Thursday, December 18, 2014

Casablanca the Series: The Cashier and the Belly Dancer Review


We've taken a few months off in terms of broadcast of Casablanca: The Series, and you'd think they'd have taken the time to retool and restructure the program.

Far be it for me to show professional how it should be done, but The Cashier and the Belly Dancer makes things worse, with a story that is so nonsensical that Casablanca's few remaining viewers would have thrown their hands up in the air to change the channel.

Things are eerily quiet at Rick's Café Americain, thanks to Senorita Ynez, the exotic and erotic belly dancer*.  She excites all the men, including Major Strasser (Patrick Horgan) and the cafe's young cashier, Claude.  This doesn't sit well with Claude's wife Babette, who suspects he's having an affair with Ynez.

Ynez, as it turns out, is an old acquaintance of Rick's, whom he knows as Queenie.  She was a partisan in Spain, a former ballet dancer who helped Rick escape the Fascists.  She is now travelling throughout the world, entertaining men and working for the Underground.  Unbeknown to Babette and Rick, Claude is working with the Underground too.  He and the other Underground operatives are going to steal the gold of the Bank of Morocco that was taken by the Nazis from the Queen of Holland.  As part of the plan, Claude and his fellow travelers have been digging a tunnel from Ynez's dressing room at the Blue Parrot, with her providing cover (in a roundabout way). 

Strasser suspects Rick is up to something when gold bars Ynez gave him for payment are found; he orders Captain Renault (Hector Elizondo) to raid the café (making this about what, the third raid on the joint...).  Babette for her part suspects Claude has been unfaithful and a fight breaks out.  She is injured and Renault orders Claude arrested for three days.  Bad timing as they are about to raid the bank.

Things go from bad to worse as the coordinates are located by the Nazis, and Strasser orders the bank to open in the hopes of catching the culprits red-handed.  Claude has by this time be released (I think either as a trap or through Rick's influence).  Ynez is in danger, and things become more convoluted when Babette manages to sneak past Ynez's large guard to confront her, only to come across the tunnel and Claude.  Rick comes to warn them and help them escape as the banker constantly fumbles and bumbles to get any door open.  When he gets to the vault door itself, the banker simply can't open it.  A bored Strasser orders the men to leave, despite the fierce opposition of his aide Lieutenant Heinz (Kai Wulff). 

As Renault and Rick discuss the matter while walking near the bank, they see the banker.  He tells Renault, quietly, "Vive la France", and Renault can only wonder what he means by this.

It was at this point that I pretty much accepted that Casablanca, despite itself, really could make things worse for itself.  Yes, The Cashier and the Belly Dancer was bad, but worse, it was hopelessly predictable.  I don't know whether it was the actor himself or his direction, but the way he kept bumbling and fumbling I figured the guy was on the Resistance's side.  All well and good, but then it raises the question as to why the Resistance went through all these hoops to get at the gold when they could have found an easier way.

Also, how was Babette able to get past Ynez's guard when no one else could?

We also have some really dreadful moments.  Every time Babette was on screen, you wondered why she had to be almost hysterical.  Claude did well but couldn't he be a less bit clumsy when dealing with his wife?  I kept thinking how dumb she was.  I also thought that in Casablanca, the Germans really did nothing but go clubbing.  Not much of a threat.

The Belly Dancer of the title oddly was not a major part of the story.  She was a plot device but not an integral part.  She could have been anyone really and her connection with Rick wasn't all that important to the story (apart from bringing the gold into the Café). 

I know that by now, Casablanca was dead, but somehow The Cashier and the Belly Dancer was bad even for this series.  At least the audience can rest easy that this is almost over.

*IMDB has no names for the actors and I didn't write them down.  Even they didn't care enough... 


Five Out of Five: Divorce Casablanca Style

Two-Faced Woman: A Review


For those who did see Two-Faced Woman when it came out, the sight of Greta Garbo, a woman who built her whole career and mystique around 'wanting to be alone', dancing gaily to a rhumba beat must have been a bit of a shock.  It certainly was to Time Magazine, whose review was scathing to say the least.  Said Time of the film, "It was almost as shocking as seeing your mother drunk".

That quote happens to be a personal favorite of mine, one I like to use quite often (for example, in my review for the Doctor Who story Death in Heaven Part 2 (Death in Heaven), with its flying Cybermen, transgendered Masters, and Cyber-Brigadiers among other scandals).  Well, after all this time I had a chance to see Two-Faced Woman and see for myself whether all the shock was worth it.

What I saw was actors gamely trying their best but with material that really couldn't make things work.  I saw that Garbo could play comedy, but Two-Faced Woman was simply the wrong material for her.  In many ways, Garbo is simply too smart to play this dumb.  It's unfortunate that this was her final film since it is a bad note to end on.  It's also sad that she never made a comeback, but whether she wanted to or not...

Rakish Larry Blake (Melvyn Douglas) spies the lovely ski instructor Karin Borg (Garbo).  She is unimpressed with Larry, but somehow they end up married.  This doesn't sit well with Blake's publishing partner O.O. Miller (Roland Young) or Larry's on/off girl Griselda (Constance Bennett).  Still, they appear very much in love...until Larry, somewhat mercurial, insists business comes first after declaring he wants to retire and live quietly with Karin.  She is both confused and irritated by all this back-and-forth, so while Larry goes back to New York, Karin decides to stay in Idaho.  This pleases Miller who instantly dislikes Karin and her ways.

Well, Karin thinks things better and decides to go to New York and surprise Larry.  However, it's SHE who gets the surprise, as she spies Larry and Griselda at rehearsals for her new play, Nostalgia in Chromium.  Karin wants to get away but is spied by Miller.  With help from Miss Ellis (Ruth Morgan), Karin passes herself off as "Katharine" Borg, Karin's twin sister. 

Hilarity ensues.

"Katharine" Borg charms Miller, and even Larry is befuddled, but soon gets wind that Katharine and Karin are the same.  He decides to turn the tables and attempt to seduce his 'sister-in-law'.  Eventually the confusion is resolved and Karin and Larry go back to Idaho and find their love stronger.

As I watched, I thought Two-Faced Woman would be a great vehicle for Carole Lombard, who was adept at playing somewhat scatterbrained ladies who were also quite witty.  Garbo, as I said, could play comedy, as is evident in Ninotchka.  However, the differences between Ninotchka and Two-Faced Woman were that in the former, Garbo was doing self-aware spoofing of her own image, that she had a witty and clever script to hold her, and the Lubitsch touch where things were classy as well as silly.

Two-Faced Woman didn't have any of that, and given that it was George Cukor who directed, it's more shocking (than seeing your mother drunk) to see how spectacularly Cukor failed.  Take the scene where Griselda learns from Larry that he is married.  Bennett's character screams in frustration at having lost her man and then tries to go back to the phone calmly to wish him congratulations.  Everything in this scene is so forced and broad, that it isn't believable.

That really is Two-Faced Woman's biggest flaw: the comedy is so forced that it becomes too idiotic to believe.  It's suppose to be screwball, but the pacing between the actors was not rapid-fire but almost hesitant, as if no one quite trusted the story.

It wasn't for lack of trying.  Garbo especially looked like she wanted to make it all work, but again, in both her performance and her being she looked, behaved, and acted as is she (and to an extent, Karin) were simply too smart for all this.  Karin was, or should have been, too smart for Larry (and bless Douglas, but no amount of charm could make Larry into anything more than a slightly repulsive cad).  However, the magic that Garbo and Douglas had in Ninotchka failed here, probably because again, the story was simply too much for anyone to really make believable (except, perhaps, Lombard).  About the only person to come out of this was Gordon as Miss Ellis, who seemed to understand that one should either overplay things (as Bennett did) or try to be smarter than the material (Garbo and Douglas).

Perhaps if the story had been reworked to where Garbo is pursued by Douglas and she invents a freewheeling sister to test him and then he was in on it and they go at it with gusto, Two-Faced Woman could have been funnier.  It would have helped to have had Cukor bring a faster pace to the proceedings.      

About the only real highlight is the Chico-Choca dance number, which shows that Greta Garbo could cut a rug with the best of them.  Here, things appear to liven up a bit because we aren't concerned with anything other than having fun. 

Perhaps if the film had taken THAT route, Garbo could have made more films.

Again, Two-Faced Woman was a nice try, but not even the Great Greta Garbo could make us care about either face.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Casablanca the Series: Jenny Review


With Jenny, Casablanca may have finally gone beneath the barrel and shown that perhaps the people behind the television adaptation may not have actually SEEN the movie they were basing the program on.  It served as a terrible disservice to both Ilsa Lund and Ingrid Bergman, making a mockery of both in a way that strikes one as almost sad.

Jenny Delany (Shanna Reed) is a brassy American adventuress who lives by her wits and goes from town to town, man to man, in order to move ahead.  She is accused of prostitution at Rick's, but in what is now-characteristic move, Rick Blaine (David Soul) protects her, saying she is now a hostess at his café.  This is news to everyone, and Sam (Scatman Crothers) senses Jenny is no good.

Well, Jenny soon starts to have feelings for Rick, but since he's too bossy about her private life she opts for Werner Faber (Daniel Pilon), a German involved in ferreting out spies.  Rick, apparently, has decided that Jenny reminds him of Miss Ilsa from Paris, much to Sam's concern.  Jenny attempts to leave Casablanca, but rummaging through Werner's wallet she inadvertently takes some plans he had taken from a German soldier who had intended to sell them to the British.

In a surprising move Rick all but begs Jenny to stay, but she won't hear of it.  Werner, for his part, is furious about the plans being stolen, for I think he planned to sell them himself to make a major profit.  If he's discovered, he certainly will be executed, and so he's desperate to get the plans.  If killing Rick is necessary, then that's just a bonus.  As it happens, Rick helps Jenny escape and manages to outwit both Werner and Major Strasser (Paul Horgan), and Werner commits suicide.  Jenny, for her part, just happens to keep the plans, which the British will be so happy to take.

What is really shocking, if not repulsive about Jenny is Sam's assertion that Jenny is reminiscent of Ilsa Lund.  Let's see: an American prostitute, thief, and adventuress is like the elegant, sophisticated, classy, intelligent European.  I can't understand how Sam could possibly imagine that Jenny could be the same as Ilsa.  They don't have any resemblance in terms of temperament, of style, of manner, so where would anyone think they could in any way be similar.

They do have one thing in common.  Jenny and Ilsa are both women.

I also note that Arthur Malet's Carl is not the S.Z. Sakall of the original film.  There is nothing that indicates Malet would be thought of as "Cuddles" (Sakall's nickname in Hollywood).  Instead, he's a bitter, angry Underground operative.  I just figure that this change is perhaps the least of Casablanca's problems, but it doesn't help.  You can't care all that much if one of the characters is basically crabby.

What makes Jenny perhaps worse is that Rick is now almost pathetic.  No matter how much Jenny reminds him of Ilsa (a rather dubious claim), I can't believe Rick would basically beg any woman to stay with him.  This makes our lead into a pathetic wimp, and that is something that, divorced from the film itself, makes a mess of the television series.

Scatman Crothers has both an extended and diminished role in Jenny.  He basically is there to sing songs and nothing more, but here at least he served as some sort of conscience to Rick (which if this had been both developed earlier and been more consistent would have helped the series a bit). Pilon gave a good performance and was perhaps the first time we have a potential antagonist to match Rick.  It obviously isn't the cartoonish Strasser, and it's too bad Pilon or Werner Faber couldn't be a recurring villain or a longer story.

Well, Jenny didn't lift Casablanca at all.  It indicates how bad Casablanca as a series was.  Still, it did make me think of a good song...     


Four Out of Five: The Cashier and the Belly Dancer

The Librarians: And the Horns of a Dilemma Review


Now that we've gotten past our formal introductions to the characters, we can dive right into our story.  The Horns of a Dilemma plays fast with our leads as they get through another important aspect of a television series: having the team bond.  Both the tough military leader and her group of disparate smart but still adrift charges learn to trust each other and themselves.

Colonel Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn) is determined to train the Librarians into being able to go out into the field.  They however, keep failing to meet her standards by reacting how they would to any situation: art expert/cowboy Jake Stone (Christian Kane) goes for the confusing brute force and fails, master thief Ezekiel Jones (John Kim) goes for flight and fails, and math expert Cassandra Cillian (Lindy Booth) clumsily hides and fails.  The Librarians, though, are itching to go into the field, and the Clipbook brings a case: a group of interns at Golden Axe, a conglomerate, have disappeared.  The interns have no connection to each other save Golden Axe, and they want to investigate.  Despite Baird's misgivings, they force the issue and Official Librarian Jenkins (John Larroquette) uses 'the back door' (a portal) to go to Boston, the location of Golden Axe.

The company CEO Miss Willis (Tricia Helfer) and her aide Franklin (Sean McGrath) are shocked, SHOCKED that interns are disappearing.  They have no problem having this odd group investigate, and the group does what Eve doesn't want to do: split up.   The librarians go to 'human resources' while Eve looks for the center of the company.   Eve finds a treasure trove of art, which Jake through cell phone photos finds are Minoan, earlier than they should be.  In the room there is also a large ball of yarn.

Human Resources is hard to find, almost labyrinth-like.  The Librarians are surprised to find a collection of human skulls at 'human resources'.  Soon they find that they are in THE Labyrinth of myth, and where there is a Labyrinth, there is a Minotaur.  Jenkins is able to get them out of danger, but they have to go back into the Labyrinth to stop Willis, Franklin, and the Minotaur from continuing their slaughter.  This involves having to steal the ball of yarn Theseus used.  They have to both split up (Eve and Jake to fight the Minotaur, Cassandra and Jones to steal the ball) to stop the villains and permanently seal the Labyrinth from being used.

What The Horns of a Dilemma does right and which pleases me greatly as a viewer is it allows each of the characters to have their moment.  There's the somewhat-fussy but cooperate Jenkins, who may not be thrilled to be with this group but also understands danger is part of a Librarian's job and they can't be permanently protected until Eve sees them as 'ready'.  Rominj's Eve also grows as a character, accepting that the Librarians are not soldiers but, to use Jake's words, partners.

The three Librarians also show that each of them needs the other's skills: Jake's knowledge, Cassandra's mathematical abilities, and Jones' dexterity to get the job done.  Without them cooperating, they wouldn't have achieved their joint goal, and both the Librarians and The Librarians accept that each character is important.  The Horns of a Dilemma also works through how the characters grow so quickly.

Kane's Stone sees that he does has to fight smarter, not harder.
Kim's Jones sees that loyalty to a team makes one stronger, not weaker.
Booth's Cassandra sees that she has to trust and rise to courage.

Each of them is growing in both their characters and in likeability.  Each of them also gave really pleasant and enjoyable performances.

What ultimately I enjoyed about both The Horns of a Dilemma and The Librarians is that it is good light entertainment, a show where magic is accepted as real and where our heroes start not just working together but also trusting and liking each other.  We can see the team gelling and it makes one excited to see how well they handle things as the series continues. 

Magic, we are told, has three parts: Power to change reality, Focus to direct change, and Effect that changes the real world.  The Librarians has a pleasant, fun style with likeable leads that is both fully aware and which is exciting and entertaining.       


Next Episode: And Santa's Midnight Run

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Casablanca the Series: Master Builder's Woman


A mere two episodes into Casablanca the series and I already note a bad pattern.  Sam (Scatman Crothers) will open the episode with a song.  A problem will arrive, Rick Blaine (David Soul) helps, a woman is involved with whom Rick will himself become involved with, Major Strasser (Paul Horgan) will bungle things, and Rick and Captain Renault (Hector Elizondo) will chat about the events they've been involved in as a recap.

Master Builder's Woman fails to meet the already low bar Casablanca has set for itself.  It might as well be a repeat of Who Am I Killing because it pretty much follows the same structure. 

Major Strasser (Paul Horgan) is entertaining a German engineer, Fritz Torkel (Richard Venture), a version of Albert Speer.  He is going to build a major railway to connect Europe to the West African front (or join Africa and South America again, I'm not sure which was the more outlandish Teutonic plot).  He is also in the company of a beautiful Frenchwoman, Michelle Nessant, (Madolyn Smith Osborne).  Maitre'd Carl (Arthur Malet) sees her as collaborationist bitch, but as is the case, he's got that all wrong too, but more on that later.

Strasser is hunting down a Resistance leader code-named Henri-Henri, and there is a connection to Rick.  The café owner gets a message to meet a Red Fox, whom Rick had worked with when he was in Spain.  In any case, Rick at first refuses to help.  Henri-Henri needs exit visas to get out of Casablanca with important plans for the railroad, which the Allies desperately need.

Into this mix comes perky journalist Liz Grant (Kim Alamanzar), who wants an interview with both Rick and Henri-Henri.  As it turns out, Henri-Henri is....MICHELE HERSELF!  She urges Rick to help her, and he does, although it involves a little sexy-time much to the irritation of Strasser, who'd like to tap that himself.

Thanks to a little subterfuge and the unwitting assistance of Liz, Henri-Henri escapes and Torkel is sent to Germany in disgrace.  

If they hadn't already been satisfied with raiding the Casablanca name, Master Builder's Woman decided to basically raid the Casablanca plot almost verbatim.  We have the Resistance leader needing Rick's help, we have exit visas, Strasser on the hunt, a raid at Rick's Café Americain and Renault telling his men to 'round up the usual suspects'. 

Given how often Rick's Café appears to be raided, it's any wonder that he manages to stay open for business or would even want to. 

Bob Foster's script went beyond using Casablanca for crib notes.  It went into laugh-out-loud territory.   Naming the mysterious figures "Red Fox" and "Henri-Henri" just is funny.  Was Foster watching Sanford and Son while typing the script out?  Did either he or director Robert Lewis never stop to wonder, 'will people take this name seriously'?

That isn't for me to say.  What I can say is that here, the Germans are laughably silly and cartoonish.  Horgan in particular looks funny as Strasser, waving his gun around like a spoof of a Nazi that accidentally wandered away from a Mel Brooks film and somehow ended up here.

Soul to his credit at least didn't sound as much like Humphrey Bogart as last time.  Now he seems to have started channeling Burt Lancaster in voice and speech.  The idea that Michelle is really Henri-Henri is no mystery.  I figured that out as soon as she showed up with the good Fritz, and there are other elements that are downright idiotic.

Wouldn't a simple bribe for Michelle have worked rather than go through all these hoops and ladders to get the exit visa?  No one knew she was "Henri-Henri", so why not just pay off Renault and be done with it?  Why would this 'experienced' journalist just pretty much shout, "Oh, RICK sent me"?  It reminds me of The Glass Bottom Boat, where Doris Day was mistaken for a Soviet spy.  She gets wind of this idiotic idea and decides to have fun with it, using her dog "Vladimir" to confuse the clueless CIA and NASA.  She sends them on a wild goose chase to her father's home, where her father grows angry and irritated every time someone comes to the door saying, "Vladimir Sent Me".  He responds by punching them, which is what someone at Warner Brothers should have done when this project as presented came to them.

However, since Master Builder's Woman won an Emmy for Best Cinematography in a Series, it gets a point for that.  Seriously, we can call this "The Emmy-Winning Casablanca".  It's almost as ridiculous and revolting as the phrase "Emmy winner Steven Moffat", but like so many real-life horrors, this is a sad fact of life. 

Again, a prequel COULD have worked, but given how formulaic and repetitive the stories were, and that it added nothing to the film itself, any hope that Casablanca would have been any good died faster than Fred Sanford could tell Elizabeth he was coming to her. 

Still waiting for The Big One.
The REAL Redd Foxx...


Three Out of Five: Jenny

Monday, December 15, 2014

Casablanca the Series: Who Am I Killing Review


And here we go, reviewing the first of five episodes of one of the most ill-conceived and bungled concepts to bedevil American television, Casablanca: The Series.  Who Am I Killing, the premiere episode, has a great title that is wasted.  It has so many flaws that it slips from being a serious effort at expanding on the Casablanca legend to playing as flat-out parody.  From the inclusion and altering of characters that render the original into irrelevance to some flat-out bizarre choices, Who Am I Killing and Casablanca soon become a joke only fit for laughing at how things are going so wildly out of control. 

Casablanca, French Morocco, 1941.  Rick Blaine (David Soul), the owner of Rick's Café Americain, finds himself entangled in a mess with stranded British entertainers in Unoccupied France.  A British pilot has been shot down near Casablanca, raising suspicion from the Germans on the British in the city.  All but Celia (Trisha Noble), a chanteuse who attracts the attention of Major Strasser (Patrick Horgan), who finds her enchanting.  She is seen as a collaborator and worse by the British trapped in the internment camp and won't accept her food gifts.  "Who am I killing?" she cries.

Soon she hears of the British pilot, and that a drug, sulfanilamide, may save him.  She of course wants nothing to do with either, but Carl (Arthur Malet) has forced the issue, the Underground café maitre'd bringing the pilot to her hotel room for safety.  Bad timing, as Strasser has decided to 'entertain' Celia in her hotel room.  Obviously there is someone in her room, and we find...RICK, who has snuck into the room.  He also has the sulfa, since he was essentially tricked by his piano player Sam (Scatman Crothers) into getting it from black marketer Ferrari (Reuven Bar-Yotam).  Enraged at being beaten to the punch, Strasser orders a raid on the hotel, with French Captain Louis Renault (Hector Elizondo) forced into it.  Rick and Celia manage to evade the raid, and arrange a flight for the pilot and Celia to escape.

Sadly, in their delay to get the sulfa into the plane, Celia is killed while a powerless Rick watches.  The pilot does escape, and Renault and Rick discuss how the sulfa eluded Strasser and the pilot managed to escape.  However was it done?

Do you know where both Who Am I Killing and Casablanca go horribly wrong (apart from the bungled concept)? It plays fast and loose with the original.  Who Am I Killing is the pilot, and already it makes one big mistake by assuming we already know the characters.  Rather than take the opportunity to introduce people like Rick, Renault, Sam, or anyone else, it chucks them all in, and those unaware of who they are pretty much have to figure it out for themselves.

For those who ARE aware though, Who Am I Killing makes another blunder.  In the original film, Major Strasser arrives at the same time as Ilsa and Victor, but in the series, he's set up as the antagonist.  This was simply a disastrous decision because it sets up both Strasser and Rick for failure.  It's almost like a cartoon: every episode will have Strasser trying to find out something, like some imbecile detective, and Rick will always be one step ahead of him.  Already we have a shockingly predictable scenario that will never allow for Strasser to outwit or do an end run around Blaine.

How then can you have any real sense of tension when we already know the outcome? 

Why the producers didn't opt for an original origins story rather than drag Strasser into something he didn't need to be involved in I can't say.  I can say that it was a dumb choice by people who simply should have known better but were frankly too lazy to try and correct.

That wasn't the worst of it.  Apart from including Strasser as the antagonist, they opted to make the Russian Sasha the bartender into an American.  Bless Ray Liotta, who did what he could with it, but if we were to seriously end Casablanca the series with Casablanca the movie, we'd be asking a lot of questions, like why does Strasser suggest he's never been to Casablanca when he's been there all along, or how the very American Sasha ended up with a Russian accent.

Too much vodka?

James Miller's script and Ralph Senesky's direction similar made some frightful decisions. In the former, it stretches believability that the same drug that could save the pilot's life just happens to arrive at the same time he crashes into Morocco.  It also makes Strasser into a bit of an idiot: I never believed Strasser would raid an entire hotel just because he thought the singer he fancied was 'entertaining' Rick. 

Senesky similarly did things that were just silly.  First, he should have encouraged Soul to try for a different take on the Rick Blaine character.  Soul is nowhere near the level of Humphrey Bogart, so his performance was already going to pale in comparison.  However, Soul's entire performance came across as a bad (very bad) Bogart impersonation, from his voice to his mannerisms.  Elizondo was also bad: speaking so softly and showing no hint of emotion or charm.  Horgan was oddly too charming as Strasser to come across as a serious threat, and Bar-Yotam was too eager to please as Ferrari, as if he had been made to be the comic relief.

To add insult to injury, some scenes played like parody.  There is a balcony scene between Soul and Noble that with Soul's Bogart impersonation and Noble's excessive mannerisms would be considered a spoof on the Saturday Night Live level.  The music didn't help, just adding to the accidental silliness of it all.

Worse was when Rick and Celia were spiriting out the pilot (who really had nothing to do in the episode, the MacGuffin to the whole affair, or perhaps 'letters of transit', if you will).  In order to blend into the darkness, Soul's Blaine is decked out all in for a damn brown fedora!  Seriously, the guy is wearing all black AND a BROWN FEDORA!

Did no one see how comical it looked?

Who Am I Killing was simply a disastrous way to introduce any series, let alone one that attempts to tie into a classic film.  Still, Scatman Crothers' version of As Time Goes By is pretty good, so it gets an added point for that...



Two Out of Five: Master Builder's Woman

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Librarians: And the Crown of King Arthur/Sword in the Stone Review


I have a bit of a personal stake in The Librarians, the new TNT series adapted from a series of television movies starring Noah Wyle.  It so happens I AM a librarian myself, or rather a.) I work AT a library and b.) am charging towards my Master's in Library Science.  Therefore, in a certain way, I feel very protective of my chosen profession.  The Librarians is a fantasy show, fun, frothy, fast-paced, and fun.  It knows what it is and doesn't pretend to be anything else.

Curiously though, despite its fantasy premise and reliance on magic, it's actually more logical than the last TNT show I watched (Franklin & Bash).  I come at this from a different perspective in that while I know of The Librarian series of television films, I've never actually gotten around to seeing any of them (Quest for the Spear, Return to King Solomon's Mines, and Curse of the Judas Chalice).   Therefore, I went into The Librarians if not completely fresh at least with extremely limited knowledge.  On the whole, I think it might have helped a touch to know a little bit about what came before the two-hour premiere, but it won't stop someone from at least hitting the ground running and starting a new franchise that will build its own following in the annals of current sci-fi/fantasy television series.

Colonel Eve Baird of NATO (Rebecca Romijn)is about to take down terrorists in Berlin when out of nowhere pops in Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle), The Librarian.  He disarms an ancient weapon that the Nazis had left behind, and then as quickly disappears.  Eve is both puzzled and irritated by this guy's appearance, but she soon finds herself joining forces with him.  Eve received a message inviting her to join the Metropolitan Public Library, and here she not only finds that there is a massive underground Library where magical artifacts are being held, but Flynn as well, fencing with Excalibur (or Cal, as Flynn calls him).  There is danger afoot, as potential Librarians are being targeted for assassination, and one was murdered in the Metropolitan Library's foyer.   Over Flynn's objection, Eve becomes his Guardian, a protector/protectress for Librarians.  Flynn's being doing very well without one, but he has no say in the matter.

Flynn and Eve discover that the murdered man had gone to the same interview with Flynn, and that others who had gone for Flynn's position have also met curious deaths.  However, there were three candidates who did not bother to go the interview, and Flynn and Even now track them down.  There is Cassandra Cillian (Lindy Booth) a hospital cleaning lady who is a genius with numbers, being able to visualize them, but who has a tumor the size of a grape that is related to her abilities.  There's Ezekiel Jones (John Kim), a master thief who uses his intelligence to steal valuable artifacts.  Then there's Jake Stone (Christian Kane),an Oklahoma roughneck who leads a secret life as an art expert, writing extensive papers on art history under a pseudonym. 

Eve and Flynn soon accept that these three are important to stopping the Librarian's arch-rivals, an ancient cult known as the Serpent Brotherhood, from unleashing magic upon the world that will give the Brotherhood total domination.  Now, the first order of business to do that is to find The Crown of King Arthur, which is important to control the magic.  Jake the art expert, Jones the thief, and Cassandra the numbers all work together to find the crown and stay one step ahead of the Brotherhood.  They do recover the Crown, but Cassandra has betrayed them.  She believes releasing magic will be good and may lead to cures for illnesses, including her own.  With that, the Brotherhood and their master assassin Lamia (Lesley-Ann Brandt) storm the Library.  Emergency protocols are used, shutting the library down, but Flynn is stabbed by Excalibur, which is now controlled by Lamia since she wears the Crown of Arthur.

We move to Part II.  A dying Flynn has enough time to bring Eve, Jake, and Jones out through a portal to Oregon, where Jenkins (John Larroquette) is waiting for them.  He too is a Librarian, though he has no interest in searching for artifacts, devoting himself to quiet research at his branch.  The Metropolitan Underground Library is sealed off, so this branch will have to do.  Eve rallies a disheartened Flynn to stop the Brotherhood, and he realizes that Excalibur must be returned to the Stone from which it came to unleash the power.  Where is the Stone?  Why, underneath Buckingham Palace, of course!

The race is on between the Brotherhood and the Librarians to go underneath the Palace and get to the Stone.  There is a battle there, where Lamia mocks Flynn and his crew.  "One doomed by her gift, one who fled his gift, one who abuses it," she tells the dying Flynn.  Who are THEY to go against the Brotherhood. 

Well, they are the Librarians, who are armed with the greatest weapon the world has ever known...knowledge, science, and electromagnets.  United, they defeat the Brotherhood, but Excalibur is about to die.  Flynn offers the Sword to Cassandra, who has seen the error of her ways/was easily misled and helped her former team to cure her tumor, but she in turn uses it to save Flynn. 

Flynn finds himself in charge, so he brings this group, the Librarians in Training, into the branch to a very reluctant Jenkins.  Flynn and Eve finally acknowledge feelings for the other, but he is off to find the Main Library, leaving the LIT ( clever intentional or not) under both Eve and Jenkins' charge.  Jake isn't too thrilled to have Cassandra around, but we shall see where things go.

I have not seen Warehouse 13 but I have read a lot of comments that The Librarians is some sort of knock-off/rip-off.  I have also read that technically, The Librarian movies preceded Warehouse 13, so it's a case of who is copying whom.  At the moment, it's of no interest to me which came first: the chicken or The Moon (refer to an episode of Doctor Who for that one).  As for The Librarians itself, I found it enjoyable, fully aware of its own wild premise, and played with a great deal of fun.

Now, I should say that the special effects were pretty cheap-looking, and I think The Librarians knows this.  This isn't Star Wars, but while they were obviously fake the fact that people played along with it indicates what kind of show The Librarians will be: frothy, fantasy-based but not overly complicated and fully self-aware.

I also thought the score was all over the place, veering between comic and action and being too attention-grabbing. 

The characters were a bit hit-and-miss.  The whole "sweet ill girl betrays the group" bit was a bit clichéd, as was the "tough military figure".  However, I can forgive that because in a pilot we're not going to get a great deal of mystery and have to introduce the characters.  Both Booth and Romijn are capable of making their characters believable, interesting, and aware that they are in a fantastical world and willing to face things as they are. 

This premiere also means we also have to basically introduce Flynn, and Wyle has a mixture of strength and vulnerability that makes Flynn Carsen an enjoyable figure.  He won't figure too prominently in The Librarians, appearing sporatically in the series, but as executive producer he will have a hand in shaping the franchise he is identified with. 

Faring much better were the men.  I enjoyed that Kim plays Jones and no one bothers wondering how an Asian can carry an Anglo surname and Cockney accent (I figure Kim is British, though I wonder if he's related to Joan Watson on Elementary).  The standout I think is Kane's Jake.  His character is perhaps the most complicated of the group.  Cassandra is essentially the heart of the group: sweet, a bit naïve, but caring.  Jones is the master thief: shrewd, living by his wits, one who enjoys his craft.  Jake Stone, on the other hand, is one who in a sense has closeted himself: one who has a passion for art but who has chosen to hide his intellect beneath a Stetson.  Future episodes I'm sure will focus on them as characters, and I hope we get to see how they came to be who they were soon.

Larroquette lends a wry humor to the situations, and guest stars Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin (reprising their roles from The Librarian movies) both serve to tie things together and lend more humor. 

On the whole the entire cast works well together, forming a group that compliments each other and works well.  They make a good team.

I enjoy that they will have a recurring nemesis to fight against, and that there are shout-outs to the power of intelligence.  "Your brain is a weapon and a tool and a library all wrapped in one," Eve tells Flynn when he's feeling down on himself.  If anything, The Librarians enjoys playing with the stereotypes of librarians as all head no muscle, the epitome of 'square'. 

I think with The Librarians, we're suppose to have both laughs and thrills, and this it did, not perfectly but well-enough to pique my interest.  It's frothy, it's a bit silly, but above all, it is fun, escapist entertainment that enjoys having magic.

I'll say it...The Librarians is worth checking out.    



Next Episode: And the Horns of a Dilemma