-story quality to them with an interesting set-up but not much in the way of payoff. Even the return of our beloved Martha in both of these episodes can’t elevate the limp writing.

But that’s okay, because we are spoiled with not one, not two, but three full 10s at the top of the list. First there’s “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” a delicious romp that brings us Agatha Christie with a giant alien wasp twist. This episode manages the difficult task of snort-guffawing it’s way through all the tropes of the English country house mystery while still creating a powerful emotional story around Christie’s famous disappearance and amnesia. Then there’s “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead,” a stunning two-parter that poses a complicated mystery with a powerful and satisfying resolution. The Doctor and Donna arrive in a planet-sized library to find it empty of people, but filled with shadows that can kill. After a perilous adventure and the slow unraveling of the library’s secrets, we end with a touching story about the lengths we will go to for the people we love. This episode is also noteworthy for introducing Professor River Song, marvelously played by Alex Kingston. A couple of time-travelers, the Doctor here meets River for the first time, just as she is meeting him for the last time.

Honorable mention goes to “Partners in Crime,” at 9, in which Donna and the Doctor run into each other while investigating the same shady weight-loss company, and “Midnight,” a claustrophobic horror story about a mysterious force copying people’s words.

There are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and you may have different takes on this season’s highs and lows. We’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share which episodes of season 4 you loved or didn’t.

Images: Doctor Who season 4 via IMDb; Donna and the Doctor via Send me to the Stars; River Song via Everything is Topsy Turvy!

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Doctor Who, Season 3

Time moves ever onwards and so do we. Here’s our take on Doctor Who (new series) season 3:

  1. “The Runaway Bride” – 5.5
  2. “Smith and Jones” – 9.5
  3. “The Shakespeare Code” – 7.5
  4. “Gridlock” – 6
  5. “Daleks in Manhattan” – 6
  6. “Evolution of the Daleks” – 4
  7. “The Lazarus Experiment” – 1
  8. “42” – 10
  9. “Human Nature” – 6
  10. “The Family of Blood” – 7.5
  11. “Blink” – 10
  12. “Utopia” – 4
  13. “The Sound of Drums” – 2.5
  14. “The Last of the Time Lords” – 3

Season 3 is a roller coast ride with some incredible highs, a few real lows, and a lot of good solid episodes in between. The average rating for the season is 5.9, a good showing and a noticeable increase from the previous two seasons, at 5.3. This season brings us Martha, a medical student with a good head on her shoulders and our all-time favorite companion. We also see David Tennant’s acting chops as he gets to play not just the Doctor but also an absent-minded schoolmaster and a murderous sun (yes, a sun). After some wobbly writing in previous seasons, this season gets more of a grip on how to balance the whimsical aspects of the show with its serious side.

The low point of the season is “The Lazarus Experiment” at a dismal 1, about a rejuvenation device that goes horribly wrong and turns its creator into a bad CGI scorpion thing. There are so many problems with this episode, from laggy pacing to a plot that is nonsensical even by Doctor Who‘s generous standards. Too much time is spent on Dr. Lazarus, a shallow stereotype of a bitter old man that we are apparently meant to find deep and engaging (and of course he’s called Dr. Lazarus—we couldn’t have a character who wants to restore his lost youth not be called Dr. Lazarus, could we?). Even a “reverse the polarity” callback gag can’t save this episode.

At the other end of the scale, there are two absolute standout episodes this season, both rating a full 10. The first is “42,” an intense and emotional thriller about a spaceship under attack by a killer star, whose predicament turns out to be more complex than at first appears. Everything in this episode is at its best: the fast-paced plot that still finds time for Martha to reflect on her time with the Doctor, the guest cast who even in their brief screen time bring life and depth to their space-trucker characters, and the music, which gives us one of the tenth Doctor’s most thrilling themes.

Burn With Me via DoctorWhoInfinity

And then there’s “Blink,” an episode like no other. The Doctor and Matha appear only sporadically in this one, and instead we follow Sally Sparrow as she slowly unravels the mystery of the Weeping Angels. This episode does ingenious things with time travel (a surprising rarity in a show about a time traveler), including messages left on the walls of an old house under peeling wallpaper and a long-distance conversation via DVD Easter egg. It is also a masterful demonstration that you don’t have to have violence or gore to be absolutely terrifying. This is an episode that rewards watching over and over again—just not late at night when you’re alone in the house.

Honorable mention goes to “Smith and Jones,” at 9.5, which introduces Martha with a story about an alien killer hiding in a London hospital—taken to the moon. We see Martha in action as a level-headed problem-solver while David Tennant gets to deliver some goofy comedy.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you have different takes on this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear about it. Let us know which episodes of season 3 you loved or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Season 3 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Doctor Who, Season 2

We’re continuing to rewatch and rate Doctor Who (new series) with season 2. Here’s how the season looks to us:

  1. “The Christmas Invasion” – 6
  2. “New Earth” – 3.5
  3. “Tooth and Claw” – 9
  4. “School Reunion” – 5
  5. “The Girl in the Fireplace” – 9
  6. “Rise of the Cybermen” – 4
  7. “The Age of Steel” – 4
  8. “The Idiot’s Lantern” – 5
  9. “The Impossible Planet” – 8
  10. “The Satan Pit” – 7
  11. “Love and Monsters” – 4
  12. “Fear Her” – 5
  13. “Army of Ghosts” – 2.5
  14. “Doomsday” – 2

Season 2 carries on much in the same spirit as season 1, with a mix of highs and lows, and ends up with the same average rating, 5.3. David Tennant slides easily into his role as the tenth Doctor, although we found Rose started to wear thin as a companion in this season and by the end of it we weren’t sorry to see the back of her. (In fact, by the end of the season, we were much more excited to see her erstwhile boyfriend Mickey return than to see any more of Rose.)

The low point of the season comes at the very end, with “Doomsday”—the conclusion to a two-part finale in which Cybermen and Daleks fight in the skies over London—coming it at only a 2. Many things dragged this episode down, including the ham-fisted introduction of Torchwood, which had been teased all season long. Worse, coming after some of the well-crafted storytelling in previous episodes, this one chucks out any attempt at story development or narrative logic in favor of Daleks and Cybermen trash talking each other.

By contrast, the best episodes of the season, “Tooth and Claw” and “The Girl in the Fireplace,” both at 9, show off how effective the slow unfolding of complex stories can be. “Tooth and Claw” has Queen Victoria menaced by an alien werewolf in the Scottish highlands while “The Girl in the Fireplace” has Madame de Pompadour menaced by clockwork robots from the future. Although both these episodes involve historical women in danger, neither is a “damsel in distress” story, as both Victoria and Madame de Pompadour get to play active roles in their stories. These episodes also share a pattern of multi-layered plots in which things that seem bizarre and inexplicable at first gradually become clear as pieces of the story fall into place one after another.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you probably feel quite different about this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear your take. Let us know which episodes of season 2 worked for you or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Season 2 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Doctor Who, Season 1

We have continued our rewatching-and-rating project into a series with a bigger fan following: the rebooted Doctor Who that began its broadcast life in 2005. We know that there are a lot of Who fans out there who are passionate about the series and feel strongly about certain episodes and characters. Here’s how we felt about the first season, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion Rose.

  1. “Rose” – 4
  2. “The End of the World” – 4
  3. “The Unquiet Dead” – 4.5
  4. “Aliens of London” – 6
  5. “World War Three” – 6
  6. “Dalek” – 4
  7. “The Long Game” – 4.5
  8. “Father’s Day” – 5.5
  9. “The Empty Child” – 8.5
  10. “The Doctor Dances” – 10
  11. “Boom Town” – 5
  12. “Bad Wolf” – 4
  13. “The Parting of the Ways” – 3

It’s a rocky start to the new show, which is understandable given how much weight this first season had to carry: living up to the nostalgia for the old show while proving that the Doctor Who formula could be made fresh, new, and relevant for a new generation. The average episode rating for this season is 5.3, which is low but decent.

The lowest-rate episode of the season is the finale, “The Parting of the Ways,” in which the Doctor faces off against a Dalek invasion of Earth in the future while Rose desperately tries to get back to him from the present. It rated only a 3 for several reasons. There are pacing and structural issues with the story and its ending relies too much on an almost literal dea ex machina. We find Dalek stories generally weak because the Daleks are flat as characters and overpowered as antagonists.

The standout best episode of the season, though, is “The Doctor Dances” at a full 10. In WWII-era London, the Doctor and Rose deal with both dashing Time Agent-turned-con artist Jack Harkness and a monster that looks like a little boy in a gas mask but who turns those he touches into mindless gas-mask-faced shadows of themselves. As the conclusion to a two-part story after the very strong “The Empty Child,” this episode is full of both sparkling wit, clever sci-fi ideas, and powerful human drama.

This season’s heart (or hearts) are in the right place, even if it doesn’t always deliver. The “dig in the couch cushions and see what you find” special effects budget of the old show was always part of its quirky charm, but the fist season of the new show clearly struggled to live within its means. Not every episode pulled off the right balance of whimsy and pathos. Still, this season did what it needed to: it brought us back the Doctor and the TARDIS and prepared the way for greater adventures to come.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you probably feel quite different about this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear your take. Let us know which episodes of season 1 worked for you or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Series 1 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Three Favorite Jane Austen Screen Adaptations

July 18, 2017, marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, my favorite (deceased) author.

JASNA Truth Universally Acknowledged Book Always Better

To honor her work, we rewatched all of the screen adaptations that we could easily get our hands on.

Jane Austen Rewatch Owned Adaptations

Here, in short, are three of my absolute favorites. (For links to the complete reviews, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.)

Sense and Sensibility (anonymously published in 1811) is by far my favorite Austen novel, and my favorite adaptation is the Andrew Davies miniseries (directed by John Alexander; 2008). It stars Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne. Both were new to me, but I was familiar with the significant male actors: Dan Stevens (Mr. Edward Ferrars) is in the first few seasons of Downton Abbey, David Morrissey (Colonel Brandon) portrays the confused faux-Doctor in the Doctor Who Christmas special “The Next Doctor”, and Dominic Cooper (Mr. Willoughby) as young Howard Stark scratches science to see if it bleeds in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter (and rules as King Llane Wrynn in the Warcraft movie).

It was a gutsy choice of Davies to begin the series with Willoughby’s explicit seduction of a 15-year-old girl, an event which happens very much off-screen in the novel and most adaptations, but becomes the crux of the plot.

The series does have some issues. For example, the Devonshire “cottage” that the financially strained Dashwood ladies had to accept was turned into a literal cottage instead of a good, solid house from the novel. The events are condensed, sure, but their pace doesn’t feel rushed like in the movie versions. Most of the writing, acting, propping, and costuming are solid to excellent.

Jane Austen Rewatch Three Favorites

Emma (1815) was the fourth and last of Austen’s works to be published during her lifetime, and the Emma miniseries from 2009 (adapted by Sandy Welch, directed by Jim O’Hanlon) outshines the other adaptations. (Unsuprisingly, the miniseries format serves Austen’s nuance much better than the movie length.)

The version has several strengths, starting with excellent casting. Romola Garai stars as Emma Woodhouse, and Jonny Lee Miller (who has more recently – and deservedly – starred as Sherlock Holmes in the series Elementary) as Mr. Knightley. Miller’s is by far the most enjoyable Mr. Knightley performance I’ve seen. Mr. Knightley is often played as rather curt and strict, which I find not just offputting but a mistake.

All major characters are introduced at the beginning of episode 1, which helps people new to Austen. Moreover, this version does the epilogue clearly and succinctly, without massive infodumping. In addition, I immensely enjoy the music, the set dressing, costuming and propping, and other visuals. It’s a thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable Emma. In fact, if the same team were to make other Austen adaptations, I’d go to great lenghts to see them.

Finally, Persuasion is a novel of pressures, choices, and second chances, posthumously published in 1817. The 1995 movie version of Persuasion is excellent. The screenplay is by Nick Dear, and Roger Mitchell directed Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth. I really like Root’s understated and considerate version of Anne; Hinds works well enough even if a few scenes tend towards hammy.

Although the picture quality is grainy, the soundtrack is nice and there are subtitles (not a given on older DVDs). The props, locations, and costuming are also great. This is my favorite version so far—in an ideal world, of course, we would be due another adaptation.

For links to the complete mini-reviews of these and all of the other adaptations, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.

Images: Book is always better screencap from JASNA website. Both DVD images by Eppu Jensen.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

We’ve now rewatched and rated season 3 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and it is over too soon! Season 3 is several episodes shorter than the first two seasons (on 8 episodes, compared with 13). The quality of the episodes also suffers a little in the third season, but it was still a delight to watch.

  1. “Death Defying Feats” – 6
  2. “Murder and the Maiden” – 7.5
  3. “Murder and Mozzarella” – 7
  4. “Blood and Money” – 7
  5. “Death and Hysteria” – 7
  6. “Death at the Grand” – 4
  7. “Game, Set, and Murder” – 6
  8. “Death Do Us Part” – 6

The average for this season is 6.3, a bit of a step down from the previous season’s 7.1, but still perfectly respectable. Most of the season’s episodes are at least average and there’s a good bunch of 7s.

Our diminished enjoyment of this season can be largely put down to one cause: Phryne’s father, who pops up in several episodes and dominates the season’s low point, “Death at the Grand,” which we rated only a 4. He is a selfish, irresponsible man who aggravates Phryne and us. Fiction, of course, is not real life; sometimes terrible people make for great characters, but this is not one of them. All Phryne’s father does for us is to put a damper on the wit, sparkle, and verve that we love this series for.

To balance that, the high point of the season is “Murder and the Maiden,” an interesting and complicated mystery surrounding the death of a pilot who turns out to have been leading a double life.

And now we have a Miss Fisher movie to look forward to! This is a series that definitely deserves a good send-off, so we can’t wait.

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

A Miss Fisher Movie on Kickstarter

Every Cloud Productions has launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears onto the big screen worldwide.

Kickstarter Miss Fisher Crypt of Tears Pledge Now

The project overview states:

“Every Cloud Productions is proposing to produce a feature film building on the successful Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries television series, and is undertaking this Kickstarter campaign to raise a portion of the production budget for the film.

“Set in the late 1920’s, Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears honors the heightened exoticisms of the murder mystery genre as the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, lady detective, escapes the small screen and takes off on a global adventure – via romantic wayside stops in the Far East, glamorous sojourns in the mansions of London, and a battle to survive the rolling sands of the Arabian Desert long enough to find the missing treasure, solve numerous murders and break all aviation records as she wings her way home again!”

The stand-alone script is currently being finalized, with the same team who created the series set to work on the film. Production is preliminarily planned to start in mid-2018. The feature would be set for release in Australia in mid-2019, with other countries to follow as soon as possible.

And the campaign is going splendidly! Fans were so eager to see Phryne and Jack in the theaters that it reached its first goal in one day.

Kickstarter Miss Fisher Crypt of Tears Day 1

At this writing, two three stretch goals and more rewards have been added. It looks like the project will reach the latest stretch goal within days, too.

The tv series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is based on the novels of Australian author Kerry Greenwood. The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher solves crimes with assistance from Detective Inspector Jack Robinson of Melbourne police. Every Cloud Productions is an independent, Australian production company producing distinctive, high-quality television drama for domestic and international markets.

The project will be running on Kickstarter until Saturday, October 14, 2017 (8:39 p.m. EST).

Images via Miss Fisher the Movie Kickstarter campaign

Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Season 2

We’ve rewatched and rated season 2 of the Australian 1920s detective series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The first season gave us lots of great episodes. Here’s how season 2 measured up:

  1. “Murder Most Scandalous” – 5.5
  2. “Death Comes Knocking” – 6
  3. “Dead Man’s Chest” – 7.5
  4. “Deadweight” – 6
  5. “Murder a la Mode” – 7
  6. “Marked for Murder” – 6
  7. “Blood at the Wheel” – 6.5
  8. “The Blood of Juana the Mad” – 5.5
  9. “Framed for Murder” – 10
  10. “Death on the Vine” – 7
  11. “Dead Air” – 7.5
  12. “Unnatural Habits” – 8
  13. “Murder under the Mistletoe” – 9.5

The average for this season is 7.1, which is pretty good and not too far off from season 1’s average of 7.4. There are some lackluster episodes balanced by a number of gems.

The lowest-rated episode is a tie between “Murder Most Scandalous,” in which our hero Phryne Fisher goes undercover at a gentlemen’s club, and “The Blood of Juana the Mad,” about the murder of a university professor which involves a secret hidden in a sixteenth-century manuscript. Both episodes have their good points, but they don’t hold together very well.

At the top of the chart this season we have “Framed for Murder,” a spirited romp surrounding a murder on a movie set which lovingly recreates both the glamour and the spit-and-bailing-wire spirit of early movie-making. When the movie’s director is killed, Phryne gets to step in and take over the job, complete with jodhpurs.

Any Miss Fisher fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Octavia Butler to Be Adapted for TV

I missed this when it was first announced, but here it is nevertheless: Octavia Butler’s novel Dawn is to be adapted for tv!

Dawn (originally published in 1987) opens the Xenogenesis trilogy (also known as Lilith’s Brood), where the Earth is mostly uninhabitable and humanity almost extinct until the alien Oankali intervene. Writer / producer / director Ava DuVernay and Charles D. King (Macro Ventures) are slated for executive producer posts, and writer / director Victoria Mahoney for the adaptation itself.

I first read the trilogy in the early 1990s in Finnish translation. The books have stayed with me, although over the years it became clear I’d forgotten quite a bit. Some 20 years later, I got my own omnibus in English to (re)read, and the trilogy was just as excellent as I remembered.

Looking forward to seeing what the team makes of Dawn! (Also, note to self: read more Butler!)