Judge Victor Valdivia's last name isn't cool enough to launch a TV series, unless it was called Spell That, Please.
"Tonight! Burt Reynolds stars as B.L. Stryker!"
By 1989, Burt Reynolds was at a crossroads. After spending most of the '80s squandering his enormous star power on drivel like Rent-A-Cop, he had little movie star clout left. So he decided to embark on a TV series that would attempt to recapture his audience while also including some interesting dramatic moments. That's a tall order, and so it's not surprising that the final product doesn't seem like one show but two completely differing ones awkwardly welded together.
Facts of the Case
B.L. Stryker is a retired New Orleans cop who has returned to his native Palm Beach, Florida, with his best friend, former boxer Oz (Ossie Davis, Jungle Fever). Stryker decides to launch a career as a private detective while refusing to fit in with Palm Beach's high society. Here are the 12 episodes collected on this set:
• "Auntie Sue"
• "Die Laughing"
• "Grand Theft Hotel"
Watching B.L. Stryker is a singularly trying experience. If the show were merely bad, or even just mediocre, it would be easy to dismiss it as yet another TV misfire and move on. The problem is that the show isn't entirely terrible. In fact, there are some parts of it that are genuinely clever, touching, or gritty. Unfortunately, these are smothered in the worst television detective show clichés, bad jokes, and dreary action scenes. Inside this generally pedestrian detective show there's a very good dramatic series trying desperately to get out, but it doesn't do so enough times to make this show really worthwhile.
Much of the tension surrounding just what B.L. Stryker should be is summed up by the character's name and the description on the DVD that calls this an "action-packed series." Clearly, with a name like B.L. Stryker and starring macho star Burt Reynolds, the network executives were expecting a nonstop thrill ride with a little mystery thrown in for coherence. What Reynolds, who served as the show's executive producer, wanted, on the other hand, was a more cerebral and less one-dimensional show that was more about character and dialogue. Reynolds, actually, has always been a much more gifted and intelligent actor than he's frequently given credit for, although his talents are too often overshadowed by his tabloid exploits and his sometimes questionable taste in material and collaborators (Cannonball Run II, anyone?). By bringing in guest stars like Davis, Tyson, and Moore, Reynolds was clearly trying to make B.L. Stryker a cut above most TV shows.
The results are a hodgepodge. The show isn't really action-packed. Each episode has one or two action scenes at most, usually a fistfight, a car chase, or an explosion, and they're all so dull that they feel shoehorned in as a compromise. The actual mysteries themselves are pretty flimsy. Though each episode lasts about 90 minutes (or two hours with commercials), the mystery content barely fills in a half hour. Most of the time, the mysteries take so long to solve because Stryker and the audience are both distracted by something that's much more interesting. Indeed, it's the incidental moments, such as lines of dialogue or scenes that don't advance the story but fill in characterization that really shine here. Amusingly, Reynolds seems so eager to parody his macho movie persona that in several episodes, such as "Blind Chess," Stryker is much more the buffoon than the hero.
"Winner Takes All" is perfectly indicative of just what a maddening mess B.L. Stryker is. The performances, by Tyson, LaSalle, and Paul Gleason, playing a college buddy of Stryker's who's now a college football recruiter, are all first-rate. Reynolds, a former football player in college, has a real ear for dialogue and the scenes involving the players, the coach, and the recruiters ring true. There are a couple of scenes between Gleason and Tyson in which they discuss some of the compromises his character has made to recruit high school stars that are so blunt and well-written that they would easily fit in on a current series on Showtime or HBO. These moments are so good that viewers will wish they could see more of them, but they don't have anything to do with the episode's supposed mystery. The episode's actual mystery plot, involving a murderous loan shark and a gunrunning scheme, is really pretty terrible, and no one could possibly care about any of it. Seeing an intriguing dramatic storyline overtaken by a fourth-rate TV mystery plot sums up just why B.L. Stryker could have been a much better show than it was, if it hadn't been forced to fit in with TV strictures that were already hopelessly clichéd twenty years ago.
Technically, the set is as disappointing and middling as the show. The full-screen transfer is not great, full of scratches and haze, and the image flickers and shakes at several times during the end credits of a few episodes. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix is not as loud it could be, making the dialogue sometimes hard to make out. The only extras are downloadable PDF scripts for a few episodes, which is peculiar, although it's theoretically better than nothing.
While hardcore Reynolds fans will probably get this set no matter what, everyone else should preview a disc or two before deciding whether or not to buy it. It's not that there's nothing good here or even that there's not enough. It's that the good parts are so good that they make the numerous awful parts stand out in sharp contrast. Even though it does sometimes hit the mark, B.L. Stryker: The Complete Series is just too patchy, expensive, and cumbersome to recommend enthusiastically.
Guilty of wasting the good parts by adding them to really bad ones.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Arts Alliance America
• Scripts for Selected Episodes
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