Appellate Judge Mac McEntire's shoes have 21 speeds.
"Now we're off to catch the bad guys. Do you have any idea how we might do that?"
It's yet another TV series that was short-lived but well-liked, and fondly remembered by those who saw it back in the day. Now that Tenspeed and Brown Shoe is on DVD, does it live up to the fans' beloved memories?
Facts of the Case
Lionel "Brown Shoe" Whitney (Jeff Goldblum, The Fly) is a bored stockbrocker who dreams of becoming a heroic private eye. E.L. "Tenspeed" Turner (Ben Vereen, Zoobilee Zoo) is a con artist fresh out of jail and looking for the next big score. After meeting, the guys decide to start their own detective agency, even though they have no idea how to be detectives. They have many misadventures.
This four-disc set contains twelve of the show's thirteen episodes, which get my vote for the goofiest-sounding episode titles in TV history:
• "Robin Tucker's Roseland Roof and Ballroom
• "Savage Says: There's No Free Lunch"
• "Savage Says: What Are Friends For?"
• "The Sixteen-Byte Data Chip and the Brown-Eyed
• "The Millionaire's Life"
• "The Most Dangerous Bird is the Jailbird"
• "It's Easier to Pass an Elephant through the Eye of a
Needle than a Bad Check in Bel Air"
• "Loose Larry's List of Losers"
• "This One's Gonna Kill You"
• "The Treasure of Sierra Madre Street"
• "Diamond Aren't Forever"
If our main characters are named Whitney and Turner, then why is the show called Tenspeed and Brown Shoe? God if I know, because the first episode isn't on this set. I only know the basic premise and the fact that Whitney is "Brown Shoe" and Turner is "Tenspeed" thanks to the text on the back of the box. Allegedly, the pilot isn't here because of ownership and/or legal issues, but it's still a disservice not to include it. Newcomers like me will be lost without a proper introduction to these characters and their world, and the show's many cult following fans will be disappointed to see the series is not complete on this set.
As for the rest of the show, I can see why it's still so loved and admired by viewers after all these years. It's a funny, quirky take on the private eye genre. Most episodes are bookended by Whitney reading from these trashy detective novels he loves, the sensationalistic plots of which mirror or contrast his own adventures. When the real private eye life clashes with Whitney's dream of what he believes it should be like, that's when he's out of his element, and, as such, that's when the show is at its best. It's during these moments that Turner is there to inform Whitney how "real life" works.
The straight-laced Whitney is all about helping people and doing the right thing. The streetwise Turner, on the other hand, is all about doing whatever it takes to get by, no matter how ethical or unethical. A lot of times, Whitney will march headfirst into a situation and announce himself as a private eye, only to get nowhere, while Turner takes a sneakier approach sweet-talking and conning his way toward their goals. Somewhere in between their two styles, they get the job done, solving the case and helping out the client of the week.
This was one of Jeff Goldblum's first starring roles, and it's easy to see why he went on to be such a success. His peculiar brand of charisma is in full force, quirky and nerdy and yet somehow self confident at the same time. The writers know to play off his mannerisms by giving him long, rambling speeches loaded with goofy phrases, such as when he cautions a pickpocketing child not to leave his morality in a bus station locker. What? Nonsensical, but funny.
As the con artist Turner, the running joke for Vereen is that he usually adopts other personas about once per episode, wearing crazy costumes and talking in other voices or accents. At times, it seems like he takes nothing seriously, and I started to wonder if there was any genuine friendship between these two guys, or if Turner was just using Whitney for his own ends. At one point, though, when Whitney gets injured, a following scene has Turner looking after his pal in a funny way, demonstrating that there is some humanity and heart to his character after all.
Don't expect a lot of action in this series. Although there are chases and gunfights, the emphasis is on the wisecracks and the screwy characters. Likewise, the actual mysteries are not complex whodunits, but more like excuses to get the guys into various crazy situations each week. The show is all about laughter, and not thrills or explorations of the human condition. There's no better example of this than the karate. Whitney claims to be a black belt, but his fighting style is pure slapstick. He lets out high-pitched shrieks spoofing Bruce Lee, while the actual fight choreography is slower than Kirk fighting the Gorn. Clumsy and far from exciting, but weirdly entertaining—kind of like this series as a whole.
The full frame picture and 1.0 mono audio are middle-of-the-road specs at best. There are absolutely no extras, and, as with most Mill Creek releases, the discs are barely held in place in those flimsy little envelopes. Flimsy little envelopes haunt my nightmares!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Get this: The episodes have their eyecatches intact. What's an eyecatch? It's the little graphic and bit of theme music that pops up at the end of an act break, with an announcer who tells us, "Tenspeed and Brown Shoe will be right back." This is the first non-anime TV release I'm aware of that has the eyecatches. So is it good to have these for historical purposes, to experience the show as viewers experienced it back in the day, or is it bad, in that they interrupt the action and take viewers out of the story? I'll let you decide.
Tenspeed and Brownshoe is not the best detective show ever made, but it's funny and quirky, and enjoyable enough for what it is. This weak presentation on DVD, though, means I just can't recommend a purchase. Put it on your rental queue if you're curious to see it.
We'll go with a "not guilty" on this one, but only if Whitney and
Turner promise to solve the case of the missing first episode.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
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