Yet Another TV Review Podcast

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Hunter episode reviews (some from season 1 & 2)

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Season 1, Episode 1, A+

SUPERB. Great start to the series. For several reasons. Great regular cast (Dryer and Kramer), great guest cast (Dennehy, Kavanagh, Whitmore, Williams, Taxier), a nice plot that - while not clever - has enough twists to keep it just ahead of the viewer, and several laugh-out-loud moments.

The Hunter pilot sets the tone for the series to follow, by pairing a male & female and writing both well. The story is fairly linear (cops follow clue at murder site to a stake-out and they spot the killer straight-away and keep an eye on him until they catch him), but it surprises the viewer on two occasions, first when the hero sees the killer at around the same time we do, and deduces that this is the person responsible. This is not usually the way these things play out on TV detective shows, so when it happens here, the viewer is pleased.

Later on, the story throws us (and the detectives) a momentary wrinkle when someone else appears to be the killer. But, the writing is smart enough to ensure that the detectives aren't fooled by the ruse, and continue investigating immediately. On other shows, they might have given up, felt apologetic, and not returned to the case until another murder takes place.

Maybe that's the single most impressive thing about the pilot. It's aimed at an audience used to watching TV detective shows, and makes sure that the heroes make their deductions at the same time as the viewer at home.
There's nothing worse than watching a supposedly clever TV detective take ages to figure the killer's identity, when you figured it out about half-way through the episode.

Hunter's pilot doesn't work that way. So the viewer likes the heroes for not being slow.

Hunter's pilot scores too, by presenting us with a tough action hero who is open in his respect for his female partner. When this went out, action-adventure shows were having a hard time including women in the equation. Girls on the A-Team were never written, or seen, as part of the team. On Airwolf, the girl was written as an object of fun (for ages after being written in, she was kept in the dark about the helicopter, and even when she was told and was made part of the team, she wasn't written as a credible hero, a credible asset to the team). Serious programs like Cagney & Lacey or St. Elsewhere had well written female characters, but fans of the action genre were short-changed (unless you read comics, where Chris Claremont did great work making Jean, Ororo and - especially - Kitty vital components of the X-Men team).

Hunter's pilot sets off on a different path. Here we have a TV action hero. Very linear in his thinking, very goal orientated. And, he sees this woman as an asset to his goals. He knows her prior to the events of the pilot (another unusual quality in the pilot, since TV partners usually meet in the first episode) and he chooses her as an ideal partner based on her work methods. So, he seeks her out and asks "Will you be my partner?"

Great start to a great parnership.

And to a great TV series.

11-11-03

Season 1, Episode 2, "Hard Contract", A+

SUPERB. Great story idea, cleverly used to add depth to the Hunter/McCall partnership.

When McCall's ex-partner takes on a mob hit she decides to take personal time, and stop/help him. When Hunter tracks her down and joins her, she is reluctant. She re-stating her sentiments about partners from both the pilot and High Bleacher Man. This reluctance to get close to Hunter is wonderfully balanced with evidence of how close she was to her ex-partner. And, yet, it is not over-written, nor over-played.

Hunter, of course, isn't going to walk away, and the duo eventually team up on another cleverly scripted adventure.

Bernie gets lots of screen-time, we get a long, well-done car chase, an exciting race-to-the-rescue finale and some very fine acting from Stepfanie Kramer.

Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo are my favourite writers. Their shows (either seperately, or together) are among the best TV has ever offered: Wiseguy, Hunter, Stingray, Raven, Rockford, etc. etc. And this episode is an example of what they do so well: unusual stories and well-crafted characters.

The final scene, where Hunter and McCall pledge to keep each other right, is the only weak point. The dialogue is too self-conscious to ring true.

But the episode is easily the best of the run so far, and one that cries out to be re-watched almost immediately.

28-11-03

Season 1, Episode 3, "The Hot Grounder", A+

PERFECT. Stephen J. Cannell is pretty much my favourite writer. He faces close competition from Woody Allen, Chris Claremont, Stephen Moffatt and one or two others, but suffice to say that the words "written by Stephen J. Cannell" are usually enough to make me stand up and give a cheer of delight.

Episodes like this are why.

The story is told in wonderful fashion: A lot of humour and enough mystery to keep the viewer entertained, and just when the timing is right, the key story details are revealed in such a way to keep us glued to the screen until the final scene.

Hunter & McCall are landed with a case where everyone knows who the culprit is. It's a done deal, and only minutes into the episode we are told by every character who the killer will be. Once the investigation starts, the clues all point to this person, and the viewer is left to wonder if this is all a bluff by the writer, and if - in the closing minutes - there will be some kind of twist.

Not so.

The 'twist' is it really is that simple.

Mid-way through, the cultprit is revealed and, with this now clarified for the viewer, a further mystery is put before us, and the episode keeps on ticking without ever missing a beat.

The story-telling here is to be applauded on so many levels.

Most TV cops have had the case where they knew the murderer was a high-ranking official of some kind, and where they are making enemies by keeping working. The "Hunter" twist is that everyone else knows who the killer is, too.

The early scenes where Hunter reasons it all out, on the flimsiest of flimsy evidence, are as good as anything ever seen in Columbo. Hunter comes across as a very clever detective. Equal parts brain and brawl.

And Dee Dee McCall is far from neglected in this outing. In one fantastic scene she leaps across a cafe table and dashes through afternoon traffic to flying-tackle a petty thief (who has, believe it or not, stolen Hunter's purse!). After this, she takes the lead playing "Bad Cop" to Hunter's "Good Cop", later grills a sleaze-bag at a funeral and takes on a couple of bad guys in a warehouse shoot-out before Hunter shows up to capture one of them.

Cannell writes the two cops as clever and strong. And gives a lot of airtime to the partnership. Ideas bound back and forth, and the duo advances along the murder trail is perfect sync. Each taking a turn to pull the other over a logic hurdle. It would be fun to watch this episode and wonder what it would be like if only one of them was on the case. Cannell's characters are such that you believe either one, alone, could solve the case, but that it would take a little longer. So this is not a partnership where the components compliment the failings in the other, rather it is a partnership of identical components who's togetherness results in the whole unit moving at turbo speed.

Cannell is writing two versions of the same character. Hunter voices a philosophy on crime-fighting at one stage, and in the (wonderful) closing moments, McCall repeats the imagery word-for-word, to secondary characters, while Hunter beams at her with honest-to-goodness pride. It is a wonderful, wonderful moment.

Rather than some tacked-on piece of cute dialogue, the episode then ends with no dialogue at all. Just a shot of the partners leaving the precinct, getting in their car, and (with a moment or two to smile into each other's faces) driving off to the scene of the latest murder.

Maybe this is the episode that shows us the real moment where they became partners. The moment where they clicked. The moment where each realised that they had found a mirror image.

Maybe.

Anyway, I like Stephen J. Cannell's writing.

Apart from the writing, this episode has a lot going for it. Once again Kramer shines with some accent work, creating another off-the-wall character for excellent comedic effect. And, aside from this, a lot of the scenes between her and Dryer are laugh-out-loud funny.

William Windom (one of my favourite actors) does a great turn in the closign moments as the tortured police commissioner. Joe Santos gets some terrific lines as the duo's co-worker. And Arthur Rosenberg has one terrific moment where Hunter calls him a "politican". In fact, the whole guest cast nail their parts.

The action sequences, particularly the one in the junk yard, are perfectly realised and exciting to watch.

Even the music score seems better.

So, in many respects, this one is the template for what will (hopefully) follow.

13-12-03

Season 1, Episode 4, "A Long Way From L.A.", A-

SPARKLING. This episode, particularly the first half, is very funny. Hunter & McCall have been sent to Texas to pick up a prisoner. Lupo skillfully instills each and every scene with hearty chuckles. Dryer and Kramer are on top of their game, and the whole episode is a bit of a showcase for Kramer and what she can do (deliver one-liners and create fake characters).

Story-wise the identity of the attacker/killer is hinted at, but never confirmed. I genuinely thought it was a bluff and the killer would turn out to be somebody else. So I was well pleased with the way the episode ended.

Guest-star wise Bo Svenson as the Sheriff was good (his final short scene with his step-father was rivetting), as was Paul Eiding as the prisoner, and Bill Quinn as the diner owner. Morgan Woodward, one of the best character-actors out there, and one of my favourites, is curiously under used.

Tone-wise, the episode establishes a likable character and then kills them off. A lot of TV shows never do this. Nice people, that the audience has spend some time with, are never killed off and the heroes of the show in question become omnipotent characters who never, ever, let anybody die. Other shows (Mike Hammer, Guardian, Pretender) set a different tone, by killing off characters mid-way though the episode. It makes for better story-telling. This episode of Hunter kills off a character that the audience have grown to like. This plot, on another show, would definitely have allowed him to live, and ride off into the sunset with the heroes. Not Hunter. Makes for better story-telling.

This episode is reminiscent of other Cannell shows. First off, the story structure is a direct parallel with about a third of The A-Team stories: our heroes arrive in a small town under the thumb of a corrupt "somebody" and after a bit of losing battles they eventually come out on top and win the war.

But, even more than that, it's plays like an episode of The Rockford Files. The scenes were the duo are roughed up and thrown off the back of the pick-up, and the part where Hunter & McCall run to someone they think will help them and it turns out they are knee-deep in enemy territory, are like direct homages to Rockford Files scenarios. Jim Rockford spent most of his time adventuring in LA, but even there he was always the "unwanted intruder" being roughed up and sent packing by some nefarious character. Jim usually overcame his lack of physical presence by donning a disguise or two and pulling a con of some type.

And what does Dee Dee McCall do in this episode?

Why, she runs a couple of minor cons, even donning a terrific nurse disguise at one point and feigning an accent.

So, an atypical episode of Hunter?

I'm not sure. I haven't seen that many. So, I can't really say.

What I can say is, it's a funny, entertaining un-predictable story acted out by a talented and compelling cast.

The only weak points were a fudged bit towards the end where Hunter & McCall stole the suspected murder weapon, fired it into a barrel and did a microscope analysis of the bullets, all in the space of, oh, eleven seconds with a bad over-dub to explain what they were doing. As if the scenes were added in afterwards, or something. Very jarring.

Secondly, mid-way through the episode, with a man-hunt going on through the wilderness around the town, I was somewhat incredulous when Hunter & McCall managed to find the suspect and his would-be executioners with no apparent problem.

But, everything else (humour, chemistry, unpredictability) means you've still got a good episode, just with weak elements.

One final comment. The pace. The early scenes are brief, funny and terrific. Each moves the story on with a leap, establishes the characters and gives a chuckle. You could probably use the opening ten minutes to teach good TV writing.

Can't say better than that.

3-12-03

Season 1, Episode 5, Legacy, B+

DISAPPOINTING. The problem with this episode is that the viewer is ahead of the detectives. A murder takes place off camera, when character A & character B enter a room together. The detectives jump to the same conclusion that the viewer is supposed to, and pursue that assumption right to the "surprise" ending. But, from the moment the investigation began, character C stands out as the most logical choice as culprit. A more-clever script would have had Hunter or McCall say this, but it never occured to them. An even cleverer script would have shown the audience what actually happened, and added another layer of storytelling to the episode. But, no, what we get is TV-by-numbers as the heroes run around leading their prime suspect to his death.

What raises the episode from a "B" (for average) is the chemistry between the stars, and the acting of guest star Vincent Bagetta. Apart from this, you could be watching a typical "Jake And The Fatman".
26-11-03

Season 1, Episode 6, "Flight on a Dead Pigeon", B+

MIXED BAG. On the one hand you've got an original plotline, and an interesting guest character. On the other you've got a mostly uncompelling cast, not much teamwork from the central duo and one or two other annoying facets.

The plot is good. A man gets deep in debt, and ends up mixed up with some guys who plan to move drugs into the country via pigeon. After the guy is (accidentally) killed, the crooks have to go ahead with the plan anyway, not really knowing where the homing pigeons will come back to!

Another definite plus for the episode is the little girl who is both well-written and well-played. She pretty much avoids all the cliché behaviour for cute kids in action shows and is nothing only charming & likable when she's on screen. Her characterisation is quite interesting, and is helped by the two well-cast cameo's from her foster uncles.

Sadly, the casting is not as successful throughout. The episode's three bad guys fail to engage the viewer in any meaningful way. Part of this is definitely the casting (which falls short of the standards set by Brian Dennehy, Bo Svenson or Vincent Bagetta), but part of it is the writing, which never really allows the ring-leader to rise above the level of "thug" despite the fact that he gets a lot of screen-time.

Another poorly cast character is the "woman from Child Services" who's lack of on-screen charisma brings things to a grinding halt when she appears.

Hunter & McCall are off their game, too. There's not much in the way of team-work. He takes the lead at one point, shoving McCall over to the side-lines, and the issue is never addressed by either character.

There's also a scene where the duo are trying to stop a plane, by driving out onto the runway during take-off. But, as filmed, the impression is given than (a) the car is nowhere near the plane, and (b) McCall is actively speeding away from the plane!

Strange.

So, all in all, you are left with an average episode, with only the nice plot & good casting (of the little girl) being sufficient to raise it to a "B+".

9-12-03

Season 1, Episode 7, "Pen Pals", C+

WEAK. A lot of pretty good elements are built on a ludicrous foundation.

The story starts with Hunter & McCall driving by the scene of a crime and stopping to check it out. A kid is rushed to hospital after getting some bad dope. The ensuing investigation leads Hunter to roughing up a scuzzball. The confrontation between them is badly re-edited and dubbed to give the bad guy a gun to pull on Hunter, and straight-away you start to worry about the quality of the episode.

Anyway, the scuzzball is killed that night.

Bernie immediately shows up at Hunter's place, and our hero is in jail quicker than you can say 'stupid plotting'.

From there the episode redeems itself somewhat, as the partners (now split up) work the case from both sides.

On the outside, McCall is partnered with Tim Thomerson, doing a great turn as a somewhat vain, pretty-boy, ladies man, and the writer has a lot of fun with the idea of McCall having a new partner and Hunter's reaction to that fact.

On the inside, Hunter goes through the usual list of prison clichés, before getting enough evidence to show which convict planned the whole thing from the start.

Yes, the whole thing was a plan to get Hunter into jail. And, if you can buy the fact that random coincidences coupled with inept (and prompt) police-work can be part of an elaborate plan, you won't have a problem with this episode. Otherwise you'll dismiss it as rubbish.

Rubbish, as I said before, with some pretty good elements:
# The best scene, undoubtedly, is a brief one where McCall goes undercover as a strung-out junkie. Kramer is stunning.
# Gil and McCall team-up to capture the killer with some fantastic music on the soundtrack.
# And the early scene of Hunter & McCall questioning a friend of the kid shows their team-work at it's best.

Pity the actual story is rubbish.

18-12-03

Season 1, Episode 8, "Dead Or Alive", A+

ANOTHER WINNER. Entertaining story, good guest-star and soundtrack, fantastic chemistry from Dryer and Kramer with solid writing of the Hunter/McCall partnership, nicely-played comedy and an action-climax all combine to make another strong Hunter episode.

When their one suspect and only lead is killed by an agressive bounty-hunter, Hunter & McCall turn their attention to the bounty-hunter himself, and find that his shoot-first attitude has left a trail of dead bodies across the country. With no real twists or turns, this story is played out at brisk pace and entertains from start to finish. I found it strange, however, that neither Hunter nor McCall suspected their quarry's second target would turn out to be the murdered man's partner. Minor quibble. As show creator, one must assume that this is Frank Lupo's vision of what a typical Hunter episode should be like. If this was used a template for future episodes then the show would be on very solid ground.

This episode continues a season one trend of using some of my favourite actors by adding Wings Hauser (of Beverly Hills 90210) to the guest roster. Hauser absolutely nails the part and his showdown scenes with Fred Dryer are rivetting.

Once-again, the soundtrack is noteworthy, the bounty-hunter has a theme-song which is played a few times to good effect, and the general score makes strong use of the central melody from the theme on a couple of occasions.

The show stars are very much on-form in this outing, they share a lot of screen-time and they handle the drama and the banter with equal conviction. It's a pleasure to watch them work. Stepfanie looks beautiful, particularly in her first scene out of disguise.

Although I was annoyed to see McCall over-powered and beaten up (because it's a bit of an annoying TV cliché) I was more than delighted by the way the partnership was handled afterwards. After finding her, and expressing his obvious concern, Hunter later began to tease McCall about her injuries! These moments, more than any other, indicate not only the considerable equality between the partners, but also Hunter's respect and affecton for McCall.

Aside from this the episode has some other wonderful comedy. McCall teasing Hunter about his bad driving is not that amusing, but the scenes where he teases her for unsuccessfully flirting with the suspect are perfectly played by both actors and raise more than a couple of laughs. A later scene where a busy Hunter juggles two phones and manages to hang-up on McCall by accident is noteworthy not only for being very funny, but also because it indicates a very creative environment. It's a playful moment. Fun to watch. Makes the show immensely likable.

A good car-chase and shoot-out ends the episode.

29-12-03

Season 1, Episode 9, "High Bleacher Man", A

SOLID. This is "Hunter" as I remember it: lots of action, a strong partnership at the core, characters with independent motives, and a tale with a few storytelling layers.

This particular story has quite a few threads: Hunter and the crook he's been watching, who he catches, and eventually has to begrudgingly protect. It's also the story of a gangster, trying to get to a crook who's turned rat on him. It's the story of McCall getting to the bottom of an old case she and her partner worked on. It's the story of a guy, supposed to kill a witness, who ends up protecting and hiding her instead. For seven years. Ellis winds the stories in and out skilfully and nothing is padding. Every scene, every line, counts. If not to advance the story, then to colour the characters, or - at least - make us laugh.

The cast is fantastic, and several of the characters are well sketched. Several, but not all. Gavin (the object or Hunter’s ire) is a curiously blank characterisation, given the fact that characters with far less screen time are more vibrant and memorable. He's probably the episodes only weak link, and drags it down a tiny bit to a "A" instead of an "A+". At first the viewer is inclined to think that Gavin, and the chase at the start, might have little to do with the upcoming episode, and then to our surprise he turns out to be central to the episode. Yet, by story’s end, we still know precious little about his character, other than the fact that he’s slimy and he’s hoping to play both sides against the middle. Oh, and he really annoys McCall.

Likewise, the wonderful Beau Starr is poorly served by his one-note character.

The action is all over the place: shoot-outs, car chases, hand-to-hand combat, explosions. It's a lot of violence for 46 minutes of TV.

And there's the partnership. Hunter & McCall come across as a tight unit. In the opening chase, he chases the guy down, and she shoots at the sign about him, so he can't climb the fence to freedom. Pretty cool. McCall does repeat the pilot's sentiment of "not wanting to share anything with partner", but when McCall and the new witness are kidnapped Hunter makes his feelings on the subject very clear, by telling the culprit that if anything happens "McCall" then he is dead.

But, when all is said and done, I suppose I like Hunter because it's smart TV. The finale here is cool. With McCall kidnapped, Hunter initiates a plan of action (by refusing to negotiate) and McCall plays along and leads the bad-guys into a trap. The writer doesn't make any self-conscious reference to what's just happened, either. And the result is a very impressive illustration of good partnership.

25-11-03

Season 1, Episode 10, "The Shooter", C-

LAME. The episodes balance of good qualities (Hunter's detective work, the mystery generated about the killer, the character work on McCall and the Captain) and bad qualities (unfunny comedy, unexciting chases, strange team-work and recycled ideas) is totally overshadowed by the central premise.

This is the story of a man who kills because other people have beaten his video game score.

Yes.

That's right.

He's a guy, right, who goes to a bar and plays this "quick draw" arcade game. When a cop beats his score, he tracks him down and challenges him to...

...a quick draw competition. Whereupon he blows him away.

And others, too.

While this idea isn't bad in itself, and could be fodder for a decent episode of some crime shows, on "Hunter" it's just ludicrous. Because in the world of "Hunter" this is accepted as just another motive for murder, and - except for one off-hand comment from Dee Dee - the detectives have no problem with this and don't really stop to ponder what it all means for the value of life at the end of the 20th Century.

Or whatever.

On the plus side of things, the episode starts with some pretty nifty detective work from Hunter. Not the first time we've seen Hunter do his Columbo-thing. Even the Captain mentions the C-word directly (which I love, as I'm a huge Columbo fan).

There's a nice bit of mystery generated as to the actual identity of the killer. We are led to believe it could be the Steve Sandor character (another bar denizen), but there were times where I wondered whether Marc Alaimo, as a motorcycled cop, would turn out to be the killer in a nice twist. Then he got bumped off. That was surprising. I liked that.

Also, the method of the first murder reminds McCall of her own deceased husband, and there are a couple of occasions where the writer uses this fact very nicely. At one point, early on, Hunter almost consoles McCall. But, then... doesn't. And the whole moment is wonderfully played by both actors.

And there is also a scene where, to my delight, the Captain - who usually does nothing but yell at Hunter - comes across as almost tired of Bernie and his antics and treats Hunter with - if not respect - tolerance.

Unfortunately, there's a lot on the negative side of things, before we even get to the killer and his motivations.

The episode starts with some seriously unfunny comedy. A big black man in a pink dress isn't funny in itself, unless you write it well. And the impression here is that it is not written at all. The idea is there (big black man in pink dress) but no time has been spent crafting situation. It's lazy, pointless writing. "Put this in, and people will laugh. No need to develop it." Yuck.

The episode has two lacklustre car chases. The first opens with Hunter in a clump of people running over and back and over and back to avoid a fast-moving car. Hilarious. Not. Reminds me of the scenes the characters on MST3K used to make fun of so skilfully. "Let's run over this way." "Oh no, let's run this way." "Oh, wait, let's run this way." And on and on. On the voice of Mr. Crow.

The second involves a motorcycle chase.

At night.

Where both characters are dressed alike and you can't tell who is who.

! ! !

But all of this is as nothing compared to what follows:

Later on, Hunter and McCall are watching a suspect make-out in front of his home. Hunter suggests that McCall break into the house and see what she can see. She gets out to go and do this. And he drives away.

Yes. After sending his beloved partner into a potentially dangerous situation, our hero... drives away.

And does his absence lend itself to a crucial plot-point??

Nope. Hunter doesn't go anywhere else. To do anything else. He just goes. Poof! He's gone.

The reason for this, or course, is to allow for Dee Dee to get caught, not for reasons of peril, but to give us a chance to see her pull one of her comedy routines to get away. And while Kramer is fine in this sequence, the writing that got us to this point is so strained that it totally wrings all laughs out of the situation.

Early in the series, Hunter voiced his ideas on what it is he and McCall do every day. And it was nice imagery, and it worked very well for the characters. In this episode, Mark Jones uses the same idea. The image has changed slightly (now the criminals are behind a wall, instead of piled up beside one) but it's essentially an attempt to recapture the moment the moment from the earlier episode. And it fails. Because it sucks.

Like much of this episode.

By mid-way stage I was thinking I was watching a Grade: B episode, one with a balance of the good and bad. But nothing spectacular.

And then we found out who the killer was, and why he was killing.

Embarrassing. Easily the lamest episode I've seen on Hunter, and - quite frankly - one of the lamest I've seen on any cop show. Ever. And I've seen a lot of cop shows.

20-1-04

Season 1, Episode 11, "The Garbage Man", A

SOLID STORYTELLING. Another outing with a well-told story, a strong (if one-dimensional) bad-guy, good use of music/comedy and an exciting finale.

Presented with an open-and-shut case, Hunter & McCall behave like real people and wonder if it really is that simple. A bit of investigating reveals two contrasting versions of events leading up to the crime, and even when it's pretty obvious who the bad guy might turn out to be, it's far from obvious what is going on. And the details are revealed in satisfactory fashion.

Ed O'Neill (who memorably played a cop in the Popeye Doyle pilot movie, and in later years the short-lived Dragnet series) does a fine turn as tough-nut parole officer. The character isn't particularly well sketched out, but he serves his function well within the story and is a worthy opponent for our duo.

The episode opens with another montage set to music, and background music is well-used throughout the episode. Some lighter moments are dotted here and there, with a particular favourite being the sequence where eagle-eyed Rick Hunter fails to spot not only the Parole Officer, but also McCall, while on stake out.

The episode rounds off with a good action finale, and leaves the viewer very satisfied.

11-1-04

Season 1, Episode 13, "The Snow Queen", A

GOOD. Decent plot, stylish storytelling and a couple of superb guest stars combine to make an episode just-about worthy of two-hour treatment.

McCall goes undercover as a singer while on the trail of a drug baron. One of his henchmen blows her cover, and it becomes a race against time as Dee Dee tries to nail the bad-guy before he finds out who she is.

Early in the investigation McCall crosses paths with a young girl on the run from a corrupt cop out to kill her. The girl leads the cop (and Hunter) on a chase around the city before heading to the drug baron for help, bringing him face to face with the corrupt cop for an explosive climax.

This well thought-out and engrossing story is told with a little more style that the usual Hunter outing: lots of music (including two good songs from Stepfanie Kramer) and some snappy jump-cut editing of the type frequently found on Cannell's Stingray.

Two of my favourite actors get a lot of screen-time in this one. Dennis Farina (of Crime Story) is perfect as the drug-baron, and he has great on-screen chemistry with Kramer. Dennis Franz (of Hill Street Blues) does what he does best: the bad cop. He and Dryer are likewise well matched on-screen. The climax that brings both bad guys face to face doesn't make full use of Franz and Farina together and one would wish the episode lasted another 20 minutes to see what would happen if the guys had attempted to form an uneasy alliance.

In fact, it's a great pity there wasn't a third episode to keep the story going.

Lycia Naff does an okay job as the girl on the run. However, her character is curiously unsympathetic. One would imagine that Lupo wanted us to care about the girl when he scripted the story, but Naff makes her come across as shallow and uninteresting and is probably the episode's weakest link. The episode opens on her, closes on her, and is named after her. Yet, she is not the central character she is obviously supposed to be. Kojak excelled at creating new characters, placing them in dire situations and having us feel for them. During this first season Hunter has managed a couple of times to create a one-off character and make us care about their fate.

Not this time.

Luckily, she's lost amid a lot of good stuff: hearing Kramer sing is a treat, watching Hunter & McCall playfully wrestling together (in one of their few scenes) is another treat. And just having an episode with two strong credible bad-guys who have nothing to do with one another is the biggest treat of all.

25-12-03

Season 1, Episode 15, "Guilty", A

GREAT FUN. A episode that probably shouldn't work, but manages to be great fun anyway. A great visual flair, a superb baddie and enough of a hook to keep you guessing all make this one of the better season one episodes.

For some reason, director Michael Lange films the killer as if this was a supernatural baddie. This style is particularly strong in the opening minutes of the episode, all fish-eye lenses and dramatic poses atop flights of stairs. Slightly OTT but very watchable.

The style continues through the episode, and is again very strong in the car chase sequence through the night-time traffic which uses a lot of fast cuts, all of which is well put to music.

Ken Foree absolutely jumps off the screen as the silent baddie. He glares at everybody and communicates through notes and he is electric on screen. He has to rank as one of the very best Hunter Bad Guys.

The episode isn't quite as clever as it thinks it is, but still manages to be better than most cop show outings. The killer phones people, says the word 'Guilty' and then tracks them down and kills them. Although it is obvious to the audience at home that this guy is killing the jury that put him away, it takes Hunter and McCall a while to figure this out. However, the very fact that this wasn't kept as an end-of-episode revelation stopped me being dissapointed with the episode's story-telling and with the deductive powers of the heroes. Instead, by the end of the first quarter they have figured it out and are on the same page as the viewers.

Next, there's a pretty good hook unveiled. The apparent killer, who has a track record of phoning his targets before killing them, cannot speak. And, for a section of the episode, we are kinda wondering if this guy (a) is really the killer, (b) has an accomplice. This nicely done bit of story-telling - unfortunately - leads nowhere, as we don't get any sort of clever resolution to this question.

This is another first season episode which shows Hunter & McCall as outsiders. The Captain has them on stake-out watching for muggers, and their every effort to get involved with the case is met with great resistance. From the captain, and from Bernie. And, as a consequence their team-work is quite strong. Hunter, though, is definitely the clever one here. Making the deductions while McCall follows him around.

The whole thing is a bit cartoony, but very polished and entertaining.

30-3-04

Season 1, Episode 16, "The Last Kill" A-

FINE. Most TV detectives have had an ex-lover show up from the past. The Hunter take on this plot manages to avoid the pit-falls. In fact, this is a generally strong episode, who's only weakness is the writing of McCall.

The opening is brilliant. Suspicious wife follows husband to motel and stumbles onto a murder. She runs to her cop ex-boyfriend and he quickly wonders whether the murderer could - in fact - be the husband, and pursues the investigation from that angle.

The episode doesn't openly declare the identity of the killer until near the end, but it's pretty clear who it's probably gonna be. Had Hunter not voiced this option out-loud during the episode, I would have been disappointed and bored by the episode. We viewers want our TV detectives to be as smart as us. And if we're at home thinking "it's probably the husband", we don't want our heroes stumbling around with no idea what is going on. Particularly when there are no other suspects!!

Tragically, Jeff Wilheim chooses to write McCall in exactly this fashion. She resists Hunter's deductions at every turn, ascribing them to jealousy. There's no real reason for this, and it serves no function within the story. It is very annoying, though.

Anyway, the episode runs through a turn or two before the hugely enjoyable climax. The bad-guy is rumbled, takes his wife hostage and leads Hunter & McCall on a superb car chase ending in an incredibly cool shoot-out which truly elevates Hunter to "Super Cop" status as he eyes down the murderer, walks out to face him and calmly blows him away with one shot before walking back to his car and calling the coroner. Ouch. I half expected McCall to say: "Wow."

Great.

21-12-03

Season 1, Episode 17, "Fire Man", C+

LAME. Aside from having a good guest star, and one good scene, this episode falls short of being anything to get excited about. The central plot is basic, over-blown and silly, the secondary plot serves no great purpose, elements of the production are sloppy and - except for some trademark Hunter elements you could be watching any cop show.

William Russ is a great actor, who has turned in some great TV performances. His episode of Stargate comes to mind, as well as two superb arcs on Stephen J. Cannell's Wiseguy series. In this outing of Hunter he is relegated to the role of red-herring. He gets one scene, and it's great. He's being interrogated. He recounts his story of the war in "Asia" and gets caught up in the memory. Russ is intense. Perfect for this mateial. He really pulls the viewer in.

The plot itself is about a guy who dresses up real-funny-like and goes around setting some big ass fires. There's also some guff about whether he actually faked his own death years earlier and is, in fact, his own best bud. Standard cop show nonsense.

The b-plot concerns snooping reporters, one of whom may or may not like McCall. This plot amounts to nothing, and seems at times like pages from a completely different script were stapled into the story in a haphazard careless manner and nobody noticed.

Careless is a good word for other elements of the production. Early on, Hunter follows a film crew back to their studio, so he can check footage from three different fires. Because on TV, the arsonist ALWAYS returns to the crime-scene and ALWAYS gets filmed. (TV detectives who turn to camera footage are particular pet-hate of mine.) Anyway, up on screen comes... images of a group of extras standing in front of a wall, all trying to look pensive. A voice-over tells us that these are different locations, despite the fact that the people are the same!! This is especially hilarious when Hunter spots William Russ in the crowd. The footage of Russ standing in front of a wall is identical in both shots, even down to the extra standing on his left. What about him, huh, Hunter? He's clearly in shot, too. At "both" locations. Why not bring him in? And what about the wall! With that distinctive dark patch somewhere about head-height. That wall has obviously been wandering around, too. Scoping out fires. Why doesn't Hunter go take a sledge hammer to it.

Later, in an action sequence involving the Bad Guy and the TV reporter there is a lot of fire, a lot of running, and lot of shouting, but absolutely no narrative flow, so the viewer has no real idea what is happening and where everybody is, in relation to everybody else. Sloppy. Sloppy.

Aside from that, you've got usual Hunter trademarks. Lots of music, and good use of montages while the Bad Guy does his thing. The episode has a few funny lines, too. My fave comes when the Captain compares Hunter to Batman.

But a good actor, nice music and a laugh or two are not enough to sustain a full TV hour, and certainly not enough to pass for an episode of Hunter.

11-4-04

Season 2, Episode 2, Night Of The Dragon, B-

MIXED BAG. Early in the second season and "Hunter" seems to be all over the place. At least with this episode. Some elements are good (the political stuff, and the stuff with the rival cop and his reasons for doing what he is doing) and some are bad (the coincidence factor, and the handling of the McCall character) and some are over the top (the gun battles), so - in theory - every viewer will come away with something to like.

The episode opens with McCall and Hunter out for dinner (much is made of the fact that this is the consequences of a lost bet, which is a shame, shouldn't these two friends just be able to go out to dinner. Full stop?). They witness a shooting. As a rule, I dislike the cop show cliche of the hero being there when the crime happens, but in this instance it's pretty much the point of the entire episode so - truthfully - it didn't bug me once the episode got going.

Anyway, the cop who arrives to investigate the case turns out to be an old buddy of Rick's. The two show great warmth and delight upon meeting and, indeed, seem very cordial on pretty much every meeting that follows. Which is great, because the other cop keeps complaining to the Deputy Chief about Hunter butting in and the scenes where Hunter questions him about this ring very true. There's no great tension between the guys, just a slight edge to what comes across as a genuine friendship. When the viewer is shown scenes of the other cop in conversation with The Baddie, it serves to make things more and more interesting.

Anyway, the plot gets reasonably elaborate, and we find that we are dealing with two warring factions in Chinatown. At this stage the episode has left the "real world" of TV cop shows and wandered squarely in the realm of the "TV world". But it all seems fine.

So far.

The episode lost me in its final quarter.

A pitch battle is taking place in the street outside a restaurant. Hunter and McCall up against a mini-army. Luckily, for a busy city, there are no other people around. Then, for reason that I can fathom, Dee Dee McCall ups and runs across the street (through the hale of gunfire) whereupon she is then clobbered by An Evil Henchman and carried off in a manner that is quite amusing. He even carried her off into a secret tunnel!!

McCall had been quite passive throughout the episode. Rick was leading the way on this one. She was just doing as she was told, as much as we could figure. Then, BAM, she's snatched away to be a hostage. Sigh. McCall deserves better.

The episode then becomes totally hilarious as Rick wanders the tunnels with A Very Big Gun Indeed blowing apart Henchmen with that clenched-squint-thing he's got going.

By episodes end, all is well, and the tag scene is perfectly played by all concerned and very funny, but by that stage I couldn't care anymore.

06-11-04

Season 2, Episode 3, "Biggest Man In Town", A+

COP SHOW BRILLIANCE. Although I had never seen this episode before, it tapped into many of my old memories about why I loved this show. You've got an interesting story which unfolds without ever being boring or insulting, a top-notch guest cast playing well-rounded characters, logical thinking by everybody in the story, a dynamic hero and an exciting finish. It's just a pleasure to watch.

A blackmail attempt goes wrong and the perpetrator is killed by the actual bad-guy of the piece. Some logical detective work by our duo (McCall says the matchbook could be a red herring, and she's right. Only idiots would assume from the get-go that it would be relevant.) leads them to a small town outside LA, where they go undercover separately. The story follows them, and three other characters as they all do a dance round one another. What follows is a mixture of deceptions and revelations, where every turn seems perfectly calculated and wonderfully executed. Everything that happens, happens at the best time, and in the best way to keep the story interesting and entertaining. Truly an intelligently told TV cop story.

The guest cast is flawless: Nana Visitor, Stuart Whitman and Don Stroud. Of the three, Stroud is probably the least well served by the writer, but he is such a strong screen presence that he pulls it off and makes the character more than is written.

The characters make their decisions in logical fashion. Hunter and McCall in the way they follow the clues and decide how to investigate. Hunter in the way he chooses the best moment to reveal himself as a cop, both to Amy and to the Evil Sheriff (wonderful scene). Amy herself comes across as quite watchful and clever, taking her time, judging the people around her and making her move at the best time (her final scene, with Hunter, is excellent). Bellemy, the Chief Baddie, also advances his way through the story logically (his dialogue as he finally pulls his gun on McCall is wonderful).

This is Hunter's episode. McCall isn't too badly treated (even if it is unfortunate that this is her third time in a row to be kidnapped), but the star of this show is Rick Hunter. His approach to the town, to Amy, and to the Sheriff, are hugely enjoyable to watch. When he takes the Sheriff's gun away, the viewer is thrilled, and when he marches in and reveals himself as a cop, it causes both hearty laughter and loud cheering from the viewer.

To round it off, you've got an exciting action finale.

As icing on the cake, you get some corny jokes ("Tanks") and some genuinely awesome singing from Stepfanie Kramer. It may not be the perfect Hunter episode (not enough partnership and chemistry) but it is an example of a perfect Cop Show Episode. One I would love to re-watch almost immediately.

9-11-04

Season 2, Episode 4, "Rich Girl", A+

WOW. This is a far cry from the cartoon violence and fluff that the show had sunk to, towards the end of Season One. This one tells it's story in an engaging manner, ends on a real downer and never puts a foot wrong from start to finish. Aside from the writing and characterisation, the episode has some great guest performances (John Calvin and, especially, Dorian Lopinto).

We start off in the court room. A case has gone to trial, McCall's case, and the culprit looks set to walk. McCall is quite pissed off about this. It's nice to see an episode starting off after the detective work is done, and it's nice to see McCall as the focus for getting the investigation up and running again.

When the suspect gets off, goes free and gets promptly flung off a balcony the episode really gets going. McCall is convinced it's not suicide. Hunter is skeptical at first, but a nicely written bit of detective work sees him change his views and agree with McCall. The viewer, meanwhile, is made privy to the identity of the killer(s) and shown how latest event ties in with the first crime.

McCall investigated the original case, so Hunter gets to go undercover on this one. Of course, Rick did accompany Dee Dee to the courthouse. And the writer cleverly uses this a few times to create realistic tension as people point at him and say "Hey, don't I know you?". It's very subtle, and thus more authentic.

By episode's end, the real villian has outfoxed the two cops and completely gotten away with it. Hunter & McCall have to figure out another way to see that justice is done. To do so, they turn to a doctor and a lawyer. This ending, as well as the overall portait of a family torn asunder, paints one of the bleakest images I've thus far seen in an episode of "Hunter".

As with all the best episode's of this show, the various characters are well thought-out and act in a believeable way. The doctor, the lawyer and a secretary have some wonderful dialogue, which serves to make them completely real and part of the story. Lopinto and Calvin have two great characters to play. Calvin has some fantastic dialogue which reveals a lot about him. Lopinto's best moments are the ones without words.

In my opinion, the performance from Dorian Lopinto totally steals the episode. I don't know who she is, but she really blows me away. She has very little to do at the start, but gets more and more, and by the ending, it is all about her and nobody else matters. In John Calvin she has a wonderful acting partner. Their first big scene together is so good that it is actually a little uncomfortalbe to watch. Higher praise I cannot think of. She carried the final minutes of the episode alone, with no dialogue and it was totally rivetting.

A perfect end to 45 minutes of quality entertainment.

13-11-04

1 comment:

SurgeFilter said...

Just love this whole 1980s retro scene at the moment. Hopefully Knight Rider 2008 will be picked up for the Fall (and they'll give the car and The Hoff more to do). In the meantime I'm enjoying the awesome new, digitally remastered Airwolf soundtrack that they've just released called 'Airwolf Themes' which you can download off Apple iTunes Store, or from their official website where there are great teaser samples, http://www.airwolfthemes.com/

Ignoring Friday Night Lights renders the Emmy's meaningless.

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