THE MORE THE MERRIER WHEN YOU’RE GANGING UP ON CRIME
And now--typifying all those network series about clashing, crime-fighting partners--here’s a scene from CBS’s “Crazy Like a Fox”:
“I’m not going out that window.”
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:”
“I’m not going out that window.”
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:
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.