In the Heat of the Night

in-the-heat-of-the-night-film

In rural Mississippi a local businessman, the most prosperous one in the city, is murdered. The first suspect is a black man waiting for a train. Who’s more vulnerable than an outsider with dark skin in the rural South in the early 1960’s? Thus there’s plenty of drama in In the Heat of the Night (1967).

Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier, is waiting for his train. He’s brought in to the station and treated like the prime suspect till the police chief (Rod Steiger) learns that Tibbs is a leading homicide detective in Philadelphia. As much as it bugs the chief, he realizes that his force can’t solve the murder. They just don’t have Tibbs’ expertise. So he gets the Philadelphia Police Department to make Tibbs work with Chief Gillespie and his force.

The film shows the hostility and violence towards an African American whom the locals feel has risen above his station. The mystery is authentic and keeps the audience guessing. Of course, Poitier and Steiger give sterling performances. It’s an excellent portrayal of racism in the early 60’s.

Spiral (a.k.a Engrenages)

spiral

Formidable!

I’ve just discovered and gotten hooked on Spiral, a fast-paced, well written police/law show from France. Season One focuses on the murder of Elina, a beautiful, young Romanian woman who was a biology graduate student and a prostitute on the side. Her younger sister is missing and soon turns up dead.

Caroline Proust stars as the Laure Berthaud, the police captain, who leads a male staff with some gender bias. It’s clear that some fully accept her and others less so, but this isn’t the 1990s of Prime Suspect. Unkempt and down to earth, Laure is loyal to her men, protecting even the Coke addict troublemaker Gilou. She’s masculine in her attitude towards sex, very open and not looking for commitment. Yet despite, or because of her indifference to fashion, Laure is beautiful.

Grégory Fitoussi plays the Vice Prosecutor, Pierre Clément, a straight arrow lawyer. Pierre is recently separated from his wife, who could pass as a model. She’s the antithesis of Laure, polished, fashionable, willing to break inconvenient rules and annoyed when her husband isn’t.  Pierre’s childhood friend has a big role in season 1 as his name appears in a murder victim’s diary placing Pierre between the Scylla and Caribdis having to choose between loyalty to an old friend and professional ethics.

Clément often opposes Joséphine Karlsson, a gorgeous, intelligent defense attorney with no scruples whatsoever. In season 1, episode, Karlsson’s boss dies suddenly. She soon agrees to work for a disbarred attorney, who was convicted for raping his last colleague. Together they make the good guys work for every conviction. If the money’s good, and Karlsson will always ask for more, she’ll get any scumbag off.

The police are a varied lot. Tintin’s a dependable, astute detective, while another, Gilou, is a junkie with a hooker as a girlfriend. Soon the junkie turns as a informant to the underworld. Viewers are on pins and needles whether Gilou’s

At first the French legal system confused me. They call a man “judge” who seems to have the duties of the State’s Attorney in our system (i.e. he reminds me of the D.A. in Law and Order.) Yet he interviews suspects and victims in his office and someone else presides in the courtroom. Like the Brits, lawyers wear black robes and white neckwear, but no fake wigs are needed.

The plot gets more twisted and complex as time goes on. The suspense rises and rises. The story’s very Aristotelean in that the greatest threats are often characters near and dear to Clément or Berthaud. In each episode you don’t know what will happen till the very last second. Your stomach will turn as you get glimpses at the criminal’s depths.

Warning: The program’s got several gruesome scenes. I admit I had to look away and since my French is poor wasn’t sure when I could resume viewing.

The characters are complex and even perplexing psychologically. No one, except the criminal and the Elina, are completely good or bad, but rather intriguing. As a viewer I was never sure if good would win out. I was rarely sure of anything other than that there’d be a complete reversal by the end of each episode. If you like The Shield or The Wire, watch Spiral on Netflix.

Dear Elementary Writers,

The Insominac's Choice Award

The Insominac’s Choice Award

Goodness gracious, where to start?

I saw Elementary when it debuted and admittedly expected it to be bad, but was surprised that your new Sherlock Holmes show was actually boring.

I figured you just needed time to better understand the genre and how to write a good script. I realize it’s hard to compete with the excellence of Sherlock and sympathize with you. Talk about pressure. Yet you are handsomely paid, so my sympathy’s short lived.

Last Thursday I tuned in again believing you had enough time to improve the show. I saw an episode called “M” and expected rightly that Moriarty would be involved.

Boy, was I disappointed.

Like the first 1.3 episodes I saw in the fall, the story opened with a murder. The scene had a weird tone as my guess is that the vibe on screen is nothing like what a real murder would be like and it wasn’t like the usual (and better) murders shown on TV.  The beginning was rather boring and odd.

Next Sherlock appears and doesn’t deduce what happened and why there’s a pool of blood on the floor of the crime scene, he remembers a previous crime with the same pattern. Yep, Sherlock Holmes just remembered to figure out the case. Do you realize we don’t watch Sherlock to see how average thinkers solve crimes we watch to be bowled over by his astute thinking. Can someone on staff make note of that?

All the while Watson prepares to tie up her assignment. She’s feeling rather sad to be going as she confides to her shrink, who’s remarkably wooden. Only this lifeless Watson would continue to see such a cold shrink. Writers, your homework is to watch some good psychologists like Paul or Gina on In Treatment or the guy from Numb3rs now on Newsroom. Even Bob Newhart might inspire you. Psychologists can have personalities and be objective.

Joan Watson’s shrink suggests she go into police work if she enjoys it so much, but Joan rejects that sensible suggestion for no reason. She really doesn’t appear to be in love with Sherlock because she displays no emotion vaguely akin to love.

There was some mention of Irene Adler in exposition, but Irene evidently died (missed opportunity early on in a season). Granted, I missed that episode or the episode when it was revealed but present this with some drama so I CARE.

Then you had “M” plant a letter in Sherlock’s apartment. Ho hum. There’s a little tension here, but it’s minimal. We didn’t see it done. We don’t see “M” at all just his henchman. Joan gets annoyed when she learns that Holmes has cameras in his own house. Yes, he could have told her, but they weren’t in her room and she is a hired gun. Get over it. There are no real tests of trust the way we see throughout Sherlock. Minor sniping and irritation doesn’t count.

Perhaps you should steer clear (or steal) the elements that work so well in the hands of Moffat and Gatiss.

Eventually, the murderer acts again, but Sherlock intervenes. He somehow transports this hulking man to an abandoned warehouse that his father owns. How did he manage? Did he rent a car? Does he even drive? Oh, yeah, he smashed that suspect’s car in the first episode, if that counts as driving. How would Sherlock, who’s no muscle man, manage to hang such a muscular, brawny chap up by himself? Actually, the episode was too boring for me to really want to know.

In fact, I often considered changing channels and probably should have. You have not earned my attention.

Well, Joan and the Inspector do find Sherlock just after he’s learned from his victim that this guy is simply a hit man, that Moriarty, like the one on Sherlock does his work by proxy.

During the episode we saw Joan ask Sherlock’s father to extend her time with him. I knew you’d have to somehow keep them connected since that was one of the weaknesses of your premise. She’s only supposed to work with him for a couple months. The father said no via a text and she then lied to Sherlock about that. She’s decided to stay on for free. Since there’s no chemistry between the two this just made me yawn. Strange since lies usually beef up a story.

Apparently, you’ve got reverse Midus‘ touch. You can take good characters and a popular genre, i.e. gold and make it into dust. Do you realize how lucky you are that enough American viewers require so little in terms of entertainment. You are blessed by the equally anemic writing on other Thursday night shows.

Sincerely,

SK