The TV stays on and we keep watching most evenings. Mysteries seem to be the neutral ground for my wife and I, a genre we enjoy together. The problem starts when you watch too many and you start to unravel how they work and so we’re constantly calling out what will happen next, and rare is the program that fools us without cheating. (Looking at you Click Bait and Broadchurch. )
But the other shared ground for us, science fiction, doesn’t have as many options popping up. I am going to guess that the effects and props budget for mysteries are a lot smaller.
- The Woman in the House – Netflix
The full title is actually The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, but it was supposed to be just The Woman in the House early on in production. Also, that fits more easily on the page as a bullet point without wrapping.
Why the change to the long, silly name? My guess is that was a flag to ensure people got that the series was trying to parody such mystery thrillers. That it needed to raise such a flag probably says more about the genre than the attempt to parody it. A good parody immerses itself in the material it is poking fun at, but the genre has been a bit off the rails, so it can be tough to tell if something was supposed to be funny or just trying to one up something else.
Anyway, it is fine as a parody, and better than some serious mysteries we’ve watched of late. Kristen Bell is solid and the show hangs on her. It was worth the eight episode investment.
- The Stranger – Netflix
A strange woman in a hoodie, the “stranger” of the title, tells a married man that he needs to look into something about his wife. When he finds the information, she asks him for more time before she explains, then disappears. Meanwhile, the woman is also blackmailing some people with information she has found, and the man, who is a lawyer, is trying to keep some old neighbors house from being knocked down, and the company trying to knock the place down turns out to be run by the mans estranged father. Also, Jennifer Saunders is in it, briefly. That sounds like trivia, but it was the selling point for us to start watching it. Anyway, several people end up murdered, then it turns out key people are related and everybody tries to just forget it all happened. In the end, it was society or middle-class values to blame.
This was a few steps from being a parody of the mystery genre itself. It did get us hooked with the first episode, but by about the half way point we were mostly watching just to see which next twist would get thrown into the mix. I will give it credit for keeping us from guessing what was going on too early on in the show.
- Stay Close – Netflix
Also a Harlan Coben novel made into a series, and probably the leading indicator that we have been watching too many mysteries. It was only eight episodes, but my wife kept saying, “Oh, we’ve seen this one already.” through the first three, because… well, because there wasn’t a lot to set it apart.
And I almost forgot to add it to this post because I keep forgetting the title and what it was about. Seriously, in my notes I wrote “the one I keep forgetting” because I couldn’t remember it. Eddie Izzard is in it, if briefly, as is the lead actor from The Stranger (same author but not the same character or story… I think…), and an English actor who kept pulling faces that reminded me of Titus Welliver in Bosch. Too dull to be a parody I think… but I really cannot recall it well enough to be sure.
- Young Wallander – Netflix
I enjoyed the moody, introspective, and empathetic Kurt Wallander played by Kenneth Branagh, which came to the states over a decade back via the usual BBC ratline to the Americas, US public television. The moody bleakness of Sweden makes such a good background for murder.
That show was a success and when you can’t make more of them, you make a prequel! It worked for Lucas! Right? RIGHT?
So now on Netflix we have two seasons of Young Wallander which, in an odd twist that most people won’t care about, takes place in the present day, which means technically Young Wallander happens after Wallander. How can old Wallander be hopeless with tech while his younger, future self seems comfortable with it? Also, insert Benjamin Button joke here.
The show works hard at laying the groundwork for the the Branagh version of the character, perhaps too hard and too obviously, but then doesn’t do much to make the young one very interesting. It was good enough to get a second season, no doubt based on the popularity of the original, but it could have been much tighter if it had used the old show’s shorter format. Like a lot of shows, it seems to spend time looking for ways to fill out all the episodes it was contracted to provide. Very much not a parody. Also, how can you set a show in Sweden and have nobody in the main cast with blonde hair? One of the detectives actually dies her hair blonde in the second season, and I think it was just to get past this obvious error.
- The Tourist – HBO Max
The series opens up with an Irish tourist in Australia being chased by a truck, a turn of events that ends up with him in the hospital with amnesia.
“Oh no, the amnesia trope!” I hear you say, and would tend to agree that it is a bit cheesy. However, the show sticks with it firmly, even while half the characters seem incredulous about it. But it does allow you to go on a voyage of discovery with the tourist, who is trying to piece together who he is and what happened to him… and why somebody was trying to kill him… which, of course, he doesn’t remember so has to find out about afresh.
The whole thing is very improbable, and close to parody itself at times. Or maybe it was parody. Parody is generally cast as comedy, and there is comedy in this show. But sometimes comedy is just comedy. It is one of those shows where the little details can be quite amusing. Overall a fun ride. If you watch through some of his dream sequences, make sure to pause the video and read all the signage. Unusual for an HBO Max series as they dropped all the episodes at once. But it was a series they bought, so maybe they don’t bother with those.
Raised by Wolves – HBO Max
And, finally, a science fiction show and not a current day mystery! Or a parody!
Earth is wracked by a war between religious zealots, the worshipers of Sol, and the unbelievers, and all life on the planet seems likely to be wiped out shortly. An unbeliever scientist reprograms a combat android and a utility android and sends them off to Kepler 22b, a potentially Earth-like planet (which was also mentioned in a show we started watching), with a supply of embryos in order to ensure the survival of the human race.
But both sides in the war know about the planet and soon both sides are there and seem intent on finished the work started on Earth. The first season starts strong… hey, Ridley Scott directed the first two episodes… but then it meanders for a few episodes. The second season, which is two episodes shorter, stays more on point. The second season wrapped up last week, so it is available for full binge. Strange but compelling.