Judge P.S. Colbert hasn't seen you at Mass for quite a while, and was just wondering if everything was alright?
Our review of Father Dowling Mysteries: The First Season, published February 7th, 2012, is also available.
Doggedly patrolling the oft-overlooked but potentially lethal Parochial beat, Father Frank Dowling (Tom Bosley, Happy Days) and his youthful ward Sister Stephanie "Steve" Oskowski (Tracy Nelson, Square Pegs) do their darnedest to serve The Lord and the Chicago streets leading to and from St. Michael's church. You might think a cozy little neighborhood parish wouldn't see much in the way of criminal activity, but you'd be wrong. Dead wrong!
Father Dowling Mysteries: The Second Season presents thirteen capers, pitting the Catholic crime stoppers against various forces of darkness, with God as their witness.
• "The Visiting Priest Mystery"—A mob hit man (Anthony LaPaglia, Without A Trace) poses as a missionary who invites himself to be a weekend house guest at the rectory.
• "The Exotic Dancer Mystery"—Parishioner and pole-dancer Marilyn Kemp (Elyssa Davalos, Nancy Drew) witnesses some shady goings-on at the nightclub where she works. What she sees gets her killed, but not before making a confession to Father Dowling.
• "The Sanctuary Mystery"—Stephen Dorff (Blade) plays Sister Steve's younger brother Mark, a juvenile offender who witnesses a police chief (Robert Clohessy, Boardwalk Empire) committing cold-blooded murder. The trouble is, he's spotted Mark as well, and is pinning the murder on him.
• "The Stone Killer Mystery"—A convicted murderer is released from prison and he's carrying a "hit list." Number one with a bullet: Father Dowling.
• "The Woman Scorned Mystery"—Father Frank's evil identical twin brother Blaine returns to make more trouble, all in the name of our favorite priest.
• "The Ghost Of A Chance Mystery"—Is there an exorcist in the house? Father Frank and Sister Steve spend the night in a Gothic mansion, in order to investigate its "supernatural" happenings.
• "The Blind Man's Bluff Mystery"—Bruce Abbott (Re-Animator) guest stars as Nick Moran, a "blind" break-in artist who trips over—and falls hard for—Sister Steve.
• "The Falling Angel Mystery"—James McEachin (Perry Mason) is a certified hoot as a drinking, carousing, gambling "guardian angel" named Michael (get it?), in a whimsical episode that feels like a proposed spin-off series pilot.
• "The Perfect Couple Mystery"—A newlywed parishioner (Stacy Edwards, In The Company Of Men) catches her husband red-handed in the bedroom of a beautiful and seductive other woman (Brenda Strong, Desperate Housewives), but it's not what you think. It's much, much worse.
• "The Confidence Mystery"—All-too-trusting Father Phil Prestwick (James Stephens, The Paper Chase) unwittingly hands ten thousand dollars and an invaluable Romanian chalice over to con men. Catholic crime fighting duo: Assemble!
• "The Solid Gold Headache Mystery"—Sister Steve's got a price on her head of six million dollars, bequeathed to her by a wealthy old man who chose to exclude his greedy, vengeful children.
• "The Legacy Mystery"—Father Frank and Sister Steve go undercover (in Mufti) to investigate a suspected art thief (Robin Thomas, About Last Night) responsible for fleecing St. Michael's.
• "The Passionate Painter Mystery"—What will prove the undoing of Father Frank's alcoholic artist friend Harry: a) his incessant partying, or b) the party responsible for spiking his orange juice with LSD, and blowing up his loft? Bob Dishy (Along Came Polly) guest stars.
Though separated by a year, the first and second seasons of Father Dowling Mysteries are interchangeable and virtually indistinguishable from one another; aside from the fact that Father Phil has graduated from occasional to regular thorn in the side of Frank, Steve, and Marie (Mary Wickes, White Christmas), the rectory's dowdy but diligent housekeeper. No worries. James Stephens seems to be having a ball playing the fussy, vainglorious and eternally bumbling assistant to the Bishop, and his presence practically cuts Wickes' comic relief workload in half.
The real mystery of this series is why it leans so heavily on the word "mystery," given that most of the culprits are exposed up front, and the heavy lifting comes as Father and Sister find a way to coax Sgt. Clancy (Regina Krueger) to show up (at the very last second) and save them from being killed by the person they've long since suspected. Why Clancy hasn't learned to trust the pair's instincts, after so many close calls, is yet another mystery!
The DVD presentation for Father Dowling Mysteries: The Second Season is adequate enough. The standard definition 1.33:1 full frame transfers show a bit of color variation, but very little sign of dirt and grit. The Dolby 2.0 stereo mix is solid, if unspectacular. Bless Paramount for providing subtitles for the hard of hearing, and since the studio insists on calling the brief episodic promos "extras," so be it.
For those brought up on the gizmos and gore of CSI, or the cynical and world-weary slant of the many Law and Order franchises, the adventures of St. Michael's super sleuths will no doubt seem prehistoric. Those hoping to comfortably digest an early bird dinner special before drifting off to sweet dreamland, your prayers have been answered.
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