TV Reviews : Gossett Stars as Sleuthing Restaurateur

Does the world really need another slick P.I. series? Not hardly, but if it's going to get one anyway, Louis Gossett Jr. might as well step in to take the slack. He stars tonight in "Ray Alexander: A Taste for Justice," the first of a series of two-hour mystery movies.

The mystery's just mediocre; Gossett's a sleuth and a gentleman, and a commanding reason to keep watching.

His Ray is a devoted restaurateur who still does private investigation gigs on the side to keep his hole-in-the-wall in business. When his usual contractor--a high-powered attorney played with a good, crusty gumption by James Coburn--calls him in to meet an unjustly accused client, both are first asked to try Ray's very tentative new crab cakes recipe, as assorted cops, love interests and suspects will be asked to try them.

In dire--but not too dire--need of exoneration is a pretty young widow who's been rather expertly framed for the hit-and-run murder of her psychiatrist husband.

The climactic twist is pretty well visible from the next state. The villains and helpmates are serviceable at best. A car chase performed by a driver in a chokehold stretches credulity past the most generous limits. And the San Francisco setting uses almost as many L.A. locations as establishing shots of the Transamerica Building.

So why tune in? For the delicious crab cakes?

No, for the hope that Gossett gets to make good on the charisma set in place here, as a reassuringly smart, tough, funny (but not terminally quip-happy) fellow you'd want to pass time with in a bar and have gun-totingly handy in the proverbial pinch. (To add that TV's a little short on recurring African American role-model types probably isn't superfluous.) When he brings in another Ray, Charles, to sing "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" for the finale, he shamelessly cements our trust.

* "Ray Alexander: A Taste for Justice" airs at 9 tonight on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39).

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