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The IRS man at the end ruins the whole show
This show is great -- up to a point. That point is the very last minute of the show, when an IRS man shows up at the house of a thief and blandly states that the thief, who is a victim and who is clearly at the very end of his rope, that he owes the IRS huge sums of money -- this dissolves into a scene at the end where the man, walking along a beach, gives what is very clearly a death scream (I thought at first that he was walking along a high cliff and threw himself off; he probably drowns himself in the ocean instead. This should be regarded as incitement of suicide during a robbery, and the IRS man should have been picked up and charged with first-degree MURDER, put away for life and be damn glad California did not have a death penalty at the time, and the Los Angeles office of the IRS closed for good and all the agents fired. That is an overreaction big time, but there should be lots of stories on TV about crooked cops ( there is one in this show), crooked Federal agents and ESPECIALLY crooked prosecutors.
Police Woman: Sixth Sense (1978)
Yes, it is incredibly stupid
If you choose to disagree with this review, that's fine -- but watch the show first. The ending is the worst, but the show is a dead turkey from the very start. As the opening credits roll, a woman (Phyllis Davis, seen only from the knees down) gets dressed while spewing insults at the man she slept with. Meanwhile, that self-same man is in the next room sharpening a large butcher knife. (The only time we see Davis's face is for about a second when she sees him and the knife.) Not only is this a ripoff of the hideous ending to Looking for Mr. Goodbar, it's also unbelievable that she wouldn't hear him sharpening the knife. Then he sticks her, unconscious, in a garbage bag and lugs her out to his car to place her in the trunk. (This sequence isn't seen but it's hard to imagine anybody NOT noticing.) When Bill Crowley sees the car and the driver Hollis (Edward Winter, playing it like he REALLY needs the paycheck) and sees Hollis sweating like a pig (the dialog says it's over 100 degrees at the time, but that doesn't sound very convincing), he flashes his badge, pulls the car over and finds the woman in the trunk. But since Crowley had no probable cause to search the vehicle (Don "Red" Barry, as his boss, seems to want to rip Crowley's head from his shoulders while reminding him, and is in a fury every time we see him), the assailant gets a free pass when the woman dies without identifying him. Given Hollis' behavior during the entire hour, you'd think he was wearing a sign saying "Serial Killer" for even a passer-by to see and would have been caught long before this incident. Pepper then dogs Hollis, his wife Amy and his girlfriend (barbara McNair) through the show. The chase sequence starts when Amy finally admits to Hollis's abusive behavior -- whereupon Hollis turns up, holding a huge butcher knife, and reciting a bad variation on a children's rhyme. And what does Pepper do? Pull out her gun and blast him? Use her martial-arts training on him? Pick up something and throw it at him, at least? No, no and no. Both women run like Playboy bunnies through the house and into a garden. When they temporarily hide in a little shed and Hollis breaks into it with a croquet mallet, Pepper smashes a flower pot over his head! And then she peeks out to see if he's down -- and of course he isn't, grabbing her around the neck and picking up the knife again. Fortunately Crowley, Royster and Stiles arrive at that point -- and then Hollis goes blank and mumbles something while laughing incoherently. To make things worse, there is a swimming pool nearby -- and, using an old dictum of the stage, Hollis has to fall into it. But since nobody is nearby, he simply walks to the edge and steps into thin air to make his dive! What might have been a really creepy show is just really sick.
McCloud: McCloud Meets Dracula (1977)
A fair show that should have been great
First, let's start with the obvious. Either producer-writer Glen A. Larson swiped the idea for this show from "Starsky and Hutch: Vampire" (which aired on October 30, 1976) or S&H stole it from him. Either scenario is possible, but given the filming schedules for each show the former scenario is more likely. Larson did have a 90-minute time slot to fill, so there is a subplot about a sniper terrorizing New York City and a major new character in Dr. Harvey Pollick. But both the sniper story and the Pollick story are VERY badly mishandled. When the vampire kills his first victim, a police officer (the ubiquitous John Finnegan, who had been a desk sergeant in his previous appearances) thinks the wound was from a small-caliber bullet and attributes it to the sniper. In fact, despite numerous clues to the contrary, people keep attributing the deaths to the sniper until very close to the end of the show. The exception is Pollick, who comes up with most of the clues. Unfortunately, Pollick comes across as obsessive to -- and beyond -- the point of psychosis. (I once wrote most of a novel where Pollick resurfaces as a deranged vampire slayer wasting everyone in sight with a crossbow and a quiver full of wooden arrows.) Furthermore, despite some half-hearted efforts by director Bruce Kessler to try to conceal the vampire's identity, there is no mystery at all as to who the killer is (unless, as is unseen but possible, his henchman Morris follows him along and is HIMSELF the vampire). This show very much needed a different director and almost anybody but Michael Sacks playing Pollick. Larson's script, though it contains some good funny lines, is often far too heavy-handed. The worst part comes during the final tag, when Larson (through Chief Clifford) spouts a long diatribe at the U.S. Army for creating the sniper. That doesn't make this a bad episode, but it doesn't make it the great episode we were expecting for a series finale.
Law & Order: Return (2000)
Of all the bad L&O shows, this may be the worst
Jack McCoy hits a new low for prosecutors in this case, prosecuting a man for first-degree murder (which at the time could have meant the death penalty) because he skimmed off funds from his company and sent them to Israel, and killed a man who threatened to rat on him. This show was made before the 9/11 attacks, which showed exactly how vulnerable Israel (and the United States) are and how crucial it is to support the state. One would hope that Israel issued a warrant for McCoy for kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder among other things (he and the United States Government would ignore it, of course, but he should have that on his head). It is not stated, but I find it very likely that some Islamist prisoner in the pen quickly murdered the man for standing up for his country.
Law & Order (1990)
Thank God it's finally over
I served on a jury once, even before Law & Order came on the air. I voted for conviction because no juror will ever disbelieve a prosecutor. Not even people like the ones on the show, who are human only because only a human is capable of such cruelty and viciousness. I am talking mostly about the prosecutors, but also the police who went through the crimes. The names and faces changed, but the stories never did. The cops were always noble and always had a really good reason to break every law known to man that was designed to protect a suspect -- forcing (or just asking) witnesses to perjure themselves was always a good method. I remember one show where a cop coldbloodedly framed a man for a murder the man didn't commit (to get revenge on him for a murder he had committed). All the cop got was a slap on the wrist and an invitation to quit the force, rather than 50 years in a Federal penitentiary for the frame-up. In other shows, the prosecutors, the cops, or sometimes both at once, viciously threatened the suspects (often without their lawyers present, but who cared) and did everything short of a rubber-hose beating to coerce a confession. These people had no ethics of any kind, no belief whatsoever that the suspect was innocent until Proved guilty (and by that standard means beyond any doubt whatsoever), and often forced plea bargains by innocent suspects whom they couldn't convict. NBC should have been on the phone forcing Dick Wolf to make sure at least a third and probably more of the cases ended in acquittals, and it would have made the cast turnover a lot easier just to have another prosecutor caught in another sadistic sociopathic act and sent up the river. The other L&O shows were slightly more balanced except for the bomb Trial By Jury, which would have been a hit ONLY IF the innocent people were given a full chance and almost every case had resulted in an acquittal. As for me, I voted to convict a man I KNEW was not guilty and to destroy his life. I was pressured by the other jurors, and I didn't have enough to persuade all of them or do anything more than meekly cave in to them. No more. If I am called into a voir dire, I will talk to the judge and the entire prosecution team and explain to them that I am a fierce supporter of The Innocence Project and that I favor extremely harsh penalties for prosecutors, judges and even jurors who find an innocent person guilty, and warn them that I would devote my entire fortune to clearing as many convicts as possible if I had a fortune. That might be considered threatening the court, but it is simple honesty -- something no prosecutor has or will ever have.
Man versus nature versus man -- who will win?
The classic of the post-Leonard Freeman episodes, this is a highly suspenseful tale of a totally psychotic serial rapist-killer who escapes from a prison van and disappears into the spine of mountains running the length of Oahu. (It is difficult to figure out the topography of most of this show, but it looks like many locations were later reused for "Lost.") Simultaneously, Attorney General John Manicote's daughter Karen goes on a nature hike in the same rain forest, sprains her ankle in a fall, and is rescued by a mute "nature boy" (Edward Gallardo) who gets all his shelter and sustenance from the forest and knows it like the back of his hand. The psycho catches up to them (after committing three additional murders) and directs them to lead him over the mountains to an ocean-view lookout where he expects to find an accomplice with a boat. (The accomplice is captured after several chases and a wild fight, so it's not clear how the killer was going to escape with that route cut off). Virtually all of this show was filmed outdoors (not counting scenes inside the prison van or one scene in the home of a couple of hippies who are killed by the escapee), much of it with hand-held cameras that really give you an intimate feel. The only major plot flaws come in the fourth act. McGarrett allows himself to be separated from Danno and Manicote (who is tagging along) and is caught by the gunman. McGarrett and Karen manage to escape running down a hill toward a highway (again the topography is unclear because the hill seems to be between the highway and the ocean). The killer blazes at them with a shotgun, runs out of shells, and reloads. The range he is firing from seems marginal at best for his weapon. Then Danno leaves Manicote behind -- and just disappears, for no good plot reason. Manicote runs straight at the killer and fires a concealed revolver (how did he hide it from Danno and McGarrett?) The killer shoots back and hits Manicote in the leg. Manicote drops his weapon (which gives McGarrett, who lost his gun earlier, something to go after), but the killer lets him and Karen go free before calling out McGarrett. Even then, the killer has a bead on McGarrett, but is distracted at the last moment and forgets about McGarrett long enough for the latter to fire one shot (I wondered if the bullet could pierce the killer's backpack). Still, this is a super show. Here's hoping it will come out on the ninth-season DVD if sales keep up. Kudos to Bruce Broughton for providing one of the best musical scores not from Morton Stevens.
They get worse than this ... but not much
This ghastly episode is way up on the list of reasons I wouldn't hire William Kelley or Earl Wallace to write a script for me even if I could afford to pay them and they worked for union scale. Kelley is the culprit here, turning in some mind-bogglingly bad situations in the story of a vengeful ex-con who bullies his way around Dodge to torment a former partner who ran out on him during a robbery for which he spent a long prison sentence. At one point, Hackett (Earl Holliman) grabs the Long Branch's shotgun and shoves it right into bartender Sam Noonan's gut, fully intending to blow him in half. Sam says the weapon isn't loaded (he had just cleaned it), but Hackett pulls the triggers anyway. Click. Click. If Matt Dillon had been around, he would have punched Hackett right into next week; instead Hackett leaves and keeps on stalking his quarry (Morgan Woodward), who's now a farmer. Neither Holliman nor Woodward look the least bit comfortable in their roles (Woodward's character is a sniveling coward; Holliman's is the schoolyard bully who acts about 12 years old; he even talks soprano at a few points when he taunts other characters). When Hackett is finally caught, it's because the farmer tackled him around the legs as if trying to kiss his ... well, you know. It's a toss-up as to whether Holliman is worse here or in "Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge" (1987), but it's not worth three hours of viewing to find out.
A very disappointing "last" show
Despite their Academy Award for writing "Witness" (and their very barbed comments on the stage implying that the director had rewritten their script into hash), I am no fan of writers William Kelley and Earl Wallace. Kelley had served up some terrible scripts such as "Captain Sligo" earlier in Gunsmoke's run; then in the final season Wallace turned out some clunkers like this. The moral premise of the show -- that you only can be considered a man through a violent deed, specifically beating your father in a fist fight -- is very dubious, especially for Family Viewing Time. The execution of the premise is just as bad or perhaps worse. Manolo, who immigrated with his family from Basque country some years ago, doesn't want to fight his father because one time in the old country Manolo fought a neighbor boy and gave him a fatal beating. This sensible notion is treated as having absolutely no credibility by the Basque community. Things get worse (a lot) when younger brother Joachim fights his father instead -- and wins by cheating (ramming Dad's head into a cast-iron water cooler!). Manolo goes on a serious bender, sees his own image in a storefront window and smashes it with his fist (ouch!). And that's just Act One. After Manolo's father pays $10 to replace the broken window -- a laborer's pay for a week an a half in those days -- Manolo tries to court his girlfriend and ignores the wolf going after the sheep herd until it's too late. And that's only the end of Act Two! Then Manolo runs off and gets a job sweeping up the Long Branch saloon, calling owner Miss Hannah "woman" (Hannah is remarkably tolerant, and Fran Ryan's scenes are about the only parts worth watching in this mishmash). Joachim comes to get Manolo and there's another fight, which Joachim laughs off because he's still alive. Then Manolo takes on Dad, who's still healing from the fight with Joachim. When he wins, all is forgiven and they throw a big barn party! I ... don't ... THINK ... so! Compunding the felony is Robert Urich giving an absolutely leaden performance in the title role and also struggling (as do the other actors) with a so-called accent that sounds generically "foreign." Mark Shera as Joachim is better (and certainly a lot livelier), while Nehemiah Persoff and Alma Leonor Beltran as the parents are true professionals in any role, but overall this show is extremely depressing.
The Return of Ironside (1993)
Not bad but quite different from the original series
It's somewhat odd for fans of the original series to sit and watch this reunion movie. The entire original cast (including Barbara Anderson, who had quit the show after its fourth season) returns and their performances are the best thing about the film (along with Dana Wynter, written in as Chief Robert Ironside's wife). The show itself is not from the original production company, though -- it's from the team that brought you The Equalizer and the revival of Kojak. The producers' unfamiliarity with the series shows throughout. Ironside's permanent lower-half paralysis, which was emphasized in virtually every episode (sometimes in long sermons) is almost completely glossed over. The San Francisco setting, so important to the original, is mentioned only at the very beginning when Ironside finally retires. (Since the filming of this one was shoehorned between two Perry Mason movies in the winter of 2003, and those films were being done out of Denver to save money, the producers simply created a rather awkward Denver setting -- although the final fight aboard a snowbound train is a nice touch). Even Quincy Jones' celebrated theme song has been dropped from the opening and closing credits. Fortunately, the heavy-handedness of the series (there were so many human "moral" stories done on that show that even fans yearned for a regular crime drama once in a while) is also absent, although most viewers would have to watch the show several times to figure out what's going on.
By far the best show in the series
Who would have thought Michael Kozoll, of all people, would write a lighthearted mystery that brings out the very best in the series? Even the music by Stu Phillips is far above average, particularly in the last few minutes. Although the identity of the villain is right under your nose (hint: which character acts really, really dumb and is not the lead actress?), this has lots of humor, a fair amount of suspense and even a little pathos. Director John Newland does a fine job of bringing out the elements and does some nice camera setups. The final shootout is a little lame in concept, but the dialog (mostly from Pete, who knows it's lame) saves it. The final chase music is an interesting mixture of piano, tympani and and strings, gradually building along with the suspense, leading into the music which was briefly the show's theme and remained as the curtain music leading into the closing credits (where it belonged). Great performances by Ann Prentiss as a loony artist and Lucille Benson as the manager of a cemetery.
The very bottom of David Chase's barrel
Oh my ... maybe David Chase put together a multi-Emmy winning career later on, but after seeing this episode and some of his "Rockford Files" awards" I wouldn't award him anything better than a three-day-old dead fish. It is UNBELIEVABLY bad. There is no credibility in the plot and the dialog comes out of a ninth-grade playwriting class. The violence is pretty brutal too, uncharacteristic for the series. The acting is ... well-suited to the dialog, which means it's just plain bad (especially Ann Blyth and Carole Wells). Chase wrote this from a story by producer Paul Playdon, so he can share the so-called credit, but I would quietly leave this off my resume; if I were Chase -- which he probably has. Med Flory and Shelly Novack show a little spark as the kidnappers, and Joe Maross is OK as a pigheaded police lieutenant (the last few seconds provide the only real humor in the show as he and Mac literally wrestle for the ransom money), but in general, if you see the name David Chase on a "Switch" or "Rockford" credit you should just quietly select the next episode.
The classic of all Monkees episodes
Many people think this is the best Monkees episode of the whole series, and I am one of them. The idea is to mix farcical comedy with far more serious social commentary, as Peter buys a harp from Mr. Zero -- the Devil himself -- and masters it to the adoration of crowds. (Peter Tork could play a lot of things, but a double did all of the playing on the show.) When Mr. Zero demands his due -- Peter's soul -- the other three Monkees try to win it back in a courtroom battle. Micky gives Attila the Hun a verbal tongue-lashing, causing Attila to back down (Mike: "What did you say to him?" Micky: "I don't know!"); Davy makes some serious points about swearing in on the Bible -- and Mike proves that Mr. Zero didn't give Peter anything at all, despite Mr. Zero's protests. Peter didn't want the fan adulation, fame and fortune and they can't be considered gifts. When Mr. Zero claims that he gave Peter the power to play the harp, Mike blows that off by claims that a musician has the ability to play inherently. Mr. Zero promptly removes the "power", summons up the harp and tells Peter to play it. When Peter plays a beautiful rendition despite being "just as I (Mr. Zero) found him"), the judge and jury decide in his favor. A terrific blend of comedy and serious drama!
Friday Night Lights: State (2007)
Did Mark Walters make it this time?
This is not a review of the episode, because I haven't seen it yet. I knew Brad Leland and Freda Williams in college (they were a few years ahead of me) and greatly admired them as actors. Since Brad Leland has gotten into 12 episodes so far, if the show comes back for another season he might become a regular and I look forward to that! I also worked with Mark Walters, a friend of theirs, on quite a few shows. He said that he had guest-starred as an attorney on one episode (the 12th, I think), but hadn't made the final print. He was hoping to get into this one in the same role. Did he make it? I have strongly negative feelings about the book and was indifferent to the movie, but the TV series may be a good show as it goes beyond the infamous Odessa Permian story and explores Texas high school football, and the high school experience, from a broader perspective. I'm rooting for it to come back.
The most fascinating episode in the entire series
This was one of only two TV guest roles Arnold Schwarzenegger did before getting into movies, and it's his best early role before The Terminator. It was hard to find good roles for a muscle-bound hunk for whom English was a second language (very second language at the time), but the story works beautifully for Arnie, who plays a bodybuilder who comes to San Francisco to make it in the big time. Despite his immense muscles, he can't quite crack it, and he has developed an extreme hypersensitivity to criticism which could combine to produce a lethal assault on somebody (which it does). I only watched this episode on first broadcast so I'm fuzzy on the details, but my recollection is that steroids weren't explicitly mentioned. Schwarzenegger has always denied taking them, but there's no doubt that he saw other body builders use them and saw many of their effects -- which would include the temper and the hypersensitivity. In today's steroid-scandal era, this episode would be a fascinating look at the beginning of the steroid era and why people should be so concerned about it. Hopefully, this episode will show up on DVD some day and be a selling point for the fifth season.
Michael Sloan follows up on his "Bonnie and McCloud" misfire with a show that by all rights should get a zero rating, but scores some points for sheer audaciousness. As with the previous show, Sloan (who co-produced this one with Ronald Satlof) spends money like water and created plot devices to leave the viewer slack-jawed with astonishment at how bad they are. Rookie director Ivan Dixon (a former "Hogan's Heroes" co-star) stages action scenes well, but character development is sorely lacking. And you gotta love how an illegal Israeli immigrant has a perfect American accent, while his Israeli-army sister speaks very UK English (Jane Seymour was new to America at the time ... she used the accent to her advantage in her later shows). In the chopped-down version I have on tape, third-billed Patricia Quinn has almost nothing to do. And why is Simms, the least interesting of the supporting-cast detectives, given the big part as the hireling to the villain? For that matter, does Simms survive the shootout at The Arches (apparently in the Battery district and serving as a garage for the cabs) ... he rolls over when McCloud comes to him and later McCloud gets on the horn and tells dispatch that "there's a wounded man back at The Arches ... all the other villains except the fleeing Keith Hampton are stone dead). Although having an apparently friendly character be a bad guy is common now, it was way out of place in 1976-77. Logic takes a huge powder in many sequences -- the odds had to be a million to one that the bullet that killed David Kessler would wind up lodged in a park bench (which is not in the long shot when McCloud hears the shot and returns fire) ... and if McCloud's description of events is correct, David Kessler was running straight toward him! (The bullet is also face-high to McCloud -- he describes it whistling by his ear -- so how did it dip to hit the bench?) But Michael Sloan -- who evidently had naked contempt for his audience -- gets some points for being this brazen.
An overlooked gem
This episode was buried on the night AFTER Christmas, and as far as I know was only rerun once (in a chopped-down version for CBS Late Night in December 1983). But it's close to, if not THE best episode of the whole series. Dennis Weaver directs with far more style and flair than any other director (besides this show, he also did a few "Gunsmokes" while playing Chester and those are highly praised; I wonder why he didn't do more). I don't know if he and Glen A. Larson (who had written the first three "Alamo" episodes) rewrote the script without credit, but it plays 10 times better than most any Michael Sloan teleplay. The edge-of-the-chair interest goes throughout the episode with some marvelous camera angles (check one in particular where McCloud comes down a hospital hallway, seen through a hole in the window, starting in full frame and gradually diminishing until only his eye is seen). There is a lot of humor in this show as well. The only real complaint I have is that MANY bit players (several cops, a whole hospital ward of kids, a TV news reporter) aren't in the credits at all. This deserved to run on, say, December 12 or 19 and get a far larger audience.
McCloud: Bonnie and McCloud (1976)
World, Meet Michael Sloan; Michael Sloan, Meet the World
The series finally and definitively Jumped the Shark with this episode, which earned Variety's bid as "perhaps the sappiest episode in the series' history." The definition is accurate. There are a few worse episodes, but everything that can go wrong in this episode does, starting with the clumsy attempts to page "Bebe Murchison" and "Jack Haferman" (from an earlier episode) in the hotel only a minute into the show. Michael Sloan couldn't write good dialog, but he sure could waste money (along with producers Glen A. Larson and Ronald Satlof, both of whom he was destined to displace) and director Steven H. Stern. The source material appears to be the C.W. McCall song "Convoy" (which spawned a terrible motion picture in its own right), with a touch of Dennis Weaver's TV-movie "Duel" and even the crop-dusting scene from "North by Northwest" -- for no reason at all -- thrown in. Leigh Taylor-Young gives an awful performance in the title role, as a trucking-company boss's mistress who shoots him in self-defense and flees to Oklahoma. There are numerous examples of bad writing, in McCloud's dialogs with Bonnie to the situations they find themselves in, including a lynching bee. There are many scenes which make almost no sense. Some are listed above; others include Bonnie not recognizing Andy Kline when he's first pointed out (only to fully describe his criminal activities later), s sheriff way overstepping his jurisdiction, the is-he-dead-or-isn't the descriptions of the second state trooper, the decision late in the show for Klein to shoot at the cab of the truck (from an impossible angle) rather than the tires, and heaven knows what else. Broadhurst only makes it halfway through the show before being knocked out in a car rollover, and is sorely missed. McCloud and Clifford get a few good lines, but the episode is very depressing to watch because everybody seems to know the series got this one final season only because Universal Television played hardball to get "Columbo" paid for (all three episodes of it).
Best of the fourth-season episodes; should have been the finale
This is the best of the late episodes and maybe of the entire series. The interplay between Angie Dickinson and the young actress playing Tiki Kim (who was close in age to Dickinson's own daughter) is really delightful. Although many might see the ending as a cop-out compared to "Lou Grant" (which would have stopped at a scene where the girl is taken away to Korea), it is hugely satisfying for '70s viewers. Curiously, when the entire series was rerun on ABC Late Night immediately after it concluded its NBC run, the episodes were shown in order of production and this one aired after "Good Old Uncle Ben," the final telecast. It would have been an immensely better series finale than that show, which I have reviewed elsewhere.
Police Woman: Good Old Uncle Ben (1978)
A sad ending to the series
The last episode to be telecast and very likely the worst. The acting is pretty bad (especially from the leading guest star Keenan Wynn), but that's nothing compared to the script and direction. One seemingly endless conference outside an elevator is filmed in a single master shot, and it's poorly framed, putting the actors near the bottom of the frame while the top of the elevator door at least a foot above the tallest head is prominently shown. The final confrontation in a steakhouse is unbelievable. Pepper and Crowley walk in, surprise the bad guys at their table, and draw beads on them from less than 15 feet away. Despite this, the lead bad guy, who's holding a fork in his left hand halfway to his mouth (he's left-handed, and his left side is facing the camera), manages to drop the fork onto the plate, go under the table to his belt despite being in full view of the cops, yank out a revolver and fire at Crowley and Pepper. Uncle Ben shots a warning and goes for his own gun, although his angle on the shooter is far less acute than that of Crowley and Pepper. Crowley fires once and misses completely. Ben fires once and misses completely. The gunman whirls and fires a second time at Ben before Crowley fires his second shot (Pepper doesn't fire at all). Then Crowley's slug hits the bad guy but doesn't kill him, despite nearly all of his vital organs being in the path of the bullet. Uncle Ben takes one for the team, though, and the camera lingers on him through the rest of the scene (there are a couple of cutaways, but only briefly) as Pepper and Crowley console him in his dying moments and even give back the dirty money he had made off the rustling operation, to be left to his ailing wife. In the elapsed time of the gunfight,Crowley and Pepper could have gotten off a half-dozen rounds and "peppered" the guy with lead -- instead Pepper doesn't fire at all! There is more, much more, but this is the bottom of the barrel. Styles' last line of the series ("If you do (go for a gun), you'll be deader than the meat that's in the truck,") is a classic of bad writing.
Ellery Queen (1975)
An excellent precursor to Murder, She Wrote
One of my favorite TV series of all time was this show, a must-watch leading into the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie. Done by the same creative team that had given us "Columbo," "Ellery Queen" did that show one better by giving us a mystery to solve each week while using the same patterns of intricate clues that had made "Columbo" such a hit. I think NBC had high hopes for this show: it looks like they spent big money on it, meticulously re-creating New York City in the 1940s on Hollywood sets, getting the big-name guest stars, hiring a top-notch writing staff, and possibly giving the directors extra time to film and get things right. Maybe the show was too high-class for television, especially 1970s television, when Norman Lear's in-your-face, ultra-modern sitcoms ruled and Garry Marshall's escapist sitcoms were about to head for the top, while the dramas were epitomized by The Six Million Dollar Man (which was Ellery's competition during much of the year). TV networks always try to stay with the trends, although it seems like they always catch the trends at the tail end. Ellery was also Family Viewing Time material, after a programming edict by the networks which never caught on. But it even compares well with the immortal Murder, She Wrote, which came along a few years later (in the same time period) and became a 12-year hit. Catch the predecessor series if you can to see how the production team did it at their best.
Lanigan's Rabbi (1976)
OK show lost in the shuffle
This show bears only a passing resemblance to Harry Kelleman's novels, only the first of which was filmed (as the series pilot in 1976), and probably wouldn't have been picked up at all if NBC hadn't decided to order it as a backup if "Columbo" didn't produce any new episodes or (as actually happened) "Quincy" did well enough to be launched as an independent series. As it was, it wasn't all that bad. Done by the producers of "McMillan," it presented a new mystery in every episode and featured very fine work by Art Carney, in his first series lead role after working with Jackie Gleason (and after his Best Actor Oscar Award for "Harry and Tonto"). Most of the acting budget went to pay Carney's salary, although a few good guest stars showed up and supporting actors Bruce Solomon (replacing Stuart Margolin from the pilot), Janis Paige and Janet Margolin did professional work. The mysteries were somewhat below the "McMillan" standard, being noticeably unfocused in every episode, but as in the novels, the interaction between Lanigan and Rabbi Small was the main attraction. "CSI" fans probably would have loved the graphic descriptions given of each murder by a coroner (whom Lanigan would invariably shut up in mid-sentence). Art Carney played a very similar character in the cult-hit film "The Late Show" later that year. This show probably deserved a full-season run earlier in the "Sunday Mystery Movie" to see if it built an audience.
Slight correction to another poster's comment
Without taking away from another poster's comment on how heinous the murder of Chin Ho was (along with three other people killed by a bomb in the middle of the show), I meed to point out that Hawaii doesn't have a death penalty and hasn't since statehood in 1959. Johnny Rego and his two renegade hirelings would face multiple murder-one charges all right, but they would face life imprisonment. I don't know if Hawaii had life imprisonment without possibility of parole as they do now, but a cop killer and vicious mobster wasn't going to get out any time soon unless he broke prison (which happened in a couple of episodes). I don't think CBS policy at the time would have permitted the show to do a death-penalty episode anyway, and they probably had serious qualms over the 16 gunshots and a bombing (not to mention McGarrett beating up Rego and shoving a gun in his face and threatening him with everything). At the time, I'm told, there was an average limit of three violent acts (gunshots, punches thrown, etc.) per episode. It was no wonder that CBS started liking Barnaby Jones, the mildest of all the cop shows (and the most successful) over Five-O and others at this point.
Guns of Diablo (1965)
Think this is a two-part TV episode
Charles Bronson is not listed for "The Adventures of Jaime McPheeters," a September 1963-March 1964 series, but he played Linc Murdock in that show (with Kurt Russell in the title role and Dan O'Herlihy as his father) for the last 18 or 20 episodes after another actor left. I've seen snippets from this film and may have it on home video, but my cataloging leaves much to be desired.
Although the movie is in color at a time when color TV shows were relatively rare, I think it's either a two-part series episode given theatrical release or a movie feature quickly spun off from the series. Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide doesn't list it. Perhaps someone can hunt down the show (perhaps I could do it myself from a source book I know) and put it into IMDb.
Kudos for all the comments!
I love this website and all the comments on it! McCloud was my favorite TV series and still is way up there. I would love to trade with anyone who has the 90-minute episodes on home video. I have the 2-hour shows from A&E and some of the 90-minute shows from the CBS Late Movie, but fairly often I have only opening and closing credits for episodes (particularly from the poor second season, and the going-downhill seventh).
One correction: "Return to the Alamo," the best episode of the series, was directed by Walter Doniger. E.W. Swackhamer directed the next "Alamo" episode, "The Day New York Turned Blue," which is still my favorite. The first "This Must Be The Alamo" was directed by Bruce Kessler (who does an excellent job), and Dennis Weaver himself directed the last (and least available) "Alamo" episode, "'Twas The Fight Before Christmas," which among other things features "Dallas" star Linda Gray in her first major role. On re-watching this episode last Christmas, I think it may be the best in the whole series.
In my opinion, the show took a while to find its stride. The 60-minute first-season episodes, which were combined into 90-minute or 2-hour TV movies later on, are fair but a little too countrified for my taste. The second season is generally quite bad, due to writing by Peter Allan Fields (five of the seven episodes). When Glen A. Larson got back from "Alias Smith and Jones" and took over the reins in the third season, the writing got noticeably better (he scripted five of the best episodes -- the first three "Alamos," "The New Mexican Connection" and "Butch Cassidy Rides Again," as well as two of the worst -- "The Barefoot Stewardess Caper" and "Night of the Shark"). Michael Gleason was nearly as good a writer (with the fourth season's "The Colorado Cattle Caper" making the top five). Lou Shaw wasn't in their class, but turned in several good scripts ("The Man With the Golden Hat" was probably his best).
The show had more changes in theme music than any other series I know. David Shire contributed a pretty poor twangy theme song for the first two years. In year three, they had four themes in five episodes! (Two of them are "chase music" from the episodes themselves.") The show hit the mark with the fourth-season theme, which was re-arranged each season to lead off with the hard-driving music as McCloud and the horse pounded the pavement. It's my favorite theme of all time (the arrangement for season six is the best). In the seventh season, among many disappointments, the theme was cut down in the opening and used only three times over the opening credits. The 1989 "Return of Sam McCloud" reunion-film theme was forgettable and had no relation to the others. When will people learn that a good theme song and opening sequence is vital to a show's success????
The series really Jumped The Shark when Michael Sloan came on as producer and head writer during the final season. His debut, "Bonnie and McCloud," was pinned by Variety as "perhaps the sappiest episode in the entire series," and his next episode, "The Great Taxicab Stampede," is just plain idiotic. Surprisingly, his other two scripts ("'Twas The Fight Before Christmas" and "London Bridges") are pretty good; I suspect he had uncredited help and a lot of it.
Great job, fans!