Ben Franklin’s Bones Proves Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (And More Entertaining)

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

People love drama.  A quick look through the shows dominating both the broadcast and cable networks today proves that.  The same can be said of offerings filling America’s theaters both past and present with dramas even dominating the Oscars ever since the very first Academy Awards celebration nearly ninety years ago in 1927.  Given comedies, musicals, and rom-coms have picked up their own share of Oscars for the “Best Picture” since that year.  But their wins have been extremely sparse.  So what is wrong with this seemingly never-ending fascination with drama?  The issue is that the dramas and medical procedurals that dominate television are entirely fictional.  The dramas that have won so many Oscars over the past eight decades plus have been either fictional or fictional in part.  The problem is that with so much fictional drama dominating television and movie theaters for so many decades, the importance of real life drama seems to have been decreased.  Thankfully though, PBS’s hit history-based series Secrets of the Dead continues to prove that real life drama is just as important as all the made up material on both the small screen and the silver screen.  Its new episode Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones proves that. It proves that primarily through its story of bones found in Franklin’s home in England upon renovations done on the residence back in the late 1990s. The story plays out like something right out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. The twist revealed as the story progresses will throw everyone unfamiliar with the story for a loop. The story’s pacing set against its material adds to the overall presentation. The juxtaposition of the story’s pacing to its included material will keep audiences fully engaged from start to finish. Rounding out the whole thing are the collective re-enactments, interviews, and actual footage that are used to help illustrate and advance the story. The re-enactments are kept to a minimum instead of being made the star of the show. Coupled with the video of the actual excavations and the included interviews, all three elements work in tandem to fill out the presentation and prove yet again that real life crime and medical drama can be just as gripping as the fictional material broadcast to thousands of households every week and sent to thousands of theaters every month. And together with the episode’s actual story and its pacing, everything together shows why the drama of Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones makes it a piece that every drama lover will appreciate.

Anyone that is a fan of all the fictional dramas that dominate American television and theaters will appreciate the real life drama contained in Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones. The drama comes from the story of skeletal remains found in the one-time home of Benjamin Franklin and the resultant search for clues and answers as to where the bones came from and how they got there. The bones were discovered in the late 1990s when a group of individuals was working on the house in order to turn it into a museum honoring Franklin and his legacy. The identity of the bones has never been revealed. And for those that have not yet seen this episode of Secrets of the Dead, the discovery as to the remains themselves will be left for those viewers to find out for themselves. Even more shocking to learn is the semi-criminal link to how the bodies got to the home and the purpose for which the bodies were used. It’s wild to think that as dark as everything presented in the story seems, if not for the revelations made in this episode of Secrets of the Dead, the advances made in the medical field today might never have happened. As the old adage states: truth is stranger than fiction. And because it is so much stranger than fiction, any lover of drama on television and in movies will be just as entertained by this episode of Secrets of the Dead as they would by those fictional dramas.

The story presented in Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones is just as gripping a drama as anything that could ever be written for an episode of Law & Order, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy or any other crime drama and medical procedural. The difference between this episode and those of the noted shows is that the story presented in Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones is real. It proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. And because of that it makes this episode just as entertaining as anything on television and in theaters today. As enthralling as the story in this episode proves to be in the end, the information in the story is only part of what makes it work. The story’s pacing works in tandem with its in-depth information to keep the program moving forward and interesting at the same time. No time is wasted ruminating on one aspect of the story or another more than others. Rather, equal time is offered to every part of the presentation from the discussions on the excavation and resultant research to the re-enactments to the interviews, every part of this episode receives just enough time to keep audiences engaged from start to finish, waiting on the edge of their seats to find out the next revelation.   Along with the story at the center of this episode, it and its pacing combine to strengthen the episode even more and prove even more clearly why any fan of television and theatrical dramas should watch this episode of Secrets of the Dead just as much as those fictional presentations.

The story presented in Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones and its pacing are both key to the enjoyment of this program. Both elements work together to make the story just as entertaining and as gripping as anything ever churned out by the writers at CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, or Law & Order: SVU. While both elements are equally important to the whole of Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones, there is still one more element to note that makes the episode complete. That element in question is the episode’s collective interviews, re-enactments, and actual excavation footage. These three parts make up the body of this episode’s story. And thanks to the work of those behind the episode, all three elements are given just enough time to keep things interesting. It goes right back to the show’s pacing and in turn the work of the show’s writers to keep the pacing just enough that none of the noted elements dominates the program. Had one of them dominated, it might have hindered the show and in turn made it far less interesting and enjoyable than it is. Luckily that didn’t prove to be the case. And the end result of that is an episode of Secrets of the Dead that proves again to be just as interesting and engaging as any of the major dramas on television and in theaters today. It proves to be a piece that any drama fan will appreciate just as much as those offerings.

Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones is one of the best episodes that the hit PBS series has produced to date. Whether for the in-depth information shared throughout the program, its pacing, the surprise twist revealed through the program’s in-depth information or for another reason, it proves to be just as entertaining as any crime drama and medical procedural on television and in theaters today. Some might even argue that being a real life crime drama and medical procedural in one, it is even more entertaining than said offerings on television and in theaters Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones will be available on DVD on Tuesday, March 17th. It can be pre-ordered direct from PBS’ online store now at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=57131096&cp=&sr=1&kw=secrets+of+the+dead&origkw=Secrets+of+the+Dead&parentPage=search. Audiences can check out a clip from this episode of Secrets of the Dead online now via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pkQeQJU9eU. More information on this and other episodes of Secrets of the Dead is available online now at:

 

Website: https://pbs.org/secrets

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SecretsOfTheDead

 

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Endeavour Just As Impressive As Its Forerunners

Courtesy:  PBS/itv

Courtesy: PBS/itv

PBS has proven time and again throughout 2013 why it is such an important addition to any family’s viewing schedule each day.  The network offers so much enjoyable programming for viewers of every age.  That includes its imports of itv’s recently ended series, Inspector Lewis and its new replacement, EndeavourEndeavour brings itv’s whole story started with its hit Inspector Morse series full circle as it brings viewers the story of how the famed detective got his start.  Television today is overly rife with crime dramas across the Big 4 and even across the cable spectrum.  That raises the question of what makes Endeavour stand out.  Endeavour stands out first and foremost because of its writing.  Tied directly in to the show’s writing is the overall lack of overt sex and violence.  In connection to both of the aforementioned factors of the show’s success is the acting on the part of the cast.  All three of these factors together make Endeavour stand out among the endless masses of crime dramas that currently pollute American television.

Writing is everything in any movie and television show.  Far too few people pay attention to writing as the source of a movie or television show’s success or failure.  In the case of itv’s Endeavour, the writing behind the show’s first five episodes is an example of writing done right for a crime drama.  Much as was the case with the two series the preceded this prequel to the Inspector Morse series, the writing behind this show will keep any viewer guessing all the way to each episode’s end.  There are just enough twists, turns, and red herrings to keep viewers engaged despite the roughly ninety-minute run time of each episode.  The crimes in each episode aren’t all that viewers will appreciate from this new series.  One of best examples of those twists and turns is the episode, “Fugue.”  Anyone that remembers the 1999 movie, The Bone Collector or the movie that inspired it, 1935’s The Raven (which itself was remade in 2012 with John Cusack in the starring role) will see the obvious influence of both movies in this episode.  It’s definitely one of the best episodes from Series One.

The writing behind the episodes’ primary plots will be highly appreciated by anyone that appreciates a true mystery.  There is another aspect of the writing that audiences will appreciate in the secondary plot that runs through Series One.  That secondary plot involves the bond that forms between the young Endeavour Morse and his partner of sorts, Fred Thursday.  The bond between the pair grows throughout the course of each episode.  It grows to the point that Thursday becomes a surrogate father of sorts, considering what eventually becomes of Morse’s own father.  This plays into the first series/season’s finale.  There is in fact one point in which Thursday does something that makes him more of a father figure to Morse than ever before.  It is a short moment.  But it is also a very moving moment for any viewer.  It’s one more element of the expert writing that makes Series One a wonderful introduction to what will hopefully be another long running series from itv.

The solid writing does so much to make Endeavour’s first series an impressive reintroduction to the world of Inspector Morse.  Tied directly into the show’s writing is the general lack of sex and violence throughout the first series.  This is a standard established throughout both Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis.  By comparison, the amount of sex and violence that permeates American crime dramas is stunning.  Yes, the crime scenes sometimes can be a tiny bit unsettling.  But that unsettled feeling of said crime scenes is extremely minimal at best again by comparison.  And those people within the police department aren’t big, muscle bound men and women with….shall we say overt amounts of cleavage showing.  Both men and women are dressed in full dress.  The men wear suits.  The women’s attire is just as classy.  It’s a nice change from what viewers are exposed to on the Law & Orders and CSIs and others across American television.  Keeping that in mind, it’s without a doubt, one more positive that audiences will appreciate from Endeavour: Series One.

The writing and general content included in Endeavour: Series One play very prominent roles in the show’s success.  One would be remiss to ignore what is perhaps one of the most important factors of all: the cast’s acting.  The acting of both Shaun Evans (who plays the young Inspector Morse) and Roger Allam (his mentor Fred Thursday) is just as solid as the writing itself.  The pair has such incredible on-screen chemistry. Throughout each episode, the two work so well together, whether in investigating crimes or building their personal friendship.  On another level, audiences will be just as appreciative of the acting on the part of Jack Laskey in the role of DS Peter Jakes.  Jakes is wonderfully despicable opposite Evans as Morse’s antagonist.  Jacks really makes audiences hate him.  That is the sign of top notch acting.  And along with Evans and Allam, his acting and theirs becomes the icing on the cake that is an excellent new crime drama from itv.  It is an equally wonderful addition to PBS’ lineup for audiences that have gotten so accustomed to the high standard set by this show’s forerunners.  It is available now on DVD and Blu-ray and can be ordered online direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=20427326&cp=&sr=1&kw=endeavour+series+1&origkw=Endeavour+Series+1&parentPage=search.  More information on this show and others from PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery programming is available online at http://www.facebook.com/masterpiecepbs and http://www.pbs.org/masterpiece.

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3rd Rock’s Season 6 A Funny Finale For Former Standout NBC Sitcom

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Today’s sitcoms are anything family friendly.  They have become increasingly over laden with sexual innuendo, foul language, and completely dumbed down humor.  These are the main complaints that are received by many audiences about many of the sitcoms currently airing on television’s “Big 4”, and even on some cable based comedies.  Thank goodness for companies Mill Creek Entertainment for offering audiences an alternative to the mostly blue humor that pollutes today’s comedies.  One of the most recent of those alternatives from Mill Creek Entertainment is the release of NBC’s hit sitcom, 3rd Rock from the Sun Season Six.

The sixth and final season of the once powerhouse NBC comedy is just as funny as the show’s previous five seasons thanks once again to the show’s writers.  The Solomon family continues trying to learn the ways of humans in its ongoing mission, all while creating its own share of laughs along the way.  Dick learns in the show’s final season that he’s *gasp* Canadian.  The Solomon family also temporarily takes on new lives in an alternate universe.  And Tommy experiences the human experience that is college.  These are just a few of the funny moments that fill out the final season of 3rd Rock from the Sun.  That’s not all that makes this season such a joy.  A who’s who of guest stars appears throughout Season six, too, adding to the laughs.  A whole slew of fellow NBC stars come in this season including former Saturday Night Live cast members Darrell Hammond, Tracy Morgan, and Ana Gasteyer.  Richard Belzer (Law & Order: SVU) and Mark McKinney (The Kids in the Hall) and singer Elvis Costello also show up this season.  Even as small as their parts are, the guest stars add their own comic element to the show, making it even more entertaining.

The writing in 3rd Rock’s final season is just as entertaining as it was in the series’ premiere season.  Some might have considered it a bit of a cheap thing to do a Saturday Night Live crossover and a slight pump for Law & Order: SVU.  But it all works quite well in the two-part episode, “Dick’ll Take Manhattan.”  The writers, probably knowing it was the show’s last season, take a playful stab at then fellow NBC hit, Saturday Night Live and even the NBC brass as Harry becomes the head of the network.  The writers didn’t just take a stab at NBC.  They even poked fun at HBO’s then hit show, Sex and the City, with Sally (Kristen Johnston) taking the place of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie.  It gets even funnier, with each member of the cast having their own hilarious moments.  This standout episode was just one that served as a tribute to the wit of the show’s writers.  Fans will also love the semi-political comedy of “Red, White & Dick.”  This episode sees Dick discovering that he is Canadian in his quest to become more American.  What it is about this kind of joke that makes it so funny is anyone’s guess.  Canada seems to be the butt of so many jokes in American entertainment.  But it is hilarious nonetheless, and it serves as a solid cornerstone for Dick’s attempts to become more American and in the same vein, more human.  It will have any viewer laughing till they cry.

The writing behind each episode of 3rd Rock’s final season offers nonstop laughs in every episode.  It’s a prime example of what used to make NBC a powerhouse network during the 1990s.  The cameo guest spots don’t hurt, either.  Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) appears as Mary’s (Jane Curtin) sister Renita Albright this season.  She sets out to steal Dick from Mary purely out of sibling rivalry.  That adults could be such strong rivals goes back to the show’s solid writing.  Audiences will love watching Mary and Renita going back and forth, sniping at one another like two little children.  Mullally is just one of the many guest stars that made an appearance this season.  Richard Belzer, Tracy Morgan, and Ana Gasteyer—all NBC stars—made appearances, as did singer Elvis Costello.  Costello made an appearance in the series finale.  The others all appeared in the two-parter, “Dick’ll Take Manhattan.”  Watching a then young Joseph Gordon-Levitt go toe to toe with the then rising SNL stars is a laugh riot.  Who ever would have thought that Tommy would date Ana Gasteyer.  And his moments with Tracy Morgan are just as funny.

The writing and the guest spots together make this final season a fitting way to close out what is by this critic’s view, one of the greatest sitcoms of the 20th century.  The DVD release of this season has one more aspect that while not being perfect, is still good in its own right.  Mill Creek has packaged all three discs of this set in their own envelope.  Mill Creek Entertainment is the only company that packages DVDs in this fashion.  It isn’t a perfect packaging method, considering that the envelopes are not padded.  That would make them perfect.  But having them in envelopes allows audiences to take as many discs as they want when travelling instead of having to take an entire DVD case.  This is actually quite smart in its own right.  If the higher ups at Mill Creek would maintain its form of packaging and simply make the envelopes padded, it would make this packaging fashion quite impressive and the overall presentation of its multi-disc sets that much more impressive.  3rd Rock from the Sun Season Six is available now on DVD.  It can be ordered online via the Mill Creek Direct website at https://www.millcreekdirect.com/3rd-rock-from-the-sun-season-6.html. After ordering the three-disc set, audiences can find out about more releases from Mill Creek Entertainment on its official website, http://www.millcreekentertainment.com or its official Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/MillCreekEnt.

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Series 6 A Solid Send-Off For Inspector Lewis

Courtesy:  itv/PBS

Courtesy: itv/PBS

It looks like the end is here for Detective Inspector Robert “Robbie” Lewis and his partner Detective Sergeant James Hathaway….or is it?  If the final scenes of the third and final episode of Inspector Lewis: Series Six are any indication, it would seem that this show that debuted just over seven years ago has come to an end.  Though, the rumor mill is buzzing that this may not be the last that audiences see of Inspector Lewis after all.  If it is in fact the end for the fan favorite pair of detectives, Series Six is a fine send-off for this hit show.

Series Six is a fine send off for Inspector Lewis and his partner in these supposed final episodes.  The show’s writers have crafted a trio of stories that are some of the finest that audiences have seen over the course of its seven-year run.  This series takes Detective Inspector Lewis and his partner into the world of parapsychology in its opening episode, and then onto the very twisted trail of a drug smuggler before investigating the death of a man that was killed by someone with his own car shortly after being released from jail.  The murder victim had himself been jailed for accidentally killing another person in a wreck.  The three stories together offer just enough mystery to keep audiences fully engaged throughout this series’ four-plus hours.  The most deeply engaging of the episodes included in this new set is the series’ second episode, “The Ramblin’ Boy.”  This episode is a long, in-depth episode that starts with an unidentified body being found in a ditch.  Through all of its twists and turns, it eventually leads to a plot by an associate of Lewis who is running a complex drug smuggling scheme.  The story gets deeper and deeper as it progresses.  But it’s not so deep that audiences will get lost in everything.  Those audiences that allow themselves to be fully engaged in this episode will thrill in the way that the writers tie everything together.  Those audiences that do so will see that this is just one example of how rich the writing in this series is.

 The writing in “The Ramblin’ Boy” is just one example of what makes Inspector Lewis: Series Six so enjoyable.  Audiences will be just as impressed as Inspector Lewis and Detective Sergeant Hathaway investigate the death of a man who claimed himself a clairvoyant.  The pair is drawn into the world of the paranormal after two people are killed by a mysterious individual, and a third person’s life is at risk.  The writing in this episode is just as solid as the series’ second episode.  Again, it offers just enough twists and turns to keep viewers engaged through the entire ninety minutes.  It’s not all that will keep viewers watching whether in this episode or either of the other two.  Audiences also have expert acting on the part of Kevin Whatley and Laurence Fox.

The scripts of the episodes on Series Six are just as expert as any of those in previous installments of this hit itv/PBS crime drama.  Solid scripts do plenty for any show.  But they can only go so far without proper acting on the part of the cast.  Thankfully for audiences, the acting on the part of Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox far exceeds expectations.  Having played their roles as long as they have (Whately has played Lewis since the late 1980s in the former series, Inspector Morse) the pair has learned each other.  Because of this, they gel better than ever on screen.  One wonderful example of this is seeing Lewis’ slight insecurities at working with someone other than Hathaway. “The Ramblin’ Boy” shows a rare side of Lewis when his partner goes on vacation, and he is forced to work with someone else temporarily.  It shows just how comfortable Lewis had become having one partner and how truly vulnerable he is.  It’s little intricacies such as this that makes this allegedly final series so wonderful.  Audiences finally see Lewis’ romance with Dr. Hobson (Clare Holman) revealed once and for all.  The reaction on the part of Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front) is classic.  It will leave any viewer, new or not, laughing.  His embrace with Hobson is another one of those moments that shows a more human side of Lewis.  Those moments really make Lewis so much more believable.  And they exemplify once more Whatley’s skill in front of the camera.  It’s just one more factor that makes this allegedly final series so enjoyable.  Though, there is one more factor that makes this final series so much better than any American crime drama.  That factor is something most audiences don’t take into account.  It’s the show’s costume department. 

American crime dramas are a dime a dozen.  Just as common as the mass of crime procedurals on American television is their overt objectification of both male and female characters alike.  The exact opposite is the case with both Series Six of Inspector Lewis and its previous series.  The characters in this long-running series aren’t exactly “the beautiful people.”  That’s probably a big part of the reason that it isn’t largely popular among young American audiences.  The lack of overt sexuality in this latest series (and every series before) is one of the most subtle but important factors in the series’ success.  It forces the writers to write a compelling story, rather than rely on sexuality to drive it. It’s such a welcome change.  And along with everything else already noted, it makes this series one a wonderful jumping on point for new viewers, and equally wonderful for those who have seen this show through from its beginning.  Inspector Lewis: Series Six is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.  It can be ordered online direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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Stone Soup Is One More Excellent Addition To Any Classroom Or Family’s Living Room

Courtesy:  Scholastic/New Video/New Kideo/Weston Woods

Courtesy: Scholastic/New Video/New Kideo/Weston Woods

Scholastic has made a tradition of releasing some of the best programming available to children throughout its history.  It has proven that with releases teach reading skills through some of the most entertaining children’s stories written in modern history and by celebrating the ethnic diversity of the world.  Just last month, it maintained that reputation with the release of its triple-disc set centered on the people and literature that have made African American culture as rich as it is.  Scholastic has cemented its reputation even more with the release of a collection of stories celebrating Asian history and culture.   The DVD in question is Stone Soup and Other Stories from the Asian Tradition.

Stone Soup and Other Stories continues Scholastic’s long held tradition of both entertaining young audiences and teaching valuable life lessons at the same time.  This is exemplified by all four of the stories included in this set anchored by the title story.  Stone Soup is taken from the story of the same name.  It teaches the importance of community and generosity as a group of villagers come together to make soup when a trio of monks comes to a small village.  The story is read by veteran actor B.D. Wong (Law & Order SVU).  Parents will appreciate the lessons of community and generosity.  Equally impressive in this short story is the artwork of the pictures that go along with the story.  The artwork of the pictures is rough.  It looks almost like watercolors or even chalk drawings.  Despite that richness, the pictures are so rich and vibrant in their colors.  As minor as this seems, it too plays a role in keeping young viewers engaged.  Together with the story itself and its morals, the story’s pictures bring the story together as a whole, solid anchor to this set.

The lessons of community and generosity are sure to impress parents as they are very valuable lessons that both adults and children should remember.  It’s just one of the many lessons taught through this collection of stories.  Just as important as those lessons is the lesson of being appreciative of what one has and who one is.  This lesson is taught in the collection’s final story, The Stonecutter.  Audiences meet a man named Tasaku in this story.  Tasaku is a lowly stonecutter who wishes for more.  And he gets more.  The problem is that in wishing he had more and was more than he was, he gets more than he bargained for.  He learns this lesson in a very interesting fashion.  That’s something which audiences will have to find out for themselves if they have never heard or read this story.  It’s definitely a story that makes for a wonderful starting point for discussions both in the classroom and at home.  American folk literature has its own take on the story.  But in hearing the story from a different cultural standpoint makes the story that much more interesting.  It’s interesting in that this is obviously a universal lesson.  It isn’t necessarily a lesson that is relegated to one culture and people or another.  It is that likeness of cultures that makes this set that much more enjoyable for audiences.

If the stories and lessons already noted aren’t enough, then how about the inclusions of an Asian take on the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood and a slightly supernatural tale with a moral?  Those are here too, in Lon Po Po and The Five Chinese Brothers.  Both stories add their own touch to this new set, which is available now on DVD.  IT can be ordered online at http://www.newkideo.com/scholastic/stone-soup-and-other-stories-from-the-asian-tradition/.  Regardless of whether one is studying Asian culture or simply wants to take in some enjoyable stories with equally important lessons, this is another wonderful set from Scholastic that is a good fit in the classroom or in a family’s living room.

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