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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

WISEGUY Seasons 2, 3, and 4

Jerry Lewis
WISEGUY Season 2, 3 4. 1988 - 1990.

Wiseguy continued to be a good and watchable series throughout its second season. As already noted, the "Dead Dog Records" arc was not included on the official DVD but was the highlight of the second season if not of the show itself. There were other fine story arcs in season 2, however, such as one in which Jerry Lewis and Ron Silver played father and son in the garment industry who were in conflict with a riveting Stanley Tucci as a gangster. For several of these episodes Anthony Dennison filled in for an injured Ken Wahl, and was fine. There was also a shorter arc with an excellent Fred Dalton Thompson as a politician involved with a white supremacy group. Vinnie's priest brother is murdered, and in a truly unlikely development his mother marries an old retired mafioso well-played by George Petrie (who frequently appeared on The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason). One of the best second season episodes was a stand-alone story in which Frank's wife is dying and he and Vinnie try to figure out how to get the money for an operation for her.Wahl continued to exhibit his star charisma and Jonathan Banks was superb as Frank McPike.

Wiseguy  took a real nose dive in its third season, however. It started off well enough with story arcs in which Vinnie takes his stepfather's place at the table of assorted mafioso -- surely a very strange situation -- and has to contend with assorted rivalries and resentments all the while maintaining his cover. Another story arc in which Vinnie goes to Washington D.C., uncovers all sorts of skulduggery, including a plot to ruin the Japanese economy, and winds up arrested, featured fine performances from Ray Stricklyn and especially Norman Lloyd. Wahl exhibited his versatility by playing Vinnie's father in a stand-alone flashback episode, but another single episode in which an old girlfriend turns out to be a cop and thinks Vinnie is a hood, was left dangling. Instead we got the worst story arc in the series' history, in which Vinnie goes to a small town to investigate a man who seems to hold sway over the citizens like an old time European lord. This man, Volcheck, badly played by Steve Ryan, is obsessed with the film Mr. Sardonicus, which is a hell of a lot more watchable than these truly awful episodes of Wiseguy. The unbelievable story also brought back Roger LoCocco (William Russ) in a completely contrived manner, and had Vinnie freaking out and running off in the middle of an assignment, a development which was even more implausible than the rest of the story arc. The season ended up with Eddie Bracken playing a priest and giving a poor performance that matched the general third-rateness of these episodes. We saw more of Jim Byrnes as Lifeguard, who got a girlfriend.

For the fourth and final season, Vinnie -- or rather Ken Wahl -- ran off for good and left the series. Vinnie Terranova was killed off off-screen, but as his body was not found it may have left the door open for a return which never happened. Instead the new hero of the show was Michael Santana (Steven Bauer) a former prosecutor who winds up working with Frank McPike to take down a powerful man (an excellent Maximilian Shell) who thinks of Michael as a son. These episodes weren't terrible, but it just wasn't the same show. In further changes, both Michael and McPike joined the U.S. Attorney's office when the OCB [Organized Crime Bureau] was dissolved. Yet another change occurred in the final episode which featured a dynamic Billy Dee Williams as a tough high school principal who is asked to run for mayor and wants Santana to help in his campaign. How McPike would have fit in with this, no one knows; the series was canceled and the last three episodes, including the one with Williams, were never telecast. The best fourth season episode, in which Michael's friend Hillary (Cecil Hoffman) tries to bring a company that sells defective plane parts to justice, was also never aired. Bauer, Banks and Hoffman gave very good performances, however, and there was also nice work from Michael Learned as Hillary's mother and Fredric Lehne as lawyer Winston Chambers.

Verdict: Season 2: ***1/2. Season 3: **1/2. Season 4: **1/2.

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