McMILLAN & WIFE “Murder by the Barrel.” NBC, 29 September 1971 (Season 1, Episode 2). Rock Hudson (Police Commissioner Stewart McMillan), Susan Saint James (Sally McMillan), John Schuck (Sgt. Charles Enright), Nancy Walker (Mildred). Guest Cast: Kenneth Mars, David Huddleston, Vito Scotti. Director: John Astin.

   According to Wikipedia, this second episode of the series was preceded by the pilot “Once Upon a Dead Man” on 17 September 1971, while IMDb calls this the first episode. (The pilot they call episode 0.) The pilot was two hours long; the episodes of the series itself varied between 90 minutes or two hours long; this one runs 90 minutes, including commercials. I’m not sure how long it lasted as part of NBC’s Mystery Movie wheel series, but at least at the beginning, it ran in rotation with Columbo and McCloud.

   “Murder by the Barrel” begins with the McMillans moving into their new home, but with Mac having left for the office, Sally finds a body in one of the barrels, one that her grandmother’s best china is supposed to be in. Of course, when Mac and Sgt. Enright get there, the body is gone. What follows is a hearty mixture of laugh-out-loud comedy and detective work that’s at least adequate, split about fifty-fifty.

   There are a lot of suspects – everyone that the three leads comes across is somehow connected with the case, which of course begins with the moving company as the focus of all their attention. Even though Rock Hudson had the bigger name at the time, I think that the more than outgoing Susan Saint James is the real star of the show – a throwback to days of Nora Charles and Pam North and lots of other female halves of many many other detective duos, each in their own distinctive way, of course.

   Wordplay is a strong key to the comedy. A full minute is spent, for example, with the three of them in a police car riffing on the difference between shipping barrels and storage barrels: You can ship in a shipping barrel and store in a storage barrel, and you can store in a shipping barrel, but you can’t ship in a storage barrel.

   Well, I thought it was funny.

   It is no wonder that the series was on for six years. The last season was a dud, though. Because of a salary dispute with Susan Saint James, Sally McMillan was killed off, and the show tried to go on without her, emphasis on the word “tried.”

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   For as long as it stays up on YouTube, here’s a video of this particular episode: