Judge Cynthia Boris is tired of backstabbing bitchery on TV. What better cure than a series about murder?
The perfect prescription for anyone who enjoys a suspenseful dose of felons, four play, and forensics.
There's a strange bird of a mystery genre known as the Cozy. These mysteries are generally light-hearted, genteel, and not particularly violent—except for the fact that someone always gets murdered. On television, Murder, She Wrote's Jessica Fletcher was the queen of the cozy. The king? No question, it's Mark Sloan of Diagnosis Murder. Pour yourself a cup of hot tea, put on your fuzzy slippers, and settle in on the couch. One should always be quite comfortable when it comes to solving these kinds of crimes.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke (The Dick Van Dyke Show) is a doctor at Community General Hospital. He's kind, worldly, and wise. Just the type of man you'd like to have as your doctor…except for that one small problem. The people around him keep dropping dead. But lucky for them, Mark is not only a great physician; he's also a top-notch detective. Coincidentally (or not), Sloan's son Steve (Barry Van Dyke, Galactica 1980) is a real detective, which does add some credibility to Sloan being constantly drawn into new cases.
Assisting Sloan in both his medical and detective work are Dr. Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell, (Dumb and Dumber) and Dr. Jack Stewart (Scott Baio, Happy Days). Michael Tucci of Grease fame plays Mark's adversarial hospital administrator (Isn't that always the way in doctor shows?) and Broadway star Delores Hall puts in an appearance as Nurse Delores Mitchell.
Diagnosis Murder was a spin-off of the William Conrad series Jake and The Fatman. The show began in 1993 and ran eight seasons. It was one of the most popular syndicated series on both the former PAX Network and ABC Family. There were five TV movies, three of which aired before the series took hold, which explains why the first episode doesn't feel like a first episode at all. Lee Goldberg wrote seven tie-in novels for the series, keeping Mark Sloan in the public eye.
So what exactly is all the fuss about? A number of things, I'd say. First and foremost is Dick Van Dyke himself. This easy-going, popular TV actor just charms the pants off you from beginning to end. A lot less manic than his Rob Petrie (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Mark Sloan is whimsical in his delivery despite the fact that he's often talking about murders and murderers. Van Dyke sets the tone for the show, and that tone is the other reason for its success.
Diagnosis Murder is a classic example of the cozy genre. Sloan is an "everyman" who solves mysteries using brains, not brawn. Though he is a doctor, it's not his medical knowledge that usually saves the day. Generally, it's pure logic and reason. (The dust is on his face! Meaning the cabinet had to fall on him after he was killed and not before!) And though Sloan's advanced age is typical of cozy novels, it's not all that typical on television. Like Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher, there's a maturity here that helped bring in millions of viewers who were tired of seeing nothing but skinny twenty-somethings on their TV screen.
Throughout the run of the show, different actors were cast as Sloan's young assistants. I prefer Scott Baio's first season character to the actor who took over later in the run. He's boyish and a little goofy and I still find him as endearing as I did when he played Chachi all those years ago. Victoria Rowell doesn't do anything for me, but I can see the need for a pretty young female on the show. Tucci is funny, but I got tired of his schtick early on.
For me, Barry Van Dyke is the other highlight of this series. Barry has made a career out of guest staring on popular shows such as The A-Team, The Love Boat, and Magnum, P.I.; on Diagnosis Murder he really shines. We've got more boyish good looks and a voice that has always captivated me, but mostly it's his relationship with his father that sells it. In every scene between the two of them you can see the love and respect they have for each other. Maybe it's old fashioned to say, but it's nice to watch a program with family members who care instead of the usual familial backstabbing bitchery that you see all the time on TV.
Though not rife with famous guest stars like Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder has it's share of familiar faces. Here are the ones you'll find on this DVD set.
One last note here. Sylvia Sydney is brilliant in "Miracle Cure." If there's any one scene that really speaks to this series, it's Sloan singing "Pennies from Heaven" while dancing with fragile, breakable, homeless Alice (Sydney). I shed a tear and I'm not kidding.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only complaint is the shoddy treatment of such a classic TV series. There are no extras on this DVD. No, I don't count the spin off episode of Jake and the Fat Man an extra. Where are the commentaries? And instead of including just a flyer for the latest novel, why not include a full chapter or even a short story in a companion booklet? Yes, we appreciate having all these shows clean and uncut on DVD. But it's a new era, folks, and that's no longer enough. Think about that before you release the second season sans extras.
While I truly enjoy his character on TV, I wouldn't want to be a friend or a patient of Dr. Mark Sloan's since the odds are good I'd end up as either a murder victim or a suspect.
I find Diagnosis Murder: Complete 1st Season guilty of murder. Nineteen plus murders, actually. At least in each case, the perpetrator was brought to justice.
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Scales of Justice
• Bonus episode: "It Never Entered My Mind" from Jake and the Fatman
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