Warner Archive shows terrific instincts in gambling that releasing the rarely seen but beyond-awesome James Garner Western-comedy "Nichols," which Unreal TV gave one of its best ever reviews, roughly one month ago would increase the demand for Archive's recent DVD release of the third season of Garner's earlier Western comedy "Maverick."
Fans of Garner's subsequent series "The Rockford Files" are sure to love these variations on the Garner's portrayal of Jim Rockford.
The 1957-62 hit "Maverick," which won the 1959 Emmy for Best Western Series, was very clever in many ways. First, mostly dividing the series' focus between the anthology-style adventures of Garner's Bret Maverick and Jack Kelly's Bart Maverick facilitated simultaneously filming two episodes. Second, the scope of the stories was broad enough to appeal to every member in the family during an era in which most households with a television only had one set. Third, the writing was unusually sharp for any series of any genre.
"Maverick" also benefited from a very catchy theme song with references to a "tall dark stranger" who lived on "jacks and queens" that equally applied to Bret and Bart.
The following clip, courtesy of You Tube, is of this theme song accompanied by great still photos that convey the awesome spirit of this show.
The season premiere titled "Pappy" has every element of a classic "Maverick" episode. It involves the brothers working together, features well-known guest stars in the form of Troy Donahue as a dreamy but dumb-as-a-post late-teens character and Adam West as a dandy, and overall revels in the fun that makes "Maverick" so great.
The plot of "Pappy" has Donahue's character riding into town to announce that the Mavericks' oft-quoted father is engaged to a much-younger woman from a wealthy family. This prompts the group to investigate the motives of every affected individual.
The real fun starts when the audience sees Garner playing the dual roles of Bret and Pappy and engaging in the best doppelganger bantering this side of "The Patty Duke Show." These scenes show that two Garners are not too much.
The multiple twists maintain a fast pace but are believable, Donahue's performance showcases his star quality, and introducing Pappy's brother in the second half of the episode contributes a great deal to the fun. The listing for this character in the closing credits keeps the whimsy going in the same way as listing "Pandora" as the actress who portrays free-spirited Serena on the '60s sitcom "Bewitched."
The episode titled "The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot" is especially noteworthy if only because it involves coercing Bret into being the sheriff of a town ala his titular character in "Nichols" suffering the same fate. Independent of that, the circumstances that lead to that shotgun appointment are very funny. Other great humor comes from the non-violent ways that Bret keeps the peace and (once again) gets conned by a pretty face.
"Sheriff" is also one of the "very special" episodes in which the Maverick brothers team up.
Another Bret episode titled "A Flock of Trouble" puts a wonderfully hilarious spin on the traditional Western tale of the battle between cattlemen and sheep farmers. This one starts with Bret's deal making him the unwitting owner of a sheep farm and having to use all his brains and charm to simultaneously avoid the wrath of the townsfolk and consummate a deal for the sale of his flock.
A fun element of this episode is that it is the first of at least two episodes in which an adorable shaggy dog guest stars. The Internet is no help regarding determining is this is the same actor who plays family dog Tramp on the '60s sitcom "My Three Sons."
One of Bart's best episodes, which is titled "Iron Hand," has his deal to safely escort a herd of cattle to market despite threats posed by rustlers and an especially enterprising Indian (no 'Native Americans' in 1959). The complications come especially fast and furious even for a "Maverick" episode, and seeing the fair maid of the week successfully pull some blatant frauds and manipulations on a lovesick Bart is very amusing.
The season finale provides Garner a great sendoff; this one has him playing cat-and-mouse with a serial bank robber and his gang. Garner truly is at his best, and this episode has some of the best humor of the season.
The frontier justice verdict regarding "Maverick" is that it is good enough to make a Western fan out of anyone, including Gen Xers who chose cartoon and sitcom reruns over "oaters" as their after-school fare.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Maverick" or "Nichols" is encouraged to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.