Rating: Elementary, Season 3

Season 3 of Elementary adds a new character to the mix, shaking up the relationship between Sherlock and Joan in some interesting ways.

Here’s our episode ratings:

  1. “Enough Nemesis to Go Around” – 3.5
  2. “The Five Orange Pipz” – 5
  3. “Just a Regular Irregular” – 6
  4. “Bella” – 4
  5. “Rip Off” – 6
  6. “Terra Pericolosa” – 8
  7. “The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction” – 7
  8. “End of Watch” – 7
  9. “The Eternity Injection” – 5.5
  10. “Seed Money” – 6
  11. “The Illustrious Client” – 4.5
  12. “The One That Got Away” – 4.5
  13. “Hemlock” – 6
  14. “The Female of the Species” – 8
  15. “When Your Number’s Up” – 5.5
  16. “For All You Know” – 4
  17. “T-Bone and the Iceman” – 3.5
  18. “The View from Olympus” – 7.5
  19. “One Watson, One Holmes” – 8
  20. “A Stitch in Time” – 7
  21. “Under My Skin” – 7.5
  22. “The Best Way Out Is Always Through” – 6
  23. “Absconded” – 8
  24. “A Controlled Descent” – 0.5

The average rating this season is a solid 6, which is pretty good and a small step up from season 2’s 5.4. This season continues the previous season’s efforts at threading larger stories through the individual episodes. These larger stories include Watson striking out on her own as a detective and tangling with a female drug dealer, and Holmes taking on a new apprentice, Kitty (based on a character from one of the original Conan Doyle stories). Since one of our few ongoing complaints about the series is the shortage of female characters other than Watson, we find both these story lines offer positive developments, although we miss the Holmes-Watson camaraderie that the first two seasons had built up so carefully.

We are spoiled for choice for the best episodes this season with four topping out at 8: “Terra Pericolosa,” about the hunt for an antique map, “The Female of the Species,” in which Holmes and Bell chase stolen zebras, “One Watson, One Holmes,” about an internecine feud in the hacker collective Everyone, and “Absconded,” a kidnapping case connected to bees. Each of these episodes offers the wonderful complexity and unexpected turns that we have come to expect of Elementary, while leading to a satisfying conclusion. It is also significant that, although there are dead bodies in each episode, none of them is primarily a murder investigation. Not only does this ring true to the original stories, in which Holmes investigated everything from bank robberies to things that go clang in the night, it also makes a nice change of pace from the usual routine of the murder mystery procedural.

While there are a few weaker episodes in the 3-5 range, only one stands out as singularly bad: “A Controlled Descent,” at 0.5. In this episode, Holmes is dragged back into his drug-using ways by a lonely former dealer. While there is something to be said for the complexity with which Elementary handles Holmes’s addiction and recovery, this episode just feels cheap and forced, its dealer character a flat and uninteresting plot device.

Image: Watson and Holmes interview a prisoner, from “One Watson, One Holmes” via IMDb

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

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Trailer for Sanditon

Emmy Award winning screenwriter Andrew Davies has adapted Jane Austen’s last, unfinished work Sanditon into an 8-episode series. To my knowledge it hasn’t been adapted for the big screen before, so this is rather a big thing!

Here’s the trailer:

Sanditon Preview by Masterpiece PBS on YouTube

Among the big names in the production are Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood (e.g. in Medici) and Theo James as Sidney Parker (the Divergent movies, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, among others). Anne Reid as Lady Denham is also a well-known career actor (I mostly remember her from Doctor Who “Smith and Jones”—the Judoon on the moon episode).

I heard through the grapevine that Davies will move entirely away from Austen’s material after the first half of the first episode. Wow, that’s soon! I did already notice a number of character names not found in the book in the IMDB listing. I hope Davies will not go overboard, though; I’ve seen a number of his adaptations, and he can be a bit of a hit or miss for me.

The U.S. release set to 2020. Can’t wait!

Found via Frock Flicks.

This post has been edited to update a removed link to video.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Rating: Elementary, Season 2

Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson are back on the case in New York in season 2 of Elementary. Here’s how we rated this season’s episodes:

  1. “Step Nine” – 5.5
  2. “Solve for X” – 4
  3. “We are Everyone” – 5
  4. “Poison Pen” – 6
  5. “Ancient History” – 6
  6. “An Unnatural Arrangement” – 4.5
  7. “The Marchioness” – 4
  8. “Blood is Thicker” – 6
  9. “On the Line” – 4.5
  10. “Tremors” – 5
  11. “Internal Audit” – 6
  12. “The Diabolical Kind” – 6
  13. “All in the Family” – 7.5
  14. “Dead Clade Walking” – 6
  15. “Corpse de Ballet” – 5.5
  16. “The One Percent Solution” – 4.5
  17. “Ears to You” – 4
  18. “The Hound of the Cancer Cells” – 6.5
  19. “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colvillle” – 8
  20. “No Lack of Void” – 6
  21. “The Man with the Twisted Lip” – 6
  22. “Paint it Black” – 5.5
  23. “Art in the Blood” – 4
  24. “The Grand Experiment” – 3.5

The average for this season is 5.4, which is fine but a bit of a dip from the first season’s 6.5. There are few standout episodes this season, but none that really fall flat, either. It’s mostly a competently handled second season for Holmes and Watson.

This season sees an attempt to introduce arcs and connected stories, all of which more or less work, but few of which are really compelling. The main arc of the season has to do with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, an interestingly reimagined version of the original lazy, self-indulgent polymath whose brilliant mind was the interconnecting tissue in the late Victorian British government. This version of Myrcoft is a self-indulgent restauranteur who turns out to have a different but equally complicated role in the modern British government. He makes for an interesting character who plays off Sherlock and Joan in surprising ways, but his story lacks payoff. Our lowest-rated episode of the season is the finale, “The Grand Experiment,” at 3.5, in which the truth about Mycroft is revealed, and it doesn’t add up to much.

Other arcs and extended stories this season include the formation and healing of a rift between Sherlock and Detective Bell, the reappearance of Holmes’s former collaborator and self-promoting drunk Inspector Lestrade, and the emergence of Everyone, an anarchic hacker collective who sometimes help with investigations in return for various acts of public humiliation by Sherlock and Joan. Some of these stories work out better than others. Bell and Holmes’s rancorous split isn’t always fun to watch, but it does give Jon Michael Hill, who plays Bell, some rich material to work with. Lestrade is an entertaining buffoon, another interesting take on a classic Holmes character. The hackers of Everyone are a nebulous group who become mostly-unseen recurring side characters providing useful information for Sherlock and Joan and creating amusing opportunities for Sherlock to do ridiculous things in return.

As usual, though, the most rewarding part of Elementary is not any season arc, but the devious crimes Sherlock and Joan get to untangle while Joan grows as a detective in her own right and Sherlock comes to appreciate the value of their partnership. The best episodes this season, the only two that rise above competently average, offer just such cases. “All in the Family,” at 7.5, gives Detective Bell a chance to shine as he uncovers a long-term mafia plot. “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colville,” at 8, presents a curious challenge as bite marks found on recent murder victims seem to implicate a serial killer who died years ago.

Not everything this season works as well as we might hope, but it’s still a solid season full of intriguing cases for Sherlock and Joan.

Image: Joan and Sherlock, from “Ears to You” via IMDb

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Rating: Elementary, Season 1

Elementary is the American answer to Sherlock, a modern-day Holmes and Watson series which we have found to be more enjoyable than its British inspiration. Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant detective and recovering drug addict. Lucy Liu plays Joan Watson, former surgeon, who starts out as Sherlock’s sober companion but soon becomes his partner and an accomplished detective in her own right. Here’s how we rated season 1.

  1. “Pilot” – 10
  2. “While You Were Sleeping” – 8
  3. “Child Predator” – 8
  4. “The Rat Race” – 6
  5. “Lesser Evils” – 7
  6. “Flight Risk” – 6
  7. “One Way to Get Off” – 4
  8. “The Long Fuse” – 5.5
  9. “You Do It to Yourself” – 6
  10. “The Leviathan” – 7.5
  11. “Dirty Laundry” – 8
  12. “M.” – 6
  13. “The Red Team” – 6
  14. “The Deductionist” – 5.5
  15. “A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs” – 6
  16. “Details” – 4.5
  17. “Possibility Two” – 4
  18. “Deja Vu All Over Again” – 8
  19. “Snow Angels” – 10
  20. “Dead Man’s Switch” – 5
  21. “A Landmark Story” – 4
  22. “Risk Management” – 5
  23. “The Woman / Heroine” – 10

Elementary gets off to a roaring start in its first season with a great combination of complex characters, rich performances, and intricate mysteries. The average rating for season 1 is 6.5, which is very strong showing for a new series.

There’s a lot of credit to go around for that strong start. The writers give the actors a lot to work with, and the actors take it and run with it. Sherlock and Joan are both interesting characters in their own right, but the dynamic between them as they slowly figure out how to live and work together and each one starts to bring out the best qualities of the other is wonderful to watch. In the best Holmesian tradition, the mysteries they investigate unfold in surprising but logical ways, often leading to resolutions far afield from where they began. The production design feels real and precise—you can smell the dirt on the New York sidewalks and the money in the corporate offices. Even though this series takes some dramatic departures from the Holmes and Watson canon, it is also filled with loving touches of fannishness that reward those familiar with the original stories—if you remember, for instance, that in one original story Holmes tells Watson that his nemesis Professor Moriarty has a painting in his front hall that he could not possibly afford on his academic salary, you are a step ahead of one episode’s twist.

Of course, even in such a good first season, not everything quite works. The lowest rating for this season, a passable but uninspired 4, is shared by three episodes: “One Way to Get Off,” about a potentially wrongly convicted man from Captain Gregson’s past, “Possibility Two,” in which a client comes to Holmes believing that he has somehow been given a genetic disorder, and “A Landmark Story,” which begins the set up to the final reveal of Moriarty. Each of these episodes has its merits, but they suffer from some weak plotting.

These three low episodes, though, are balanced by three full 10s. The pilot episode combines an interesting case in which a deliberate murder was cleverly stage-managed to look random—a subtle callback to the original Holmes story A Study in Scarlet—with our introduction to the characters of Sherlock and Joan and the first steps in their friendship. “Snow Angels” pits the detective pair against not just a daring robbery but a blizzard which knocks out power throughout the city (and, as a bonus, gives us the delightful side character of Pam the snow plow driver). The double-episode finale, “The Woman / Heroine” offers the most interesting take on both Irene Adler and Moriarty that we’ve ever seen.

I’m often disappointed in Sherlock Holmes adaptations that pit the detective against his nemesis Professor Moriarty. In the original stories, Moriarty is nothing more than a plot device to get rid of a character Conan Doyle was tired of writing. He appears in only one story and is briefly mentioned in just a couple of others. I find Holmes to be at his best when he is unraveling a problem, not chasing an enemy, but Elementary found a way to make Moriarty work.

We look forward to reviewing and rating season 2.

Got your own take on Elementary? Let us know!

Image: Joan and Sherlock from Elementary via IMDb

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

Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 10

It’s a mostly forgettable season 10 for our favorite turn-of-the-twentieth-century Toronto detective. Here’s our take on this season’s episodes:

  1. “Great Balls of Fire, Part 1” – 5
  2. “Great Balls of Fire, Part 2” – 6
  3. “A Study in Pink” – 6.5
  4. “Concocting a Killer” – 6
  5. “Jagged Little Pill” – 6.5
  6. “Bend it Like Brackenreid” – 6
  7. “Painted Ladies” – 4
  8. “Weekend at Murdoch’s” – 8
  9. “Excitable Chap” – 4
  10. “The Devil Inside” – 0
  11. “A Murdog Mystery” – 6
  12. “The Missing” – 6.5
  13. “Mr. Murdoch’s Neighborhood” – 5.5
  14. “From Murdoch to Eternity” – 3
  15. “Hades Hath No Fury” – 4
  16. “Master Lovecraft” – 3
  17. “Hot Wheels of Thunder” – 6
  18. “Hell to Pay” – 0

At an average rating of only 4.8, this season is the lowest of the series, dragged down by a number of episodes that are competent but uninspiring, and a few that we found entirely unwatchable, with little at the upper end to balance them out.

This season rings in with a pair of 0s in “The Devil Inside,” one more unnecessary slog with serial-killer Murdoch-fan James Gillies, who we thought we were done with for good back in season 7, and “Hell to Pay,” an unimaginative “conspiracy to frame the detective” cliffhanger with the added detriment of killing off one familiar female character and leaving another one in peril. These sorts of episodes are clearly an attempt by the writers to “add drama” and “make it personal” in the most tired and cliched of ways.

Some of the season’s other episodes, though not disastrous, didn’t work very well for us. The period pieces “Excitable Chap,” (4) a Murdoch version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and “Master Lovercraft,” (3) about a young H. P. Lovecraft stumbling across a dead body on a visit to Toronto, both have some clever moments but are hampered by poor writing and lackluster acting. The new recurring character Detective Watts is charmingly quirky, but feels more like one writer’s pet project than an organic part of the Murdoch universe.

Besides these weaknesses, though, there are good points to the season. The season-opening two-parter, “Great Balls of Fire” parts 1 (5) and 2 (6), deals with the 1904 Great Fire of Toronto in a way that is both respectful of the historical tragedy and well-integrated into the series’ story and the lives of its characters. We enjoyed the return of Murdoch’s old friend and private detective Freddie Pink in “A Study in Pink” (6.5). Miss James gets to run an investigation of her own in “Jagged Little Pill” (6.5). And there is some delightful nonsense in “A Murdog Mystery” (6), an episode that kicks off with a murdered show dog, and “Hot Wheels of Thunder” (6), which brings roller derby shenanigans to the Murdoch world.

The one standout episode of the season, though, is “Weekend at Murdoch’s” (8), a gleefully silly romp using the Weekend at Bernie’s gimmick in which Murdoch goes to increasingly absurd lengths to try to lure out a killer using the corpse of our old favorite upper-class twit Roger Newsome (of the Mimico Newsomes). While this episode spells the end for Roger, we are happily left with his equally preposterous sister, Ruth, who becomes a new returning character.

Season 10 isn’t altogether bad, but it is a low point in the series. Here’s hoping for an upswing in season 11.

Image: The late Roger Newsome, from “Weekend at Murdoch’s” via IMDb

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 9

Here’s our ratings for season 9 of the Canadian early-twentieth-century detective series Murdoch Mysteries:

  1. “Nolo Contendere” – 6.5
  2. “Marked Twain” – 4
  3. “Double Life” – 4
  4. “Barenaked Ladies” – 5
  5. “24 Hours ’til Doomsday” – 8.5
  6. “The Local Option” – 6
  7. “Summer of ’75” – 4
  8. “Pipe Dreamzzz” – 6
  9. “Raised on Robbery” – 8
  10. “The Big Chill” – 6
  11. “A Case of the Yips” – 4
  12. “Unlucky in Love” – 6.5
  13. “Colour Blinded” – 8
  14. “Wild Child” – 4
  15. “House of Industry” – 4.5
  16. “Bl**dy H*ll” – 7.5
  17. “From Buffalo with Love” – 4
  18. “Cometh the Archer” – 0

The average rating for this season is 5.4, which puts this season right about the middle with some seasons averaging higher and some lower.

There’s some cast shakeups and character development under way. Dr. Grace departs the series and her place as Dr. Ogden’s science sister is taken by Miss James, the first main character of color. We miss Dr. Grace, who was a favorite, but it’s nice to see the series continue to improve on acknowledging the diversity of turn-of-the-century Toronto. Constable Crabtree and Inspector Brackenried both get some good character development this season, as Crabtree’s romantic adventures drag him into some odd and dangerous places (“Nolo Contendere,” “From Buffalo with Love”) and Brackenried gets mixed up in a political scandal (“Bl**dy H*ll”).

Most of this season’s episodes rate in the 4-6 range, which is okay but not great. The season average is brought up, though, by a handful of better episodes, while only one really bad one drags it down. The bottom of the barrel comes at the end of the season with “Cometh the Archer,” a peculiar and tedious episode bringing back master criminal Eva Green and turning her into an unstable Murdoch fangirl. It’s a strange episode which seems to exist for little reason other than showing Dr. Ogden on a leather-clad, bow-wielding rampage of revenge—which is not a bad goal in itself, but it deserves a better treatment than this episode gives it.

Our highest-rated episode of the season, at 8.5, is “24 Hours ’til Doomsday,” a rollicking adventure with a steampunk edge about an ambitious experiment in rocketry. This episode brings back favorite returning characters James Pendrick and Terrence Myers, and ends with Myers taking an unexpected ride into the upper atmosphere. Two more episodes come in at 8, “Raised on Robbery,” a bank heist story which makes for a nice change of pace from the usual murders, and “Colour Blinded,” which gives Miss James some development and explores some of the complexities of race relations in early twentieth-century Canada.

Feel free to share your own favorites from season 9!

Image: Pendrick showing Murdoch his wingsuit design, from “24 Hours ’til Doomsday,” Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 8

Our favorite soft-spoken Toronto detective / inventor returns for another season of mysteries. Here’s what we thought of season 8.

  1. “On the Waterfront, Part 1” – 4.5
  2. “On the Waterfront, Part 2” – 6
  3. “Glory Days” – 2.5
  4. “Holy Matrimony, Murdoch!” – 8
  5. “Murdoch Takes Manhattan” – 7
  6. “The Murdoch Appreciation Society” – 9
  7. “What Lies Buried” – 8
  8. “High Voltage” – 4
  9. “The Keystone Constables” – 4
  10. “Murdoch and the Temple of Death” – 7
  11. “All that Glitters” – 6
  12. “The Devil Wears Whalebone” – 8
  13. “The Incurables” – 5.5
  14. “Toronto’s Girl Problem” – 4
  15. “Shipwreck” – 2
  16. “Crabtreemania” – 6
  17. “Election Day” – 7
  18. “Artful Detective” – 5.5

This season’s average rating is a 5.8, which is not the best Murdoch Mysteries has done, but is a very strong showing for a series in its eighth year and with no signs of faltering.

This season has the distinction of seeing Detective Murdoch and Dr. Ogden finally tie the knot. Of course, neither their wedding nor their honeymoon can go off without a murder to brilliantly solve together, giving us a delightful pair of episodes in “Holy Matrimony, Murdoch!” and “Murdoch Takes Manhattan.” The latter episode also features a spirited B-story back in Toronto which allows Dr. Grace to take the wheel for a high(-ish)-speed car chase.

The lowest episode of this season is “Shipwreck,” at 2, in which Murdoch finds his beloved childhood priest fallen from his pedestal. There are good parts to the episode, but it is dragged down by slow pacing and uninspired acting. “Glory Days,” a 2.5 in which a legendary lawman of the US old west thinks he’s hunting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Toronto is not much better, as it wallows in the unappealing tropes of male resentment.

But these low points are more than outweighed by a number of fine episodes. The best of the season is “The Murdoch Appreciation Society,” at 9, in which Murdoch’s in-universe fans stage a fake mystery for the chance to watch him work, which becomes tangled up with a real murder plot. Also notable are “The Devil Wears Whalebone,” an 8, which features one of the series’ more inventive murder weapons, and “What Lies Buried,” also an 8, a tense and claustrophobic drama in which Murdoch seeks a killer within the police force itself. Along the way, we get the usual Murdoch hijinks with vaudeville theatre, staged wrestling matches, the early days of the women’s suffrage movement, and an Indiana Jones pastiche.

All told, it’s another fun go around with Detective Murdoch and company.

Image: Dr. Grace at the wheel, from Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

Post edited to correct grammatical errors

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

Rating: Murdoch Mysteries Season 7

Turn-of-the-twentieth-century Toronto detective William Murdoch is back for season 7, and so are we. Here’s what we thought of the episodes this time:

  1. “Murdoch Ahoy” – 6
  2. “Tour de Murdoch” – 7.5
  3. “The Filmed Adventures of Detective Murdoch” – 7.5
  4. “Return of Sherlock Holmes” – 8
  5. “Murdoch of the Living Dead” – 5.5
  6. “Murdochophobia” – 4
  7. “Loch Ness Murdoch” – 7
  8. “Republic of Murdoch” – 7
  9. “A Midnight Train to Kingston” – 0
  10. “Murdoch in Ragtime” – 6
  11. “Journey to the Centre of Toronto” – 10
  12. “Unfinished Business” – 7
  13. “The Murdoch Sting” – 6
  14. “Friday the 13th, 1901” – 6
  15. “The Spy Who Came Up to the Cold” – 6
  16. “Kung Fu Crabtree” – 4
  17. “Blast of Silence” – 2
  18. “The Death of Dr. Ogden” – 4

This season’s average rating is 5.8, which is pretty good. There is one standout great episode and one standout awful one, but most of the season is middling to good, which makes it good for comfort rewatching.

On the whole, this season holds up well. It offers a lot of what we have come to expect from Murdoch. There are clever takes on modern stories, like the zombie-ish “Murdoch of the Living Dead,” the turnabout con in “The Murdoch Sting,” and half of “Friday the 13th, 1901” in which Drs. Ogden and Grace get a horror movie plot (meanwhile, the boys enjoy an adorably Canadian story about curling). There are also the usual return appearances by our favorite guest characters, like Terrence Myers and Alan Clegg in “The Spy Who Came up to the Cold,” which uses the assassination of US President McKinley as fodder for an espionage thriller. And James Pendrick, the perpetual inventor of things before their time, is back to invent… Murdoch Mysteries!

This season is five episodes longer than previous seasons, coming in at eighteen episodes, which is great. We’re always in favor of more Murdoch. We also see signs of change starting to show through as this season features more people of color as incidental characters and women pushing against the boundaries of social convention.

Our lowest rating for the season goes to “A Midnight Train to Kingston,” at 0. This episode features the return of genius serial killer and Murdoch fanboy James Gillies. We have made our feelings about genius serial killer detective fanboys clear before, and we still have no interest in seeing more of them.

On the other hand, “Journey to the Centre of Toronto,” which takes up contemporary speculation about a hollow earth with a steampunkish spin, makes for a thoroughly delightful 10. This episode suffers a bit from odd pacing and a somewhat unsatisfying ending, but it presents Detective Murdoch and company with such a unique challenge, and they rise to it with such gusto, that we can forgive these weaknesses. We also love the adventurer character, Elva Gordon. It’s a shame she can’t become a regular guest like Myers and Pendrick.

Few series can stand up to the pressures of a long run without faltering, but Murdoch Mysteries continues to deliver. Long may Murdoch continue!

Have a different take on this season? Let us know!

Image: Detective Murdoch explaining an earth-burrowing mole machine, from Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

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

Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 6

It’s another season of Murdoch for us to rewatch and rate. This one flies high at the beginning, then crashes and burns at the end. Here’s our take:

  1. “Murdoch Air” – 10
  2. “Winston’s Lost Night” – 6.5
  3. “Murdoch on the Corner” – 8
  4. “A Study in Sherlock” – 7
  5. “Murdoch au Naturel” – 7.5
  6. “Murdoch and the Cloud of Doom” – 6.5
  7. “The Ghost of Queen’s Park” – 6
  8. “Murdoch in Ladies’ Wear” – 2.5
  9. “Victoria Cross” – 5.5
  10. “Twisted Sisters” – 3.5
  11. “Lovers in a Murderous Time” – 3
  12. “Crime and Punishment” – 0
  13. “The Murdoch Trap” – 0

This is a remarkable season of Murdoch Mysteries, ranging from the very best the show has to offer to the very worst. The average for this season is only 5.1, which is the lowest yet for a season of Murdoch, but the average is deceptive since this season is half good-to-brilliant and half disappointing-at-best with not a lot falling in the middle range. It’s an odd roller coaster of a season, and, like all roller coasters, it eventually ends at the bottom.

That bottom is pretty darned low. “Crime and Punishment” and “The Murdoch Trap,” both rating a solid 0, make up a two-parter in which two of our least favorite things get combined: overly clever serial killers who get away with everything and artificial barriers thrown up by writers to squeeze more drama out of romantic angst. Darcy Garland, the multi-season speed bump to the blossoming relationship between Detective Murdoch and Doctor Ogden, suffers a character assassination this season as he goes from being reasonable and charming to being obstreperous and capricious, all for the writers’ increasingly desperate ploys to keep Murdoch and Ogden apart as long as possible. Rather than offer us something truly new and original on tv—reasonable adults dealing with complicated emotions with compassion, self-awareness, and generosity—the writers fall back on one of the most worn-out tropes of mystery fiction: have the offending interloper murdered by a genius serial killer who frames the detective. These are two episodes we will never be watching again.

But what a joy of an episode we get to start the season off with! “Murdoch Air” earns its full 10 rating with a thrilling opening, some great character moments, the return of the beloved James Pendrick, a dash of international intrigue courtesy of Myers and Clegg, and an exhilarating ending that has Murdoch soaring over Niagara Falls years before the Wright brothers got airborne. “Murdoch Air” has a little bit of everything that makes Murdoch so delightful.

There are a lot of other good episodes in the first half of the season, too, bringing us young Winston Churchill boozing around Toronto, a Sherlock Holmes impersonator with a mystery of his own to solve, an introduction to the turn-of-the-century nudist movement, and a poison-gas terrorist. On the other hand, you can skip the second half of the season and not miss much.

How did you like this season of Murdoch? Was the final two-parter right up your alley? Not thrilled by the airborne first episode? Let us know!

Image: Constable Crabtree trying pizza, from Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb.

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

I Miss Episodes

I turned 40 last year, and I think it’s starting to affect me: I’m beginning to feel the urge to rant about kids these days and how everything was better when I was young. So be warned, there is some curmudgeonliness ahead, but I do have a point here.

I’ve been thinking lately about why I find a lot of contemporary tv so unsatisfying. It’s not that tv shows are bad now. It’s been aptly said that we live in a golden age of television. Freed from the constraints of syndication and network time slots, modern shows have dared to tell bigger, more complicated stories. The proliferation of cable channels and online services producing their own original content has meant a chance for a wider range of productions, from big-budget crowd-winners to oddball side projects. All of this is to the good.

At the same time, we’ve lost something in the modern approach to tv-making: episodes. It used to be that a season of a tv show was one or two dozen short stories, each told over the course of an hour or half hour (or twenty to forty minutes, on commercial television). Nowadays, a season of television is a ten-hour movie with arbitrary breaks for theme music. Stories are not told in an episode but slosh over to the next hour or two before there’s any resolution; meanwhile, another story has started going at the same time and continues to slosh forward on its own. Every tv drama has now become a soap opera.

I miss shows that had actual episodes, each a story unto itself with a beginning, rising action, climax, and denouement all in one sitting. As much as that format could sometimes be limiting, it also had its artistic virtues. It forced the action to move along at a brisk pace. It created a sense of urgency that shaped the storytelling. There was a feeling of satisfaction that came with watching the problem of the episode be resolved. Modern shows tend to wallow in characters’ unresolved feelings, pad their running time with filler, and dive down narrative dead ends, much of which would have been cut short in properly episodic television.

Of course, lack of satisfaction is the point. Now that we can stream any show we want any time we want, the economic pressures have changed. Rather than keep us coming back every week to see more commercials, the business imperative of tv is now to keep us from clicking away to another streaming service. While new content models have freed tv from some artistic constraints, they have imposed new ones that are just as limiting. It is now tv’s job to never give us satisfying endings lest we wander off to do something else.

I do appreciate tv shows that have continuity and ongoing stories. I wouldn’t want to go back to the days when the end of an episode meant a complete reset back to status quo ante, but continuity can coexist with episodes. Shows of the 1990s like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, X-Files, and Stargate pulled it off. In these shows, episodes mostly told self-contained stories, but they also remembered what had happened in previous episodes. Characters grew and changed, major plot twists had ongoing consequences, and big multi-season arcs played out a piece at a time, and yet when the credits rolled at the end of an episode, you still had the satisfaction of a resolution.

I wish we had more shows like that these days.

Here there be opinions!