Originally, Judge Daryl Loomis tried to use his real name for the Verdict, but everyone agreed that Judge D.L. Stryker was too powerful a name for the site.
Watch it perps, B.L.'s on the case!
Buddy Lee Stryker (Burt Reynolds, Gator) is the man of action his name implies, though it has gotten him in trouble. Once upon a time, Stryker was a crack homicide detective in the Big Easy, but a few charges of police brutality made him consider an early retirement. With his best friend Oz (Ossie Davis, Do the Right Thing), B.L. returned to his native West Palm Beach to enjoy the good life with his well groomed moustache on his new houseboat. As much as he wants to stay out of public service, however, Stryker just cares too much. Trouble follows him everywhere, and when it hits too close to home, he has to act. Quickly, he realizes that his experience could make him a buck, so along with Oz, Lynda (Dana Kamiski, Super Mario Brothers), and a stupid looking dog, B.L fights to right the wrongs of the Palm Beach elite.
These are the adventures of B.L. Stryker, part of ABC's Monday Night Mysteries TV movie series, sharing time with other such luminaries as the Columbo and Kojak revivals. Arts Alliance America has released the first five two-hour episodes (90 minutes without commercials) that made up the first season over three discs. Do they do justice to this defender of life, liberty, and the Palm Beach way, or are we going to have to get B.L. on their trail?
Facts of the Case
Ep. 1: The Dancer's Touch Guest Stars: Helen Shaver, Kristy Swanson, Abe Vigoda
As we're introduced to B.L. Stryker, he's just getting settled into his new floating digs when a serial rapist begins stalking the daughters of wealthy Palm Beach residents. He's mostly content to lay around and have a couple of beers, but when the attacker strikes Lynn (Kristy Swanson, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), a girl with an unclear association to B.L., he must come to her rescue. Everyone convinces him afterward that he should get his P.I. license.
Ep. 2: Carolann Guest Stars: Deborah Raffin, Dick Anthony Williams
B.L.'s past comes back to haunt him when the king of a fake Middle Eastern nation is blown up at a Palm Beach yacht party. His wife, Carolanne (Deborah Raffin God Told Me To), luckily not on the boat, turns out to be a childhood friend of B.L.'s, and she wants him to protect her from her would-be assassins. He wants to help, but his license is mired in red tape. To avoid embarrassment, the police chief pushes the application through, and Stryker is thrust into romance and international intrigue with an old flame who may be too good to be true.
Ep. 3: Blind Chess Guest Stars: Jessica Lundy, William Prince
B.L. gets himself in a heap of trouble when he agrees to help Lynda's jailbird brother's girlfriend, in jail herself for the murder of an heiress that she didn't commit. He's convinced she's innocent, but she makes it difficult to prove when she escapes from jail in a helicopter. To save his own honor, B.L. has to hunt down the people who hired him, as well as fend off the annoying attention of the murdered woman's pesky boyfriend, who is an avid mystery novel reader and is all too eager to help find the real killer.
Ep. 4: Auntie Sue Guest Stars: Maureen Stapleton, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Jack Gilford, Harry Carey, Jr., Ted McGinley
B.L. has to visit his Aunt Sue (Maureen Stapleton, Reds) at the retirement community. Boy she's a pistol. She's made plans to buy a house and move in with her two boyfriends (Harry Carey, Jr., Cherry 2000, and Jack Gilford, Catch 22), but she's paying for it with mysterious funds. When a group of thugs comes after Stryker, his investigations turn up a jewel smuggling ring that Auntie Sue may be running.
Ep. 5: Blues for Buder Guest Stars: Neil Patrick Harris, Kristy Swanson, Michael Chiklis
B.L. is hired as babysitter for Buder (Neil Patrick Harris, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle), a young religious fanatic whose preaching has gotten him kicked out of school. His venom-spitting attitude doesn't fool Stryker, who knows Buder's "whore-monger" invectives are just a cry for help from a lonely child. The gang packs up and goes to the woods to teach Buder about being a man. Meanwhile, the leader of Buder's church (Michael Chiklis, The Shield) has come to take possession of the boy…and his inheritance. We also learn that B.L. has an unnatural fascination with Kevin Arnold of The Wonder Years.
Growing up, my family didn't tune in to ABC's Monday Night Mysteries; we were a Major Dad to Newhart-kind of family. I had no idea what to expect, yet nothing in this show surprised. Each of the five two-hour installments of the 1989 season is your average episode of The Rockford Files or Magnum P.I. (Tom Selleck even co-produced the show with Burt Reynolds), except that the thin plots are stretched twice as far as they should be. The cases Stryker takes on are contrived, and any mystery is very poorly veiled. I correctly guessed the culprit in each episode, and I fall for red herrings like crazy. The pieces of these puzzles may be easy to put together, but B.L. Strykeris still a good diversion that never takes itself too seriously. Reynolds milks his smirking persona as far as it can go, and there is good chemistry among all the major players. Guest stars come through constantly, whether they're around for only a few seconds like Abe Vigoda in "The Dancer's Touch" or the focus of the episode like Maureen Stapleton (who was nominated for an Emmy for her turn in the show) in "Auntie Sue." It's especially fun to see a pre-Doogie Neil Patrick Harris and a pre-Buffy Kristy Swanson.
B.L. Stryker is at its best in the first and last episodes and at its worst in the middle three. "The Dancer's Touch," the best of the bunch, starts the show off in promising fashion with a plot that's dark, violent, and creepy. While the slow burn may lead up to a less-than thrilling conclusion, the buildup is well done. Swanson plays a major role in the episode, but inexplicably, is gone again until the final episode of the season. A shame to lose her, but she is replaced in essentially the same role by the charmingly ditzy Dana Kimiski, who is my favorite character in the show, so it's not a total loss. Each of the middle three episodes seems like a prelude to the Reynolds classic Cop and a Half, as he gets a different little buddy to exasperate him each time, including the aforementioned stupid looking dog. The plots seem like they would have been stretched at an hour, so they fill time with more scenes of a frustrated Burt. It quickly becomes tired. At the start of "Blues for Buder," the final episode of the season, it seems to be going the same route, and sure enough, Neil Patrick Harris becomes Reynolds' buddy for the episode, but the tone of the episode and the return of Swanson are a welcome return to how the show begins. All the talk about how much B.L. likes Kevin Arnold of The Wonder Years is pretty creepy, especially since Burt Reynolds directed the episode, but it is clearly an advertisement for the young show. Whatever it's in there for, it's creepy. While I did have fun with the characters, and the actors mostly do a very good work, I do have a hard time with the stereotypes. Rita Moreno is an Oscar-winning actress, but is cast here as Stryker's gold digging, oversexed Latina ex-wife. Ossie Davis is a legend of stage and screen who delivered the eulogy at Malcolm X's funeral. He plays the wise old African-American who, while not too bright, always has the right pearl of wisdom to make things clear. It doesn't ruin the show, but it's distasteful and completely unnecessary.
The five episodes I reviewed were on check discs, so the final release could be better than what I saw. Very little work has been done on the image, and it looks only vaguely better than if I'd recorded the episodes in 1989. The colors either bleed together or are completely washed out. Lines blur into each other, and there is a fair amount of dirt, though it's only occasionally distracting. The stereo sound is adequate. A surround-sound mix would have been nice for the explosions and gunfire, but given the level of restoration on this release, this is no surprise. The only extra is a strange one: from your computer, you can download PDF files of three of the teleplays for the show. Usually, we don't get this kind of feature on the best-written films and shows. I guess if someone wants a crash course in second-rate, obvious mystery writing, this is a good enough start. I'd like to see this feature on a lot of releases, and I think it's great that it's here, but I can't really understand how they thought these scripts would be good enough to highlight.
Burt and the gang all clearly had a lot of fun making B.L. Stryker, and that fun bleeds over into the viewing experience. If each of these episodes was chopped in half, there would be less filler, tighter writing, and a much better show. Mindless, to be sure, but the show is consistently entertaining.
Between Reynolds and Selleck, there's just too much moustache power to
convict. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Arts Alliance America
• Downloadable scripts of select episodes
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