Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Show Recommendation: Poirot

Netflix is great for binge watching an entire television series run. Between that and MeTV, you can watch television when the poz was not so strong. Rockford Files is a bit pozzed but nowhere near Law and Order: SVU. One show I heartily recommend is Poirot. Poirot is on Netflix, and it will not take long to bounce around between the tv hourly procedural format or the movie format of the different eras. This show gets a strong recommendation from me.

Poirot started in 1989 as an adaptation of those Agatha Christie novels and short stories that you might have read as a kid or teen. I read most of the Poirot stories as a child, but the show was one of those shows that your aunt watched and could say, "I don't watch TV except for a BBC series". Poirot adaptations started on the short stories, and then once ratings were there and the series expanded, it adapted the longer novels into full movie length episodes. There are roughly two eras of Poirot: early hour long procedural era and later movie length show era. There are distinct differences, and I will select a best of each era later but first some technical discussions.

Before I discuss this show, one must talk about the incredibly cheesy opening that was used until 1996. The song is a heavy sax tune that could be the soundtrack for a murder mystery or a higher end porno scene. It sounded like the Silk Stalkings theme song. The visuals are straight out of computer screen savers circa 1989. This is weird considering the other visuals lean on the art deco look. The tune gets beaten into the ground as nearly every single episode, whether in Greece or England, has that as the backing song with whatever instrument is appropriate. Piano, violin, pan-flute, harp, mandolin, Arab drums, etc. all get a shot to play the theme in the background. It is hysterical after a while, and when it is gone, you miss it. They modified the opener and theme song in '96, and basically discarded it by the advent of the feature length era.

The show chose to shoot and use buildings with the art deco aesthetic of the period. This creates some interesting camera angles as they had to film with a low angle or dutch angle to crop out an anachronistic building. You will start to recognize specific buildings after a while as they reuse them. Disappointing that they did not use more 19th century mansions, but it is an interesting touch even if you get annoyed by the 50th scene with glass bricks in the background. This all changes after the 2003 revamp where the showrunners threw out the book and decided to just make Poirot and company live in more opulent settings and many with a modernist look.

Did they nail casting? Yesterday I wrote how David Suchet brought Poirot, the annoying little shit, to life. He plays the pompous know it all to perfection. They embellished his sidekicks but in good form with Captain Hastings, Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon. British people being British is all Americans want to see. One thing I enjoyed was how in earlier Poirot episodes, many characters were played by old or ugly actors who could simply act well. Go figure that many adults with money and nice houses would be over age 29. The ugly actresses really makes you think you are watching British women in their natural habitat. This of course changes as the show goes on, and surprise surprise, actors and actresses start to get much more attractive by the year 2000 episodes.

Some faces will look familiar. Michael Fassbender puts on a great performance as a black sheep of a well to do family. Jessica Chastain plays a central character in Murder On The Orient Express. She might not be recognizable because this is before her absolutely perfect nose job. As the show switched to feature length episodes, they could pull in up and coming actors and actresses or well known names. Elliot Gould manages to slip into an episode as an overbearing father.

Repeatedly now, I have mentioned the change in the series from hour long (45 mins) procedurals to full length movies. The change is in season 6 (mid-90s) where most episodes were movies rather than 1930s British Detective Shows. There is another change. In early episodes, Poroit simply solves a murder or theft. In later episodes, Poirot becomes a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Batman as he solves 5 crimes all at once. His "Murder She Wrote" moments are hilarious by later episodes as he busts maybe 6 people out of 10. They even set up the Murder-She-Wrote moments on stages for Poirot to play up the concept of a performance. Here is the split for the best five episodes from each era with a review and reasoning for why I have ranked number one for each era as such.

Old School Poirot

5. Yellow Iris
4. Problem at Sea
3. The Million Dollar Bond Robbery
2. The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge
1. The Affair at The Victory Ball

Affair at the Victory Ball is the best of the old Poirot era as it encapsulates everything great of the early episodes. There has to be cheesiness with an old Poirot episode, and this episode delivers. The top five listed above all have plenty of cheese, but Affair at Victory Ball is the cheese champ. First, Poirot acts like an arrogant shit to even his good friend Captain Hastings. Second, Captain Hastings dresses fantastic in the episode. The man's costuming is great as he really looked the part of the old saying "Dress British, think Yiddish". Third, someone does a terrible American accent in the episode. American accents get butchered in old Poirot episodes. The production values are more in line with it being television, and the episode has that weird lighting that old British television series had.

The show itself is well acted and due to the BBC radio focus, has plenty of touches to suck you into the period piece of it all. The women are cute and more normal attractive looking, and it might take you time to figure out exactly whodunit. A great touch is that the "Murder She Wrote" breakdown, which I turned into a verb when watching with my wife ("He's gonna murder-she-wrote them now" or "He murder-she-wroted the fuck out of them"), is on a supposed live BBC recording. This is where Poirot does the third act big reveal of who did it and how, which always causes them to confess or try to make a break for it. I used Murder She Wrote because I have forever laughed how everyone confessed to Angela Lansbury who was stringing along few clues to point to a killer. This episode's murder is so good that Murder She Wrote actually stole the method for an episode.

New School Poirot

5. Evil Under the Sun
4. Death on the Nile
3. Elephants Can Remember
2. Murder on the Orient Express
1. The Labours of Hercules

The Labours of Hercules is very enjoyable as the adaptation is actually of a series of short stories. This is one of those episodes where the writers said "Screw it, he'll solve 5 things". The setting is at a spa in Switzerland, but in reality, the exterior is a mansion owned by the Rothschilds. The pacing is slow as each crime gets teased out. This episode being the second to last Poirot done even plays with the idea that Poirot dedicated his life to solving crimes and sacrificed a family, which the writers then insert the what if a few scenes later. Even after the crimes are solved, the perp reminds him that he did not save anyone. It goes meta on the nature of justice and fighting crime.

The key to this one being the best of this era is how ridiculously over the top the setting is and Suchet's Poirot portrayal. This film feels like an actual film, not just an extended episode. The production qualities are good, the setting is a trip and acting well done. There are some recognizable faces in the cast, and they ham it up since half the characters have non-English accents. There might be a contest who can be the most over the top Russian accented bitch in the episode. Suchet though kicks his portrayal up several notches.

A script is the key but he delivers lines like such an arrogant asshole that even his costars react. Echoing the words of actual viewers, a character asks him why Poirot speaks in the third person. His response is "to separate himself from his genius". You will laugh, especially after 50+ episodes, but pay close attention to when he says that line. In the background the Russian countess has to duck her head, and they put her out of focus because she was laughing at that delivery. Suchet then Murder-she-wrotes the entire cast for about 20 minutes. You can tell Suchet enjoyed the monologue because at one point as he vocally points the finger at the arch-criminal, he gives a flourish to his tone and snaps the index finger at her with it.

Maybe you will not enjoy the series as much as I do. I still re-watch these. If your wife likes period pieces and British tv shows, introduce her to these and skip whatever poz Downton Abbey is pushing now in season 9 (Those cheeky Muzzies.). These are a bit fun, and far less poz than what passes for televised entertainment today. The series is on Netflix, so even if a few are terrible, you can stop watching and have not paid a thing.


ConantheContrarian said...

I watched many of the Poirot series. I too noticed that the later seasons took a religious turn. This series was not as pozzed as some others, e.g., the recent Miss Marple with Geraldine McEwan. Comparing Joan Hickson-Marple series with McEwan-Marple series, I could see the poz creeping into the more recent adaptations. As a side note, I like the Hickson series, but they screwed up the continuity among the episodes and how they were presented: Nemesis and A Caribbean Mystery are examples.

Bumbling American said...

I have a fondness for the earlier episodes, they seem more innocent and charming. For me the turning point was Cards on the Table, which threw in a couple of gay subplots that Agatha Christie somehow neglected to include. The later episodes are also full of genuinely unappealing characters--they're nastier, bitchier, more modern BBC.

Son of Brock Landers said...

BA, They immediately threw the gayness in unnecessarily when they came back in 2003. Flipping uncalled for.

Toddy Cat said...

Watching “Classic” television on MeTV late at night, it’s interesting to see how the popular shows of yesterday stack up to today, with regard to poz. While a lot of them contain a lot of what you might want to call proto-poz, there are also a lot of surprisingly right-wing (by today’s standards) touches. For example;

Colombo (debuted 1971). While the murderers are almost always WASPs, they are also often snooty SWPL types, what we used to call “Limousine Liberals”, such as modern architects, art dealers, and arrogant college professors. I imagine that the Nixon-era Silent Majority audience enjoyed seeing him nab them. As for Colombo himself, he is patriotic, loyal to his (unseen) wife, and open about his Roman Catholic faith. A character like him on today’s TV is simply unthinkable.

Hawaii Five-O (debuted 1968). Surprisingly enough, this show was often overtly right-wing. Heroes were white or Hawaiian, villains often Asian, or at least once, deluded Black Radicals (duped by evil Commies!). Recurring bad guy was Wo Fat, Chinese Commie spymaster. Russians were portrayed as tough but basically sane adversaries, ChiComs as evil incarnate. If a guy was identified as CIA, he was a good guy, if sometimes a bit obtuse. No wonder I loved this show when I was a kid! I have a sneaking suspicion that Jack Lord was somewhat like David Suchet, pulling the show to the right. Lord was pretty closed mouthed about his politics, which might tell us something right there…

All in the Family (debuted 1971). This was of course, the first overtly left-wing agitprop show on network TV, and it’s virtually unwatchable today. But even here, there’s less poz than on modern shows. Archie, while being portrayed as a loudmouthed bigot, is also show to be a basically good guy, who loves his family and his country, and tries to do the right thing. He’s even allowed to win an argument or two, every once in a while. And while there’s no doubt that we are meant to generally agree with “Meathead”, there are also hints that he is simply a left-wing version of Archie, and in one episode, this is overtly stated. To the liberals of the time, Archie and guys like him were not evil, just (mostly) wrong. A greater contrast to the modern SJW mindset could hardly be imagined.

What’s interesting here is that I have no doubt that all of these shows were made by liberals. It just shows how far to the left the entertainment industry has gone in the last 40 years.

Andrew E. said...

I would describe Married With Children (1987-1997) as pretty right-wing when it comes to feminism. Peggy is a proud state at home mom and has no thought or desire to working. Al the father is the hero of the show even if he is portrayed as being miserable. Kelly openly gets by on her looks with no pretenses as all pretty girls have in history. She's acknowledged to be stupid, will clearly never go to college and it's okay. And the son just wants to be cool and sleep with hot girls. The modern couple next door is weird and annoying. There lies the working woman, who is one of Al's constant targets of derision, who's first husband leaves her, second husband is a pretty loaf and she never has kids. And all her parading modernisms never drive a wedge between Peggy and her husband.

Anonymous said...

All Creatures Great And Small
Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes
Horatio Hornblower

Toddy Cat said...

Yeah, "Married with Children" actually was pretty right-wing, or at least non-liberal, as were several shows from that era, such as "Cheers". Utterly unimaginable today. of course.