Call them potboilers, page turners, or sanctioned Summer/Vacation reads, but a good mystery makes the heart soar… and, typically, the head hurt. Unless you’re someone who grabs the latest celebrated tome and rushes to the final sentences to see “whodunit”, the fun of any detective story is deducing along with the lead. Sometimes, we are smarter than our goofy guide through the clues. In other instances, we can’t possibly be as erudite and intelligent as the person parsing through the suspects. It’s all about the reveal, the coming together of hints and hidden connections that lead to the moment when fingers are pointed and—typically—butlers are blamed. There’s also a fascination with the figures dishing out the denouements, individuals with perception and drive that put mere mortals to shame.
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Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was a yearly end of school ritual. We would sit in our living rooms, Libbyland Dinner’s cooling on the TV tray, waiting for the Big Three Networks (yes, we only had ABC, CBS, and NBC back then, along with PBS and various UHF options) to announce their Summer Saturday morning cartoon selections. We would wait to see what was returning, what Sid and Marty Krofft had up their sleeve, and what new offerings would become our watercooler (read: local park and/or playground) conversation pieces. Today, with 24-hour networks devoted to animation and dozens of daily examples to enjoy, there’s an overload that even the most ADD-addled child would find daunting. The same applies to adults who like animation. Certainly there are choices for the mature viewer within the kiddie spectrum, but sometime, the options are adult swim or Comedy Central oriented.
The bad movies. That’s all anyone ever wants to talk about. Manos. Mitchell. The audacity of taking on a pseudo classic like This Island Earth. The creative constitution it must have required to endure the aesthetic horrors of Time of the Apes, The Castle of Fu Mancho, or Attack of the the Eye Creatures. But there remains so much more to Mystery Science Theater 3000 than Arch Hall Jr., Coleman Francis, and Merritt Stone. As a matter of fact, one of the first things critics latched onto where the sensational skits, in between bits that often commented directly on the film being shown. Yet there were also times when the material was merely “inspired” by the work being presented, said muse mutated into wit that transpired the sloppy celluloid circumstances. It’s these boffo blackouts that deserve reconsideration and concentration. SE&L, confirmed MiSTies, will highlight 10 of the best forays into funny stuff the Satellite of Love and its occupants ever attempted.
PopMatters reviewed the first half of Season 7 of Perry Mason here. This set closes the season with the last 15 episodes, aired from January to May 1964. As legal beagle Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) defends various suckers from charges of murder, the quest for fresh twists leads to a couple of episodes that dispose of the courtroom proceedings early in the show as a kind of appetizer to the main action. The best of these is “The Case of the Nervous Neighbor”, about an old lady who doesn’t remember that she killed her husband! That one has a rare dramatic role for ventriloquist Paul Winchell.
Writer Jonathan Latimer, who dominated the first half of the season, is here responsible only for “The Case of the Frightened Fisherman”, in which he manages once again to introduce an animal character. However, the season’s most notable twist is the absence of trusty secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) from a string of episodes. Instead we’re treated to surprise appearances by the bug-eyed receptionist Gertie (Connie Cezon), a figure often referenced but rarely seen. Contrariwise, Ray Collins (as Lt. Tragg) continues to be billed but is never seen at all in this batch.
How does the best show on TV get better? By delving more deeply into subjectivity: the dreams, nightmares and even acid trips of its characters. Season Five of Mad Men gets more expressionist as it explores the anxieties of the men and women of American advertising in 1966. The more closely you’ve followed the series, the more each episode is like a psychic depth charge emitting time-released surges of pure pleasure as it lingers in the brain. One source of pleasure is the paradox of how the saddest show on TV can be so funny. It’s always reminded me of a New Yorker story that somehow got turned into a weekly series.
These beautifully crafted hours have always been superb at drawing thematic parallels between the various subjects of its narrative cross-cutting; for example, examine the episode that touches on the Richard Speck murders and how it reverberates through the consciousness of various female characters, ending on the wildly incorrect Crystals’ song “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)”. That one’s called “Mystery Date” after the nostalgia-inducing commercial for that girl’s game. Then there’s the startling episode that untwines its three arcs to present them consecutively, a choice mixing clarity with disorientation in a manner that echoes one characters’ LSD experience.
The 13 episodes come with multiple audio commentaries by various combinations of actors, writers, directors and other creative contributors, and the addict will find them all convivial excuses to watch each show several times. Other bonuses look at cultural elements, like a piece on Truman Capote’s legendary Black and White Ball of November 1966; alas, that doesn’t play a part in any of the episodes.