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Mr. & Mrs. North (1952)
The Norths make a difference
I watched a half dozen episodes of this series today on Amazon Prime. I'd heard of it before but had never seen it.
I think a lot of the guest actors could have done better-- someone else on the IMDb said they were pulled out of the worst community theaters across the country! I don't think that's entirely true but if they had been given stronger direction, it might have helped.
One thing I do like is the way the stories are paced-- the writers are not compelled to feature the main characters in every scene the way some programs do. Three to five minutes might pass without Mr. North or Mrs. North being directly involved in the action. The writers have faith other characters can move the story along. Also worth mentioning is the use of humor-- it is not over the top, but the comedy is quite amusing, especially the bits at the end of each episode. Richard Denning in particular is good at the lighter moments. He's kind of an underrated performer who should be more widely known. And Barbara Britton is glamorous yet sort of screwball, which works wonderfully for her role.
Something else occurred to me as I watched this series today. It was the way the Norths are interested in helping other people. We don't always see that happening in modern-day TV programs. Mrs. North volunteers at a women's prison in one episode, believing it will help society. In a different story, she and Mr. North give a suicidal woman a job as a housekeeper, convinced it will give the gal purpose and a reason to live. In another episode, Mr. North helps a troubled friend call off the hired killing of an estranged wife. You get the idea. So in the process of catching murderers, we have a basically decent couple trying to make a difference.
Is Jack Simon still alive?
This is a touching episode that easily could have served as the series finale. Perhaps when it was made, they had not been renewed for another season and thought this was the end. I think what I love so much about the story, aside from the heartfelt performances rendered by the main cast, is the way these characters represent real American people who have dealt with real American tragedies. It has even more gravitas when we look at the issues our country has had with national security in the years that have followed. The heroism of a Jack Simon, and I am sure there were many men like him who valiantly and quietly protected the nation, is even more powerful when it is reflected in the hearts and minds of a wife and the two sons he left behind.
Richard Okie's script saves the best part for last, where it is revealed how the Simon patriarch met with a tragic death and lived out his final days. But the first half plays like a mystery, where Rick & A.J. are convinced their father might still be alive. They deal with government cover-ups in their quest to find answers. At one point, Abby Marsh helps them get their dad's grave exhumed. Cecilia shows up, not too happy this is happening, and when the casket is opened, the result is most startling.
The actor who plays Jack Simon's boss is Joseph Sirola, and he brings a measure of dignity to the proceedings. Eventually he takes mother and sons to the real grave, and when they go into the place where Jack's final moments occurred, we get some very honest and very real emotions. As I watched the last scenes, I couldn't help but feel the writer cared-- he made it a point to give these three closure and to give viewers a better more fleshed out picture of who the Simons are and where the road has brought them.
Simon & Simon: Something Special (1988)
I wasn't expecting much from this one, since the story seemed fairly routine. Also, the preview clips at the top of the episode gave me the impression it would be something about a typical 80s damsel in distress, and we've seen that a million times already on this show. But I do have to say I was pleasantly surprised by Shelley Smith's performance as the main guest character. She was beautiful, and just as importantly, she had brains.
She plays the daughter of a recently deceased construction company owner who along with her father's old partner is now running the business. She comes in contact with a man named Linson (Jack Lucarelli) who is trying to extort her for protection money. It is heavily implied he has connections with organized crime. When Smith goes to the Simons for help, she doesn't downplay the danger but she doesn't exactly tell them everything they need to know about the extortion racket. As viewers, we already know what's in store for Rick and A.J., since there's a scene early on where Lucarelli throws what is said to be pig's blood all over Smith to ensure her cooperation. It's very memorable, and when she eventually lets the boys see the blood stains on the carpet and describes the kinds of people she is dealing with, the visuals definitely underscore the danger.
While collaborating with Lt. Marsh, the Simons try to draw Linson into the open, especially after he kills the old partner of Smith's father. In the meantime, there's a romantic subplot. The attractive gal has become involved in a slight triangle with the two brothers-- though I must say there is a lot of hugging, and relatively no kissing. It's a rather tame threesome. And neither Rick nor A.J. ever get to first base with her due to a series of interruptions caused by the case. Plus, after Linson is brought down, we learn the fair damsel will be entering a witness protection program, since it's clear the mob will now be gunning for her. I guess it was fun while it lasted, right guys?
Simon & Simon: Sudden Storm (1988)
Cecilia gets raped
This episode gives viewers a lot to ponder-- and I believe this is what good television does. It uses a very tragic situation and offers insights into the show's main characters. And as the final shot indicates, this is a close family unit and any pain that one of them experiences, they all experience together. They suffer together, and ultimately they heal together.
The plot focuses on catching an unknown assailant who has entered Cecilia's home one stormy night. After turning the lights off, he enters through a kitchen window, uses a pillow to cover Cecilia's face, then assaults her. The rape scene is brief and is intercut with the Simon boys on separate dates. Abby Marsh is having dinner with A.J., who gets a call from his mother and quickly learns she's in distress. The scenes that follow, where A.J. and Rick comprehend what has happened, and they see Cecilia in her hospital room after she's been examined, are simple but intense. All four of the leads do a stellar job portraying the aftermath.
But the episode is more than just a story about a violent physical act. It's also a mystery, because they have to find out who the culprit actually was. I thought it was excellent the way David Moessinger, the scriptwriter and director, set Rick and A.J. both up on a path of vengeance. Parallels are drawn between their actions and lynchings. At one point, Abby tells them about an officer whose daughter was raped-- a man who killed a suspect shortly before the actual attacker stepped forward to confess.
So we have a mystery about the rapist's identity going on, but we also have Cecilia's two sons attempting to find "evidence" against two separate men they think might have been responsible for terrorizing her-- a handyman with a history of mental illness (A.J. suspect of choice); and a chiropractor who's a frequent date of Cecilia's (Rick's suspect of choice). What's interesting is they are both wrong; and we're told it's a third person they know-- someone they never would ever have suspected.
I should mention there's kind of a Freudian angle in Moessinger's story. He does include a scene where Cecilia is at the hospital and tells Abby what it was like being married to Jack Simon. She describes how she sees her late husband in both her sons; and also how she brought the rape on herself. It's excused as something she's saying because her mind might be playing tricks or repressing things. But since the real rapist turns out to be someone much younger than her, someone who felt protected by her, we get a sense that there is a sickness in the perpetrator that is being applied directly to this particular family. This said, I don't think it's a point to get too hung up on; the text can have multiple interpretations. But the most significant one has to be the way this tight family unit heals and moves forward.
A firm grasp on the edge of the bridge
This episode seems like a combination of two earlier episodes-- the one in the fourth season where Brian Kerwin was a man with multiple personalities; and a second season episode where the Simons transport an unstable mental patient to a hospital. This time we have a female scientist whose research has led to an important discovery, but her progress is hindered when she is stalked by someone out to claim her findings. The stalking triggers a mental relapse; so while suffering from DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), she is checked into a psychiatric hospital. Her boss, played by Linden Chiles, then hires the Simons to keep tabs on her. This of course means A.J. will go undercover as an athletic instructor at the facility, while Rick will pose as a fellow patient. We even have scenes of Cecilia checking Rick in for his stay at the funny farm.
I did not have a problem with the basic set-up. But I think the plot relies on too many stereotypes about the mentally ill. In group therapy scenes, we see a woman talk about making soup and thinking it was blood and guts; we have another guy who believes he's sort of a comic book hero; we have Rick going ballistic and attacking someone to prove how nuts he can be; and then we have the main guest character (Fionnula Flanagan) switching in and out of her three separate personalities. One of them is her true self; one is a sexual deviant; and one is an innocent girl. It was a bit overdone, and despite Flanagan's skilled acting, it still seemed a bit ridiculous in spots.
While the Simons do get to the bottom of who is stalking the lady scientist, they also manage to help cure her of the psychosis that ails her. There is a very dramatic finale on a bridge where one of the woman's personalities wants to commit suicide. To prevent such a tragedy, the Simons have to convince the deviant personality to protect the innocent personality. It seemed very contrived, but I do have to admit the stunt work on the bridge was nail-biting. Obviously a stunt woman was used for the long shots when it looked like she'd go over the edge; but it was seamlessly matched with the shots of Flanagan literally hanging on the other side of the rail. The boys eventually pull her to safety, and in the process, they have successfully helped bridge her transition to a saner and healthier mindset.
Simon & Simon: Ties That Bind (1988)
What's a brother for?
This is an exceptional episode, and a lot can be read into the relationship that a veteran cop has with his troubled kid brother. Character actor Richard Herd returns as Police Officer Harry Flank, a role he portrayed previously in a sixth season episode. One night while bowling with the Simon brothers, he has to help his bro out of a jam. It involves money the younger brother, Phil, owes a cocaine dealer. In order to erase the debt, Harry takes an advance on his pension and floats Phil a loan. Except Phil has other ideas about how to use the money, which leads to a fatal shoot-out in a dark alley when another drug deal goes bad.
It's a compelling plot and nicely structured, but the heart of the story is the relationship between the two brothers. In a way it is juxtaposed with the relationship that Rick and A.J. have. At one point, Harry tells Rick that Rick would be bailing A.J. out of trouble, too, because it's what the older sibling usually does. Of course, Rick can see that Harry has blinders on and is unable to admit the extent of Phil's nefarious crimes and other seedy activities. As viewers, we know this may end badly and we're hooked to find out just what will happen.
The last act, where Harry gets shot because he is once again rushing to Phil's aid is very dramatic. He realizes he has to arrest Phil, but as the Simons arrive at the scene, the big bad coke dealer is there to avenge being double-crossed. He aims and fires at Phil, but instead hits Harry. In the next part, Phil hops into a truck and gets ready to leave while Harry is on the ground dying. I wondered if the writer would have Phil just take off, but I'm happy to report he does come to his senses. The conflict in that moment is very real. When Phil finally does the right thing, it shows the audience family ties are stronger than any problem that might threaten to disrupt everything.
Simon & Simon: Little Boy Dead (1988)
Abby kills a young boy
There's very little humor in this episode, and nearly all the drama centers on Lieutenant Abigail Marsh after she shoots a young 12 year old in a run-down part of town. The Simon brothers and Cecilia support Abby through the grueling ordeal that follows, with Rick and A.J. helping to clear Abby's name. But for a while, things don't look too good.
The trouble has occurred because Abby chased a suspect into an apartment building after a nearby liquor store had been robbed. As she turned a corner and looked upstairs, the suspect's gun was being aimed directly at her. Abby ended up shooting and killing the person holding the gun, who was not the suspect, but instead was the young boy. Of course, the suspect had given the gun to the kid, but it becomes a matter of proving it.
Proving it is harder than they realize, when most of the people in the apartment building refuse to step forward. Abby goes through a lot of turmoil; she is placed on suspension and ordered by the department to undergo counseling. She just wants to leave San Diego and be with her family in Colorado; during this process, she realizes the Simons are her family, too. A break in the case finally occurs when an older woman named Bessie Copland (Maidie Norman in her last screen appearance) calls A.J. with the intention of ratting on the killer. But the killer is there and offs her before his identity can be revealed.
It's up to another woman, the mother of the boy, to right the wrongs. The mother is played by Joan Pringle who does an extraordinary job with a tough role. She is supposed to be grieving the loss of her son but conflicted about loyalties in the ghetto. The final scene where she takes the law into her own hands is not entirely unexpected but it's powerful, and the episode ends on a very serious note because of it.
I am giving this one a 10, though I am not sure how accurate it may be in terms of what would actually happen to a lieutenant who accidentally kills an innocent child. I am sure there'd be a lot of bureaucratic red tape, where a thorough investigation would be conducted by the Internal Affairs division. While we see Abby's boss, we do not really get much information about how the situation is being handled internally. There are other cops at the scene when Bessie is eliminated, but we do not really observe any of them doing much to close in on the killer. Apprehending the bad guy is left up to the Simons who cuff him and lead him off at the end. In a way, Rick and A.J. are Abby's faithful deputies.
Simon & Simon: Baja, Humbug (1988)
Rick & A.J. and the arms dealer
A lot happens in this well-written and well-played episode of the series. Guest star Tony George, in his last television role, plays a man who is basically a death merchant, dealing in the sale of arms to third-world countries. Some of these countries have the support of the American government and intelligence agents are monitoring the exchange of weapons. One agent (Ken Swofford) seems to have switched sides. But of course, Rick and A.J. have no clue any of this is going on when they first go down to Mexico and inadvertently get mixed up in it.
The set-up for the main plot is fairly realistic. The boys are sort of experiencing a mid-life crisis and they decide to chuck the detective agency work and head down to Baja when Rick inherits a boat from a late fishing buddy. Rick's dream is to run a sightseeing tour on the boat, while A.J. will help but mostly focus on efforts to become a bestselling novelist. This is the second time in the seventh season that one of the brothers has writing aspirations. Earlier in the season, Rick had his own book published chronicling his exploits as an investigator. None of which is referenced in this story.
There is a subplot involving a woman A.J. gets to know on the side. She turns out to be an undercover agent for the S.I.A., which stands for the Security Intelligence Agency (a make-believe version of the C.I.A.). She plants drugs in his suitcase so she can use him and Rick to aid in an operation to take down George and Swofford. A.J. feels betrayed, and he is able to one-up her in the end with Rick's help.
I gave this episode a 9, because I thought Tony George was great in his role. He had previously played Jameson Parker's father on the daytime soap 'One Life to Live' in the late 1970s, so this was an on-screen reunion for them. Also, I liked the whole ambiance of the story, though it was obviously filmed on the Universal backlot. Except for the opening scenes, the majority of the story takes place outside San Diego. Cecilia and Abby Marsh do not appear and are never mentioned, which seems significant-- because if the boys did leave San Diego for good, they would have obviously had a farewell with their friends at the San Diego P.D., and Cecilia would have undoubtedly tried to talk them out of their decision to relocate to Mexico. But then, we knew it wouldn't last and they'd be back home in time for the next episode.
Simon & Simon: Bad Betty (1988)
Betty the bounty hunter
This episode feels like it could have been a backdoor pilot. The guest character, a bounty hunter named Betty Delvecchio (Susan Kellermann), is so well-defined she easily could have carried her own series and it's a shame she didn't. And if not a weekly series, this story might even have been slightly expanded and remade as a feature film. The relationships she has on the road, especially with the Simons, as she tries to track down a wanted man are nicely handled; we get a sense she's a multidimensional person doing a tough job. And she may or may not have a tragic situation to deal with back home in Michigan.
In addition to Betty, Art Monterastelli's script provides other assorted characters that make this a lively offering. These include Alvie the Weasel (David L. Lander) the thief Betty is trying to nab who always seems to get away, as well as a crooked pawn shop owner named Harry the fence. Plus there's another dude who represents an insurance company and has hired the Simons, though he may not be all he seems. The chase and capture scene near the end is classic. It involves Betty & A.J. with the bad guys, as well as Rick & Lt. Marsh who arrive in the nick of time to help save the day. And as if that's not enough, we get a very fun concluding sequence where Betty is trying to extradite Alvie back east in a coffin, though he is supposed to stay in San Diego for more police questioning.
I think what I love so much about this episode is the way it keeps the story moving but it also knows how to pause at key points to reveal insights about the characters. We learn about Betty and her background when she stops by to talk to Cecilia; and additional insights occur later when she has a heart-to-heart with A.J. at the office. We also get to learn about Alvie and Harry, seeing what makes them tick. And the icing on the cake is how Rick perceives all of it. He does a voice-over narration during the episode which resembles a 40s noir-- a lot of what he says about Betty is quite comical. A prior episode focused on Rick publishing a book about his life as a detective. One can't help but think this story is a chapter in his next publication.
Simon & Simon: Nuevo Salvador (1988)
Escuadrón de la Muerte
Though this episode was produced in early 1988, the death squad killings that had occurred in El Salvador in the early 80s had hardly been forgotten. In fact, killings were still going on and even continue into the present day by a group known as Sombra Negra (Black Shadow). The script was written by Richard Okie and was the seventh of ten episodes he penned for the series and its tone is very somber, especially the ending.
While I applaud Okie and the show's producers for tackling this particular topic, I think it fails in a few key areas. First, the main guest character, Elena Montero (Gina Gallego), is presented as the most noble sufferer who ever graced American TV screens. Everything bad that could happen to one woman happens to her in this story. She gets more than one scene where she launches into a soliloquy for Rick & A.J.'s benefit (and the benefit of the viewing audience) about what she has lost because of the guerrilla warfare back in her home country. She tells us why another woman wearing her jacket was attacked and raped because the perpetrators thought it was actually her; and she tells us how she has lost more than one brother who've been killed by the death squads. It was a bit much. I was half expecting her to end up telling us her dog had hit by a car and she had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
I am not saying this to sound mean or downplay the real-life suffering of victims and their families in El Salvador and other Latin American countries, but I think this would have played better if her tragedies had been spread out on to several other guest characters who were in the same situation. My feeling is that Okie, when researching the issue, had taken stories from multiple victims and combined them into this one character's suffering. And again, it was somewhat extreme.
The other issue I have with this well-meaning episode is that it doesn't go far enough visually. Having her describe the torture that occurs was not as good as showing some of it. Obviously, a network TV series in the late 80s probably couldn't show someone getting their tongue cut out or a gang rape occurring, but I do think scenes of this nature could have been attempted in shadows, where it's happening but we do not exactly see it all. And they could have had a viewer discretion warning at the beginning. If a story of this type is covered, then it almost has to be graphic to indicate the very realness of the violence affecting these people.