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Case Number 09510: Small Claims Court

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Brilliant But Cancelled: Crime Dramas

Universal // 2006 // 209 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // June 21st, 2006

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All Rise...

If you have to call yourself brilliant, Judge Paul Corupe thinks your brilliance might not be self-evident.

The Charge

Gone, but not entirely forgotten.

The Case

Here's a DVD where the idea is far better than the actual execution. A showcase for prematurely yanked TV shows, Brilliant But Cancelled was a popular program that originally aired on the since-defunct Trio. Now, Trio's parent network Bravo has launched the branded concept into cyberspace, offering up a website that features viewable episodes of short-lived series like EZ Streets, Touching Evil, and The Jake Effect. To tie in with this unveiling, Universal has also released a pair of "Brilliant But Cancelled" DVDs: one of EZ Streets, and a second compilation called Crime Dramas that serves up four not-so-classic TV shows that lasted a season or less: Delvecchio, Gideon Oliver, Johnny Staccato and Touching Evil. Let's break it down show-by-show:

Delvecchio
A precursor to Hill Street Blues, Steven Bochco's Delvecchio is a great place to start with this release. This notable show starred Judd Hirsch (Dear John) as an LAPD detective who also happens to be an aspiring lawyer. Though it starts out a tad slow, "Licensed to Kill" is a smart episode. Delvecchio get involved his goddaughter's funeral plans when her death is ruled a suicide, and the family's Catholic priest refuses to bury her in consecrated ground. As a favor, Delvecchio investigates and discovers that her doctor, a "quack" physiotherapist, has been prescribing medicine illegally. Intricate, tightly-written and well-acted, this is an impressive series that was perhaps a little ahead of its time, a missing link of sorts between mystery shows like Quincy and Columbo and the aforementioned Hill Street Blues. Strange, though—there's no title sequence on this episode (a theme music rights issue, perhaps?), and the transfer looks really ugly for a '70s show, with obvious digital artifacting and a soft, washed-out look. Ugh.

Gideon Oliver
Along with a brand new update of Columbo and the Burt Reynolds-starring B.L. Stryker, Gideon Oliver was part of a late-1980s attempt by ABC to spin off NBC's rotating "Mystery Movie" format that found major success in the 1970s. Starring Louis Gossett Jr. (Iron Eagle) as a Columbia anthropology professor who uses his specialized knowledge to solve crimes with his astute daughter Zina (Shari Headley, Coming to America), the Dick Wolf-produced Gideon Oliver lasted a mere five weeks. This 90-minute TV movie, entitled "Sleep Well Professor Oliver," seems to be the debut episode. It spends a good deal of time setting up the character of Oliver, as he is embroiled in a series of murders that appears to be the work of a cult of Satanists. Turns out that the daughter of a slain colleague is caught up in the sect, and Oliver vows to get her out before she is forced to turn her daughter over to the Prince of Darkness. The show itself is not bad if a little standard, similar to the police procedural half of Wolf's hit Law & Order, only with Oliver spending his time interviewing doctors, experts and other professors for insight rather than perps and suspects. This particular episode is written a little broadly, with the Satanists involved in everything from drugs and kiddie porn to straight up human sacrifices—even making a connection with the Son of Sam—but it's entertaining enough. Guest stars Michael Rooker and the troubled Tom Sizemore are both good in their roles, as is Gossett Jr. He probably could have made this stick around a few seasons if they spent more time developing the actual mystery rather than having the portly 53-year-old make implausible flying tackles on his assailants. The DVD quality is pretty typical for a show from the 1980s, nothing to complain about here.

Johnny Staccato
Undoubtedly the highlight of this release is an episode of Johnny Staccato, a cool noirish series about a jazz musician P.I. played by John Cassavetes in the same year that he directed Shadows. Though only half-an-hour long and obviously shot on the cheap, the show packs quite a punch, with tough-guy dialogue, wild twists and turns, and evocative black and white cinematography. "Tempted" sees Johnny protecting a diamond necklace owned by the amorous ex-wife of a former friend, and getting robbed for his trouble. Was it all a set-up by the femme fatale after the insurance money? Johnny thinks it is, and gets an insurance investigator to help lay a trap. The episode may not be the best the series had to offer, but it should tip audiences to this no-frills, bare-knuckle mystery drama that nicely showcased Cassavetes' acting skill. Johnny Staccato is long overdue on DVD—it's too bad that we don't get everything released as a season set rather than this teaser. The show looks great, too, easily comparable to the digital transfers of other recent Universal shows from the same era.

Touching Evil
Perhaps it's my lack of interest in recent season-building, style-over-substance crime dramas, but the USA Network's Touching Evil was easily the worst thing I've seen in a while. Based on a British mini-series of the same name, the by-the-numbers show follows the exploits of Organized and Serial Crime FBI detectives David Creegan (Jeffrey Donovan, Hitch) and Susan Branca (Vera Farmiga, Down to the Bone). Creegan, whose brain injury from an earlier gunshot has made him a loose cannon, is kept in line by the straight-laced Branca. "K," this particular episode, has a group of drug-addled delinquents murdering animals and people, as inspired by the violent work of a local artist. Too bad it all plays like a watered-down version of Larry Clark's Bully with paper-thin characterizations and lame attempts at portraying "controversial" behavior . Worst of all, Creegan and Branca have zero chemistry together, possibly because Donovan is too busy brooding and mugging for the camera while Farmiga struggles with cringe-inducing line readings. Because Touching Evil has multiple-episode story arcs, it's not even really the best series that could have been included on a compilation, since I had no idea who some of the characters were supposed to be, or what motivated their actions. Brilliant? Not even a bit, but at least the transfer is top notch for both audio and video.

I really like the idea of this set and I'd love to see more forgotten gems like this one make it to DVD. It's just too bad this disc is a mixed bag, with little repeat value. It works best as a teaser for the site, which is probably all it was intended to do anyway—though it's a shade overpriced to serve that purpose. Those interested in Brilliant But Cancelled: Crime Dramas may just want to skip out on the disc and watch some of these episodes online.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 72

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 209 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Crime
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None








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