Appellate Judge James A. Stewart has a TV show idea: "Abbott & Costello CSI."
Terry: "You said you wanted to help her."
For the last few days, I've been watching the '70s detective show about a hapless ex-con who deals with shady clients, would rather shoot wisecracks than bullets, uses quick thinking to get out of bad situations, and has to watch his back around a crooked buddy who's always running a scam. No, not the one that NBC's bringing back in the fall. This is Minder: Season 1, which first aired on British TV in 1979. Dennis Waterman (New Tricks), who plays Terry McCann, probably reminded viewers a lot of James Garner.
There's some variation on Rockford's basic theme here. Terry's easy jobs that get complicated are bodyguard, or minder, jobs, not closed cases. Terry usually takes on referrals from his slick pal Arthur Daley (George Cole, Mary Reilly), who sells used cars and seems to have his finger in every pie in London. Some of the banter between Terry and Arthur must have reminded British viewers of the comic antics of Tony Hancock and Sid James in Hancock's Half-Hour, a British radio and TV series from the Fifties (Yeah, I'm a hardcore old-time radio fan). I'd guess the network suits in Britain talked about "Hancock Rockford" in much the same way that "MTV Cops" got tossed around before the debut of Miami Vice.
Whatever they were thinking, Minder lasted into the '90s. Moreover, on the DVD box, The Sun of London is quoted as calling Minder "Ten times better than any other…series."
Anyway, there isn't much need for character introduction in the first episode, "Gunfight at the O.K. Launderette." It plunges Terry right into the action of a hostage situation.
Facts of the Case
Minder: Series 1 features eleven episodes on three discs:
• "Bury My Half at Waltham Green"
• "The Smaller They Are…"
• "A Tethered Goat"
• "Aces High and Sometimes Very Low"
• "The Bengal Tiger"
• "Come In T-64, Your Time is Ticking Away"
• "The Dessert Song"
• "You Gotta Have Friends"
Actually, Minder looks like a seedier version of The Rockford Files. The London streets look shabby, Terry doesn't have a sleek Firebird, the cops who distrust Terry are rougher customers than Lt. Chapman, and, unlike Jim Rockford, Terry makes a habit of one-night stands, which means you'll see an occasional bare butt or breast as the women get up the morning after. There's an occasional car chase, but more often, you'll see Terry running after a thug on foot.
"I'm just the silly sod who agreed to mind you, and, for some reason, I take my job seriously," Terry tells a client at one point. At times, Terry seems like a silly sod, especially when he's falling for one of Arthur's fast pitches. In one episode, he's even hired because he looks like an incompetent. However, there's something in Dennis Waterman's expressions that lets viewers know he's got something on the ball as he deals with "bloody Arthur," even before he switches into a more Rockfordesque mode of thinking. There's another big difference between Terry McCann and Jim Rockford, since Terry's an ex-boxer and isn't reluctant to brawl.
George Cole's purpose as Arthur Daley is to volunteer Terry's services to friends in trouble, and to serve as a comic relief annoyance, a smarter version of Angel Martin. Arthur stands and watches, commenting, when Terry's in a fight, he's always trying to cheat Terry (and everyone else) out of a few quid, and he's ready to turn a client over to the baddies in "A Tethered Goat" to save his own skin. In fact, IMDb notes that in England, a dishonest person is pulling an "Arthur Daley." Despite all that, he has friends who'd turn to him in times of trouble, and when Terry sticks with him it doesn't seem totally preposterous. At the same time, when Arthur gets a taste of his own medicine—a fast pitch from someone else, his warehouse full of dodgy goods heisted, or a beautiful woman making a sucker of him—it makes for some of the best moments of the season.
This is a show from the '70s, so you'll find that the picture has faded a bit. There's also the occasional fleck and one freeze-up. The music, both in the theme and in the action and foreshadowing scenes, can be irritatingly loud, but I think that's how it was originally. This was the '70s, after all.
There's one extra, a photo gallery. That's nice for existing fans, but newcomers (most of the potential audience) would have preferred more background on the characters and actors, even in text features.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At this point, Minder seems agreeable but very familiar. I'm aware that the series continued into the '90s, so it probably developed over several years. Existing fans will probably snap this up anyway, but I suspect that, as with the recent release of Callan, starting with a later season might have been more to the point for newcomers.
Also, the occasional bare butt or breast could be a distraction for anyone who's just looking for retro comfort food. I suspect that, without the bits of nudity, Minder would have turned up stateside, at least on PBS stations. If you don't want that extra spice in your old-fashioned comfort food TV, just turn on USA Network instead.
Minder hardly made for revolutionary television, but the first season could grow on you. Dennis Waterman and George Cole are an appealing comedy team, and Terry and Arthur even rise to heroism on occasion. Just as you'll recognize bits of The Rockford Files in Minder, you'll also recognize bits of Terry and Arthur in Lovejoy and other more recent British series. That makes it worth a look for devotees of British TV, or anyone looking for a taste of the era that inspired Life on Mars.
Not guilty, but don't let Arthur Daley anywhere near your money.
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