It's safe to say that the police procedural format has been around for a while – it's a well we keep going to since Dragnet back in the '50s because people always have (and always will) like them. I think of them as a given, like death and taxes. We've seen it go through quite the iterations over the years; everything from the more standard fare like NYPD Blue, to supernatural like The X-Files, to just plain gross like the CSI franchise and its followers. It's hard to reinvent the wheel, but this year (and last year) has sure found some interesting twists on the common form.
Now, we've seen supernatural procedurals before, but have we seen apocalyptic/Revolutionary War/witchcraft tropes all rolled into one big capital-c Concept? No, I think it's safe to say we have not. Sleepy Hollow has old archetypes (people are already rushing to call Lt. Abbie Mills Scully 2.0) and concepts all mixed in with brand new ones: what other show would think to cast John Cho as the most-likable-ever undead servant of Moloch? Now that is some creative thinking.
Okay, so full disclosure, the idea of a sitcom police procedural seemed novel and brand new to me, but I admit that I grew up in a time without Barney Miller. Apparently, the idea of a comedic procedural featuring one of the most diverse casts on television has already been done. But shouldn't it be done again? It's about time: Barney Miller ended in the early '80s. Plus, it's got some solid writing, and a great ensemble cast that makes it all its own. The recent Halloween episode was especially excellent – Andy Samberg's immature Detective Jake Peralta secretly gets most of the squad in on a bet which involves drunken Royal Babies (no offense, Prince George), a half dozen pigeons, excellent lock picking, and a lot of red herrings. Come on, doesn't that pique your interest?
Like the other two "fresh takes," this show has its precursors – it was inspired by the wildly-popular fangirl-generating BBC mini series Sherlock. But, keep in mind that Sherlock was based around 90-minute episodes: that's like a (short) feature length film. Elementary takes things, sanitizes them a little for the sake of network TV, and carefully packages it into the hour-long procedural drama. Masterful, right? Plus, it takes a traditionally white, male character, and cast it as Asian American and female. If that's not something of a new lease on life, I don't know what is.
Honorable Mention: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – as Jordan Smith pointed out earlier this week: it's like "NCIS on a jet."
Set in Sydney Australia the story revolves around Leon (Anthony LaPaglia) a police detective in his mid-40s who is married with two teenage sons. He struggles to keep his life under control but feels it slipping away from him especially after he has a fling with a woman Jane (Rachael Blake) whom he meets in a dancing class he is taking with his wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong). Jane is also surviving the breakup of her marriage to Pete (Glenn Robbins) and is simply lonely. She lives next door to Nik (Vince Colosimo) and Paula (Daniela Farinacci) a young couple with three children who seem to have a strong and happy marriage even after certain events nearly tear it apart. Sonja on the other hand suspects her husband is cheating and talks to her therapist Valerie (Barbara Hershey) about it. Valerie urges Sonja to confront Leon and tell him her feelings. Meanwhile Valerie and her husband John (Geoffrey Rush) are having problems of their own trying to come to grips with the murder of their young daughter a few years before. Somehow the lives of these eight people intersect when Leon becomes embroiled in a missing persons investigation.
For the most part the ensemble cast of mostly Australian actors is quite excellent. Many might not know the fact that LaPaglia who usually plays tough Italian New York types (One Good Cop So I Married an Axe Murderer) is actually a native Australian. Hearing his lilting and natural accent is refreshing and he gives his best acting effort yet as a man in the throes of a midlife crisis. Armstrong also turns in a quiet and subtle performance as the wife Sonja who eventually understands her husband's turmoil even though it wounds her deeply. Hershey and Rush play well off of one another as the damaged couple knee-deep in the grieving process particularly Hershey who gives an interesting twist on a successful therapist spiraling into her own self-doubt and despair. She proves once again how great an actress she really is. The other supporting characters lend depth to the story with Colosimo and Farinacci as Nik and Paula standing out the most. Their intense love affair starkly contrasts the messed-up lives of the rest of the couples.
Lantana refers to a type of plant which is filled with beautiful and exotic flowers but hides a thick thorny growth underneath. The opening shot takes us from the middle of this thorny bush where we see what appears to be a body entangled in it and pans out in a strange and slow way to show a great vista (reminiscent of David Lynch's opening to Blue Velvet). This pretty much sums up the feel of the movie--strange and slow--but not always in a positive light. While the performances are all good the pacing and subject matter brings the film down. The actions of the characters aren't always enough to keep up the momentum and the only compelling parts are when the actual mystery of the investigation start to unfold. You aren't sure who's guilty and who's not and the movie keeps you guessing until the very end. Yet the meandering personal dramas begin to get stagnant. Watching dysfunctional people deal with their marriages is something we've seen many times before.
No one is surprised when Alice comes across the dead body of one of her friends -- after all, she lives in a nursing home for the aged where people die regularly. However, Alice is not sure whether her friend's death is from natural causes, for she is convinced that the Lawnside Rest Home is threatened by something much more sinister than old age. Because Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby has been selected to serve on a local government committee to promote better relations between the police and the public, he doesn't have much time to investigate the unfounded suspicions of his favorite aunt. Only Cully seems to make the effort to visit Alice and in doing so meets a retired actress named Monica. Alice repeatedly calls the police station desperate to speak with Barnaby. When Monica dies in her sleep, Barnaby begins to take notice of Cully and Alice's concerns.