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My Favorite Forgotten Memorable TV Series
After he avenges the death of his teacher by killing a nephew of the Emperor, a Taoist priest flees to America and searches for his half-brother. Despite its time. In setting,the show often dealt with contemporary issues much more effectively than straightforward dramas of the day. However, the singular nature of Caine's' mixed heritages allowed for the uncovering and exploration of historical aspects to which many in the viewing audience had never been exposed. The venerable Philip Ahn and Keye Luke, long past his days as Charlie Chan's number one son, provided firm and wise support. Whatever you thought of the warmed over Taoism, Caine's teachings and actions affirmed his intentions to do as little harm as possible. Yet, as he would say, "I am a man..." As hokey as it sounds and as I know it was, I can say honestly I made it through some difficult times as a youth because I had Kwai Chang Caine as an example. And I don't mean the poorly edited kung fu nonsense.
Bill Bittinger (Dabney Coleman) is the egotistical host of a local daytime talk show on WBFL in Buffalo, NY. Dabney Coleman built a career on television planning their same caustic, self-centered, egomaniacal character who had way too high an opinion of himself. On this show, he was supported by one of the most talented casts of unsung TV veterans and future stalwarts ever assembled -- John Fiedler, Max Wright, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Robinson, Meshach Taylor, and even a young Geena Davis. Way ahead of its time, much like current shows such as "Eastbound and Down" and "Curb You Enthusiasm" which have main characters who are despicable, irritating, and often lack any redeeming value. Coleman somehow managed to be reprehensible yet vulnerable enough to be human. While not quite on his side, and usually pleased to see him skewered by his own devices, I may have rooted for him to break even occasionally.
After the Civil War, a former rebel soldier roams the West looking for stories and doing what he can for those in need.
Nestled into this half-hour shoot 'em up put out by Goodson and Todman, known for their game shows not serious television, were real stories about difficult human issues with no tidy resolutions. Because Yuma roamed the West, he was not tied to any town or community. Like other series with nomadic main characters, "The Fugitive," "Run for Your Life," and "Kung Fu," it opened up an almost endless possibility of storylines.
Nick Adams, one of the new crowd of young malcontents epitomized by James Dean and Dennis Hopper, was perfect for the role of an outsider in search of a purpose.
A couple advertising men, a copywriter, Kip Wilson (Tom Hanks) and an illustrator, Henry Desmond (Peter Scolari) see their apartment building demolished. As an emergency measure, they conspire with the office receptionist Amy (Wendie Jo Sperber) to rent a room in the Susan B. Anthony Hotel which doesn't rent to men, so while at home they must dress in drag as their invented sisters, Buffy (Kip) and Hildegarde (Henry). Despite the hackneyed premise, what I loved about this show was that it was silly without being stupid. I also became a fan of Holland Taylor who most people would recognize as Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen's mother on "Two and a Half Men" was her usual dry, acerbic hilarious self in this series as well. It's fun to remember a young Tom Hanks who certainly went on to prove his promise was not a fluke. Scolari is quite good as well and also did well for himself in such shows as "Newhart" and the TV version of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."
"The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr."
A Harvard Law graduate Brisco County, Jr. (Bruce Campbell) heads west on the lookout for the "coming thing" while searching for the men who killed his father (R.Lee Ermey), a famous marshal and western legend
Christian Clemenson, more recently known for his work in "Boston Legal" and "CSI: Miami," was a tenderfoot who alerted Brisco to lucrative fugitives and helped him acquire information about his father's killers. The late Julius Carry played an imposing rival bounty hunter who was sometimes friend, sometimes foe. Kelly Rutherford who went on to steady work in "Melrose Place" and "Gossip Girl" was Brisco's love interest and foil. The series also had a knack for bringing back TV western veterans to play guest roles including Robert Fuller, James Drury, and Stuart Whitman as well as Evil Roy Slade John Astin as the eccentric Professor Wickwire, a man trying to invent the "coming thing." The series was an early effort from Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse before they got lost in "Lost." Perhaps, as a harbinger of things to come, Boam and Cuse lost their way chasing the "orb" to no good conclusion.
A Royal Canadian Mountie (Paul Gross) is loaned to a Chicago precinct to solve a series of crimes which originally had a connection to Canada. The Mountie's American partner is played by David Marciano who viewers might know from the "The Shield" and more recently as Virgil on "Homeland." This show was one of Paul Haggis's first efforts. It was ultimately hard to maintain. The premise worked well in the short-term, but the satirical Canada versus the United States stick wore out quickly. Some of the original shows used up the Mountie's avant garde and idiosyncratic methods so they were no longer fresh fodder for exposition, but Diefenbaker, the Mountie's supposedly deaf dog who could read lips and the assuring visits in dream states of the Mountie's dead father remained viable story points.
Three Texas Rangers, Chad Cooper (Peter Brown), Reese Bennett (Neville Brand), and Joe Riley (William Smith) are stationed in the border town of Laredo. Unsuccessfully, they attempt to keep a lid on the criminals and each other without driving their commander officer, Captain Parmalee (Philip Carey) to distraction. The series played out in a familiar Western tableau of action, machismo, and violence, but did it with its tongue firmly planted in cheek. However, there was convincing compassion and rivalry between the characters. Brown, Brand, and Smith were perfectly cast and became favorites of mine, before and after the show.
"Tenspeed and Brownshoe"
A former accountant, Lionel Whitney (Jeff Goldblum) with a penchant for mystery novels starts his own detective agency in a Walter Mitty moment. Reluctantly, he end up accepting assistance from a street hustler known as E.L. "Tenspeed" Turner (Ben Vereen).
Obviously, this was not a classic Chandleresque detective series. Although Whitney might have wanted it to be. Instead, it was a trial and error exercise with Mark Savage mystery novels as a supposed prescriptive guide. A great running gag was the fleeting moments when Whitney catches glimpses of his writer hero played by series creator and writer, Stephen J. Cannell. Though Goldblum was more of cerebral mystery solver, Vereen was a versatile athletic presence with evasive skills and speed if not all-out brawn. The show got decent reviews but was not renewed. Lionel and E.L. were just starting to master a few detecting skills. It's possible another minor cast member or two might have helped.
James Garner as a more cynical Maverick crossed with his Support Your Local Sheriff character. Nichols returns to Nichols, Arizona. It was an attempt at a truly modern western set in 1914. Nichols rode a motorcycle and drove a car more than he rode a horse. Though the town was named after Nichols' extended family members, by the time he returns, it is being run by the corrupt Ma Ketchum (Neva Patterson) and her bullying son Orv (John Beck). Assessing him as an easy-going mark, Ma blackmails Nichols into becoming sheriff. Long-time Garner sidekick, Stuart Margolin stays on as his deputy. Margot Kidder played the love interest and M. Emmet Walsh and Stefan Gierasch did solid character as expected. The series lasted not quite two seasons with Nichols more aggressive twin brother showing up to save the town after Nichols is gunned down. What people wanted was "Bret Maverick" which Garner provided a decade later in a show with a similar vibe.
Unable to get clients, a female detective, Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) hires a shrewd con man (Pierce Brosnan) to play her figurehead boss, but he turns out to be more than that despite her efforts to keep him in his place. This was a sort of "Moonlighting" without the snark. No matter what other great work Doris Roberts did on "St. Elsewhere" and "Everybody Loves Raymond," she will always be Mildred Krebs to those of us who first saw her as Remington Steele's receptionist/assistant who feigned a resentment for Miss Holt as if they were in competition for the good-looking fake boss's affections. Stephanie's father Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. made occasional appearances as Steele's former confidence game mentor and father figure.