Monday, September 13, 2010

PRIME SUSPECT


I read an interesting article about PRIME SUSPECT in the NYT last week that compared the first four years of the show, written by Lynda LaPlante, to the last two-done by other writers.

Helen Mirren can make any script zing, but the last series, especially Six, was not among the best.

And the Morse episodes based on "ideas" by Colin Dexter rather than his novels were far from the finest ones.

Is there any TV show that defies this downward slide? What TV show, or even series of books, grew stronger over time?


I'm going to suggest that Dexter had its best season at number four. I also think The Closer has not lost any ground (until last week's episode). This season's arc of inter-departmental tension over a promotion has been very good in big and little ways.

Any others?

38 comments:

Sidney said...

I think there are some episodes of Midsomer Murders penned by Anthony Horowitz that equal eps based on the novels, but as the show has wound on it's become predictable. Still, I wish it was airing in the U.S. instead of having to wait for DVD releases.

pattinase (abbott) said...

At one point, I think they showed them here on Masterpiece Mystery. I get them at the library and they are enjoyable but a bit formulaic. One problem I have with a lot of British series (although not Prime Suspect or Crackers early on) is they tend to seem like they were written by the same writer. They feel very much the same to me.

Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't seen it. Too many shows, and too little time.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Interesting question!! I have to admit, I like Cold Case - it's one of my guilty pleasures. I would say the show was better in the second and third season than the first, and continued to improve. Of course there've been a few slips, but overall, it hasn't sagged yet below my willingness to watch ;-).

pattinase (abbott) said...

I liked it because it was set in Philly my hometown and it had some sentiment to it. I think it was canceled though.

Todd Mason said...

MIDSOMMER MURDERS is actually syndicated to US public stations, and still is in active syndication, as well as playing in Canada slightly ahead of the US release. Request your local public station look into it.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (sadly, it improved enormously after Roddenberry died and it was no longer forced to rehash the worst of the original series). BABYLON-5 went from barely watchable in its first season to compelling in its third. The second season of THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE was a sharp improvement on the first, but they gave up again in the third season. I'm sure other examples will occur to me.

Todd Mason said...

Yes, COLD CASE was cancelled with the end of last season. I'd say it meandered a bit in later seasons, but I generally liked it, particularly when they chose not to have ghosts of the victims smiling about their murderers arrested in the closing scene.

Kieran Shea said...

TV? Mmm. Always thought WIRE IN THE BLOOD kept me hanging. But then again, I'm a sucker for Hermione Norris. As for books in a series, I'll take Elvis Cole/Pike books. When Crais went dark he went megaton for me.

Todd Mason said...

THE SIMPSONS improved as it went along for the first seven or so seasons...that's getting to be a long time ago. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE was a more consistently good show in the Phil Hartman years than any time before or since (as brilliant as it could be in its first cast years). Shows that become as intstitutional as these (the few) often pulsate up and down.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The Wire's fourth year was my favorite.
WIRE IN THE BLOOD-only saw the first series-have to go back to it.
Good point about the victims smiling in Cold Case-it was too macabre.

Todd Mason said...

SCTV...just kept improving till the the coda of sorts of the post-NBC Cinemax episodes with only half the cast left.

Todd Mason said...

Ah, by me the COLD CASE smileys were too smarmy. But it was a clumsy device, particularly as a default, I think we can agree.

Todd Mason said...

I'd say LAW AND ORDER improved as it went along for the first five seasons or so, then became another variable item; LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT has improved in a backanded way by losing its focus on hambone Vincent D'Onofrio (that may be "had improved," since it might be cancelled and even if it isn't, it looks like Jeff Goldblum, a great improvement, has left the series). JAKE 2.0 improved notably in its second season, just in time to be cancelled.

Richard R. said...

Foyle's War stayed very good, so did West Wing and I agree with Todd on STNG.

Gordon Harries said...

I think you could argue that the middle years of The Shield (Seasons 4 & 5) were the best, with Lem’s dawning self-awareness, betrayal and death.

(there’s a moment in the forth seasons where he urges a new member of the strike team to get out whilst he still can that implies that he’s the only member of the strike team to realize that they’re already on borrowed time.)

But that’s not the end and the show struggles once Lem’s gone, frankly.

Oddly (given your point) the early Crackers were all written by one guy –Jimmy McGovern—and the juice really came out of that show once he left. (Although I think the death Chris Eccleston’s character and the brutalization of the other two original characters caused it to feel like a different show.)

Mad Men’s mainly written by one guy too – where do you stand on its fourth season? (I think season 5 is supposed to be the final season, too.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

This season of Mad Men has has some weaker episodes but also at least one or two of its strongest. I think the new agency has thrown them off stride a bit. Foyle's War had the war to play off of. I think it kept the show strong because various issues came up over the years. Wonder why more shows don't use that sort of coda. Did anyone like D'Nofrio in that role? Misunderstanding feigned passion for depth of character.

Anonymous said...

We found Midsomer watchable but no more. JONATHAN CREEK is a series by one writer (David Renwick), which peaked in its first couple of seasons. The later episodes without Caroline Quentin just don't come close to the early ones.

Renwick's other major series did, to my mind, a better job of staying consistently good most of the way through, though again I admit the last series or two wasn't quite up to the earlier ones. This is the brilliant One Foot in the Grave, not to be confused with the abysmal American version with Bill Cosby.

I agree with Rick on Foyle's War but I think West Wing never really recovered after the death of Leo.

Our other favorite Britcom, which did run on some public television channels here (though it was renamed The Good Neighbors) was The Good Life from 1975-76.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Just found One Foot in the Grave on our PBS in the middle of the night. Love it.
I agree about Jonathan Creek, which I watched one year when we were over there but later was astounded at how bad it had become.

Todd Mason said...

All four seasons and the Xmas specials of GOOD NEIGHBOURS are available to public stations in the US, as well...under that title. A bug in the ears of your local stations might help...Jeff, I wouldn't be surprised if the Newark station of the New Jersey PBS network hasn't run the series in the last few years...

michael said...

Most TV series improve in the second season (if they survive the first) as they begin to find the "voice" of the characters and what works with the premise. A good example is "Fringe". Arc driven shows often improve with age simply because we are more involved with the characters (ex. "Lost"). The same can be said for many series based novels.

However most reach a peak then decline due to a limit of interesting stories to tell. This especially applies to series afraid to let the characters grow. The third season of "Remington Steele", the last dozen books featuring Stephanie Plum.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

One great show that stayed great was the Canadian comedy/crime show SEEING THINGS, with Louis Del Grande (still not available *anywhere* on dvd, dammit). I agree with you about THE CLOSER, Patti--in terms of its remaining quite good; we don't have cable, so I haven't seen the most recent episode yet.

As for book series that maintain their quality or improve: Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is all-around brilliant and, while some books are better than others, has never gone downhill. And Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books only improved over time; her first three were excellently written but rather typical fantasy, imaginative but not at all critical of the assumptions placed on the genre by the mainly male writers who set it up. Her later novels and stories about the world were truly *hers* and much more socially/politically sophisticated.

Todd Mason said...

I'm not sure that that's altogether fair about the first YA-focused trilogy of EARTHSEA, which were rather subble in their challenges compared to her intentionally adult wotk such as THE DISPOSSESSED and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS (or feminist fantasy stretching back to C. L. Moore's Jirel stories and up through Joanna Russ's contemporary Alyx stories), but still there.

However, I liked the (fantasy/crime/comedy) SEEING THINGS, as well, which got a fair run in the DC area and relatively little clearance in the rest of the US.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have only read LeGuin's adult books so I can't comment but I thought the two I read were outstanding.
I must read Pratchett. I must read fantasy. I must read YA So little time.
I missed a lot of Fringe this year and turned in the other night and was lost with what happened. I need to go to a chatroom and catch up.
The first two years of Remington Steele were terrific, you're right. I have them on DVD and they hold up well. Pierce was so darn charming.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

Todd: I agree that it's not useful to compare LeGuin's adult books to her YA novels (though I'd say DISPOSSESSED is rather more clumsy than her YA work), but LeGuin wrote a 4th Earthsea book, TEHANU, also for the YA audience, that really does expand the issues she only touched on more glancingly in the first three books--and then has a fifth, THE OTHER WIND, also in the series. I don't mean to denigrate the first three books--they're very compelling and beautifully written--but I don't think they represent the same sort of giant leap forward as do the last (latest?) two Earthsea books.

Todd Mason said...

Well...she did have fifteen more years to think about how to approach such matters between THE FARTHEST SHORE and TEHANU. I wonder what you made of Russ's THE FEMALE MAN.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

I love THE FEMALE MAN; in fact, it's one of the three books I wrote about for my English Honors thesis back in college (the others were Le Guin's ALWAYS COMING HOME and Nicola Griffith's AMMONITE).
--And, Patti, you *should* read Terry Pratchett! In all your copious spare time.

George said...

FRAZIER managed to keep a high standard of quality control right up to the very end of the series.

Todd Mason said...

FRASIER certainly started and ended strong. Moreso than CHEERS.

Dorte H said...

On the whole I think TV producers don´t know when to quit. My rule of thumb: a series should not be allowed to survive more than one or two seasons because they invariably go downhill. And it is the same thing with those sequels, inspired by quality novels or characters, you may be lured into watching them, but they are often third-rate entertainment.

I think an exception is the new Lewis series where Inspector Lewis is allowed to develop a bit, and his new sidekick is nicely different. At least to judge by the few episodes we have seen in Denmark.

Anonymous said...

Olivia V. - SEEING THINGS was definitely one of my wife's all-time favorites. They showed it once in the NY area and I haven't found it since.

Todd, we got the British DVDs of THE GOOD LIFE (GOOD NEIGHBORS), as well as DOC MARTIN and several other shows my wife likes - it was easy to configure the DVD player to '0' to play all areas.

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

Joanna Russ and Ursula Le Guin came into fantastic-fiction writing at about the same time (Russ with "Nor Custom Stale" in THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION in 1959; Le Guin with stories in WESTERN HUMANITIES REVIEW in 1961 and in FANTASTIC in 1962: "April in Paris"), but Russ, like the much later Griffith, is much more comfortable with the notion of taking an explicitly feminist viewpoint in her work...while Le Guin, as she puts it in a short interview in the current issue of the feminist culture-critique magazine BITCH: "Some of it [her work] I'd call feminist, some not--if by 'feminist' we mean a work deliberately written to support a certain viewpoint. I didn't even learn how to be a feminist writer, in that sense, until I'd published several books. And even when I'd learned how, it was something I was usually very cautious about, very wary, because I never wanted to be a writer with a Message." She doesn't shrink from several sharp observations of masculist behavior nor her lack of respect for bigots who won't read fiction by women, or fantastic fiction, or contemporary mimetic fiction. You know I wasn't saddened by any of that.

Todd Mason said...

SEEING THINGS was slightly unusual in its DC run that the eventual Fox station, Channel 5, the southern core of the Dumont Network back in the '50s, ran it first, then the local PBS stations picked it up. I don't get the impression that CBC was too impressed with it, unlike, say, THE NEWSROOM, which quickly made its way to dvd. Which wouldn't even need hacked players to run, unlike with the BBC discs you've bought, Jeff...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Frasier is my greatest pleasure. I time my household chores to its appearance whenever I am home.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Dorte-Love them, but sometimes the plots leave me cold. The rock stars one last week didn't give them enough to do with Joann Lumley doing her usual Patsy role.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Choose a Pratchett to read and I will clear the decks.

Anonymous said...

Well, there's no mystery there but it was about cops: I thought Barney Miller was very strong for it's whole run and started off kinda shaky.

Also, Black Adder 2, 3 and Forth were better than the first. I can't remember the writer who took over after the first year but he's now mostly a playwright.

Dan Luft

Erik Donald France said...

Mad Men seems to have gotten stronger when it gained a bigger budget, maybe. But yes over time, "all good things come to an end." One of the biggest drops to me between seasons was Twin Peaks.

pattinase (abbott) said...

TWIN PEAKS really fell off. No doubt about it. Also MOONLIGHTING. Some shows may only have one good year in them.