Copyright 1985 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
March 15, 1985, Friday, Home Edition
SECTION: Calendar; Part 6; Page 1; Column 2; Entertainment Desk
LENGTH: 1028 words
HEADLINE: HOWARD ROSENBERG: THE MORE THE MERRIER WHEN YOU'RE GANGING UP ON CRIME
BYLINE: By HOWARD ROSENBERG
And now -- typifying all those network series about clashing, crime-fighting partners -- here's a scene from CBS's "Crazy Like a Fox":
Enough! If there are any network executives reading this, take notes. Once again, I'm going to lead you from the wilderness into the promised land. Check out my idea for an extraordinarily bold series, so bizarre and shockingly experimental and off the wall that it will take remarkable courage to execute. But it can't miss, because viewers are eager for something fresh, inventive and challenging, something that will jolt them out of their stupor. Here it is:
"Schultz, Schultz, Schultz, Schultz & Schultz," a series about quintuplet private eyes. The five Schultzes look, dress and think alike. They have the same tastes and like the same food. They are street-dumb and go by the book. They always agree. They do everything in quintuplet.
A scene from "Schultz, Schultz, Schultz, Schultz & Schultz:"
Casting could be a problem. In any event, I don't hold out much hope for "Schultz, Schultz, Schultz, Schultz & Schultz." Too radical.
Instead, the trend is toward shows like "Crazy Like a Fox" and "Moonlighting," the unappealing new ABC romantic comedy/detective/beauty-and-the-beast series about the feuding coexistence between a glamorous model who owns a private-eye agency and an abrasive detective. In episodes aired to date, they constantly argue but, you know, get along.
Coming Thursday on ABC, meanwhile, is the unpreviewed "Eye to Eye," pairing Charles Durning and Stephanie Faracy as investigators a la "The Late Show." It's like this: She's a free-spirited creature of the 1980s and he's a '50s holdout. She gets them into scrapes that he gets them out of because he has those good-old-fashioned, rootin'-tootin' street smarts.
It goes on and on. Lorimar is even now developing something called "Dirty Work," teaming a woman with a private eye thought to be dead. Even if he were, it wouldn't stop him from working in the wild, wacky, wonderful world of TV.
At least the battling partners on "Off the Rack" aren't crime fighters. And as an added bonus, they're played to the hilt by skilled comic actors Edward Asner and Eileen Brennan. "Off the Rack" is one of two ABC comedies premiering tonight (on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42). It arrives at 9:30 p.m., preceded at 8:30 p.m. by the off-its-rocker "Mr. Belvedere." The "Off the Rack" pilot aired earlier this season. Tonight's "Off the Rack" finds corner-cutting Sam Waltman (Asner) and ethical Kate Halloran (Brennan), who is the widow of Waltman's late partner, failing to get along as co-owners of a garment house. Forget about cutting velvet or wool. They can't even get together on cutting an agreement with a designer.
The show is a real brick when focusing on Kate's domestic life as a mother of two. Otherwise, it's a frequently funny, cleverly written, smoothly executed half-hour starring two gifted performers who mesh and know how to exploit every comedic opportunity. "Off the Rack" is not always on the mark, but it has so much potential that you tend to dismiss its initial defects. No one growls better than Asner or plays broad comedy better than Brennan, whose character must weigh her instinctive high-mindedness against her intense desire to undercut the boorish Sam.
"Ethics," she sighs, "are a terrible burden."
So is "Mr. Belvedere," which is inspired by the wonderful character that Clifton Webb introduced in the 1948 movie "Sitting Pretty." In this TV version, the stern, sniffy Belvedere (Christopher Hewett) is hired as a housekeeper for one of those traditional Looney Tunes sitcom families consisting of beleaguered parents (Bob Uecker and Irene Graff) and smart-alecky kids (Rob Stone, Tracy Wells and Brice Beckham). It's Belvedere's mission to straighten them out by imposing his own brand of orderliness.
Though no Clifton Webb, Hewett does about as well as possible in a half-hour that is so dull and insultingly bad that you can't tell the adults from the kids. Nor do you care to. A third arrival tonight (at 8 on Channels 2 and 8) is the new CBS comedy mystery drama, "Detective in the House," reflecting another prominent prime-time sleuthing trend: The greenhorn.
More and more of TV's crime-busters are amateurs, such as the Mrs. King of "Scarecrow & Mrs. King," the attorney son in "Crazy Like a Fox," the fashion-photography team of "Cover-Up" and the glamour doll of "Moonlighting."
In "Detective in the House," Judd Hirsch is Press Wyman, a man who gives up his career as an engineer to become a private eye. It happens all the time. Wyman, whose "mentor" is an eccentric retired private eye (Jack Elam), is a shoestring detective and father of three whose wife (Cassie Yates) is now working to keep the family afloat while her husband fulfills his Walter Mitty fantasies.
Yet his act of switching careers -- plus a premiere episode about attempted murder -- feeds the TV-glamorized notion that private eyes somehow live exotically, although in truth their work is generally routine and tedious.
At least "Detective in the House" has Hirsch, a superior actor whose sense of fun gives a comic edge to a routine story about a plot to murder an heiress (Connie Stevens). Wyman is so green that he needs all the help he can get, including his wife's private-eye tips gleaned from watching "The Rockford Files."
"Life is not like that," he protests. "Trust me."
The lightheartedness is marred by some nasty stereotyping of senior citizens, who are all portrayed here as foolish and doddering. Otherwise, "Detective in the House" is worth another tumble, even if you can't buy the premise.
Who knows what's around the corner? Maybe it's a spot welder and a U.S. senator quitting their jobs to open a nail salon/detective agency. Or maybe a battling husband and wife will become secret agents while continuing to work as chimney sweeps.
Meanwhile, I'm putting "Schultz, Schultz, Schultz, Schultz & Schultz" in mothballs.
Copyright 1985 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
December 30, 1985, Monday, Home Edition
SECTION: Calendar; Part 6; Page 1; Column 1; Entertainment Desk
LENGTH: 1210 words
HEADLINE: HOWARD ROSENBERG: THE 10 BEST SHOWS ON TV DURING 1985
BYLINE: By HOWARD ROSENBERG
How good a TV year has it been?
Fortunately, there was far more to 1985 than "OceanQuest," "America," "Inday," "I Challenge You," "Hollywood Wives," "Lady Blue," "West 57th," "The Borgias," "All-Star Salute to Dutch Reagan" and "Lace II." They would make any Bottom-10 list.
The hardest part about compiling a Top-10 list is narrowing the choices to 10. This may not have been a vintage time for programs introduced, but 1985 was no slouch, either. The "almost" category includes HBO's "Finnegan Begin Again," highlighted by the delightful pairing of Robert Preston and Mary Tyler Moore, and the cerebral and somber British production of "Man From Moscow" that aired on PBS.
You could also make a case for Showtime's highly credible rendition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night." And the powerful "El Norte" didn't make the first 10 only because its theatrical release preceded its debut on "American Playhouse."
Other near misses include "The Skin Horse," a British documentary about disabilities that aired on PBS, and "Main Street," NBC's topical and intelligent afternoon series for kids that displays Bryant Gumbel at his best.
And now, a little traveling music, please, as we move on to 1985's swellest of the swell.
On-a-scale-of-1-to-10-with-10-being-besssssssst, here are the 10s. Read!
-- "The Jewel in the Crown," PBS. All right, I'm cheating. British Granada TV's adaptation of Paul Scott's "The Raj Quartet" -- perhaps the most magnificent and challenging drama ever produced for TV -- made its "Masterpiece Theater" debut at the end of 1984. Yet 12 of its 14 episodes aired in 1985, which is good enough for me. Glittering scripts, exquisite staging and heroic performances -- led by Tim Pigott-Smith as the racist Ronald Merrick -- were fused into a storytelling masterwork that captured the writhing finale of British imperialism in India. There was an undertone of foreboding and unpredictability in "The Jewel in the Crown" that kept you on edge, and the plotting and characters were so layered and complex that missing just one episode put you too far behind in the story to ever catch up. For once, the reviewer's overused superlative truly applies. Awesome!
-- "Love Is Never Silent," NBC. Mare Winningham, Phyllis Frelich and Ed Waterstreet excelled in a bittersweet and illuminating story about the shifting tides and tones connecting a deaf couple and their hearing daughter. Joseph Sargent boldly directed a production that exploded myths and spoke with piercing clarity while redefining communication.
-- "The Execution of Raymond Graham," ABC. The network's first live drama in 25 years (but beamed to the West Coast via videotape, of course) turned out to be a suspenseful, eloquent and evocative story that found value even in the life of a convicted murderer who had killed his victim as casually as one brushes off lint. Rare TV from producer David W. Rintels, director Daniel Petrie, writer Mel Frohman and a fine, fine cast.
-- "Death of a Salesman," CBS. Dustin Hoffman soared as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's tragedy about a man whose ordinary life falls far short of his grand dreams. This three-hour TV version of a Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman" was directed by Volker Schlondorff and also featured fine supporting performances by Kate Reid and John Malkovich. A knockout.
-- "The Fire Unleashed," ABC. If three-hour documentaries become a permanent part of the TV landscape, the thanks go to a series of ABC News "Closeup" programs like this extraordinary one on nuclear power. Reported and compellingly written by Marshall Frady, it may have left you in a partial daze at times. Through the creative blending of pictures and words, however, it defined a seemingly unfathomable subject in descriptive lay language. It demonstrated, finally, that there are few more powerful and positive forces on TV than the documentary unleashed.
-- "Nightline," ABC. Ho hum, right? Year after year, "Nightline" is among TV's best and brightest, right? Usually a good half-hour, right? Last March 20, though, it was more than merely good. It was remarkable. The occasion was the first night in a week of Ted Koppel-anchored "Nightlinecasts" from South Africa. "Nightline" arranged a historic electronic meeting between South Africa Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha in Capetown and Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel laureate and outspoken black Anglican opponent of the white South African government's apartheid policies, in Johannesburg. They had never met. Yet here were these two men from different universes -- the franchised and the disenfranchised, the have and the have-not -- debating South Africa's oppressive racial policy on American TV, sometimes via a split screen as if they were side by side. What a striking picture: a black man achieving the kind of parity with a white on TV that he could not achieve on the streets of his homeland, two men so close electronically and yet so far apart in reality. Here on "Nightline" was a dramatic visual metaphor for the increasingly bloody struggle that was to follow.
-- "Moonlighting," ABC. When "Moonlighting" premiered last March, a dumb TV critic savaged it, branding it worthless rubbish, a TV blight, a capital crime. That dumb TV critic was me. All right, so nobody's perfect. It took me a mere six months or so to realize what millions of viewers had realized almost immediately, that "Moonlighting" is a real loop-de-loop, just about the snappiest, zingiest hour on TV, and that Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd -- am I really saying this? -- are the royalty of TV romantic comedy. They're funny, they're soulful, they're petulant, they're vulnerable, they're delightful. They . . . just . . . work, thanks in large part to terrific scripts and direction. Old, old, old concept (he beeps when she bops, and together they be-bop), but first-class execution. At last, a show with a sense of humor and a sense of purpose.
-- "An Early Frost," NBC. What an understated powerhouse this was, with Aidan Quinn, Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara starring in Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman's achingly true drama about a family confronting both homosexuality and AIDS when they occur close to home. There will be other AIDS movies on TV, but none more admired than "An Early Frost," whose wisdom and tenderness contrasted with the neon glare upon Rock Hudson.
-- "Heart of the Dragon," PBS. The dozen episodes of this handsome British documentary filmed inside China focused on such universal activities as marrying and working and eating. It was an eyeful and a mind full, replete with shining splendors and surprises, and a simply wonderful way to experience China past and present. For example, Cantonese fare includes monkey brain soup. Ah, but you probably knew that already.
-- "Do You Remember Love?" CBS. Stunning performances by Joanne Woodward and Richard Kiley highlighted this sweet, yet candid and alarming story by Vickie Patik about a brilliant woman diminished by Alzheimer's disease. This was TV at its most valuable, a small screen becoming a wide window, giving America its first drama's-eye-view of the full tragedy and impact of a mysterious disease for which there is no cure.
Click here to read another later review by Howard Rosenberg written mid-third season