Friday, June 19, 2009

Weekly Debriefing 002

Begin transmission:

• I've been watching the fourth and final Season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. this week, and I've got to say, I'm really amazed at how well the producers managed to pull the show back from the absurdity and campy depths of Season 3. If anything, they may have pulled it back a bit too far – some of the S4 episodes are positively grim.

The season begins with a mole hunt in U.N.C.L.E.'s Berlin HQ, which features a surprisingly harrowing (for 60's television, anyway) scene of Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) being interrogated by another U.N.C.L.E. agent. Unfortunately, this episode also features one of the most unconvincing uses of the MGM backlot's "waterfront," but I blame that on the director's poor blocking.

This season also features the great two-parter, "The Prince of Darkness Affair," with a fine villainous turn by Bradford Dillman. And then there's "The Deadly Quest Affair," in which my man Darren McGavin (and a lepoard!) hunts Solo and the girl of the week through the abandoned buildings and empty streets of a condemned section of New York. "The Survival School Affair" features another mole hunt, this time at U.N.CL.E.'s secret, Caribbean island training school (run by film noir tough guy, Charles McGraw)! Hell, so far (I'm about halfway through the season) there hasn't been a outright clunker in the bunch. Some of these tales are almost Mission: Impossible grim, with the heavies meeting very nasty ends indeed. Even the traditional "light moments" that we've come to expect at the end of the episodes are frequently dropped in favor of Solo and Kuriyakin (David McCallum) simply walking away or heading off to a new assignment.

The producers also spent some serious money in this last season, with some snazzy new futuristic and functional sets for U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, and a new office – and a regular secretary/assistant – for Mr. Waverly (Leo G. Carroll). This season the writers also seemed to have a firmer hand on how exactly U.N.C.L.E. was organized and run. That helped the verisimilitude of the stories, too.

Well, even if it was too late to recapture the vast audience that tuned out and never came back after their ill-advised embrace of dumb camp comedy in Season 3, it's nice to know that, creatively anyway, the program redeemed itself somewhat before it was canceled.

• Still working my way through Get Smart Season 3 an episode or two at a time. Still funny after 40 years. "Maxwell Smart, Private Eye" and "99 Loses CONTROL" (with guest villain Jacques Bergerac of Special Mission Lady Chaplin) are a couple of real stand outs so far. Barbara Feldon... sigh....

• It turns out that I was able to pick up the Second season DVD set of Burn Notice (which came out this past Tuesday), after all. I don't have cable – or even broadcast television now, actually – so I've been following this series on disc. I've managed to avoid any spoilers for the season, which isn't easy in this internet age. I've only watched the first episode so far, but I'm still diggin' it.

• Didn't read any spy fiction this week or watch any spy movies (just TV shows). Been under the gun on some writing/editing projects, and had a death in the family, so time's been tight. Watching some TV episodes (the aforementioned U.N.C.L.E.s and Smarts) during meal breaks was about the most I could manage. Maybe I can get back to those Alan Caillou paperbacks next week. I would really like to start posting some more book reviews here.

How was your week?

End transmission.


David said...

My week was good. Sorry for your loss.

I picked up the 1990's Get Smart series this week - and have started to watch it. It's only then that you truly realise how well written the '60s series is!

My other foible this week is that I hired '24' - season one from Blockbuster. Now I have never watched '24' but have always wanted to - I have trouble commiting to broadcast tv with all the ads etc. Anyway, it's a weekly hire and I didn't do my math. Even at forty minutes per episode '24' comes in at '21' hours. That's 3 hours viewing per day. So as the week has progressed, I have found myself getting further and further behind. The set is due back today and I have 8 episodes to go (yeah I am up to 3:00pm). So that's how I'll be spending my day.

Enjoying the 'Spy-Fi' Channel enormously, and looking forward to your next posts.


Zokko said...

I too am sorry to hear about your loss.

'U.N.C.L.E.' season 4 is indeed marvellous and had it not been cancelled might have been the best of the lot. It was good to see writers coming up with original plots instead of the usual hokum about kidnapped scientists and their pretty daughters.

RJR said...

I remember UNCLE season 4 had a scene where Napolean cries. That alone tells you the difference between 4 and the first 3 seasons.