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The Associates: The Censors (1980)
A True TV Sitcom Classic Episode.
Wall Street law firm Bass & Marshall has a major TV network (This is back when there were only three) as client. The network have slotted a new sitcom called "Me & Stevie" about a single dad with a young son. The network's Standards and Practices people have censored a line of dialogue that they think will get them in trouble. Phil Kramer (Stuart Margolin) the producer of the show appears ready to file a lawsuit citing the creative free-hand he was contractually promised.
The law firm is asked to send an associate to California to sit in on a meeting between the two sides and persuade (possibly intimidate) the producer into caving. Senior Partner Emerson Marshall (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and junior partner Eliot Streeter (Joe Regalbuto) suss out who among their three brightest young attorneys - Tucker Kerwin (Martin Short), Leslie Dunn (Alley Mills) and Sara James (Shelley Smith) will serve them on the assignment.
With the selection process ultimately in the withered hands of Marshall, fully at his caprices and whims which don't always appear formulated by cognisance, who will it be? Who will best fit in amongst Hollywood people? Sara MIGHT be the obvious choice because she attended Stanford and has screen star glamour. It could've been Leslie and been used to better flesh out the arc of her character - one which they never quite contrasted with Tucker. Of course it has to be Tucker (Martin Short was the real star AND the one getting the best critical notices).
For what looks like the most absurd-seeming reason (His sense of humour gaged by a bad joke Marshall relates) Tucker gets sent. He and the network guy Gerry McMartin (Lee Wallace) meet with Kramer on set. Kramer, whilst exhibiting the diva kind of manner of some of our best creatives offers to drop it on one condition and one condition only - if they see the scene in question and tell him it isn't funny. Suddenly Marshall's choice of Tucker, who didn't laugh at a joke Marshall didn't find funny either, seems entirely calculated.
The scene involves the kid (A boy scout no less) walking in on his dad (Guest star John Ritter) with a high-voiced, flighty, crass and extremely well-endowed woman (Louisa Moritz) he picked up at a bowling alley. Though it happens off stage it is comedically obvious they've been caught inflagrante delicto (Latin is NOT the exclusive property of jurists!). Contained within the scene (Amidst genius physical comedy of the most adult kind performed with side-splitting precision by Ritter and Moritz) is a single line of very offensive dialogue which no logical creative would see as integral but will make all the difference.
Tucker is practically falling out of his seat in amusement watching John Ritter at his best. Not only is the scene on the fictional sitcom that funny (And that well-done) it is a true to life articulation of the awkward way in which a single dad might be prompted to give his son "The Talk" earlier than expected out of flagrant necessity. There is no question it is edgy and that some (The same people who find everything objectionable) may think it is in poor taste.
But could the network face real push-back from viewers, and by extension, sponsors? The network had to consider that as did their lawyers when push came to shove as it sometimes did. Tucker honors that as responsibly as his fiduciary responsibility calls for and goes further. But he knows he shouldn't have laughed. He might also know that he should not have agreed to any "Just tell me it's not funny. That's ALL you have to do!" challenges to watch a scene on the floor of a Hollywood soundstage.
The network adjusts it's position which results in a meeting at Kramer's office. Also invited to the meeting is a Mr.Adamson (Lee Brestoff) gay activist (Presumably from an imaginary composite of a representative of GLAAD) with flamboyant mannerisms who turns out to be profoundly reasonable in every way, indicates no problems with any aspect of the script (Having read it in full) and very clearly, even eloquently articulates that. The conspicuously cooperative activist then reveals something very telling which diminishes Kramer's position.
This was, for it's time and present time, scathingly funny social satire that pokes fun not only at political issues but at TV production itself. The most essential part is Margolin (Angel from The Rockford Files) utterly eviscerating - in the most loving manner possible that one can eviscerate an entire group (Screen Auteurs) of people. Kramer is ruthless and stubborn in not allowing the slightest alteration to his art (Even though it is not particularly subjective what works and what doesn't about the Stevie show scene) but also so desperate for any kind of validation from anyone that he'll take common courtesy as heartfelt praise.
The compromise resolution presents a different kind of comedy. It sends up how network TV sitcoms could be utterly destroyed by the most insane compromises made by people who don't know comedy or television. We see the absurdly altered version of Stevie & Me watched by Tucker, the other Associates and Streeter back at the law office and note how the script (And casting) on the fictional show can be ruined by pandering to all tastes.
So they've got John Ritter - one of the more gifted and beloved sitcom actors in history, as guest-star whilst he was the male lead on Three's Company produced on ABC (which also produced The Associates). The story-line is controversial and topical - filled with precisely the issues facing TV productions of that time. Plus they have one of the raunchiest scenes in American network TV history to that point in time.
Ratings were remarkably disappointing and there would be only four episodes before this series got canned. It suggests they may have been attempting a kind of beau risque at some point early in the production stage to reverse their fortunes. But it is nothing less than some of the very best network TV I have ever seen. The self-awareness alone puts right it up there as nothing less than classic. Even the idea of this episode makes me cackle.
Free to air commercial network TV really did use to be very provocative and edgy until censorship took hold. Unless they have seen reruns it is difficult to convince people of that now. Archie Bunker was still on the air hurling every kind of derogatory epithet. Sanford & Son did some of the same. It was about properly depicting the way real people talk whilst telling a story.
At the time few insults were more offensive than insulting the intelligence of the audience by assuming they can't handle mature content presented frankly. What this revolutionary episode previewed was another of it's grim truths i.e. the rise of censorship was on it's way. The overall idea appeared to be to present a different grim truth every episode.
My only criticism is that Tucker is the one who gets sent to Hollywood instead of Leslie or Sara or even Streeter. The cast doesn't really become an ensemble unless one of the ones who isn't Martin Short gets to do something. These writers would easily have had to have known that as would the star. Couldn't it have been written for one of the other associate characters?
The closing lines of dialogue of this episode can seem very telling.
The Associates: Is Romance Dead? (1979)
Martin Short's Best Performance
Idealistic young lawyer Tucker Kerwin (Martin Short) has developed an understandable infatuation for gorgeous fellow associate Sara James (Shelley Smith) his colleague at the prestigious Wall Street law firm Bass & Marshall. The statuesque bottle-blonde was of a physical type popular back in the day and she would do quite for herself now. But no man could hope to keep her for long.
Her law degree from Stanford shows more ambition than character in context with everything else we see. Sara - a venal sort of gold-digger and power-monger with no evident sense of shame has gathered an impressive stable of suitors quite quickly, would never consider a man at her level of power and means and certainly not lower. Tucker is so beneath her radar that she finds his attentions amusing and quaint.
A corporate law-firm will offer her opportunity to meet her first husband who will more than likely be quite affluent and powerful. From there she can meet her second husband - possibly a future president. She hasn't managed her expectations or seen a need to. Nights at galas, drinks in the Blue Room at the Algonquin and brunch at Tavern on the Green will offer introduction to many well-heeled inamorato.
Tucker - her associate and contemporary, for all his flaws, will more than likely be making six figures before he is 35 - IF he can take the weight of the most morally reprehensible litigation his firm constantly throws his way. Plenty of the most materialistic women would find him quite a catch. But he wants Sara.
Sara acts unprofessionally showing up to work in an black cashmere evening gown. She undresses down to her silk teddy right in front of Tucker in her office whilst talking to him like he is a female confidant instead of a male colleague. The timing is poor. They are set to work together representing Julius Barnes (Jack Gilford) a college professor/author accused of plagiarizing the writing of one of his students. Tucker's unrequited feelings become obvious to the client who surprisingly offers help.
Tucker asks fellow associate Leslie Dunn (Alley Mills) who is a tad smitten with him and not exactly surrounded by male admirers, if he can use her as surrogate to sound out the approach Julius has coached him on to use to woo Sara. In so doing, Tucker treats Leslie as poorly as Sara has treated him and been as utterly oblivious to HER feelings as Sara was with his. Tucker is at very least awarded the pat on the head of Sara affirming that he is "A sweet little person". Leslie has the last laugh but she and Tucker continue to looking for something out of reach.
Because it is Bass & Marshall, the client is, of course, the bad guy - somebody who has enriched himself enough to afford their hefty retainer to defend against those who might seek actual justice. Because that client is played by Jack Gilford there is a tither of humour almost immediately. But this guy is a villain in someone's life story. As light-hearted and human a representation of the sinister as he is, nothing changes what Julius Barnes has done even if he helps Tucker.
Shelley Smith did quite well giving audiences a little more of the nuance which made Sara James tick, in effect constructing a defense for her. But Sara remained a one-dimensional supporting character at that point not quite ready to become lead. The other cast members suitably asserted their characterizations in a way that told the story adding subtext to their characters subtext. Jack Gilford was also a solid guest-star for any sitcom.
With all that going for it this episode then features a comedic performance by Martin Short that crosses over into pure genius involving a take on the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet that is comedy gold. The writing can only be so good on it's own. A performer can bring it to life in so many other ways with how they interpret it. That is what Martin Short continuously did on this series in portraying a character who certainly thinks he is a nice guy and acts like a nice guy but is continuously betrayed by his absurd ambitions in service to very bad people.
How nice is Tucker really? How nice are any of them? In the first episode Tucker was tasked with a case in which he had to help argue in favour of a property developer's right to tear down a 200 year old cathedral. In this second one he is helping defend an indefensible client in Barnes who offers him poor advice which Barnes has likely stolen from other people. If he is a nice guy he is most certainly an ineffectual one.
The sum total of Tucker's activism consists of neurotically expressed guilty feelings. But that has consistency. If he is deluded enough to think Sara will ever see him in a romantic way he is probably deluded to think he can make a difference for the better at Bass & Marshall. He is that much of dreamer which can make him likeable even if he isn't nice (Which we see him try to be).
The Associates: The First Day (1979)
What Happens When 'the Good Fight' is Left to Neophytes?
As slots for a pair of partnerships are filled at the prestigious Wall Street law firm Bass & Marshall (Employing roughly 150 attorneys though we only see but a few at any given time) three bright new young associates begin their first day.
Idaho-raised Harvard man Tucker Kerwin (Martin Short) bears philosophical similarities to New Yorker and Columbia grad Leslie Dunn (Alley Mills). Both are idealistic and quite frankly, meek, yet somehow each ended up practising law on Wall Street - ample avenue for comedy immediately. The third associate is Stanford's Sara James (Shelley Smith) - a bottle-blonde me-firster used to getting her own way who leaves the audience with little doubt that this morally ambiguous (At best) milieu is the natural habitat of a shark in Givenchy like her.
Tucker and Leslie are immediately tasked with J & R Demolition V Our Lady of Mercy - a case in which they have to argue in favour of a property developer's right to tear down a 200 year old cathedral so that it may blight the skyline by erecting another condominium only partners and well-heeled clients of Bass & Marshall would be able to afford to live in. It is the first assignment of many that might cost Tucker and Leslie the noblesse oblige they somehow managed to keep going in.
Hard-working professional William Simmons (John Getz) contrasts with rapacious go-getter Eliot Streeter (Joe Regalbuto) as both are up for partnership. When it suddenly becomes clear that only one partnership placement will be on offer the differences between the two men appear more pronounced.
Streeter desperately curries favor. Simmons - a man we see shreds of morality in, one who treats the young associates with more care, quietly awaits the decision hoping that his work will speak for itself and perhaps, just perhaps wonders if maybe his business-like manner and gentlemanly composure might somehow be held as points in HIS column.
From that we can see Tucker and Leslie aren't the only naive people working there. Part of the reason Tucker is even there is because Simmons was insistent and twisted Streeter's arm when they were tasked with recruiting and Tucker showed his own shreds of morality that gave Streeter pause.
When Streeter gets it, Simmons packs up. Streeter acts like he feels terrible because he probably does. He and Simmons are friends. While Streeter was desperate to make partner he didn't know it would cost him a valued co-worker. Streeter is more cad than villain. From what we have seen he'll get over it pretty quickly. But yes, he will miss his friend.
Leaving Bass & Marshall is not as bad for Simmons as he, and we in the audience, might have thought. But Tucker and Leslie are still there with no one around to show them right and wrong if anyone on staff even could remember what that is or see it as meaningful. Ironically Simmons seems to know right from wrong better as he walks away from the firm.
So the first episode presents us with John Getz (A role well within the range of Charles Frank or Robert Pine) formulating an exceptional characterization which brilliantly sends up the way in which All-American lawyer/heroes were portrayed on TV. Tall, square-jawed and well-groomed in a three-piece suit we are meant to view a reflection of the best of the legal profession and a perhaps reflection of ourselves if we had become lawyers.
But what that means here is he just talks a good game i.e. is human enough to mention about how conflicted he is about J & R Demolition V Our Lady of Mercy - HIS case which requires him to try to make a nun crack on the witness stand. (Remember I said SHREDS of morality).
In the telling of this early entry in the short-lived series the audience is introduced to a kind of scale of humanity that is not particularly inspiring. Characters at the top and on the bottom are important in giving us this scale of this absurd interpretation of reality.
On the bottom is Johnny Danko (Tim Thomerson) - mail-room clerk/coffee go-fer & general labourer. He is someone the viewer might pity right up until the coarseness of his nature and proud lack of work ethic become evident which they do all the time. Let us suppose Johnny needs legal help of some kind. Think he can afford the representation of the firm he works for? Whatever foibles he may have the system too often rules against him due to lack of means - not whether it is just.
On top is Senior Partner Emerson Marshall (Wilfrid Hyde-White) who is the type of decadent authority figure the world has too much of. Whilst appearing decrepit to the point of near senility he is a man with an extremely long track record of success in his field. He has forgotten most of it particularly when he might draw upon it to impart something useful. Instead he rambles and by the time he has nothing left to say he often can't even remember what he was talking about. Or can he? He shows flashes not only of cognizance but wisdom. Conscience? Not at first glance.
What is here is a profound statement on the subjective morality of the law as it is applied with every kind of funny one-liner any sitcom viewer could want. The source material was the novel of the same name written by John Jay Osborn Jr. - noted legal scholar and author of the book The Paper Chase which was made into an award-winning film. The creator of the show was James L.Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, As Good As It Gets). The writing itself was deservedly nominated for Prime-Time Emmys. The cast is composed of actors amongst the most beloved of any on American TV.
So why didn't anyone watch?
Well. To begin with it is real downbeat. As upbeat and warm as the actors are what is shown here is the darkest of dark comedy - one in which good people have chosen to genuinely apply themselves in service of an entity on the wrong side of nearly everything and apply vigorous use of the disproportionate influence their positions and corporate clients give to them in walking upon the downtrodden.
Hilarious right? Someone with an edgy and cynical sense of humour will find a lot to like. Others will find it too easy to take too seriously. Hence part of my speculation as to why viewers looked the other way.
Evil wins is a recurring theme of the series. Not because good people do nothing. But rather because good people try to do something and fail so spectacularly that it is fodder for laughs. Are you that edgy? TV critics at the time WERE and heaped effusive praise upon this show that nevertheless evidently failed to translate into viewership.
That it was on opposite One Day At A Time (A show upon which no nefarious deed got a free pass even it meant awkward moments) on CBS and CHiPS on NBC were other reasons. Both of it's competitors were popular. One of it's competitors actually made a show for people who could think.
Dr. Cook's Garden (1971)
"You can have a perfect garden. Why not a perfect town?"
A barely recognizable Bing Crosby (bearded, sans pipe and golfing outfit) portrays Dr. Leonard Cook, a seemingly kindly old small-town physician with a thriving practice in the idyllic town of Greenfield, Connecticut. His young protege Dr.Jim Tennyson (Converse) returns to town for a visit having completed his residency.
Cook, a widower, is the only doctor in town. With no family left he tends to people in Greenfield like they are his kin. After more than forty years as general practitioner he has delivered most of the residents at birth and henceforth taken them on as patients.
As a county selectman (A town councillor) he also puts in time to tend to community improvements. The two responsibilities, and his avid interest in gardening percolate into a warped social engineering project.
Spoiler alert. With full knowledge of medical procedure and the lesser deference that comes from experience and personal confidence Tennyson's eyes are opened to the malfeasance of Dr.Cook - his hero. Taking his personal philosophy a step further, Cook actively causes deaths of patients whose respective expirations serve the greater good as Cook sees it.
Cook, with his gardening hobby tends to view patients in a similar way to how he views plants - some are flowers, some are weeds. The weeds need to be pulled out to protect the flowers.
Good people get very old before passing on. Bad people, whilst they happen to be at their most destructive, have unexpected health problems which prove fatal. Sick people who only have suffering ahead of them are euthanized. But there has never been a suspicious death. As regional health officer Dr.Cook would know if there had. He finds no fault in his own quality of healthcare and isn't going to call in another doctor to conduct an autopsy.
Tennyson, absent from the town for five years, begins to clue in that not everything is as it seems by taking stock of the sheer volume of people who have dropped dead under suspicious circumstances since he left each of which tie in not merely to malpractice by Cook but actual murder.
The other townspeople are blissfully unaware. They don't have Tennyson's education or cynicism. Tennyson has something else they don't have - the objectivity and fresh perspective that comes from an outsider's view.
He, like a lot of townspeople lost somebody close to him - his alcoholic maniac father who used to beat him senseless. The same man conveniently died of a stroke but one week after administering a particularly severe beating in which adolescent Tennyson's arm was broken.
For the most part the now well-documented dark side of Bing Crosby remained concealed beneath his public image until years after his death when his children came forward with shocking stories of brutal abuse by his hand. Very few of his performances betrayed the cruel, sadistic nature of the man. The narrative here touches upon a number of things that Crosby should have been made uncomfortable by.
The premise of this one fascinated me for years after I had been told about it. The person who got me interested in it only mentioned it in passing and was unable to give me the title of the right details for tracking it down mistakenly informing me that it had starred Fred Astaire and that the film had been a theatrical release in 1976 instead of a TV movie with Bing Crosby made in 1971. It took me twenty years to find it.
What this narrative deals with are subjects that weren't really talked about. Euthanasia, medicine in rural areas, the "God Complex" noted in a few cases of various physicians. The shock the viewer has doesn't necessarily come the fact that this nice old man is a mass-murderer though that should be enough. The shock comes with what degree the viewer and those that they are watching the film with begin to see a validity in what he is doing.
Based on the Ira Levin stage play.
Broadcast as an instalment of ABC Tuesday Night at the Movies.
The Devil and Miss Sarah (1971)
Is He A Bad Guy? Or Is He THE Bad Guy?
Cackling Old West outlaw Rankin (Gene Barry) may literally be the Devil. But as the audiences can see he can be very much at the mercy of captors. Tied up, hooded and dragged he looks less than formidable though everyone with passing knowledge of him is terrified.
His evident lack of concern is galling given that he could die from the elements i.e. the desert and mountains he is being extradited through if the lawmen don't opt to kill him first. He seemingly can't help but toy with the posse that has captured him.
After they have travelled a fair distance Rankin, and the Marshall looking to bring him in, are the only survivors as the posse gets wiped out by bandits who appear to be under Rankin's control somewhat but don't seem anxious to free him and make him comfortable. They keep their distance and we wonder why.
No sooner do Rankin and the Marshall encounter noble farmer Gil Turner and his beautiful, mysterious wife Sarah (Janice Rule) than the Marshall very conveniently dies of complications from heat stroke, dehydration and a festering gunshot wound incurred from a bandit's rifle during the ambush on his posse.
Turner sees it as the responsible thing to do to transport the outlaw to authorities and entreats a very finite group of fellow travellers to join him in the task which could quite easily cost them their lives. Rankin of course plots his escape from the group who have more decency than common sense and strange things begin to happen.
Sarah remains terrified of what may happen if she is around Rankin for enough time for him to brainwash her into helping him. Her concerns are well founded as but a moment alone with him plants some evil ideas in her head.
There is a sense women sometimes feel that they are being discounted by men and even other women as offbeat or alarmist when they express a concern. Sarah appears to feel like that when her husband dismisses her concerns even though she has a precognitive ability that Rankin recognizes straight away.
Rankin tries to turn her because of it. He has a way of playing with people's heads that makes them forget themselves. He might well just be one of those guys who enjoys provoking people to elicit reactions merely for cheap amusement. But something about this guy suggests there is a lot more at work and we're meant to wonder if there really is.
Things he says are interpreted by other characters in the most threatening manner imaginable. Some of the statements are meaningless but his carefree manner and the things they know he has done add a menacing context. When the typical person knows something of someone else's arc they can project more onto them in the same vein.
Also if you talk to another man's wife like he isn't there when he IS there that doesn't tend to go over very well to this day. In the Old West. history tells us it was enough to get you shot dead. Rankin amuses himself by chatting up Sarah in front of Turner. She is unsure how to respond which causes Turner even more concern.
What if he is just a very bad man who has had a hard life, knows he is going to die and doesn't care anymore? Logically that is all he could be. In desperate circumstances those that keep their cool can seem like a lot more than they are. Any projection of the supernatural should remain an overreaction.
Rankin manages to manoeuvre his captors into crisis after crisis. Numerous times Turner has to stop the others who at first want to let the baddie go then want to just kill him. In the end the showdown between just the two of them appears inevitable and Sarah is so completely out of character due to hypnosis from Rankin that she might be of little help to her husband. She might actually be a potentially deadly distraction.
Whatever reviewers and the title may have led you to believe about the character Gene Barry plays here, the ending allows audiences to interpret it as they will. It ends decisively but what has really happened? More importantly, was he really anything supernatural?
This terrific TV movie was made at a time that The Virginian (featuring Drury as the title character, 8 episodes of which had been directed by Michael Caffey who helmed this) had only just gone off the air but whilst that show and Bat Masterson (starring Barry) were both on in reruns. Writer Calvin Clements also scripted numerous episodes of the TV series westerns Gunsmoke and Laredo.
With supporting actors that had appeared as guest stars on TV and movie westerns assembled here was a group who knew what they were doing and went out and did it with some inventive panache set against the perfunctory rugged western landscape. A very intriguing take on what was a dying TV genre this remains a highly entertaining film though given the brisk run time it is over a little too abruptly.
The Family That Plays Together Stays Together
Cecelia Simon (Mary Carver) heads to Club Meade - a beautiful lakeside resort. After she gets upgraded to a two-room suite by mistake she invites her sons Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) to take advantage of the extra room.
Rick has something else planned (An orgy by the look of it). A.J. has just received the new James Michener novel in the mail and wants quiet so he can read it. He cedes his house to his brother and accepts his mom's invite driving up to the lake (Lake Meade?...Nah).
After he finishes the book A.J. goes site-seeing and witnesses a couple of local crackers dumping a body in the lake. He takes pictures and brings them to the sheriff (Guy Stockwell) who says he'll look into it but instead destroys the evidence. Whatever the murder was it appears to be a part of a conspiracy the entire small-town around the resort is in on.
Cecelia - a strong matriarch worries about her favourite son A.J. and uses the hold she has on her other son to get him help. One phone call and Rick heads over to help his brother. The sheriff tries to railroad them out of town. Local thugs also try to intimidate them. But they stay and when the body turns up and is ruled accidental drowning they are anxious to disprove the findings.
They bring in their quirky coroner buddy Jerry Reiner (Robert Ginty) for aid. He helps them steal the body (Doing something illegal is a hallmark of the Simon brothers in almost any given episode) and do an alternate autopsy which yields different findings. They have to make it come out right or they'll be the next mysterious deaths in town.
A.J. refers to it as a "case" even though he has no client. After multiple attempts to dissuade them Rick says "Let's get to work!". Neither has been deputized and if they had it would be out of their jurisdiction. But these self-appointed do-gooders don't need a financial incentive to proceed.
That was another continual aspect of the series i.e. the pro bono case. The heroes don't need an invite to do the right thing. But it does help when they an axe to grind with the baddie.
Bluebeard & Greenthumb?
Agrarian nutrition engineer Walter Carmichael (Stephen Keep Mills) works for the state of California inspecting fruit groves. He follows up on some pesticide complaints with Martin Donlevy (Dick York) sinister CEO of Pritchard Grove, a large California orange grower.
Carmichael disappears shortly after meeting with Donlevy to discuss his use of a pesticide which is killing local animals including livestock on ranch land.
Carmichael's gorgeous young wife Hilda (Randi Brooks) hires private investigators the Simon Brothers - sometime free-spirit/sometime grouch Vietnam vet Rick (Gerald McCraney) and his snobby college boy little brother A.J. (Jameson Parker) to find Walter.
While investigating Donlevy, Rick and A.J. find out more about Walter and it doesn't add up. He has a second wife (Tori Lysdal) as beautiful, young and shapely as his other wife. Rick has trouble dealing with it because he just doesn't get what women would find appealing about Walter. He becomes as preoccupied with figuring out what Walter has going for him as he does with finding out where the missing man is.
Meanwhile A.J. becomes more preoccupied with the sketchy circumstances under which Walter has married each of his wives. Then they meet stunning wife #3 (Morgan Most). All three are widowed heiresses.
Looks like what they started with was a typical corporate villainy investigation but tried to sex it up by grafting on a bigamy subplot with three very attractive actresses including Randi Brooks (a boyhood crush of mine). That might have worked as a sight gag if they had gotten an actor who was so spectacularly unattractive to be a sight gag.
Stephen Keep Mills was no Cary Grant. But he was not a sight gag. The role called for more than an actor who could just act nerdy and stodgy.
Simon & Simon: Dear Lovesick (1984)
Lovesick in La Jolla
Private investigators the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) work for San Diego Star advice columnist Kate Franklin (Cathryn Damon).
She is worried that a woman's wealthy husband might kill her young boyfriend. The evidence she presents are the young man's letters which captivate her and the readers of her column. The letters are signed "Lovesick in La Jolla".
Instead the cheating wife is killed and Gavin Shelley (Med Flory) the husband is busted for it. Rick and A.J. had a run-in with beligerent jack-ass Shelley. Whilst stipulating the affluent man is a miserable excuse for a human being, the Simon brothers know he couldn't have done it.
But their eccentric paranoiac client is convinced Shelley did his wife Laurel in. The wife's tennis pro lover Steve Lacey (Christopher Mayer) shares the same belief about Shelley and says that is why he wrote to Kate's advice column. Shelley in turn accuses Lacey but that doesn't make sense either, at least on the surface. When Lacey dies things are that much more complicated, or perhaps less.
A bomb takes out A.J.'s ugly kitchen and tacky living room. The message it sends tinges everything they do thereafter with a kind of urgency they hadn't expected. We have seen a lot happen to the Simon brothers by this point in the series. But a jolt where the viewers live should have been a spark for the audience. Watching the show from a living room and seeing A.J.'s git blowed up real good should have registered with anyone sitting on a couch.
Whilst one of seemingly the more light-hearted in tone of series episodes the steady stream of death and threats to life in this teleplay give it an intriguing dark side. The mystery itself evolves in directions that indicate one thing but leads to something unexpected giving it a multiple layer.
The show had evolved beyond its adult Hardy Boys/Odd Couple premise after but a few episodes in it's debut season. Fans of this series didn't really need to see as much development and subtext in the title characters as the show went on. Because of that Simon & Simon could just make excellent mysteries. Their best ones were like this one which gave us a fun balance of action, mystery and character study. Simon & Simon was a show that did that as well any detective show in the history of television.
As for actual detective work it might seem amateurish. Rick and A.J. knew more than the audience did about private investigation but not everything a private investigator does is something audiences would notice or readily understand. It probably depends on the viewer whether they find the other elements appealing enough to overlook certain implausibilities (Like for instance the fact that the brothers are doing a lot things of which are illegal and still keep their state certification).
Simon & Simon: Details at Eleven (1981)
That Guy Couldn't Tell The Truth If His Depended On It!
Carolyn Perry (Markie Post) witnesses her stepfather Wade Christian (Peter Graves) bribing government officials with cash from money-launderers. He is a TV news anchor but it does not look like part of a hidden-camera special report. In fact, in the lead up to Christian's run for city council it looks like the establishment of a corruption network. Wade's bosses have cause for concern. Carolyn stole documents of theirs.
Socialite Helena Christian (Sharon Acker) hires private investigators the Simon Brothers - sometime free-spirit/sometime grouch Vietnam vet Rick (Gerald McCraney) and his snobby, fastidious preppie little brother A.J. (Jameson Parker) to find Carolyn - her wild college girl daughter whom she says has been missing for three days. Her sorority sisters at San Diego State University say she met a Mexican dude and is hanging out in Ensenada.
Competing detective Myron Fowler (Eddie Barth), owner of Peerless Detectives, is on the case too following a different angle. Myron their former boss and mentor, is nevertheless an unscrupulous scrounger who epitomizes the notion that private detective work is the realm of bottom-feeders. His own daughter Janet (Jeannie Wilson) helps the brothers while working for her father. The Simons also offer more courteous service at a lower rate.
There is kind of an unsettling voyeuristic feel to this first episode and was clearly intended by director Corey Allen. The opening titles montage is framed through the view of binoculars. The original series theme which sounded like a mariachi band was played over top. It suggested a whimsical interpretation of surveillance work as well as lack of deference to privacy in general. But none of that makes it less unsettling.
The original titles sequence included the theme song "Best of Friends" by the Thrasher Brothers. The new improved theme composed by Barry De Vorzon and Michael Towers debuted during season two and remained the theme up until the series end.
Corey Allen - a director of limited ability but considerable experience appeared to be under the impression that people who watch detective shows are voyeuristic. Perhaps that was why he gave audiences shots that were obstructed and views that would be illegal if they were real sight-lines of real people. In that respect he can't really be faulted. Private detective work really is invasive and should never be used without foreknowledge of that.
The script itself encapsulates one of the main conflicts of investigative work i.e. the balancing of a client's interest with actual right and wrong. some in the much maligned profession are prepared to put the wrong one before the other.
Theoretically Peter Graves was born to play a news anchor or a small-time politician. But that is only a theory you might formulate if you look at what level his acting was at and what he probably should have done INSTEAD of acting. Just because he was of a certain age, was stodgy and monotone like a lot of news anchors and politicians did not mean he could realistically play one. Eventually an actor has to move or talk.
Nevertheless Graves was a big guest star around the time this episode was shot. The production company might have had high hopes. The inclusion of Graves, the hiring Corey Allen (Who had directed features and a lot of TV) probably meant it had higher hopes for getting picked-up as a series than some of the other prospects CBS had.
Markie Post appeared in this network production having already proven herself series worthy via productions on each of the three networks. They still didn't know what to do with her and a couple of series she did bombed early in their development. she wouldn't find her wheel-house until a year later playing Terri Michaels on the Fall Guy. Her inclusion on the first episode of this show indicates how serious they were about launching this show.
The ratings weren't as co-operative (It was in a time-slot against Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on ABC) and it was touch and and go whether there would be a second season. Given the time-slot (Thursday at 9 PM) with Magnum P.I. as lead-in in Fall 1982, the show flourished.
Though Gerald McCraney played the older brother, in real life he was born only a few months before Jameson Parker.
Simon & Simon: Love, Christy (1981)
Rick (Gerald McCraney) falls for icy blonde bombshell college girl Christy Huggins (Liberty Godshall). She is a hundred different kinds of bad news. But the heart wants what the heart wants.
Rick sure as hell is not the only guy she has beguiled and uses. But, as a private investigator, he has a unique skill-set she can exploit which pushes him to the head of the line when her car gets stolen. Of course as a private investigator or even just as a rational adult he should know better.
Rick's detective agency partner A.J. (Jameson Parker) is beside himself noting how unprofessional his big brother has been. Though neither is likely to be paid, A.J. won't leave his brother's side. Blood is thicker than water no matter how much of it might get spilled investigating chop-shop goons. A.J. even helps Rick rope their friend Janet Fowler (Jeannie Wilson) into assisting them on the case.
Anyone can identify with Rick here because any of us can be dumb and irrational in our devotion to certain folks we meet. When that person is a stranger with suspect motives, people who care can seem overbearing in pleading for caution.
When it is family, watching the chips fall where they may, never feels right. Anyone can identify with A.J. in this episode too because of that. It all ties in strongly with the series bible and the episodic articulation of the awkward expressions of love between brothers in adulthood.
This episode also gives us a sense of the types of people who hire private investigators. Client-as-villain was a very common theme in the series and countless other detective shows. Client-as-self-destructive-antagonist was not nearly enough of one but was considerably more true to life in numerous instances.
Her award-winning screen-writing career suggests if Liberty Godshall had to absolutely make the choice between that and acting that she definitely made the right one.
She was more than passable as an actress as evidenced here. But like a lot of actors her looks helped her get typecast. The scripts she was reading for weren't as good as the ones she would end up writing. A voice can lead an artist on one path but it will never be as compelling as the path that gives them their voice.
Convincing Argument For Planned Parenthood
A worried mother fears that her little girl has been abducted by her demolition expert ex-husband (Taylor Lacher) and taken to Mexico. She hires small-time local private investigators the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) to find her.
A.J. warns her that the laws are different in Mexico and that they are not certified as private investigators there. But Rick also tells her that he and his brother are her best shot at finding the child. Rick lived in Mexico for awhile and has many shady associates there whom we frequently meet on the show.
The case is not quite what it seems. It is in fact considerably more dangerous. The insane, shrill brat of a child offers her own x-factor which the viewer may or may not find interesting, may or may not find entertaining or amusing in any way.
Good actors know to avoid working with kids whenever they can. Believable child actors are rare. This episode featured a particularly irritating and loud one in a fair number of scenes with significant dialogue. She wasn't convincing and this, at times unbearable, episode is the low-light of season one.
They first changed the theme music and titles montage in this episode from the original titles sequence including the mariachi band theme song "Best of Friends" by the Thrasher Brothers. The song would eventually be replaced by the theme "Recipe For Disaster" a catchier slide-guitar jam with a great saxophone solo. "Recipe For Disaster" made its debut in this namesake episode. But it would not fully displace "Best of Friends" as the show theme until season 2.
Simon & Simon: Trapdoors (1981)
Deeper Into The Dungeon
Bespectacled teen misfit Anthrax Vermillion AKA Terry McDaniels (Robbie Rist - still acting, never stopped) has a way with computers. He is so good that he has taken to hacking his local bank and stealing modest sums of money which total roughly $800. Not a lot, even for back in 1981 particularly given how much he could have stolen.
Like a lot of delinquents he wasn't so much doing it for the cash as he was for the rush. He buys computer games and Dungeons and Dragons stuff with the money.
The bank president Paul Scully (James Whitmore Jr. - one of the most ubiquitous character actors in 1970s and 1980s TV) hires small-time local private investigators the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) to see if they can nab him.
They catch him almost immediately. After they see him get chewed out by his mom (Jenny O'Hara) they come to sympathize with the kid. After we see Rick and A.J. get chewed out by their own mom (Mary Carver) later on for what they haven't done with their lives we get a sense why they might sympathize.
Rick tells Mrs. McDaniels they can fix things with the bank because that is what Scully has told them. They may even be able to get him a job there again based on the word of Scully. Of course it is not that simple. Bad people see potential in what the kid did and they have a considerably bigger take in mind.
When he disappears his mom knows who to call - those nice private detectives. As with any child abduction scenario Rick and A.J. hope they can find him alive and know the chances of that decrease by the moment.
Humiliation does not equal contrition or even necessarily a reluctance to change a destructive habit. When we see the kid hacker get caught we see no discernible regret about what he has done, why it is wrong or that people have been hurt.
The supposedly benign and innocuous character is hacking again within 24 hours albeit under considerable duress. By then he is doing it for bigger stakes and the ultimate adrenaline rush. But mostly he is just trying to survive. The fact that the baddies are worse and old enough to know better may put him in a sympathetic light. But he is still a criminal.
Philip DeGuere Jr., the creator of this series also created the TV series Whiz Kids (On which Robbie Rist and Linda Scruggs would both appear) which took a home PC hacking story-line further than they did here. But we at least see some of its beginnings.
There's Just Something Wrong About This!
A sick lion attacks and kills a worker at a world famous zoo. Small-time local private investigators the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) are hired by wealthy philanthropist Derek Frye (Nicholas Coster) to get something on the deceased man that can be used to impugn his credibility i.e. past drug use, alcoholism, mental health problems etc.
Added to that distasteful duty is a suspicion they were hired because everyone that matters knows they are desperate for cases. We are reminded that private investigation is not exclusively the realm of the altruistic and can in fact be used to service the ends of the morally ambiguous.
Our first reminder is that they are being hired by a zoo i.e. a place where animals face so much hardship and cruelty. Our second reminder is this mission that the Simon brothers are sent on to burn a dead man's credibility presumably so that the zoo won't face liability.
The fact that it seems too easy (Dead guy was mainlining PCP and left his stuff out) might bother the kind of P.I.s Rick and A.J. were. But there are plenty of corporate and small-time outfits that serve client needs of the most outrageous sort and only occasionally face professional sanction.
Knowing they are setting someone up is not necessarily valuable knowledge unless you are fundamentally a good person or have professional ethics. What they do with that knowledge again defines the title characters as heroic professionals even though their tactics are sometimes illegal.
Frye agrees to let them go undercover at the zoo and the Simons dredge up the unexpected with the help of veterinarian Dr. Sandy Sawyer (Darleen Carr).
If we need a more stark ethical contrast to the Simons than what other private investigators would do we have the revelation of a particularly perverse kind of villainy that gives us that and more. The baddie is of a kind that would not only outrage animal rights activists but also hunters.
The real horror for the brothers is that their long widowed mom (Mary Carver) is dating again and that she wants them to meet the guy.
While investigating the dead man's apartment A.J. asks the landlord why it is vacant with "What happened? He get transferred or something?". Home to a naval base and Silicon Valley computer companies, 1980s San Diego was a gorgeous place that people did not usually leave unless they were accepting promotion somewhere else. Hence "He get transferted?" may have been a natural question when someone moved. It is also telling that formally dressed and well-coiffed A.J. would pose as a prospective tenant and not cowboy Rick. You know which one people would rent to.
But the most telling moment is when the brothers play basketball in the driveway like when they were kids. You see them talking about the case while they play. It can be interpreted as giving us the metaphor of the give and take when detectives discuss strategy while showing them literally competing.
It also is this All-American thing brothers are known to do so it helps relate the characters to the audience that way. Real people have conversations like that. As with a number of moments during the series they struck just the right tone.
Darleen Carr and Jameson Parker were married in 1992. She did no less than four episodes of this series each time as a different character.
Down and out local private detectives the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) are desperate for cases. So desperate they reluctantly accept an assignment delivering a summons to a mean biker dude. After that is done they return to the office and a more gruesome (At least for Rick) assignment awaits.
Their old high school is planning a reunion for the class of 1962 and their former teacher Mrs. Barlett (Lucille Benson) wants the Simon brothers to track down some members of the class. A.J. is delighted. It isn't like they are that busy. Rick loathes Barlett (She was tough on him) and only agrees to the assignment when she threatens to show his mom (Mary Carver) a list of the bad things he did in his senior year that she never knew about. Mama's boys that Rick and A.J. are, we know Bartlett has Rick cornered.
The first name they try to track down is Doug Sullivan (Tom Hallick) - Rick's former rival in every way that mattered and Mrs. Barlett's favourite student. Rick hopes they won't find him. They don't find him at a place he should be and instead encounter a ninja who clobbers them. Mrs. Barlett insists they continue to look for Sullivan.
They infiltrate the world of survivalists (or "preppers" - people who think World War 3 or the Rapture is about to happen and are hoarding food and guns) to track the man down. Rick is eager is to find fault with Sullivan because of their old rivalry. It shows the danger of personal feelings being a conflict of interest in his work. Consistent with the fact it was the end of the first season the volatile characters and situation are more dangerous than in earlier episodes.
This is a fun episode I remember seeing back in the 1980s when I was a child. A clip from it became part of the opening titles montage i.e. the showdown in the bar where A.J. is wearing sunglasses and Rick is brandishing a broken beer bottle. Even as a kid I wondered whether Sandy McPeak was trying to do an Irish accent, a Scottish accent or a Jamaican one!
Lance LeGault stole the show as wacko survivalist/mercenary Paul Stark. He, Burr DeBenning, Mickey Jones and Clyde Kusatsu were staples of early 1980s TV.
Rick's locker has his name carved in it with "'62" written beside it PERHAPS indicating the year he would have graduated making him 39 years of age in this episode. We know Rick is older than A.J. by a few years but never exactly how old they are.
Mrs. Barlett mentions in the episode that for the reunion "Roland weary's restaurant" will be doing the catering. Roland Weary was a character in the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse Five. Lucille Benson was in the 1972 movie version of that book.
It's Only Rock "N' Roll But I Love It!
Pop music sensation Rick Brewster (Joey Travolta - John's older brother) is in San Diego for a stop on his tour. The Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) are tasked by their mom (Mary carver) with scoring concert tickets for their cousin Dianne (Kitty Moffat) to see Brewster - "the hottest act in rock "n' roll" (think Justin Bieber meets Nickelback).
Through a misunderstanding the private detective brothers stumble on to a scheme to sell counterfeit tickets for thousands of seats to the concert which don't actually exist.
The highly implausible criminal plot is issue one that anybody should have with this episode. A few thousand concert goers would hardly go to a show and stand in the wings without protest when they can't find seats that don't exist. It is rightly pointed out by the characters that such an occurrence would cause a riot. They certainly wouldn't be able to get away with doing it at multiple shows as they talk about doing.
Out of all the different ways musicians and their fans were getting ripped off by promoters, counterfeit tickets was the most easily traceable and had the highest number of complainants. Counterfeit merch however would have been an utterly perfect crime for the Simon brothers to investigate as it happens at many big concerts and to this day remains difficult to curb. Then there is ticket price manipulation/speculation. That would have made for a good rock "n' roll crime too.
For whatever reason I tend to get Joey Travolta confused with Frank Stallone. Can't imagine why, can you? Nobody would confuse him with being a real actor and his musicianship is over-rated. He somehow duped casting directors to win the role of Brewster and performed two not bad songs "I Want You" and "Can't Stop The World" which were composed by Barry De Vorzon and Dave Kahn.
At the concert promoter's office a poster of Led Zeppelin live at Knebworth 1979 can be seen. Led Zeppelin played San Diego Sports Arena multiple times. Does it make sense to have a poster of a show from a festival in England that happened two years after they last played San Diego than a poster from any one of the times they rocked San Diego where this episode is set? Just sayin'.
Simon & Simon: Matchmaker (1982)
Can We Go To YOUR Place?
A.J.'s bad-news, insurance agent ex Whittaker (Erin Gray) is in trouble and comes to visit him at his private investigation office. Rick (Gerald McCraney), A.J.'s brother and partner isn't thrilled to see her either because she hired them for a case and it almost got them killed. A.J. (Jameson Parker) still has feelings for her though he tries to hide it. Both are so cold in their dealings with her they refer to her by her last name.
She has a potentially lucrative case for them and offers a $25,000 bonus - something that would make up for a lot of the hurt she has caused. They know she is a payer because the last case they worked on for her, though dangerous, got them out of hock. The deep-pocketed insurance company she works for is investigating the theft of a massive art collection.
The lead A.J. and Rick work on is finding out where the thieves are getting their own leads. They trace it to a very exclusive computer dating service for upper income singles. Noting quickly that it could be the service or any one of the clients casing wealthy targets to set up for robbery, A.J. goes undercover and dates attractive single women - the best kind of therapy for getting over Whittaker.
Vicki Whittaker is an excellent contrast for Janet Fowler (Jeannie Wilson) - Rick and A.J.'s doting friend and occasional love interest. Janet gives and gives. Whittaker goes to them when she needs something and does so especially when it is dangerous. She puts herself and just about every other person on earth ahead of the Simon brothers even while working with them. She even tries to rekindle her romance with A.J. who is understandably not at all amused.
Not sure what the inspiration was for this episode other than somebody really getting burned by their insurance company. Whittaker, though not quite a femme fatale in the way film noir defines the term, personifies both callous self-interest and incompetence. By the end of the episode we even find out she is in to bondage.
Features Dennis Haskins in a small role. Haskins was a concert promoter and manager of musicians like Duane Allman and Tom Jones before he tried acting. His casting came a few episodes after "The Hottest Ticket In Town" Season 1, Episode 7, which was about the concert of a visiting rock musician. He is not listed on that as a consultant but they weren't always credited back then. He might've parlayed that in to a small role in this episode. It would've made more sense to cast him in the earlier episode though.
Episode features the avant garde modern artwork of painter Marlowe Simon.
Simon & Simon: Double Entry (1982)
The Owl and The Pussycat Went To Sea
Private detectives the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) are hard up for work and doing repossessions.
A jealous wife (Lynette Mettey) hires them to spy on her property developer husband Kyle (Richard Herd) whom she suspects is cheating on her with his gorgeous work colleague (Sondra Currie).
The brothers try to talk her out of it and give her every conceivable way to back out. But she is determined they proceed, and then appears to enjoy their status reports.
The Simons tell her that the man isn't cheating. But privately they can't rule out that he is up to something because they sense so strongly that he is. He has worked almost non-stop during their surveillance of him. The work colleague he is suspected of cheating with is working almost non-stop too on the same thing...Whatever it is...Which might be nothing.
The Simons know something is up and it is driving them crazy trying to figure out what it is. If they had an idea of what to look for they would be able to find it sooner. But looking for a possible affair yields them nothing and in fact impedes their interpretation of what they see. Still, it's her dime. They keep looking hoping they'll eventually know it when they see it.
When Kyle is kidnapped by environmental terrorist group "Sons of the Beach" (Think about it) and held for hefty ransom things get even more puzzling.
The mystery depicted is one of the better ones of the debut season because there is a greater complexity and subtlety to it. We see that the Simon Brothers are great detectives but do not identify precisely what they see when they clue in that something is amiss.
Because of it the characters have credibility with the audience. They are detectives and we aren't. If they see things that we all see then any idiot can be a private investigator and who cares who this guy and his brother are? Mysteries where the resolution is too obvious make audiences and TV detectives look dumb.
This episode shows us what environmentalists were seen as at a certain point in North American society. At one point, and I remember it, the environment was a fringe cause filled with activists who had as much credibility as manic street preachers shouting "The world will end tomorrow!".
That changed dramatically with global warming science in the late 1980s. At some point before that the prime concern was acid rain. So much so that it was what most of us heard about in conjunction with the environment on TV news and was viewed as the defining environmental issue.
The Ross/Dennison Thing
Private detectives the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) are hard up for work as usual and delivering court summonses to make ends meet. A very suspicious acting woman (Louise Sorel) hires them to deliver one to her ex husband. She offers cash and they don't refuse it. They need the money that badly.
No sooner have they delivered the summons than the man plunges to his death. Police and media figure out the brothers were duped when they identified him by an alias. The implication the headline seemingly makes is that their mistake caused him to take his own life. They've been played perfectly. Rick is furious and frustrated enough to think about quitting detective work altogether.
But they get a surprise new client when the dead man's real ex-wife Laura (Belinda Montgomery) shows up at their office after reading about the mistake they made. They have been put in a twist and part of the mystery is seeing how elaborate the ruse was. Then there is the real cause of the man's death and a mystery player (Alex Rocco). All that comes before another elaborate plot-twist. The mystery they crafted with this teleplay swerved in a lot of intriguing directions, all of them believable and thus was one of the best episodes of season one.
For much of the debut season of the show the Simon Brothers had found their way in to mysteries via shady or flighty clients who picked them at random not knowing better established agencies in town or deliberately targeted them as being too desperate to turn down dangerous work. To me that was, and is considerably more plausible as well as more interesting than them having a stellar reputation before the early episodes. The way they are brought in to this mystery makes sense.
Their work is more dangerous because of how good they are at it. This is reflected in the man's death which is comically foreshadowed by the opening scene where A.J. pretends to be a corpse. The danger of the type of detective work the lovable Simon Brothers were doing had to be grounded in something. What better way to ground tension than seeing a man very much alive, then dead moments later?
Belinda Montgomery always made up for a lot whenever she was cast in a role. It wasn't just acting. A certain look which she had counted for a lot on camera. She was a real leading lady and made everyone around her better. It is surprising to me that she never had a film career in big budget features.
Magnum, P.I.: Ki'is Don't Lie (1982)
"Wax THAT, Hotshot! Aloha!"
Magnum is guarding a sacred tribal idol - the Ki'i, as part of a charitable auction with local culture and antiquities as the theme. After accepting the idol for safe-keeping at Robin Masters's estate on Oahu weird things start happening. The idol is cursed and every indication is that the curse is for real.
A couple of snarky but resourceful detectives from the mainland are out to get the idol. San Diego-based private investigators the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) get more than they bargained for. So does Magnum when a beautiful socialite (Morgan Fairchild) puts the moves on him but also betrays a hidden side to herself that may mean nothing or everything.
Having Morgan Fairchild on the same TV screen as Tom Selleck probably led to a lot of babies being born nine months after this was first broadcast. It was irresponsible of CBS to have allowed too such attractive people on screen at the same time. The earth could have tumbled off of its axis just from straining to look.
While Simon & Simon hit the mark with network executives and TV critics the ratings weren't as co-operative (It was, at first, in a time-slot against Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on ABC) in its first season and it was touch and and go whether there would be a second season. Given the perfect time-slot (Thursday at 9 PM) with Magnum P.I. as lead-in in Fall 1982, the show flourished.
CBS made sure that happened by getting the shows together for this cross-over. Viewers who were fans of both shows got a kind of 2 hour season premiere (Though Magnum, P.I. season three debuted a week earlier) for both shows beginning in this episode and concluding in the Simon & Simon episode which immediately followed it. Fans of only Magnum, P.I. had to watch Simon & Simon (Season 2, Episode 1 - Emeralds Are A Girl's Best Friend) at 9 if they wanted to see how the adventure ended.
For syndication reasons and to broadcast as a repeat, a different ending was filmed which closed out the mystery on Magnum with no carry over into Simon & Simon.
I was a fan of both Magnum P.I. and Simon & Simon in first-run. But I skipped the cross-over episodes only until recently. It just didn't seem right having likeable good guys clash though it does offer an added complexity to be shown what the characters might be like as antagonists instead of as heroes. Watching the episode felt kind of weird because of that.
Stars of different series also did not usually make guest appearances on other shows unless it was as a backdoor pilot i.e. an episode of their show being used to launch another. That is what they essentially did here even though Simon & Simon had already had a 13-episode debut season. A re-launch using one of the hottest shows on TV was deemed necessary and desirable. For a time the two shows complimented each other. Simon & Simon finished in the top ten in both 1983-84 and 1984-85 before each series dramatically declined in popularity in 1985-86 and thereafter.
You Have Just Picked A Very Expensive Way To Get Acquainted!
Private investigators the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) return home from a case in Hawaii which they think they have wrapped up. When they land in San Diego they discover the con artist Catherine Hailey (Morgan Fairchild) they thought the FBI would pick up on another flight has instead escaped to Costa Nueva - a South American paradise with no extradition treaty to the United States.
Jonathan Quayle Higgins (John Hillerman) arrives from Hawaii as representative of the orphans charity Catherine has stolen from, in order to explain to the FBI the details of her fraud. Reuniting with the Simon brothers having met them in the Magnum, P.I. episode (Season 3, Episode 2). The Simons offer to go get Catherine since she never met them and won't know them on sight. Higgins agrees if he can go along (Which is counter-intuitive).
Rick Simon of course speaks decent Spanish (I'm convinced Gerald McCraney could do Telemundo) and has colourful associates across the region. The Simon brothers and Higgins decide to run a sting on Catherine and bring their friend Janet (Jeannie Wilson) into it along with Henry (Joe Mantegna) - an old journalist friend of Rick's.
While Simon & Simon hit the mark with network executives and TV critics, the ratings weren't as co-operative (It was, at first, in a time-slot against Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on ABC) in its first season and there almost wasn't a second season. Placed in the perfect time-slot (Thursday at 9 PM) with Magnum P.I. as lead-in in Fall 1982, the show flourished finishing in the ratings top ten in the 1982-83 season.
CBS made sure that happened by getting the shows together for this cross-over. Viewers who were fans of both shows got a kind of 2 hour season premiere (Though Magnum, P.I. season three debuted a week earlier) for both shows ending in this episode and beginning in the Magnum, P.I. episode which immediately preceded it. Fans of only Magnum, P.I. had to watch Simon & Simon (Season 2, Episode 1 - Emeralds Are A Girl's Best Friend) at 9 the same night if they wanted to see how the adventure ended.
But this bizarre episode bears little seeming relation to the episode it is meant to be a sequel to. Why Higgins is in it makes very little sense other than for maintaining a peripheral tie-in to the Magnum episode. As for the title character from Magnum, P.I. - Tom Selleck has but a few moments of screen time at the beginning and the end of this episode in tacked on vignettes which are inconsequential to the narrative.
Simon & Simon: What's in a Gnome? (1983)
Gnome Versus Phantom At Fire-base Middle Earth
A Southern California amusement park is prey to persistent attacks of sabotage in advance of its season opening. Park Operations Manager Denise Carol (Judith Chapman) hires San Diego private investigators the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) to try to find out what has been happening and put a stop to it.
But she wants them to go in undercover and offers them cover jobs so they can blend in among the workforce. Rick doesn't want to go in as a maintenance tech because he always goes undercover as some kind of menial worker and wants a change. So A.J. happily agrees to be the maintenance tech while Rick agrees he will work in guest services as a host not knowing precisely what that will entail.
Lori Lightbody (Anne Lockhart) the soft-spoken but perky and peppy public relations rep who oversees the hosts trains a class of men, including Rick to portray gnomes - the costumed mascots of the park. Rick, instantly regretting what he has gotten himself into, proves not only to be a poor student but recalcitrant and disruptive to Miss Lightbody.
While far from the biggest role Anne Lockhart ever got her hilarious turn here remains my favourite of all the performances I have ever seen her give including those on the original Battlestar Galactica. Perfectly cast, she plays a kind of overly-enthused happy person that makes for a near perfect foil for world-weary extrovert Rick. Their scenes together are among the most classic of the entire series showing the humour the show had and tying it in with Rick's arc so well.
The actual mystery explores the darkest theme of the series i.e. the horrors and criminal acts of war and the impact it has upon the best and brightest that fight in them. Such a nuanced message against such a polarizing issue made for profound social commentary which was in no way effected by the light-hearted gnome-related stuff. The heroes of the show again have to confront the notion that they aren't always on the right side.
Simon & Simon: Room 3502 (1983)
"Heckuva Story Ta Tell Somebody Who Just Had A Nervous Breakdown!"
Wide-eyed Michigan tourists Bob Carmichael (Kip Niven) and his wife (Julia Duffy) are tired and desperate late at night for a hotel room in San Diego but don't want to look around.
She is recovering from a nervous breakdown. They take room 3502 in the first hotel they find - the very last room the hotel has to let. Bob awakens to find his wife left sometime before dawn. The front desk clerk says she left the hotel at four AM without saying where she is going.
Bob doesn't want to wait 24 hours and hires local private investigators the Simon Brothers - Rick (Gerald McCraney) and A.J. (Jameson Parker) to find her.
The hotel maid who was assigned to the room says it is haunted. The previous guests who stayed in the room believe that too. A woman named Rosalind Martin committed suicide in the room years earlier. No guest experience has been positive since.
The wife acts strangely and buys a gun. Then she inadvertently leads the detectives towards an even older mystery which has nothing to with her. They follow up even after they have already been paid by their clients - the Carmichaels. There is no obvious incentive beyond curiosity about a matter they have already concluded is highly dangerous.
The fact that this is a classic episode illustrates us what audiences for this show were continually asked to do : i.e. overlook the transgressions of the heroes because of a utilitarian ideal and because we like the heroes and because we have seen them do things to help people who probably deserve it.
We see a couple of private investigators here break with professional protocol and even after having been in a firefight with a hit-man have not involved the local cops. That is in order to protect their client from possible criminal prosecution.
In real life, that would be both unethical and illegal as to be untenable even to contemplate. But our heroes are the good guys and it matters to them if a client is a good person. We in the audience go along with that because we like them. Not because it is proper.
Not only are they criminally negligent, they do another of what Rick calls their "Black Bag" ops i.e. a break & enter recon. We see them do stuff like that many times in the series. This is put on offer for us to accept or reject. Real fans accept it because of what it delivered.
The show was never meant to be an instructional about private investigation. The emphasis was on brotherhood as it is known in life. A shared transgression is a bond of siblings and a kind of right of passage. They presented it here in the Simon boys crossing lines of legality to play in with the detective show milieu. But it really does represent an "I won't tell Mom, if you don't." moment.
The only real issue I had with this episode was its only partial commitment to a ghost/possession story in the first half which Julia Duffy draws us into. The ending which features Dr.Joyce Brothers is an insipid cop out.
Riptide: Playing Hardball (1986)
I Don't Know Whether Somebody Is High Or Just In A Good Mood
The Riptide Detective Agency - Los Angeles private investigators Cody Allen (Perry King), Murray Bozinsky (Thom Bray), and Nick Ryder (Joe Penny) are discreetly called in to investigate suspected cocaine use on the Long Beach Barn-burners - a minor league baseball team by their owner Hal Potter (Steve Allen). Cody and Nick go undercover as players while Murray goes in as a play by play announcer for the team.
The eccentric but talented star first baseman Warren Newman (Nicholas Guest) gets shot at right in front of them on the first day they are there which does not exactly speak well of them in front of their new client. But it does illustrate the urgency of the situation.
Undaunted they continue to investigate without ruling out anybody including Newman though they focus in on his back-up - fidgety utility infielder Eric Peters (Ray Abruzzo) and his extravagant gift giving female admirer (Linda Thompson).
Complicating things in her own way is Hal's wife Gina (Barbie Benton) - editor of the Barnburners Round-Up, the team fan-zine who views the clubhouse as her personal stud farm. She gravitates towards Cody immediately. He does his best to find out what he can from her but avoid being seduced. She makes it as difficult as she can. But it is never really that hard for him.
The plot serves to keep the lead characters of this series in the proximity of this light-hearted baseball fantasy amidst these weird characters including the highly improbable one portrayed by Nicholas Guest. Seldom making much sense it nevertheless draws towards a conclusion of the most absurd kind then relates a condescending anti-drug message completely incongruous in tone with all that has preceded it.
This was one weird episode. It seemed like it could have been adapted from a rejected script made for a different series. It also featured acting of exceptionally poor quality by a few of the guest-stars which included celebrities who weren't necessarily actors. Included was a montage of baseball scenes over a country music song about baseball which was like a music video. They also threw in a few gratuitous motorcycle stunts at the end for some reason.
Riptide: Girls Night Out (1985)
"Well, it takes a special KIND of person!"
Lieutenant Quinlan (Jack Ging) gleefully stops by pier 56 to pay a call to the Riptide Detective Agency. He reconnects with Los Angeles private investigators Cody Allen (Perry King), Murray Bozinsky (Thom Bray), and Nick Ryder (Joe Penny) partners in the agency and, after showing his customary disdain for them, announces they are his prime suspects in a string of burglaries of luxury homes.
The evidence is a impulse relay device which Murray designed, and its manual, are found at the scene of the most recent burglary. It was used to breach security systems in other houses. Murray points out that it could hardly be considered evidence of a crime by he and his friends. His product is in general use. The relay is also something which can be programmed to do many things by anyone who buys it in any electronics store where it is sold. He could have also pointed out that he would hardly need a manual to use a device he invented.
Quinlan is dissatisfied with their claims of innocence but not yet ready to proceed further. Those that watched the show remember well that the character liked having something to hold over Cody, Murray and Nick and would resort to great lengths to prolong any difficulty he could put them in. His antagonism in this episode was enough to manipulate them into apprehending the burglars themselves in yet another case without a client and thus yet another case without payment or even recovery of costs incurred.
Quinlan, as usual, has it wrong. The burglaries are the product of a criminal conspiracy a child or even a really dumb cop could solve via the common link. Sisters Lainey (Belinda Montgomery) and Annie (Lenore Kasdorf) - thoroughly likeable and lovably quirky wives and mothers got in over their heads with Joey Dietz (James Cromwell) a particularly sleazy loan shark/fence, after an accounting mistake. Dietz, to whom they owe $20,000 says straight out that he will collect from each of them in a coercive sexual way if they do not deliver. He taught them how to do break-ins using the impulse relay device.
Cody, Murray and Nick find out very easily how Annie and Lainey scout out their victims. Annie is office manager for Camp Wellington - a pet daycare service where affluent customers drop off their beloved animal friends for boarding before going on vacation. Annie can discern easily how long a potential mark will be gone by the arrangements they make. Every burglary of the ones committed was formulated from that and the guys clue in almost immediately as any real cops would.
Murray, borrowing Bucky - an insane mutt belonging to Cody's crazy girlfriend Francine (very gifted actress Jeanetta Arnett who was often utilized in comedic roles) pretends to be a wealthy dog owner set to leave town. The night he has entrusted Bucky to Annie's business is the same night Annie and Lainey bust in to the boat. The Riptide boys figure out pretty quickly after capturing them that Annie and Lainey are victims that have been put up to it and try to concoct a way to set it right.
Gorgeous Belinda Montgomery and equally attractive Lenore Kasdorf appeared on some of the most popular detective shows of the 1970s and 1980s. Paired together they had a kind of chemistry that would have made for an interesting TV show of their own had the network opted to create one for them. That chemistry is by far the strongest element of this episode. Seeing them try to make a go of high-end burglary - a side-hustle it is very evident they would never resort to by choice, made for fun comedy.
What did not make for fun comedy was seeing a convergence in the character arc of Dietz - a particularly sadistic bully who employs terrifying, and lascivious tactics to manipulate people, with the character arc of Lieutenant Quinlan - a more caricatured version of a bully who employs irritating and cheap tactics to manipulate people. Each appears to perversely enjoy imposing their will on people they have put in desperate situations.
Having a parallel like that with the baddie illustrated how rough of an edge Jack Ging crafted his portrayal with. How far would Quinlan go? How far would the writers? We get a sense of it when we see Dietz threaten the rape of both Annie and her sister. He is a monster. By comparison, Quinlan is just an insult comedian with a badge who sometimes cuts corners doing his job. Though unsettling it helps the audience better understand Quinlan.
One pattern, or stereotype of the show was continual inclusion in Riptide episodes of burglars or assailants dressed all in black, wearing black ski masks breaking in to the Riptide. Even Annie and Lainey - their least dangerous intruders are seen dressed that way when they break in to the yacht the guys live on. Ninja fetish?
Winner Take All?
Of all the employees that new program director Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) has had to work with in his brief time as program director at WKRP the most oddball yet perhaps the most talented is Dr.Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman). Whilst Johnny is a flighty and erratic primadonna, when the Doctor is in, few disc jockeys are his equal. Locked in a tight rhythm his top 40 rock morning drive time show has awakened the dead i.e. improved the radio stations ratings to the point where the industry has taken notice..
Having accepted a job in Los Angeles where he used to work and where his career was at its apogee (Where he said "Booger" on the air and got canned), Fever left Travis in a sudden bind to replace him. It isn't merely a huge setback for WKRP. Travis genuinely misses Johnny as does night-time deejay Venus Flytrap(Tim Reid), intern Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) and receptionist Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson).
Into this somber and forlorn environ, out of work DJs venture looking for work. Fever's eventual successor is one Doug Winner (Phillip Charles Mackenzie) - a young up and comer who found out about the job opening via record company eel Murray Gressler (Jeff Altman). Winner - agreeable and diplomatic, makes an excellent first impression. Even Les and Herb like him. Venus and Bailey remain unconvinced even as Winner performs admirably on air.
Yet Dr.Fever returns, fired again (This time for saying "Jive-Ass" on the air) and asks if they'll take him back at WKRP. Travis is more than happy to hire him back but it somehow doesn't seem right to just plug him right back into his old time-slot given how well Winner has been doing with it.
So Travis offers Fever the graveyard shift i.e. midnight til 6 AM as a temporary assignment until he can find him something better. Fever accepts. The awkward moment when a returning Fever's first shift changeover cedes the helm on air to Winner, who now occupies his old time-slot, is handled well by both men at first. Each is gracious up until a tell-tale baggie of white powder falls out of Winner's stack of new LPs.
Station manager Arthur "Big Guy" Carlson (Gordon Jump) unexpectedly shows up in the DJ booth just in time to see the packet and, with astounding naivete, asks what it is. Johnny decides not to rat Winner out even after Winner dares him to. The Big Guy leaves with the packet convinced by both that it is foot powder.
Johnny refuses to inform on Winner whom he finds contemptuous but enjoys watching Winner squirm as well as see him lament the loss of the not inexpensive bag of blow which Dr.Fever prescribed for the Big Guy to put on his feet.
Meanwhile Travis clues in that Winner has been receiving cocaine from Gressler in a pay for play exchange. Called onto the carpet in Carlson's office Winner tries to pin it on Johnny but neither Travis or Carlson buy in.
Why Fever doesn't inform on Winner right away is never explained. My guess would be that while Johnny wanted his old time-slot back he didn't want it back that way. My guess would be that just didn't feel right to a character who never fully shows deference to management in the entire run of the series. It may even have occurred to Johnny that he would not be believed. He has after all just been fired from the same Los Angeles station a second time for heavy-handed reasons.
Why Travis hires Winner in the first place even though skeevy Murray pushes for it is less difficult to puzzle out. A station like WKRP has few quality people walk through its doors looking to work there. Winner, has talent, appears professional because at some point in his career he likely was. He doesn't really put on an act (Though he probably wasn't high) in the interview.
Travis saw the young man Winner used to be, who is likely still there beneath the cokehead version which makes Winner do things he wouldn't do otherwise. A bad influence like Murray can lead nice people into some dark corners.
Travis is the most capable employee at WKRP but that doesn't mean he is perfect. It does mean that after he makes a mistake he is quick enough to catch it before it does lasting damage (A payola scandal could get a radio station decertified by the Federal Communications Commission). In keeping with his professionalism Travis doesn't dwell on the fact that he made a bad call. He goes to Carlson and explains why the young employee must be fired.
Phillip Charles Mackenzie was a comedic actor who COULD play straight man but was generally better known for flamboyantly off-beat characters. His characterization here hits all the right notes in showing the gritty desperation of an addict whilst suggesting what he might have been like before he started using.
There were other serious issues raised during the series. But this episode was among the best in that it struck a comfortable balance between the issue and the humour. As for why payola would happen at the 16th ranked station in an 18 station market, that is something only Murray Gressler might be able to explain if he actually existed. Per Winner's demands he is compensated with $600 worth of cocaine for playing Onslaught records - a hefty bounty for airplay on a station not many people listen to.
Fast-talking and skeevy seeming comedian Jeff Altman appeared in the film Record City (1978) which was about a record store. He was also in American Hot wax (1978) which was about DJ Alan Freed whose career was destroyed by the payola scandal of the early 1960s. He also appeared on episodes of Bandstand and Rock Concert. Thus Altman's appearance serves as legacy casting.