The first time Judge Christopher Kulik experienced The Big Easy was during Mardi Gras; he still has nightmares of being chased by a naked, drunken sailor.
Let the good times roll!
Like sequels, TV shows based on hit movies crop up every now and then. Usually, they appear only a few years after the movie has already dried up at the box office, while also lasting for only a handful of seasons. Successful exceptions include In The Heat Of The Night, The Odd Couple and Alice, the latter being based on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Others like A League Of Their Own and Down And Out In Beverly Hills were sluggish supplements which failed to catch fans of their cinematic origins.
The 1987 erotic thriller The Big Easy was a fresh, tasty take on the standard police drama. Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin created sexual fireworks on screen as a New Orleans cop and a sexy District Attorney, respectively. Both have opposing views of the law. Quaid's character, Det. Remy McSwain, was a flaky ladies' man who loved to ignore the law to nab some criminals while Barkin's Anne Osborne was devoted to the book no matter what. Yet, Anne is transfixed by Remy and—-in the film's most famous scene—-she stops short of having an orgasm due to Remy's advances. In response, Remy says: "Just relax, darlin'…this is the Big Easy! Folks have a certain way o doin' things down here!
Jump ahead nine years later. Screenwriter Daniel Petrie, Jr. decides to executive produce a TV adaptation for the USA network. The leads remained the same, this time cast with younger actors, and their relationship was more sensual and conflicted. Tony Crane (Wes Craven's Wishmaster) took over Remy's smirking private eye, with Susan Walters (Point Pleasant) became Anne Osborne, now working as a federal agent for the U.S. Dept of Fish & Wildlife. The Big Easy would last for only two seasons, with the first having 22 episodes and the second having 13, sans Walters.
The main question for the film's fans is if the show is worthy enough of its title. Mostly, yes. The Big Easy was filmed on location in New Orleans, supplying plenty of Cajun atmosphere and spicy music. The seedy locations (alleys, bars, strip clubs) are generously enhanced by lots of local color. Like the movie, the setting acts as a major character. In every episode, the cinematographers take advantage of the Crescent City to the maximum, making it the show's biggest asset.
Crane and Walters certainly look great. They share an electric chemistry, as the sophisticated Anne (who's engaged) finds herself fending off and submitting to Remy's charm and sweaty flirtation in equal doses. Essentially, this was the main drive of the show and while it worked, credibility was lost when Walters was dropped from the second season. Still, I don't think they quite measure up to Quaid and Barkin, who had more class and sexiness to spare. Walters' version of Anne, especially, doesn't have the sharp intelligence (or moaning magnetism) of Barkin's incarnation.
Among the supporting cast, Barry Corbin (No Country For Old Men) adds the most juice as Sheriff C.D. LeBlanc. Evidently, he's Remy's uncle as well as his boss, which isn't exactly realistic (opens doors for fraternization), yet Corbin is so good in his gruff, Southern manner it almost doesn't matter. Karla Tamburrelli also turns up the heat as a female detective who hungers for Remy on a daily basis.
Each show has its fair share of crackling dialogue. However, many of the stories are mundane and clichéd, utilizing every crime theme in the book: corruption, murder, embezzlement, harassment…you name it. Many of the ingredients in the texture will be familiar to anyone who watches CSI religiously; what makes The Big Easy stand out from other cop shows is the setting and likable leads. In the end, it may lack the spark and originality the film had, yet the show has its own style, making it a marginal recommendation.
MPI has brought the first season of The Big Easy to DVD with respectable results. Presented in its original full frame presentation, the colors are rich and flashy adding to the show's visual vibrancy. Grain and anomalies are minimal, disguising the mid-'90s origins. Audio has been pumped up in a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track, with Joseph Vitarelli's (Kit Kittredge: An American Girl) score sounding superior to most TV shows on DVD. No extras.
Verdict: Not Guilty.
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