Television Critique - Frankie Drake Mysteries (Season I)

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Period Drama + Mystery + History + Romance, Heartbreaks and Betrayals that come along is a recipe that cannot be resisted and thoroughly enjoyed.

Frankie Drake Mysteries is a Canadian mystery drama which premiered on November 6, 2017 on CBC by Shaftesbury Films production company. So far three seasons have been filmed in this series. The whole series is set in 1920s Toronto.

One other Canadian TV show that I like to watch is Murdoch Mysteries starring Yannick Bisson in the titular role with Helene Joy as his love interest and a plethora of characters. I had posted about the first seven seasons of the thirteen seasons filmed so far. Incidentally Shaftesbury Films produces this series as well. Since I love Murdoch Mysteries, I figured the production company would do right by Frankie Drake Mysteries as well. And they did not disappoint me at all.

Frankie Drake is the first female fictional detective in the 1920s Toronto, Canada. Lauren Lee Smith portrays the titular role. Frankie is supported by her crime-solving partner, Trudy Clarke (portrayed by Chantel Riley); Mary Shaw (portrayed by Rebecca Liddiard), a morality police offer with Toronto Police Force; and Flo Chakowitz (portrayed by Sharron Matthews), a pathologist at the Toronto City Morgue.

I remember Lauren Lee Smith as Riley Adams, a CSI II, in the Season 9 of American procedural forensics crime drama series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. For some reason she had made an impression on me and was disappointed that she left after only one season. I am glad to see her in this period mystery drama. She fits easily into the role of Frankie Drake. Here are my thoughts on Season I.

As Frankie solves the cases that she gets, she interacts with several of the historical characters in each episode, who go on to become famous and leave a mark on the world. Just like how Murdoch Mysteries weaved in the famous people of that time, Shaftesbury kept the similar theme with Frankie Drake as well.

In Season I, Ernst Hemingway (portrayed by Steve Lund), makes an appearance as a reporter working for the Toronto Star. Hemingway is shown in his beginning years, before he becomes a famous writer, keeping true with his real life. In one of the episodes, he wants to be called as "Hemmy". He seems to be taken by Frankie although Frankie considers him only as a friend. Infact he shows up in a total of 3 episodes in the entire series.

For the three episodes that Hemingway was shown, towards the end he comments that he was writing a book based on the cases that Frankie solves. I couldn’t figure out for real which of Hemingway's books have similar stories though.

Steve Lund actually comes pretty close to how Hemingway looked in the 1920s. And the subtle romantic thread that the directors weave between him and Lauren with their respective roles, actually made me sigh a lot. The ever romantic in me would have wanted them to become a pair. Too bad Frankie and Hemingway never end up together in the season and Hemingway moves on to greener pastures, to keep in with the truth as close as possible.

In Episode 2, Ladies in Red, we meet Zelda Purser (portrayed by Zoe Cleland), who plans on becoming a women's union organization leader. I tried to find if there was any in Canadian history similar to her, but failed to find. 

In Episode 3, Trudy, Frankie's associate, goes undercover as a singer at a wedding reception and she sings a beautiful song which was truly magical. In fact Trudy goes on to sing couple more times in the series and she certainly has a wonderful voice.

In Episode 4, Frankie uses a hand-held camera that looks almost like current day Polaroid one.

In Episode 5, Check out the way the films were watched back then. I suppose the reels are still made now but the projection room may be much more digitized and modern. In fact, the character Mack Sennett, who died Nov. 5, 1960, is widely regarded as the father of slapstick comedy for his pioneering silent film work as an actor, director and producer during cinema’s earliest days.

In Episode 6, Frankie makes a home-brewed cocktail that they call it as Tranquilizer. The real recipe I found online has several different ingredients other than what Frankie uses. Interesting. 

We also get to see a very young Al Capone trading guns for bootlegged liquor, portrayed by Alex Bird.

Episode 8 is titled The Pilot. This was the first episode of the series filmed but was aired as 8th episode. I suppose hence the title? We get to see characters from other TV shows that I have watched quite frequently.

Laurence Fox portrays the role of Greg Mills, the mechanic. We know him famously as James Hathaway in the show Inspector Lewis.

Lucas Drake portrays the role of the aviator, Philip Anderson, whom we have seen in quite a few Hallmark Romantic Movies.

And of course George Crabtree from Murdoch Mysteries makes an appearance but he is retired from the Constabulary and has made investments in the aviation industry. I can see why the directors had George Crabtree retired in this since Frankie Drake Mysteries is set a good 20 years after Murdoch Mysteries was set.

Though this was not a cross-over episode, I wonder if there was one in the rest of the seasons. George Crabtree's appearance also asserts that this is the first episode filmed because I remember seeing a promotion on Murdoch Mysteries FB page for Frankie Drake Mysteries when it was first beginning to be aired in 2017. Bringing in a familiar face perhaps was an advertisement stunt for the producers to push the series ahead. 

In Episode 9, an early 19th century bomb in the making is seen at the beginning of the episode.

Check out this character "Elspeth Burton" and her hat. As each scene moves the hat keeps moving up or down without any help from anyone. Seems like literally a ghost is at play. :P

Interestingly what we call as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was called as Shell Shock at that time. So far the episodes have been light humor with murder and mystery tied to it. However in this Frankie takes us to the dark world of war and its affects on everyone involved. 

Historical references to how the Armistice Day formed and how Frankie comments that they should name it as Remembrance Day. Indeed in 1931 it was changed to Remembrance Day. More about it here.

We get to see the Roller Blades of the 1920s which the employees at the switchboard wore to move up and down to change plugs of the telephone calls. 

In Episode 10, the story revolves around the myth that Anastasia Romanov is alive and had escaped the execution of her entire family in July of 1918. Mrs. Louisa Winchester (portrayed by Laurence Dauphinais) has a dog made by the House of Fabrege and gifted to her by the Tsar Nicholas II himself.

Although Frankie and Hemingway share a kiss in this episode, he is shown as moving to Paris, France to be a correspondent for the Star there. Too bad to see a romantic pair go waste. But then the producers, directors and writers have to stick as close to the real history, right!

In Episode 11, the final episode of the season, we are shown how Frankie meets Trudy and how Drake Detective Agency is formed, all the while trying to save a spy. Toronto's Women's Home Guard and it's beginnings are shown along.

We also see Frankie developing her own pictures, as well as using another miniature camera in a scene.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Plot Reveals:

a. A character Joe Perry goes away in witness protection in Episode 6, Whisper Sisters. So a reappearance perhaps in a later series?

b. I wish the soundtrack of the series is released somewhere. Some of the episodes have beautiful melodies. 


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