TV mysteries


A TV SERIES REVIEW
by Michael Shonk


NOT FOR HIRE. Syndicated, California National Presentation (CNP); 1959-60. 39 30min episodes. Cast: Ralph Meeker as Army Sergeant Steve Dekker and Ken Drake as Army Colonel Bragan. Produced by Johnny Florea.

   The fall of 1959 brought a flood of crime dramas to networks and syndicated television. Most such as Not for Hire are long forgotten. Information about the series is hard to find and reportedly only six episodes of the thirty-nine survive. All six are currently available on YouTube and the collectors market.

   Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly) starred as Army Sergeant Steve Dekker, considered by the Army their top Investigator in its Criminal Investigation Division (MP). Dekker is a wisecracking womanizer typical of the era. Weekly he risks his life to help save soldiers in trouble. While Meeker does well as the character, his occasional happy grin can be a bit creepy. One of the gimmicks of the series has the person who Dekker saved being ungrateful for Dekker’s efforts – something that Dekker accepts, sometimes even with humor.

   Not for Hire has much of the charm and all the flaws of early thirty minute syndicated dramas. The series lacked consistency in the tone of its stories and the character of Dekker. The small budget and thirty minute format limited the series. The lack of shooting time did not allow the actors to always give their best performance in every scene. The series did know its audience as every episode was sure to include beautiful bad girls and as many fights that could fit in thirty minutes minus commercials. The first episode “Soldier’s Story” set up the premise well:

SOLDIER’S STORY. Written by Johnny Florea and Tony Barrett. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast: Mari Blanchard, John Vivyan and Stanley Adams ***A soldier is framed for a robbery turned murder. Dekker goes undercover to find the villains, a gang of three – beauty (Blanchard), brawn (Vivyan) and brains (Adams).

   The episode is well done with stylish dialog and use of camera, lively action, interesting if stereotyped characters, and clever use of the episode’s soundtrack (music supervision by Raoul Kraushaar). It is fun watching likable Meeker’s Dekker obsessively track down the bad guys.



THE SET UP. Written by Laurence Marks. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast:: Stanley Adams, Michael Miller, Henry Corden and Patrick Waltz *** A soldier with heavy gambling debts is asked to kill a fellow soldier. Dekker convinces the soldier to go undercover to find out who the intended victim is and who wants him dead.

   This episode is fun from the heavy slang dialog of the blackmailed soldier to the target’s priorities. The mystery is drawn out at the right pace with the identity of the target at first unknown and the killer’s identity a nice twist at the end.



   As “Soldier’s Story” and “The Set-Up” show, despite lasting only one season the series used several actors in more than one roll. Norman Alden went from guard in “Soldier’s Story” to recurring character MP Cpl. Lucius Grundy. Stanley Adams went from bad guy in “Soldier’s Story” to recurring character good guy Honolulu Police Lt. Morris. Others would play multiple parts such as Fortune Gordien who played the dealer in “The Set-Up” and according to IMDb two other roles during the series run.

SHARK BAIT. Teleplay by Richard Collins – Story by P.K. Palmer – Directed by Dennis Patrick. Guest Cast:: Jan Brooks, William Keene and Rory Harrity. *** Part of a stolen Army payroll is found with a murdered Navy diver. Much to the disgust of the Navy who has been unable to solve the seaman’s murder, the Army sends Dekker undercover to find the Army payroll.

   For its time the mystery had some nice twists that today we would see coming from nearly the beginning. The now hilarious but then exciting fight between Dekker and a shark remains the episode’s highlight.



THE DESERTER. Written by Richard M. Powell. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast:: Dennis Patrick, Ziva Rodann and Peggy Stewart. *** While in Manila on the trail of a smuggling racket Dekker tries to help out a woman who is convinced she just saw her husband. Problem is her husband was declared dead by the Army fifteen years ago. No body was ever found but Dekker knows the man is dead because he was the one who killed him.

   Thirty minutes rarely is enough time to create a decent mystery. There is not enough time to develop characters and have truly surprising twists. This episode is a perfect example of that as it reveals the bad guy too soon and has a backstory that needed more attention.



THE FALL GUY. Teleplay by Jack Jacobs and Marty Goldsmith. Story by Jack Jacobs. Directed by Johnny Florea. Guest Cast:: Lisabeth Hush, James Seay and Barbara Stuart *** A beautiful 21-year old woman is found dead and Dekker arrests a soldier for the murder. Dekker is convinced the soldier is guilty but a female secretary in his office is even more convinced the soldier is innocent. She nags Dekker to keep investigating until they find the real killer.

   This is the worse episode of the six surviving as it comes off more as a pilot for the CID secretary Cpl Madge Turner (Lisabeth Hush) than an episode about hero Sgt Dekker who the episode turned into a smug jerk. Gone is Dekker’s dedication to helping his fellow soldier out of trouble, replaced by a dedication to helping a female soldier out of her uniform.

   According to IMDb, Hush as Cpl. Turner returned in episode “Lover’s Leap.” In an odd note of reality, Lisabeth Hush acting career suffered due to her hard work fighting sexual harassment of women in Hollywood.



SMUGGLED WIFE. Written by Don Brinkley. Directed by William Bennington. Guest Cast:: James Parnell, Nora Hayden and John Marshall. *** An angry and out of control Private Ober has taken on the governments of America, England and Hong Kong. His pregnant British born wife is due to give birth soon. Ober wants the baby born on American soil. But a bureaucratic mix-up has his wife stuck in Hong Kong. Dekker tries to keep Ober out of trouble as the red tape unwinds at its own speed versus the fast approaching birth of the baby.

   They don’t write them like this one anymore as everyone takes the screwy plot and run with it. There is no shortage of fights and comedy, and even a femme fatale and a crime are tacked on to the story.



   Reading the credits always adds to the entertainment value of watching TV series from the past. From the credits we can guess the “showrunner” for the series was Johnny Florea. Florea was a war correspondent during WWII and had a successful career as a TV director (Honey West, Ironside) and producer (Sea Hunt, CHiPs).

   Bonus gossip! According to a newspaper article from Los Angeles Times (June 17,1975) his ex-wife Shirley Florea stabbed him in the back at the County Courthouse. UPI added they were there for an alimony hearing. Both sources mentioned she had once sued him for $1 million for mailing her 20 year-old prostitution arrest record to friends. While his other two wives are mentioned in Florea’s IMDb biography Shirley is not.

   The writers featured a variety of talent. Richard M. Powell wrote the Mike Hammer film My Gun Is Quick as well as several TV series including Hogan’s Heroes. Tony Barrett would become a successful writer/ producer in the 60s with Peter Gunn, Mod Squad and Burke’s Law. Don Brinkley wrote for many TV series including The Fugitive and Felony Squad and created Trapper John M.D. Laurence Marks had started as a comedy writer in radio (Jack Paar) and continued with TV for such series as Hogan’s Heroes and M*A*S*H. Marty Goldsmith credits include the film Detour and the TV series Twilight Zone.

   Johnny Florea directed most of the Not for Hire episodes but there were others. Dennis Patrick would turn to acting full time (including an episode for Not for Hire). William Bennington would become known for live TV and won an Emmy with seven others for directing the 19th Summer Olympic Games in 1968.

   Of course the actors are the easiest to spot. Popular character actors such as Norman Alden, Stanley Adams and Barbara Stuart are remembered for the amount of roles they would play instead of any single one. Henry Corden might have joined that group if not for his role as the voice of Fred Flintstone. Those of us who remember John Vivyan as stylish and sophisticated Mr. Lucky were surprised by his portrayal of a dumb goon.

   Not for Hire remains a better than expected syndicated light drama cop show that still can be a pleasant entertaining way to kill a half hour.

“PROMISED LAND.” The pilot episode of Spenser: For Hire. ABC-TV. Season 1, Episode 1. 20 September 1985. Robert Urich, Barbara Stock, Avery Brooks, Geoffrey Lewis, Donna Mitchell, Ron McLarty, Ruth Britt, Richard Jaeckel, Chuck Connors. Based on the novel by Robert B. Parker. Director: Lee H. Katzin.

   The fourth of the Spenser novels, Promised Land was published in 1976, and was awarded an Edgar for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America in 1977. Fans of the series will also know that this is the book that introduced Spenser’s friend Hawk to the series, although for a while we do not know at the beginning whether he is a friend or not.

   It has been a while since I read the book, some 38 years, and while I don’t remember the details of the printed version, I think this two-hour TV movie version (before the commercials were deleted) follows the story line fairly well.

   To wit: Spenser is hired by a real estate developer to find his wife, who after 20 years has left him to find herself. A lot of women were doing that back in 1976. Unfortunately her two new friends are not only interested in women’s liberation, they are also in robbing banks and using the money to buy guns for South American revolutionaries.

   Also unfortunately the real estate broker has a gunman named Hawk on his trail. It seems he owes a lot of money to a crime kingpin named King Powers (Chuck Connors), and somewhat coincidentally Spenser, the tough PI from Boston, has had a brief run-in with Powers in recent days.

   And that about sums it up. Robert Urich as Spenser is tough enough to play the part and also soft enough, but to my mind’s eye, he doesn’t look the part. I happen to think that Spenser looks like his creator, Robert B. Parker in his younger days, in exactly the same way that Mickey Spillane was the perfect person to play Mike Hammer.

   At first Barbara Stock looked maybe five years too young to play Susan Silverman, but by the movie’s end, as she semi-rejects Spenser’s offer of marriage, she had at least started to convince me. Perfectly cast, however, is Avery Brooks as Hawk. He was so good, in fact, that when the primary Spenser series ended in 1988, Brooks was cast as the leading character in another series in 1989 called A Man Called Hawk. (It didn’t last long, however, only 13 episodes.)

   There is a lot of pop psychology that is at the root of this movie, which I am not saying is a bad thing, but it is something you should be aware of if pop psychology is not your thing. The series was filmed on location in Boston, and with real snow on the ground. There are also a lot of close-ups, which occur at regular intervals when certain conversations are deemed more important than others.

   But there is plenty of action, too. My favorite line, though, comes when the wife of Spenser’s client asks him, after she has been rebuffed after making what are called in the vernacular “romantic advances.” She looks at his shelf of books and asks, Have you read all of these?

   His reply: Yeah, and boy are my lips tired.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


YOU’LL NEVER SEE ME AGAIN. An episode of Armchair Theatre, ABC/ITV, UK, 16 August 1959 (Season 3, Episode 49). Ben Gazzara, Leo Genn, Brenda de Banzie, James Hayter, Derek Aylward, Jacqueline Ellis. Based on the story by Cornell Woolrich (Detective Story Magazine, November 1939; reprinted as by William Irish, Dell 10 Cent series #26, paperback, 1951). Director: Ted Post.

   A real oddity turned up on Cable in the middle of the night last week: You’ll Never See Me Again was made for Britain’s Armchair Theatre back in 1959, and to my knowledge has never aired before on American Television. At least Mike Nevins hadn’t seen it as of 1988, when he wrote his exhaustive Woolrich bio-bibliography, First You Dream, Then You Die.

   And it’s not bad at all. Somewhat on the level of a really good episode of The Avengers or Secret Agent. Ben Gazzara stars, playing the lead as a rather cold, unlikable sort, in the Laurence Harvey mode. He’s had a spat with his wife, it seems, and she ran home to Mother. Only she never got there. And no one saw her go.

   So when days pass, and she doesn’t show up (she is, in fact, never seen in the hour-long film) Ben finds himself haunted by a lackadaisical but persistent Police Inspector, intelligently played by Leo Genn. Their escalating cat-and-mouse game builds up very nicely to heights of Woolrichian paranoia (he imagined the Police to be literally everywhere) as the bereft husband tries with increasing desperation to find some shred of proof that he didn’t kill his wife, and at the same time come to terms with his feelings about her.

   And all the while, Genn keeps turning up in the oddest places, generally supine on a sofa, asking languidly if he’d care to confess to something.

   It’s all directed very competently by Ted Post, a filmmaker I’ve never cared much for, and despite the truncated late-night presentation, I enjoyed it quite a lot. Look for it.

– Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #56, November 1992.

Reviewed by MICHAEL SHONK:


MARLOWE. “Choices.” TV pilot, ABC / Touchstone Pictires, 2007. Cast: Jason O’Mara as Philip Marlowe, Adam Goldberg as Detective Frank Olmeier, Amanda Righetti as Jessica Reeder, Sherman Augustus as John Welan* (this is the onscreen credit but the character was called Thomas in episode). Guest Cast: Jamie Ray Newman as Tracy Faye, Clayton Rohner as Matthew Denzler, Lisa LoCicero as Stephanie Church, Jose Yenque as Ernesto, Aja Evans as Shauna, Marcos A. Ferraez as Zack Battas, Michael B. Silver as Charles Difrisco and Lisa Pelikan as Laura Devin. Directed by Rob Bowman. Crew credits not on this apparent work print but listed in ABC’s press release (source: Futoncritic.com). Creators and executive producers: Carol Wolper and Greg Pruss. Executive Producer: Daniel H. Blatt, Daniel Pipski, Phil Clymer and Sean Bailey. Producer: Jason O’Mara.

   “Choices” was a TV pilot and possible first episode for a proposed weekly TV series featuring Raymond Chandler’s character Philip Marlowe. Luckily for all Chandler and Marlowe fans it did not sell.

   Set in present day (2007) Los Angeles, former cop Marlowe has been a PI for eight years, has a young beautiful secretary who went to the Effie Perrine Secretarial School, exchanges banter with his pal L.A. Detective Frank Olmeier and has a friend Thomas who is a club owner with all the right connections. Unfortunately, the show’s attempt to modernize Marlowe left the character with more in common with standard TV PIs than Chandlers’ Marlowe.

   “Choices” has its positives. The mystery was better than the average TV drama. The plot was a Chandler favorite: Marlowe is hired by a rich man to solve a family problem and is forced to dig deep inside the sad sleazy lives of the L.A. rich and powerful to find the truth.

   But there is little else for those looking for Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. The cast performs well but Jason O’Mara’s upbeat Marlowe will not replace George Montgomery let alone Robert Montgomery in the hearts of Marlowe fans. The soundtrack is too modern and light. Rob Bowman’s direction never really gave the story the feel of the city. The script is overburdened with TV PI tropes.

   It is currently showing at YouTube:

   The story opens as Marlowe is following a man. Funky music plays on the soundtrack as Marlowe drives down the busy L.A. streets. Not surprisingly Marlowe does exposition with standard voiceover narration. Harry Orwell did it better.

   A rich man is convinced his wife is having an affair with womanizing millionaire Adam Denzler. He hires Marlowe to prove it. Rather than follow the wife, Marlowe is following Adam. But poor Marlowe gets interrupted when a car pulls out and hits the front fender of his car.

   Marlowe knows where Adam lives so he parks outside Adam’s home and waits. A young beautiful woman, Tracy Fay enters Adam’s home. Moments later Marlowe hears a woman’s screams. He runs into the home finding Tracy covered in blood and Adam dead by the pool.

   The cops arrive lead by Detective Frank Olmeier. Marlowe and Frank exchange allegedly clever banter. Faster than you can say James Rockford, Marlowe decide to quit the now open police case and rushes off to get paid. So, he did not discover if his client’s wife had cheated on her husband or even if she had been involved with the womanizing Adam. Marlowe does not care. He just wants paid and to get back to his office for a drink.

   While waiting for his client to join him Marlowe exchanges sexual innuendos with the client’s wife. There is no doubt the wife is unfaithful, but Marlowe doesn’t care as long as he gets his money.

   Marlowe is at his Hollywood office with secretary Jessica taking care of him and office business. They are interrupted by – surprise – Tracy, the bimbo Marlowe met at Adam’s murder. Like the typical femme fatale, Tracy begs for Marlowe’s help.

   Marlowe returns to the scene. The cops are still there. Marlowe easily cons a neighbor for the tape from her security cameras that got the license plate number of another car at the scene of the murder.

   He teases Frank about the cops not getting the vital tape. But whiny Frank reminds his PI friend how unfair the cop life is. Cops have to deal with hassles like warrants and due process that PI Marlowe doesn’t have to deal with. (One of my top pet peeves about screenwriting is the lazy idea that PIs are above the law and don’t face the same rules cops do.) Buried in paperwork, Frank convinces Marlowe to go question the suspects starting with Adam’s brother Matt who is the sole beneficiary of the family millions.

   Matt is a likable beach bum who was happy with his allowance and letting his brother run the business. Conveniently (a word that can not be used too often in describing Marlowe’s detective work) visiting Matt’s beach house are a few of the suspects we will meet later including Charles, a shady club owner and a local politician enjoying the company of one of Tracy’s female friends.

   Marlowe visits his friend Thomas. We learn Tracy is a club girl, a woman who goes from nightclub to nightclub in search of rich and powerful men.

   Tracy had told Marlowe that she and Adam were in love. Marlowe’s doubts about Tracy increase when he finds her partying at Elements, a nightclub owned by Charles who had been at Matt’s beach house.

   Marlowe takes the drunk Tracy home where she tries to seduce him. He resists. When he returns to his car he finds someone had tossed a brick through his car window warning him to stop seeing Tracy.

   Marlowe and Frank hang out at Marlowe’s office sharing information between wisecracks. Marlowe gives his warning brick to Frank. Frank shares the news that the other car that had been seen leaving the murder scene belonged to … Sandra Bullock, the famous actress. Sandra had parked her car at the nightclub while she ate at a nearby restaurant that had no parking available.

   It is at this point the required twists and TV mysteries clues begin to introduce themselves to Marlowe. Marlowe discusses the future with the nightclub valet who knows who had borrowed Sandra Bullock’s car but is not telling. Once Marlowe apparently leaves he watches the valet run to a payphone and call someone. Marlowe calls Frank and tells him to trace the phone call.

   Frank had traced the valet’s call. The person who had taken Bullock’s car and was at the murder scene was Zack Battas who was also the man who delivered the brick to Marlowe. Zack is in love with Tracy who had dumped him. Marlowe meets with Zack and his friends in a back alley for the mandatory smart ass PI gets beat up scene. Marlowe wakes up in a creative but totally unbelievable death trap set by Zack and friends.

   Back at his office so secretary Jessica can take care of him, she also reports on the legwork she did about Adam’s companies. The plot continued to grow more interestingly complex.

   Finally after some scenes that deal with the murder mystery, Tracy arrives at Marlowe’s office so they can have sex. After Tracy leaves Frank calls with news that Tracy had been arrested in the past for assaulting an old boyfriend.

   Marlowe confronts Tracy who claims her attack on the old boyfriend was self defense and that the boyfriend beat her. Angry, Marlowe hits the wall knocking some pictures off the wall, including one with a major clue.

   Marlowe starts facing down suspects, eliminating each but finding more and more evil that breeds among the rich and privilege. Marlowe beats a confession out of one suspect but gets shot (whew, I was worried “Choices” might have missed a TV PI cliché).

   The twists keep you guessing about the mystery until the end. But if only that had been enough, instead we are forced to endure the pretentious moralizing voiceover trying to convince us that the city had a role in this ordinary murder caused by typical human greed.

   While this pleasant TV PI mystery has its moments, it was a failure in its attempt to update Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Where was the lone knight walking down the mean streets? The major reason for the character to use voiceover narration is to reveal exposition without the need of other characters. It keeps the PI a loner and an outsider. The real Marlowe would not have had the standard TV support group — close friend cop and the secretary with a crush. Only Thomas the friend that has all the right connections fit Chandler’s Marlowe’s world.

   This clueless adaptation never understood that even a modern version of Marlowe would have a strong moral center. Modern times would not have corrupted Marlowe.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. “The Project Strigas Affair.” NBC; 24 November 1964 (Season 1, Episode 9). Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo), David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin), Leo G. Carroll (Alexander Waverly). Guest Cast: William Shatner, Peggy Ann Garner, Werner Klemperer, Leonard Nimoy. Director: Joseph Sargent.

   Directed by Joseph Sargent (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three), “The Project Strigas Affair” surely deserves a special place in the annals of television history and popular culture. A lighthearted first season The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode filmed in black and white, it features both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as guest stars. This would be the first and only time they appeared together in a scripted series prior to helming the Starship Enterprise.

   It also co-stars Werner Klemperer, who would go on to portray Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes. Seeing all of these faces, along with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum (who is still going strong on CBS as Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on NCIS), is a real treat for those of us who grew up watching reruns of not only this quirky spy show, but also Star Trek and aforementioned Hogan’s Heroes.

   In this episode, U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin concoct a devious plan in order to neutralize a non-Soviet Bloc Eastern European ambassador, Lalso Kurasov (Klemperer) intent on foisting the United States and the Soviet Union into an unwinnable global conflict.

   They enlist the assistance of chemist-turned-pest-exterminator, Michael Donfield (Shatner) and his wife. Solo and Kuryakin hope to employ Donfield to lure Kurasov with the promise of a chemical compound that would be highly useful to Kurasov’s country. It’s the “false secret” routine, but it works exceedingly well as a plot device.

   But things aren’t going to be so simple. First of all, Kurasov is foolish, but not quite as big a fool as Solo and Kuryakin would have hoped. More significantly, Kurasov’s deputy, Vladeck (Nimoy) has his eye on Kurasov’s job and is no pushover when it comes to dirty dealing and high stakes espionage.

   Although there are a few plot holes, “The Project Strigas Affair” is overall a successful episode and one that skillfully includes enough humor and suspense to keep you watching. Sure, it’s silly at times, but who cares. For his part, Shatner comes less like the Captain Kirk character he’d soon play on Star Trek and more like the post-Trek Shatner, the one who was more than comfortable in mocking his celebrity persona.

   It makes you wonder: how many people, upon watching the first episode of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary science fiction series, said to themselves, “wait, weren’t those two guys just on a The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode?”

NOTE:   The episode can currently be seen online here.

THE SAINT: THE BRAZILIAN CONNECTION. Made-for-TV movie, UK, ITV/LWT, 2 September 1989; US, syndicated. One hour and forty minutes. Simon Dutton (Simon Templar), Gayle Hunnicutt, David Ryall (Inspector Teal), Simon Rouse, Jenifer Landor. Based on the character created by Leslie Charteris. Screenplay: Anthony Horowitz. Director: Ian Toynton.

   This was a disappointment, to put it mildly. That this was the first of only six made-for-TV movies featuring The Saint could have been a bit of a warning — if the series had been successful, why weren’t there more?

   There are a lot of credentials involved on the production end. Among other TV productions, screenwriter Anthony Horowitz is best known now for Foyle’s War, and director Ian Toynton has an equally long list of movie he had a final say on.

   You can’t blame the story on the lead, Simon Dutton, although he seems to have only two expressions in this film, sour and dour. No, make that three. Once in a while he has three. On occasion he has the temerity to look puzzled.

   No carefree sense of adventure in his portrayal of The Saint, no gleam in his eye when one of his capers is about to come to fruition. I imagine I was spoiled by Roger Moore in the role, although George Sanders was pretty good, too.

   Maybe it’s that the story in its basics is dull. Baby smuggling from Brazil, that’s the “connection” the title of this episode comes from. The opening setup has to do with two other cases before this one gets down to business: a stolen diamond tiara and a showing of ancient Chinese sculptures (fake) are far more interesting, but both are forgotten once two lower level bad guys steal a baby off a busy London street.

   There is a philosophy of film-making that is very common but which puzzles me quite a bit, and I’ll see if I can describe what I mean. When there are sequences in a film designed to set up the story and background, the pace of the movie is slow, unhurried and deliberate. But when the action starts, what happens on the screen flashes by so quickly, zip, zip, zip and what was it that just happened? Who knows. Maybe what happened will be explained in the next scene, and maybe it won’t.

   Some of what happened in The Brazilian Connection is still a mystery to me, including how on earth Templar and his lady friend find themselves running up and down inside the Thames Barrier to order to stop a yacht from making its way through. An interesting action sequence, to be sure, but as it turns out, the whole scene has nothing to do with how the bad guys are caught.

   Will I watch another. as long as I have a complete set of the first three of these movies? Well, I did like the gentleman who plays Inspector Teal (David Ryall), whose quasi-friendship simply chafes the sensibilities of his superior at New Scotland Yard (Simon Rouse).

   There were a lot of Simon’s involved in the whole production, weren’t there?

HARDBALL “Till Death Do Us Part.” NBC, 21 September 1989 (Season 1, Episode 1), 90 minutes. John Ashton (Charlie Battles), Richard Tyson (Joe ‘Kaz’ Kaczierowski). Guest Cast: Kay Lenz. Director: David Hemmings.

   The way I heard it, and I don’t remember where, the pair of Beverly Hills police detectives in Beverly Hills Cop played by John Aston and Judge Reinhold made such a big hit that they (someone) decided to make a TV series along the same lines: an older, streetwise and supposedly wiser cop (Aston) is paired up with a more freewheeling and a lot younger partner (Tyson, in the series). Basic themes: Culture clash, hair vs no hair, and a lot of humorous bickering, but at the end the day, a solid friendship (and partnership) is made.

   But “buddy cop” shows have come and gone for quite a while, and this one doesn’t add a lot to the genre. Wikipedia says the series was based on a couple of characters in the “Lethal Weapon” series of movies. I like my version better, even if I’m wrong.

   The series lasted for only one season, 18 episodes in all. It started in September of 1989, with a long break between December and April before ending in June. I think the people who spend their time reading up on old obscure TV shows on blogs like this one are the only ones who might remember it at all. Based on this pilot episode, I kind of wonder how it lasted a full season, more or less, but on the other hand, it could have been a lot worse.

   The story itself isn’t all that new, either. Ashton’s character is about to be forced into a desk job, but when a female witness (Kay Lenz) is about to testify against her gangster husband and needs protection, Ashton and his new partner are it. We’ve all heard that one before, but luckily there is more to the story. Ashton and Lenz’s characters have some history together, and there’s a little boy who bonds with Tyson’s, and if you don’t know he’s going to be kidnapped before the show is over, I apologize for coming right out and telling you.

   One remarkable thing about this show is Tyson’s hair. When he wears it in an unruly ponytail, it’s fine, but when he lets it flow unfettered and free, his head looks three times its usual size. Well, OK, there is one other thing. When Ashton gets desperate for information, I’ll just say he doesn’t mind who he smacks around and leave it at that.

   I have a collector-to-collector set of DVDs of most if not all the series, but with the first episode not really better than average, and a picture quality to match, I may or may not rush into watching more of them. On the other hand, I paid for them, so why not. But unless something happens in one of the later episodes I really want to tell you about, I’m not likely to say anything more than I have here.

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