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The story of a Southern mega-church headed by a family of sly
hypocrites. Living in luxury and wielding influence how deep does the
spirituality they claim really run? Are their sins products of their
own human frailty exacerbated by a difficult world? Or are they bad
people pretending to be holy?
It is about time a TV series dealt with the world of organized, profit-motivated religious organizations. A night-time soap take on an African-American mega-church in the Deep South is a novel approach to that telling the stories of people that have not yet been properly told in a fictional construct.
But my praise ends there. A solid cast in an interesting setting largely goes wasted in teleplay scripts so inept that they look like film school dropouts wrote them.
I love night-time soaps. I like the idea for this show as well as the story and the characters and the angle they take in relating the narrative. It is an imagined glimpse into a secret world of powerful people who profess piety and modesty but can't live it and we get to see them at their best and worst. I want to see it get multiple seasons.
But the scripts have to get better. They need to be outlined better and the dialogue needs to be more subtle in relaying information as well as doing so in a natural manner in which real people speak. So far they have tried to cram too much information in each sentence
Affluent spinster Martha Howard is stalked and nearly run down by a
scuzzy psycho (Steven Keats). She calls the police and is met by San
Francisco cops Mike Stone (Karl Malden) and Steve Keller (Michael
Douglas). If the stalker didn't sufficiently terrify her the sight of
Inspector Keller's 1970's sideburns, turtleneck shirt and loud
sports-jacket probably did.
Stone doesn't believe her. She has made complaints to police before and they went nowhere. But Keller believes her and has proof she really is being stalked when she tape records her tormentor calling her up and threatening her.
The reason why she is being stalked is unclear though her poorly disguised affair with married Canadian cabinet minister Brian Downing (Edward Mulhare) raises suspicions which Keller and Stone argue over.
Also raising suspicion is the affair itself. Dashing, powerful, distinguished, jet-set Downing is married to a glamorous younger woman and could presumably have affairs with women more glamorous and even younger if he wanted. For whatever reason he has taken up with a woman (pleasant looking but no stunner) in her mid forties who dresses like a librarian and talks like one too.
As someone from Canada I found the portrayals of Canadians in this episode agreeable but baffling. The vast majority of Canadians don't have British accents, look like characters on nigh-time soap operas or dress like fashion magazine models.
Ex-Marine Ken Scott (John Davidson) honed a gift for musical
impressions into a lucrative career as a female impersonator after his
years in the military. The mercurial drag performer delights audiences
with turns as Carol Channing and Marilyn Monroe. But his show stopper
is when he portrays Carole Marlow - a screen star (fictional composite)
from the 1930s who died mysteriously before World War Two.
Plagued by blinding headaches and exhaustion between shows Scott also has trouble turning it off when he is supposed to and turning it on when he isn't. In his case it results in Carole Marlow manifesting herself as a separate personality fighting Scott for control of his own consciousness. Wiped after a grueling tour schedule Scott frequently loses the ongoing battle and has no memory of what he does as Carole.
It wouldn't necessarily be that bad of a thing for his alter ego to seize control every now and then except for the fact that she is a homicidal maniac who likes to murder traveling salesmen. She is also not particularly careful about it and it isn't long before San Francisco cops Mike Stone (Karl Malden) and Steve Keller (Michael Douglas) are on his/her trail.
John Davidson made for a very homely woman and was not in the least bit convincing (very noticeable five O'clock shadow) as one here. That coupled with the fact that we see him as her killing a dude early on in the episode leaves for little mystery. But we do discover a little bit about why Scott morphs into Carole, the reasons for the killings etc.
Davidson's over the top performance makes this episode special and a fan favorite. As a performer he deserved more than talk show/game how host stardom, just not that much more.
Bankrupt scholar Billie Brown (Charlotte Newhouse) is hired to tutor
entitled rich girl Gene Russell (Jillian Bell).
After a rocky beginning a mutually beneficial kinship develops. The two combine to take on challenges neither could hope to solve on their own.
Beneath the veneer of slapstick humor the Comedy Central show Idiotsitter is a life-affirming depiction of the power of modern sisterhood present in the friendship between women. Feminist narrative never worked on as many levels as this one does.
Female friends should watch this show together and assess whether their relationships are as satisfying and liberating as the one shown between Billie and Gene.
They will see the potential for greatness that lies within all women to cooperate with each other in a mystic rhythm for the betterment of humanity. They will know a feeling of connection with one another only slightly less enjoyable than scissoring.
Was it not Alexis de Tocqueville that wrote of the potential greatness of America within it's associations i.e. the power of networking? That phenomenon combined with women's liberation can be fascinating when played out in a fictional structure.
Mysterious but benevolent operative Stingray (Nick Mancuso) meets with
caring psychiatrist Dr. Harriet Freedman (Kate Charleson) who outlines
the horrors patients are subjected to at the psychiatric hospital where
Her revelation of possible Soviet involvement both perplexes and intrigues him. After he agrees to help and they part she disappears with blatant signs of a struggle.
Certain of her account of the situation he decides to infiltrate the hospital by getting himself committed there by acting crazy. As we see during the run of the series Stingray specializes in becoming whatever he thinks he needs to be to get a job done. In this case he has a moment to question whether that is sound as he hears conflicting accounts from the other patients that contradict some of what Harriet told him.
Even near the end of the Cold War paranoia could be mistaken for good thinking. This episode has some fun with that in a way that doesn't insult the intelligence of the audience. The hero is taken down a peg or two in a teleplay which appeared designed to make him seem more human and less icy.
Really all that this solid entry lacks is solid guest stars. There are none aside from Robyn Douglass reprising her role from the pilot.
After six grisly ritualistic slayings of sex workers in each location
of a Christian revival tour frustrated and terrified ministry aid
Sister Allison McKenzie (Barbara Williams) looks for help to discover
the source of the carnage. She turns to mysterious operative Stingray
(Nick Mancuso) - a man who is affordable because he trades his services
for the favors his clients are in unique position to provide. Those
favors seems invariably to be used to help other clients.
In a superficial exploration of spiritual themes we see a Christian woman negotiate with a dark man of mystery (one who has almost certainly killed) over a vague exchange of favors. It bears resemblance to temptation from the devil. For his part Stingray appears to be drawing redemption from past sins an act which if not holy is at very least just.
But the subterfuge they employ together to allow him to infiltrate the revival tour is of a kind a true Christian woman would almost certainly frown upon. Stingray happens to be conspicuously adept at becoming whatever he thinks he needs to be. In this episode he convincingly poses as a preacher with crash preparation and no real religious faith (Secular humanism does NOT count) to lean on. The ruse is of questionable necessity if any to his goal though it costs him a big favor from a past client to pull off.
When the compelling mystery finally unravels it is after resting comfortably within some excellent red herrings. Flawed though it is, this is one of my favourite episodes of the series. Barbara Williams and Nick Mancuso are two of my favourite Canadian actors and among our very best. They worked especially well together.
The episode illustrates an attempt at reconciliation between religious teachings and their application in some very dark corners. The fine line betwixt faith and fanaticism is also explored in a way few if any network TV series would dare to try. This sets it apart from other episodes in the series.
Ex-spy/black ops vet (Or whatever he is...The mystery of his past is
for the audience to ponder) Stingray (Nick Mancuso) secretly meets with
caring surgeon Dr. Hal Forrester (James Laurenson) who is shocked by a
dramatic rise in operating room fatalities during routine procedures at
his hospital. After a sober discussion debating the facts over whether
his help is needed our hero agrees to investigate.
Forrester introduces his undercover operative to the other surgeons as Dr. Michael Rostelli and claims he is visiting from Chicago to observe, consult and compare methods over a short time. Though such arrangements are common in hospitals around the world several of Forrester's colleagues are immediately suspicious of the outsider looking over their shoulders. Stingray happens to be adept in the extreme at passing himself off as whatever he claims to be.
I'd have to include spoilers to detail a glaring continuity error and a massive stretch in believability so I won't but after a certain point, specifically an operating room scene featuring the hero, what is here has credibility only for the legally blind, blacked out drunk or mentally retarded. You can only ask so much of an audience. They know what they see and if they doubt something they can rewind and watch again.
Though many exteriors were shot in Los Angeles which is where the show was set much of it was shot in Calgary. The scene in which Ray Wise's character mentions the 12th Street Bridge might seem to betray that. Is there a 12th Street Bridge in Los Angeles? I know there is one in Calgary.
Burly private investigator/Vietnam vet Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck) is
sent on a daring commando raid by his sometime client/landlord Robin
Masters to rescue Katrina Tremaine (Ann Dusenberry) from the elegant
Sicilian villa of a highly dangerous playboy marquis/mafioso (Jean
How Katrina - daughter of a dear friend of Robin's, found herself in the clutches of a low-level nobleman with mafia ties is never properly explained. It seems like the plot was gleaned from a cheap paperback romance novel but it is depicted nicely.
Swiftly but with considerable difficulty and threat to life and limb Magnum extracts the lovely and quirky socialite from her captivity and brings her to Robin Masters luxurious Hawaiian estate via Masters' private jet.
Plagued by jet-lag and drained by the high adrenaline raid Magnum sleeps it off in the guest-house flat on the estate. He is thus ill-equipped to deal with Margo Perina (Mimi Rogers) - his neglected girlfriend who wants to know why he stood her up.
Determined to set things right with Margo, Magnum is distracted from an impending menace. It turns out that the mafioso and his goons have regrouped and traveled to the island. Katrina is almost certainly in danger as is Magnum. But an entirely unforeseen complication makes the situation dangerous for others in proximity too.
Not a bad episode in the series. We still don't get a detailed enough explanation of why Magnum gets to mooch off Robin the way he does. But we see him do something that substantially justifies at least some of it.
Ann Dusenberry should have had a more successful career in Hollywood. A versatile actress, we see examples of the seamless transitions she could pull off in delivering a multi-layered performance. For whatever reason she never quite got that big break that would have made all the difference.
Mimi Rogers, appearing here in one of her first screen roles, of course did get those big breaks and was a motion picture leading lady within five years of this episode's airing.
Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Mark Tuinei has a cameo.
Murray 'Boz' Bozinsky (Thom Bray) invites his friends Cody Allen (Perry
King) and Nick Ryder (Joe Penny), who are also his business partners in
the Riptide Detective Agency, to accompany him to a singles dance. Cody
and Nick - a couple of hunky playas/face-men see it as needless but
decide to put in an appearance out of respect to Boz.
Nick has a miserable time. Very unexpectedly, Cody meets Sheila (Marta Dubois) the woman of his dreams and they dance most of the night away. He is immediately smitten and she reciprocates. But the promising connection hits a snag when Sheila's mind drifts to thoughts of her twin sister Marcy whom she believes has gone missing.
The next day Nick is far from enthused at the fact that Cody has volunteered the agency to look into it but goes along like always out of friendship. It turns that Marcy, unlike Sheila, is a very bad girl and in trouble with a mean mafioso pimp (Dennis Franz). But if that was all there was to it there wouldn't be much of a mystery.
Cody clashes with Nick and Boz over the meaning of information they uncover. It could be interpreted in ways which shed a very different light on Marcy and her high stakes dealings with her employer. Sheila could be in grave danger. So could Cody just by being with her. Nick and Boz try to have Cody's back but the old bachelor knows he has found Miss Right and guided by that he may be of little help to himself.
I saw Marta Dubois on multiple different shows in the 1980s and 1990s. There was always this air of mystery and complexity in the characters she played that most other female guest stars lacked. On Magnum P.I. she dumped Tom Selleck for a Vietnamese diplomat. On L.A. Law she beguiled Victor Sifuentes then scared the bejesus out of him. On Star Trek: TNG she played the devil. Her performances were always unpredictable but with a sense of fun.
Surf sound band PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) frontmen - easy-going Chip
Ross and prickly misanthrope Dell Turner (Brant Van Hoffman) are in a
car accident due to faulty brakes on Dell's sports-car. Chip is killed
instantly and Dell is hospitalized and unconscious. Earlier that day
Dell had severed relations with their record company and treated
everyone in proximity with characteristic disdain.
The fan club for PCH hire the Riptide Detective Agency to deliver flowers and gifts to Dell. They figure they can't deliver it themselves believing that only private investigators will be able to find out where he is being treated. The Riptide boys are far from enthused with the assignment but it looks like easy work that they can get done quickly.
Having easily found out what hospital he is in and having paid a nurse (Kelbe Nugent) to drop off the gifts they discover something isn't quite right about the whole thing. The beautiful young nurse barely escapes after having seen something she wasn't supposed to. The Riptide boys got her into something dangerous and they won't leave her hanging. But saving Dell is another thing entirely.
It is more than an urban legend that the best career move a popular musician can make is to die. This particular take on that also adds in the phenomenon of those musicians who are insufferable except for when they are creating and performing. Anybody who ever met Dell could be trying to kill him. When the list of suspects includes the white pages it should theoretically make for a challenging mystery.
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