Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

WISEGUY Season One

Ken Wahl as Vinnie Terranova
 WISEGUY Season One. 1987.

Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl) gets out of prison after several months and is the shame of his mother, whose other son is a priest. What Ma doesn't know -- and his brother does -- is that Vinnie only went to jail to cement his cover as an agent for the OCB (Organized Crime Bureau). His first assignment is to go to work for mob boss Sonny Steelgrave (Ray Sharkey), with whom he truly becomes friends. Wiseguy looks at the conflicted feelings of agents who have to get close to bad guys as part of their job, but who get to know them on a personal level and ultimately feel as if they are betraying them. In the first season's second story arc, Vinnie gets involved with hit man Roger LoCocco (William Russ) and his bosses, the nutty brother and sister team of Mel (Kevin Spacey, in his first major role) and Susan Profitt (Joan Severance). Wahl is perfect as Terranova, embodying the toughness he would need as an undercover hoodlum as well as the sensitivity to care not only for victims but on occasion for the bad guys as well (this gets a little sticky at times); his Brooklyn accent gets thicker as the season progresses. The other players already mentioned are also on the money, and there's fine work as well from Dennis Lipscomb as mob accountant Sidney; David Steinberg as a rogue government agent; Elsa Raven as Vinnie's mother; David Marciano as the psychotic Lorenzo; and others. Jim Byrnes is fine as "Lifeguard," an agent who answers all of Vinnie's questions and gives him information, and Jonathan Banks, a superb actor, is simply outstanding as Frank McPike, Vinnie's hard-headed but complex liaison in the agency. Joe Dallesandro is certainly interesting casting as rival mob boss, Patrice. While some of the developments in the series are not credible -- Vinnie proposing to a perfectly psychotic woman at one point -- and Vinnie is sometimes too sympathetic to the criminals (the second story arc in particular has a head-scratching wind-up) Wiseguy is entertaining and well-acted.

Verdict: Not quite a classic show but not bad and often suspenseful. ***.

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