Tag Archives: Television

Saturdays @ the South: Fun with Time Travel (and also Murder)

Time after Time on ABC. Image from tvguide.com

I’m not sure how I nearly missed the memo that there was a new show starting last week that I can easily see fulfilling my need for campy fun with a somewhat-literary twist. I found out only just in time to set my DVR to a season pass for Time after Time an ABC drama that, while I don’t think it’s intention is to be funny, seems to be cracking some viewers up all the same.

The premise for the series is this: Legendary and groundbreaking sci-fi author H.G. Wells built a time machine prior to his authorial turn and while bandying about in Victorian times, manages to have said time machine stolen by Jack the Ripper. Both travel to modern-day New York City. Murder & mayhem ensue, Wells feels guilty and tries to track Jack the Ripper down and stop him. The series is also apparently very meta as it is based on a movie which was based on a 1979 novel by Karl Alexander (sadly, unavailable in NOBLE at this time).

For those of you looking for a more reality-based primer prior to watching (or completely ignoring) this show, here’s some brief info. H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was a British author most well known for writing The Time Machine and War of the Worlds but was also a sociologist, journalist and historian. His first book was, surprisingly, given his reputation for fantastical fiction in later life, a biology textbook. Jack the Ripper‘s true identity has never been officially proven , but numerous theories and obsessions abound about the pseudonymous murderer who struck in London’s Whitechapel district between August and November of 1888. It is also possible that the killer committed murders prior to and after those dates, depending upon how certain crimes of that time are viewed. Jack the Ripper has captured the imagination of many true-crime aficionados who still speculate who he was.

I’m not going to lie, I’m surprised to see these two figures in a television show together, given that the only link between them is that they were both alive in England in 1888. But I suppose that when one writes speculative fiction, it leaves those of us who read that work scads of leeway to speculate on our own.  If you’re interested in this show, or if aspects of time travel or Jack the Ripper appeal to you, you’re in luck. Here are some options for your reading and viewing pleasure:

Ripper by Isabel Allende

This is a fast-paced thriller in which true-crime aficionados around the world convene in an online role-playing game called Ripper. Most of these players are teenagers solving real-life mysteries on the game based on information fed by a game master, who gets her information from her dad, the Chief Inspector of the San Francisco police. This book is ideal for those who perhaps have some of their own theories about Jack the Ripper or who like Time after Time‘s modern caper appeal.

I, Ripper by Stephen Hunter

This is a historical thriller set in Victorian London. The main protagonist is none other than Jack the Ripper and Hunter goes to great lengths to get deep inside the mind of a killer, re-imagining how and why he might have done what he did. This is a natural pick for those intrigued by Jack the Ripper but would also appeal to those fascinated by the likes of Hannibal Lecter .

Ripper Street

This TV series, already discussed here on the blog is just fantastic. It follows the capers of the H Division detectives in London’s police force just after the Ripper murders as it delves into a re-imagined Whitechapel with several characters based on real-life investigators who were involved in (and somewhat undone by) the Ripper investigation. It is stunning, visually, in character development and in plot twists and is well worth watching.

Just One Damned Thing after Another by Jodi Taylor

This is the first book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series in which Madeline “Max” Maxwell is a time-traveling historian (quite possibly the coolest job description ever). There’s one major rule that all in that profession must follow: no interaction with the locals; observation only when time-traveling. Naturally, this doesn’t work out particularly well and Max realizes that being a historian who time-travels is a pretty dangerous activity.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Tom Barren’s 2016 is not the same as our 2016. It is the 2016 imagined by those living in the 1950s, complete with flying cars and moving sidewalks. Then, through a time-traveling mishap, he winds up in our version of 2016, complete with punk-music (which never needed to exist in his world) in what seems to him like a dystopian wasteland. His ultimate question is whether he fixes the tear in reality that occurred during the mishap and get back to his idealistic world, or learns to live and survive and possibly change for the better, the horrors of the time we live in.


This Showtime show is a perennial favorite at the South Branch and involves a nurse in 1946 who time-travels back to 1743 Scotland. Her heart is torn between the husband she loves and left behind in her own time and the man who she is forced to marry in the past in order to save her own life.

Till next week, dear readers, I’m going to try to get the Cyndi Lauper song out of my head…

My New Year’s Resolution…

Someone at a holiday party started talking about New Year’s Resolutions yesterday, which is a conversation I generally despise…but this time around, I came up with an answer.

I want to learn to be more like Jessica Fletcher.


For those of you who have never had the good fortune to meet Jessica, she is the main character on Murder, She Wrote, a character played by the incomparable and sublime Angela Lansbury.

Jessica Beatrice Fletcher lives in Cabot Cove, the most stereotypical Maine town to ever have been brought to the screen–698 Candlewood Lane, to be precise.  Though she studied journalism in her youth, she worked as a teacher for many years before becoming a world-renown mystery author, a change that only happened when her nephew, Grady, submitted one of her manuscripts to a publisher without Jessica knowing.  Over the course of twelve seasons, she published some 42 books, and solved nearly 300 murders, but my count, anyways (there were 268 episodes of the show, and 4 tv movies).

angela-lansbury-at-her-typewriter-murder-she-wroteThe format of these shows are pretty reliable in terms of plot–Jessica in involved in some endeavor that is broadening her horizons, whether that is traveling, preparing for visitors, finishing a new novel, working on her garden, or teaching a class (I remember that she taught writing and criminology, though I am sure there were more).  In pretty short order, someone turns up dead under mysterious circumstances, and Jessica proves herself the only person capable of unmasking the murderer (if it were real, Cabot Cove would have one of the highest murder rates in the nation–higher than a city 20 times its size!).  Usually, she is assisted or threatened in some way by a famous or soon-to-be famous guest star (this blog post does a good job pointing out some of the most famous names that appeared on the show).  From Lansbury’s fellow Broadway stars, like Jerry Orbach and Harvey Fierstein, to television familiars like George Takei and Neil Patrick Harris, Cabot Cove was awash with talent.

As a kid, I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch Murder, She Wrote, and now that I am grown-up (or at least doing a decent impression of a grown-up), I am lucky enough to have a group of dear friends with whom I intend to grow old and curmudgeonly, and who enjoy Murder, She Wrote with the same unabashed relish that I do.

And the more I think about, the more I am convinced that I want to be more like Jessica Fletcher.

flat800x800075fI am not alone in this quest.  There have been several internet posts dedicated to Jessica Fletcher as an anti-ageist paragon for the ages, which wisely points out that she begins a new life and embarks on new adventures at precisely the age when ‘society’ tells us that we should stop adventuring.  Another post talks about Jessica’s courage, facing the world as a single, older lady, and taking down snarky law-enforcement agents, rascally businessmen, and lecherous retirees with equal aplomb and grace.  And I agree with each of them whole heartedly.

But for me, Jessica Fletcher isn’t just who I want to be when I get older, but who I want to be now.

On the surface, Jessica wears whatever she wants to, and doesn’t apologize to anyone (this is also proven by Mrs. Fletcher’s Closet, a blog, which chronicles Jessica’s wardrobe by episode and by season).  My favorite moment of the series, as my friends know, is in Series 1, Episode 2, when Jessica dons her enormous fish cardigan:

The Cardigan, front and back, courtesy of http://www.fantasi.net/knittedgoods.html
The Cardigan, front and back, courtesy of http://www.fantasi.net/knittedgoods.html


Even in the not-so-subtle eighties, I feel like this was a bold fashion choice.  But Jessica doesn’t let her cardigan boss her around–she wears those leaping trout and whale-things with pride and a confidence that I really would love to emulate.  I’m not sure that I myself could ever successfully pull off a wooly homage to our friends of the sea, but in a world that seems convinced it has the right to tell people, particularly women, what they “can” and “cannot” wear, when, and why, the fish sweater is a source of constant inspiration.

Which leads me to another point–Jessica Fletcher has guts.  And not only because she faces down murderers, criminals, and ne’er-do-wells, often without back-up, and often at the risk of her own safety and well-being.  What I love is that Jessica lives fearlessly–she glides from Connecticut to Ireland, from the American southwest to New York City, frequently on her own.  And she turns each of these trips into an adventure, making new acquaintances, trying new things, hunting down criminals, and nearly always making allies with local law enforcement.

s01e01-jessica-joggingNo matter where she goes, Jessica makes friends, from multi-millionaires to homeless wanderers.   She respects other people’s stories and journeys without regard to the material benefits they can provide her, but, more importantly, without compromising her own needs or beliefs.  When visiting the estate of a ridiculously wealthy friend, Jessica is to be seen jogging around his estate of a morning in her quintessential tracksuit, hair and make-up stunning and intact (see the photo on the left).  While helping some local immigrants to Cabot Cove, Jessica not only faces down the US government, but a Soviet spy, as well.  And then serves dinner without missing a beat.

1395591810-0More than anything, as these examples show, Jessica is strong enough to live her life on her terms.  She doesn’t shrink from living alone after the death of her husband, from starting a new career later in life, from venturing into a new romance (though no man ever got the best of Ms. J.B. Fletcher), from escaping from an ancient Irish castle, or from adopting one of her many impromptu disguises and swanning around where she is not otherwise allowed.  And, no matter how many demands her friends, family, and her crime-fighting may make on her time, Jessica doesn’t let anything stand in the way of her writing.  For twelve years (at least), she put out an average of two-and-a-half books a year.

And, speaking of which, Jessica is a dedicated patron of the Cabot Cove Library.  To the point where she is allowed to lock up after the Librarian leaves.  There is no higher honor than that, dear readers, I can assure you.


And so, for all these reasons, and so many, many more, I hope that, in 2017, I can learn to be more like Jessica Fletcher.

If you would like to learn a little more about the Jessica Fletcher Lifestyle, check out the first season of Murder, She Wrote, as well as the many spin-off books that the tv series inspired.

Some catching up to do…

I have to admit–and this will come as a shock to anyone who joins us frequently at the Free For All (sarcasm)–but I am not much of a TV person, if left to my own devices.  I certainly enjoy a good series as much as the next person, but, in part due to commitment issues, and in part due to the fact that the shows I love are nearly always cancelled, I generally stick to the tried and true stuff that will never let you down.


Thankfully, I am surrounded by friends and co-workers who are not only extraordinarily good at providing book recommendations, but are also far more daring than I when it comes to television, and are always ready to offer advice on what shows I should have started watching a year or so ago.

downloadIn addition to all the super-terrific books waiting for you, it turns out that the Library is an ideal place to catch up on your favorite, and soon-to-be-favorite TV shows…or to discover new-to-you shows.  We are constantly updating our DVD collections to bring you the latest seasons of popular and foreign tv shows, and, thanks to our Hoopla subscription, you can also stream tv shows right on your computer or handheld-device, for free!  As all the major networks are gearing up to launch new seasons and new series in the next few weeks, this is a perfect time to catch up on past seasons of shows that will be launching soon.  On top of that, the Internet and cable channels like HBO have helped television shows evolve far, far beyond what many imagined the small screen was capable.  The result is that your upcoming binge-watching session will come with all the depth of plot, special effects, and production qualities of many movies, but with plenty of episodes to keep your heart pounding and your mind whirling.

Here are just a few recommendations from me, with un-ending thanks to my fellow Library Staff who were kind enough to introduce me to many of these stellar series:

3453785EndeavourLady Pole had recommended this series to me a while back, but it wasn’t until this summer that I was able to see just what she was raving about, and enjoy it for myself.  While this series can easily be enjoyed by all viewers, fans of Colin Dexter’s world-famous Inspector Morse mysteries (a series of books that is very close to my heart) will find an added level of enjoyment here, as the hero of this series is none other than Endeavour Morse himself.  This series, however, takes place in the 1960’s, when Morse (who we met at the end of his career) is a young rookie Constable, solving murders and righting wrongs in his native Oxford.  The set, costumes and mysteries in this show are all delightful, immersive, and very well-plotted, however, for me, the real treat here is getting to know another side of Morse, and seeing how he evolved into the man Colin Dexter described, thanks to a marvelous performance by Northern Irish actor Shaun Evans.

3652814American Horror Story: This is one show I never, ever would have considered, were it not for the suggestions of others–even though I love horror novels and scary stories, I am not at all good at watching them unfold on the screen.  But while this series indubitably fulfills every horror fans’ hunger for jump-scares, blood, and gore, and revels in the grotesqueries of its characters, it is also a surprisingly well-plotted, comprehensive, and remarkably well-made show that features some of the most impressive costuming and prosthetics that I’ve ever seen.  I began this show with Season Three: Freak Show, which features Elsa Mars, the proprietor of a troupe of human “curiosities”, who, while traveling through rural Florida in 1952, discover an evil that threatens local inhabitants and ‘freaks’ alike.  However, it’s important to note that, which each series of this show is an independent one that can be enjoyed by anyone, each series hangs together to form a huge, metaplot that viewers can only hope, soon, to understand, so I would recommend acquainting yourself with other series, as well, in order to fully enjoy the ups and downs of this truly unique show.

3749607London SpyThis mini-series was one of the few that I discovered on my own, and while the plot might be a wee bit uneven, I was basically incapable of functioning until I understood how this incredibly twisty, complex plot unfolded.  Danny (played by the utterly remarkable Ben Whishaw) is a hedonistic, romantic young man who seems content to simply float through life, until a chance encounter with a stranger one lonely morning makes him think of a future.  Alex is nothing like Danny–he is an introverted genius, seemingly more interested in computers than in other people.  But together, Danny and Alex forge a beautiful, honest, and life-changing relationship that ends abruptly when Danny finds Alex murdered in his flat.  In the aftermath of the discovery, Danny finds out that Alex was actually employed by the British Secret Intelligence Service–and that everything he thought was true about their relationship might be a horrible lie.  As I said, the plotting of this show is a little uneven at times, and the final revelations are downright silly at times, but what makes this show so utterly, completely gripping is the power of the relationships portrayed, and the depth of the main characters.  Danny’s quest for the truth is downright terrifying, heart-wrenching, and totally immersive, making me more than willing to forgive the rather convoluted way in which this show drew to a close.

We hope these recommendations give you some hours of great viewing!

DRAGONS! A Game of Thrones If/Then Post

Courtesy of The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk
Courtesy of The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk

As I mentioned a little while back, when I’m not hanging out with the books, I teach at A Local University.  And, as it happens, all my students are obsessed (seriously…obsessed) with HBO’s Game of Thrones.  To the point where we make Game of Thrones analogies in class to help them better understand the History of the British Empire.  To the point where we had to delay class for ten minutes today so that everyone could finish venting, speculating, wondering, and lamenting what was, apparently, a stellar episode.

For the record, I love when students bring their outside lives to class, because 1) It means they are comfortable enough in class to bring their whole selves, 2) It means they are engaged with their other students, 3) It gives me ideas for blog posts to listen to them talk.

Episode 6 scene 20

As many of you may have heard, George R.R. Martin, the author of Song of Ice and Fire series (the first of which is titled A Game of Thrones) had always intended the books to be ahead of the series, so that readers would know in advance what was going to happen (to the extent that the show and the books aligned).  Lately, however, life has gotten in the way, and Martin missed the deadline for the seventh book in the series, The Winds of Wintermeaning that, for the first time, the show was ahead of the book in term of “what happens next” (sources report, however, that we may see the book by the end of this year, or early in 2017).  While this was certainly a blow to readers, who adore Martin’s detailed prose, his insanely complex world-building, and the sheer grandeur and goriness of his books, it’s made this season of Game of Thrones as much of a surprise for long-time fans as it is for those who discovered the series through HBO’s adaptations.

It turns out, my students fall into both categories.  Many are just discovering the addicting power of Martin’s work, but there are a number of students who are casting around for something to keep them going through the long, dragon-less days ahead.  And so for them, especially (and for you, of course!), I started putting together a list of other epic fantasy series that will tide even the most devoted Game of Thrones fan until the next scintillating episode, or series installment….

If you enjoy/enjoyed Game of ThronesThen be sure to try:

2255985The Darkness that Comes BeforeR. Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing novels are perhaps a bit more philosophical than Martin’s books, as it focuses on a world undergoing a Second Apocalypse and all the holy men, crusaders, magicians, and prophets that herald its coming, but it does have that sense of dark foreboding that makes Martin’s work so compelling.  Bakker also does an impressive job balancing the epic scope of his fiction world, known as Eärwa, its armies and teeming streets, with court intrigue, love affairs, and personal interactions, making this book a page-turner on a number of levels.  There are two other books in the Prince of Nothing series, all of which have been published, so you won’t have to wait to find out what happens next.

51LyGnWecTL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Chronicles of the Black Company: For those whose favorite parts of Game of Thrones are the scenes on the Wall with the Night Watch, then this book is definitely for you.  The men of the Black Company wander their shadowy world, doing the work that no others are brave enough–or foolhardy enough–to do.  But as rumors of the White Rose begin to filter into their camps, the promise of a source of good in their bleak days, the world as they know it begins to change.  Glen Cook brings the world of epic fantasy down to the individual in these books, and the relationships and interactions between the men of the Black Company is what makes this book such a success.  As before, this the the beginning of a full series, so you can enjoy all their exploits without worry.

3613007The City Stained Red: For what it’s worth, Sam Sykes is my favorite author on this list, not only because I love the world that he has created in his Bring Down Heaven series, but also because his books are delightfully funny, his characters quirky, and its evident he is having so much fun creating this world that its impossible to not have fun while reading.  In these books, a rag-tag band of adventurers, lead by Lenk,(a man whose past is in itself the stuff of legends) must somehow defeat an ancient god who is tearing the city of Cier’Djaal apart at the seams.  Their quest will bring them into the heart of a deeply complex city, and up against the might of two frighteningly powerful armies, with plenty of action and some great plot twists to keep things interesting.  The adventures continue, and the stakes grow even higher, in the recently released The Mortal Tally.

Saturdays @ the South: Getting Cozy

Allow me to start with sincerest apologies for the lack of Saturdays @ the South last week. It is the first time since this column’s beginning over a year ago that it hasn’t appeared and I certainly hope it will be the last. In the meantime, let’s move forward with this week’s content (and, hopefully, your forgiveness…).


I’ve noticed that television seems to be getting mighty cozy lately. I don’t necessarily mean that TVs have gotten smaller (if anything TVs have gotten bigger…) or that they’ve gotten warmer, but they are showing more cozy mysteries. What exactly is a “cozy mystery,” and how is it different from any other mystery you might ask? A cozy mystery is a book that’s generally defined as a mystery where the person following the clues and solving the puzzle is an amateur sleuth (as opposed to a police detective or private investigator who do such things professionally). Another characteristic of the cozy mystery is that they consist mostly of “offstage” violence, meaning that even though a murder (or sometimes several) take place, the action of the murder doesn’t take place on the page. It’s referred to or stumbled upon, but not “seen” by the characters and, therefore, not by the reader, either. Lastly a cozy mystery usually involves an insular community where people usually know each other, either a small town or a specific neighborhood in a large town, so the murder is often considered more shocking or potent.

MV5BMTkwMjg2NzczNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzg5ODcyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_If any of these characteristics are ringing a bell to you, it could be because television gave us over a decade of a classic (though not derived from a book) cozy mystery: Murder She Wrote. Those who didn’t settle in after 60 Minutes on a Sunday night in the late ’80s and early ’90s are people unknown to me. Murder She Wrote has all the makings of a classic cozy mystery: an amateur sleuth (the inimitable and ever-classy Jessica Fletcher), offstage violence and an insular small town (the fictional Cabot Cove, ME, inspired by  real-life inlet in Kennebunkport, but actually filmed on the wrong coast in Mendocino, CA), though Jessica had to travel far and wide to keep solving crimes for 12 seasons. In many cases, cozy mysteries found on television or film are often based on books (as we shall see), but in this case, such was the love for Jessica  Fletcher that the TV series inspired a still-running series of books which can be found both in paper copies and in Overdrive as e-books.

It is usually the other way around, however, in which a book (or usually in the case of cozy mysteries, a series of books) inspires a TV series. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries are generally considered the birth of the cozy (and has had several iterations on television), but the genre has exploded into a massive number of sub-genres (including pet cozies, culinary cozies- with recipes!, crafting cozies, paranormal cozies, historical cozies and so. much. more), so there are *plenty* of cozies to choose from when it comes to adapting television scripts. If you’d like to get a sense of the variety of the cozy-mystery world, I highly recommend you check out http://www.cozy-mystery.com/, which in my opinion is THE source for all things cozy. While I find the pseudonymous Erin Martin who runs the site to have a broader definition of a cozy than traditionally used (she includes some gentler police procedurals like the South Branch favorite Death in Paradise, in her cozy TV roundup), there is no denying that she has created a comprehensive resource that is regularly updated and broken down in many searchable ways.


Cozies have graced the screen easily since the late 1970s, early 1980s when Murder She Wrote was in good company with the likes of Miss Marple, Father Brown based on G.K. Chesterton’s series, Lord Peter Wimsy based on Dorothy L. Sayers’s mysteries and many more, but lately, I’ve been seeing somewhat a resurgence. Perhaps it’s just that I’m noticing them more on television or maybe there’s a genuine uptick in production (is there a grant out there that will allow us to research this?), but I’ve found several book-to-TV cozies out there that I thought would be fun to share with you all.


This is a British import brought to our TV screens by PBS but was inspired by James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers mystery series. I am familiar only with the TV series (it was only until I was actually paying attention to the credits that I noticed they were based on books) but Grantchester is a delightful series that takes its 1950s setting and uses it to discuss some of the more pertinent issues of today (abortion, racism, domestic violence). Lest you think a cozy get too heavy, it is also about the Sidney Chambers, the local vicar who has a kindly nature, helps the locals and has a rewarding friendship with the town’s detective, but battles his own personal flaws as well, making him a more complex character than can often be seen in a genre that can, at times, feel cookie-cutter.

Photo Credit: Katie Yu/Crown Media - as used on http://www.soapoperanetwork.com
Photo Credit: Katie Yu/Crown Media – as used on http://www.soapoperanetwork.com

Murder She Baked

This is a Hallmark Movies and Mystery channel offering of several movies. Murder She Baked is based on Joanne Fluke’s bestselling Hannah Swenson mysteries in which a baker in a small town in Minnesota occasionally solves murders in her hometown. The series is fairy true to the text when it comes to adapting the books (so far: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, Plum Pudding Murder and Peach Cobbler Murder with a new special A Deadly Recipe, based on the Fudge Cupcake Murder, on June 19th). This is a great way to see characters from a beloved series come alive and it has a great twist on the amateur sleuth angle. While Swenson is very capable in tracking down clues because she’s such an integral part of the town, the police investigators are not the bumbling screw-ups that one often finds such books. They are smart and capable and are often one step ahead of Hannah, she just happens to uncover one or two clues that the townspeople are otherwise unwilling to reveal to the police.

MV5BMjMwODYzMzAzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTQ1MTk5MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Death Comes to Pemberley

This is another British export brought stateside by PBS, this miniseries is taken from PD James’s book of the same name. James (and the miniseries) takes the beloved characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and transports them six years after the action of Austen’s novel takes place. When Elizabeth’s disgraced sister Lydia returns crying that her husband has been murdered. it is Elizabeth Darcy (nee Bennett) who must look into the clues to prevent an execution. As someone who utterly adores Pride and Prejudice, I was hesitant to like this series, but the stellar acting and genuinely intriguing plot left me in suspense in all the right ways with a satisfying, but not too easy solution.

Aurora-Teagarden-Mystery-A-Bone-to-PickAurora Teagarden Mysteries

This is another TV movie series put on by the Hallmark Movies and Mystery channel. what was surprising about this series is not that it was adapted from books, but from who wrote these cozy mysteries. Charlaine Harris writes the Aurora Teagarden series, but she is better known for her other, considerably less-cozy paranormal Sookie Stackhouse mysteries that inspired the HBO series True Blood. Harris certainly proves that authors are in no way limited by their creativity and imaginations. In this series, Aurora Teagarden is a member of the Real Murders Club, in which amateurs study famous crimes, often gets herself involved in real murders taking place in her small town.

I hope this look into cozy mysteries currently or recently on TV has whet your whistle for the expansive genre both on TV and in books. There’s plenty more to choose from, so feel free to stop by the South Branch anytime to chat cozies! There are so many out there, you’re bound to find one that suits your tastes. Till next week, dear readers, whether you’re staying in and getting cozy or enjoying the beautiful weather, never forget the library is here to recommend books and much more!

On the Screen: Lucifer


Books make terrific fodder for movies and television, as we’ve often noted here.  But when it was announced that Fox was adapting DC Comics’ Lucifer into a television show, there was both great rejoicing, and enormous trepidation.

This Lucifer is based on the character first established in Free-For-All Favorite Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.  He later got his very own spin-off series, written by another of our favorites, Mike Carey.  This Lucifer isn’t the horned, tailed, cloven-hoof specter of puppet shows and pantomimes; instead, he’s very much based on the Devil from John Milton’s Paradise Lost–well spoken, deep thinking, and very, very opposed to be told what to do.  In Gaiman’s version, however, Lucifer also grew terribly bored, not only with ruling Hell for 10 billion years, but also in the various stereotypes and assumptions about him that simply weren’t true: he never traded in souls, or manipulated people into behaving badly.  So he dispersed the demons and souls who were in Hell, and locked the gates, adopting a mortal form, and moving to earth–first, Perth, in Australia, and then Los Angeles.

Why yes, David Bowie did inspire this version of Lucifer...
Why yes, David Bowie did inspire this version of Lucifer…

In Carey’s series, Lucifer’s retirement is harshly interrupted by the return of several otherwordly figures from his past, and the stirring of his still-simmering anger over the lack of genuine free will that exists in the universe he is forced to endure.  As a result, Lucifer decides to create his own universe, where sin is not a pre-destined concept, much to the obvious concern of the legions of Heaven.  The resulting series is full of epic battles, complex contests of wit and savagery, and a long-running analysis on the reality of free will and honesty.

Which is quite a lot to fit into a single hour-length television show.

lucifer-fox-vertigoBut while the good people at Fox have distilled Lucifer’s story to something more akin to a police procedural (during his “retirement”, he becomes involved with a female detective, and uses his powers for justice, if not always for good), they are making increasing use of Gaiman’s and Carey’s plotlines, concepts, and ideologies, which may be the key to saving it from being some new-fangled kind of Law and Order with angels.  This Lucifer is cynical, sarcastic, hedonistic, and self-centered, but he’s still not the sleazy-car salesman of past iterations.  Instead, this is a Lucifer who finds himself far more drawn to humans, to their foibles, shortcomings, and dreams, than he imagined possible.  And, in his growing battle with his brother angel, Amenadiel, it becomes increasingly clear that Lucifer may have more in common with humanity than he now does with his winged-brethren.

Still, there is a lot missing from this adaptation.  And some of that is understandable, as I’m not entirely sure how Fox would go about creating a new universe.  Nevertheless, as the series continues (and rating increase), it seems that there is a growing willingness to venture deeper into the pages…we finally saw the true face of Lucifer’s assistant, Mazikeen, in a final shot a few weeks back, which, to me, was the first in what I can only hope is a series of nods to those who loved Lucifer before he ever appeared on their television screens.

For those who feel some sympathy for the devil (hardy har), check out some of these selections, and see how other humans have dealt with that most interesting of villains (anti-heroes?  anti-villains?).

1523127Sandman: Obviously, if you’re a fan of the show, there’s no better place to start than with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, which introduced the world to (this incarnation of) Lucifer Morningstar.  Though Gaiman originally based Hell on the version created by Alan Moore in Swamp ThingLucifer himself is very much the product of Neil Gaiman’s fathomless imagination.  He appears and re-appears throughout the series, and it’s a testament to Gaiman’s gifts as a storyteller that his story arc is as developed and moving as Dream’s.   You can follow Lucifer on the rest of his wild journeys in Mike Carey’s Lucifer series.

2702516Sandman SlimThough similar in name, Richard Kadrey’s series present a much, much different world than either Gaiman or Carey, but they are a marvel just the same; fans of noir-style novels and like their paranormal with a twist of the genuinely bizarre, look no further.  James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, spent eleven years in Hell, having been banished there by some fellow members of the magic circle, the Sub Rosa to which he belonged.  Having returned to LA, he is determined to have his revenge–but the LA has changed.  And so has Stark.  I love this series to the point of recklessness.  The off-beat humor is sublime, the settings are weird and a little creepy, and so marvelously detailed that you can smell the cheap liquor on the bartops.  Things only get better when Lucifer himself puts in an appearance (he is a consultant on his biopic, naturally).  His exchanges with Stark are startlingly insightful, and really helped this series progress in a whole different direction.

3200846Up Jumps The Devil: This one-off novel is, as incongruous as it may sound, a love story, featuring the Devil (in this version, his name is John Scratch) and a fellow fallen angel named Arden.  Having decided that the world was just too scary and violent, Arden has departed earth, and Scratch has spent millennia trying to win her back.  Though ancient Egypt and the glories of the Roman Empire failed to win Arden’s approval, Scratch knows that America will be the place to win her heart, and sets out to create the perfect civilization, with the help of three musicians who sell him their souls in return for power and talent beyond their wildest dreams.  But, it turns out, the Devil has quite a lot to learn, not only about humanity, but the secrets of the heart, as well.  This book is a wonderful blend of humor, history, and insight that is strangely, perversely endearing.

…It’s only February?

I don’t know about you, but it seems that the presidential election has already reached a fever pitch…and there are still nine more months to go….


For those of you who revel in the election process, who thrive on the political wrangling and debate, we celebrate your good fortune–particularly in these next few days, as the political machine has descended on New Hampshire.  The airwaves, newspapers, and, in general, any public space, seemed full of debate and commentary–and commercials.  Endless commercials….

….And for those who who are very seriously considering hiding in your Officially Library Approved Blanket Fort until November, then you, likewise, have our full support.  Election decisions are difficult enough without the incessant stress that this process can induce in people, and the realization that the whole to-do is only getting started can be more than a little overwhelming…Either way, we at the Library are here to support you with voting assistance, informational resources, or a quiet sanctuary away from it all.

For President, Abram Lincoln. For Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin. (Abraham Lincoln, 1860) Caption: ÒIt seems as if the question whether my first name is ÔAbrahamÕ or ÔAbramÕ will never be settled. It is AbrahamÓ wrote Lincoln in June 1860. However, one campaign banner opted for the shorter and more typographically convenient ÒAbramÓ during one of the must crucial presidential election campaigns in its history. Credit: The Library of Congress

For today’s If/Then post, we are looking to merge the two, by offering you a selection of political films and tv shows to keep you in the election spirit, but ones that are firmly rooted in fiction, to help you escape the realities of this specific race (or at least the commercials!) for a little while.  This list has been curated, hopefully, with a blend of optimism and cynicism to suit any mood or taste.  So, without further ado…

If you’re looking for some election-themed viewing entertainment, Then check out….

2227184The West Wing:  This show had to be at the top of the list.  For many, it was the medium through which they learned how the electoral and judicial process worked, and in Martin Sheen’s performance as President Josiah Bartlett, a generation of young voters found their ideal Commander-In-Chief.  This show also became legendary for Aaron Sorkin’s linguistically complex, lightning-paced scripts that help characters sound better than any human being had a right to do.  All seven seasons of this series makes for ideal binge-watching, but even a season or two are sure to help you escape–and you’ll definitely come away with a wealth of factoids regarding the Presidency that you never knew you needed.

2089533DavePart Prince and the Pauper, part political commentary, this utterly quirky and perfectly heart-warming film is an all-around feel-good success.  Kevin Kline stars as Dave Kovic, an idealistic young man who makes some spare money by impersonating President Bill Mitchell.  But when he is called upon to help the President cover-up a personal rendezvous, he finds his job become much more permanent–Mitchell is incapacitated by a stroke, and Dave is forced to assume his duties…and in the process turns Washington upside-down.   There is plenty to be said about the shortcomings of politicians, but Dave’s wide-eyed optimism is enough to calm the most cynical of viewers, and the unexpected romance within this story rounds out a delightful film.

51dLUfhoZJL._SY300_The Thick of ItFans of British television should not miss this savagely funny series that satirizes politics across the pond.  Centered around the fictitious Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship, this show looks at the wild u-turns, bitter feuds, and hysterical side-shows that accompany every government policy and decision.  At the helm is current Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi as one of the most foul-mouthed, ill-tempered anti-heroes in television, who somehow still manages to be weirdly sympathetic.  Fans of Veep on HBO should also keep a sharp eye out for Chris Addison, the show’s current director, as Ollie, one of the most slimiest young upstarts you’ll ever hope to meet.  The cast reunited to make In the Loop, a feature film that shares many similarities with the show, so be sure to check that out, as well.

3326037 (1)Veep: Since we’re on the subject, don’t miss this show, that fans and critics seem to agree is one of the smartest comedies out there.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as former senator Selina Meyer who becomes the erstwhile second-in-command.  Though a British-conceived and produced show (the show’s creator, Armando Iannucci, also created The Thick of It), a number of Washington insiders have commented on the accuracy of the absurdity of it all.  It’s also wildly refreshing to have such an ambiguous female lead in this show, and to have the chance to follow her wild ride to power, and there is no one who can pull this all off better than Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

3378238 (1)House of Cards:  Though based off a British mini-series of the same name, the American version of this show, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, has become the stuff of legends, and given viewers permission to revel in the dark side of politics.  As the conniving Frank Underwood, Spacey’s almost Shakespearean bid for total power is a somewhat-terrifying, but wholly captivating performance that caused my mother to hang up on me whenever I called while it was on.  Best of all, all three seasons of this show are available through the NOBLE Network, so you don’t have to miss a minute!

Happy Viewing, beloved patrons!