Appellate Judge James A. Stewart never found armchairs all that thrilling. Now, recliners...
Our review of Armchair Thriller: Set 2, published February 25th, 2010, is also available.
"Can you say for certain you didn't happen to kill your wife?"
The questions faced by the protagonists in Armchair Thriller, such as the one above, aren't the sort you get asked every day—at least, I hope you don't. The British series puts its ordinary heroes into extraordinary situations, involving murder, kidnapping, and disappearances, not to mention cliffhangers. Two of the serials here, "Dying Day" and "The Limbo Connection," ran on Mystery! in the early 1980s.
Facts of the Case
Armchair Thriller: Set 1 contains four serial dramas, each in four or six half-hour chapters on its own disc:
• "Dying Day"
• "The Limbo Connection"
• "Rachel in Danger"
• "The Victim"
The stories have surprise twists, to be sure, but they won't be all that surprising to anyone who's seen a few British mysteries. Armchair Thriller manages to get some location work in, although it's largely set-bound. The plots work toward a cliffhanger shock at the end of each half-hour, meaning they're paced at roughly double speed compared to a typical series in the States. The last chapters usually involve some sort of deadly deadline, making for nail-biting conclusions.
What makes Armchair Thriller work are the guest turns. I particularly enjoyed James Bolam's appearance as an alcoholic screenwriter, who suffers from blackouts and occasionally starts to wonder if he did indeed kill his wife in a bottle-induced bout of violence. Also compelling—if somewhat improbable—was John Shrapnel's turn as an amateur who seems tougher than the cops, right down to the way he keeps going with what must be a severe concussion. Ian McKellan also makes a good reluctant investigator. "Rachel in Danger," while not awful, is the weak link here as it stretches credibility to the limits with its 10-year-old MacGyver of a protagonist, although Stephen Greif makes a good slimy villain.
The picture has flaws—lines, flecks, and scratches—as expected from vintage videotape. The dialogue and music come across fine, although the score has occasional flourishes that evoke the image of villains twirling mustaches. Of course, that's okay for a cliffhanger, isn't it?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you like the stars here or want to Netflix it on a slow night, fine, but these aren't overlooked Hitchcockian classics—just run-of-the-mill British TV from the '70s that could seem hokey and slow to modern audiences.
These thriller cliffhangers aren't as slick as the big-budget 24, either in the writing or the execution. If good performances are worth ignoring a few rough edges to you, they'll be entertaining.
Not guilty, even if I can't imagine getting right up after a severe blow to
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Scales of Justice
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