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TV Review: J.K. Rowling's C.B. Strike

SYNOPSIS: Based on the bestselling crime novels written by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, the story centers on Strike, a war veteran turned private detective, operating out of a tiny office in London’s Denmark Street. Although wounded both physically and psychologically, Strike’s unique insight and his background as a military police investigator prove crucial in solving three complex cases that have baffled the police. 

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REVIEW: After the conclusion to the Harry Potter novel series, J.K. Rowling embarked on two very different literary pursuits. The first, The Casual Vacancy, was a melodrama about small town politics that became a critically acclaimed HBO mini-series. Rowling then elected to release a series of crime novels under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. The novels, which garnered acclaim after they were revealed to be the work of Rowling, have now been adapted as a BBC series. That British series is now set to air on Cinemax under the name C.B. STRIKE (renamed from the orignal title of STRIKE to avoid confusion with the similarly named Cinemax series STRIKE BACK). The seven episode series adapts all three of the novels released to date: "The Cuckoo's Calling", "The Silkworm" and "Career of Evil". Starring Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger, C.B. STRIKE is proof that Rowling has the ability to create stories that don't involve magic and sorcery while still maintaining her knack for character building and plot twists.

C.B. STRIKE centers on private investigator Cormoran Strike, the illegitimate son of a famous rock star who is also a hard-drinking war veteran with a prosthetic leg and a ton of debt. In walks Robin Ellacot, a temp who comes aboard as Strike's secretary just as a case involving the mysterious death of a supermodel comes across his desk. The pair work well together as any good detective and colleague in famous detective fiction. The tone and style of C.B. STRIKE will strike a familiar note for fans of the Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman SHERLOCK series. While SHERLOCK definitely has a more stylized approach that sets it apart, C.B. STRIKE also shares similarities with BBC series like INSPECTOR MORSE and the Idris Elba starrer, LUTHER. It would be easy to dismiss this as just another police procedural set in England, but the biggest benefit here is the writing of J.K. Rowling, who also serves as an executive producer.

The seven episode series starts with Rowling's debut novel featuring Cormoran Strike, "The Cuckoo's Calling". Spread over three hour long chapters, it serves almost as a feature length film which one would expect from the popular Harry Potter author. However, C.B. STRIKE still streamlined the novel's subplots and character details to fit into the televison format. Over the three episodes, we get to know elements of Strike's life, including flashbacks to his injury during deployment in Afghanistan. We also meet his new assistant/secretary whose introduction felt very similar to Watson meeting Sherlock, even if the dynamic here is much different. There is a chemistry between Strike and Robin that balances the professional and romantic in such a way that evokes the great will they/won't of classic television shows. This is also a testament to the great work put in by stars Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger who play their characters naturally and realistically. This is not a glossy production by any means and through smaller moments in bars and as the main characters deal with their personal lives (Strike with his soon to be married ex, Robin with her successful fiancee) we learn that these are not stock noir characters but fully three dimensional creations.

But the tangible and realistic nature of these characters that also serve as the downside to C.B. STRIKE. Whereas conventional television series spread character development over the course of a 13 to 22 episode season, this series has to succeed in telling narrative and backstory in what is essentially the run time of a feature length film. While the second and third novels that make up the final four episodes of the season move at a better pace, the entirety of C.B. STRIKE suffers from not really working as TV or as film. The plots of all three novels are intricate and involved and worthwhile mysteries to engage in, but there is not enough action or thrills to have warranted these being adapted for the big screen. At the same time, the stories work just well enough to fill a couple hour long episodes, but just barely.

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There is something to be said that C.B. STRIKE could have worked as an ongoing television drama beyond J.K. Rowling's source material and maybe they will make additional episodes as new novels are released. I for one would love to see Burke and Grainger continue to play these characters. But, there just doesn't feel like enough here to consider this series must watch television. With so many shows on the air these days, it is inviting to know that after seven episodes, you can close the book on C.B. STRIKE, but it also feels like quite an investment for a show that doesn't quite pay off. The acting is top notch and the stories will keep your attention, but it does not do enough to set itself apart from numerous other shows on cable or network television. At the very least, you should stick though the first three episodes to get to the organic conclusion of the first story. Whether you continue to the second and third is up to you.

C.B. STRIKE debuts the first of seven episodes on Cinemax starting June 1st.

Source: JoBlo.com

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