The recent Warner Archive DVD release of the complete series of the 1981-82 Western comedy "Bret Maverick" ALMOST outshines the similar uber-awesome (and Unreal TV reviewed) James Garner series "Nichols." These shows, along with the original (and also favorably reviewed) original "Maverick" series are terrific enough to make a Western fan out of anyone.
"Bret" is both a wonderful treat for fans of titular star James Garner from the original series and the type of show that one would have hoped that Alan Alda would have made after finishing his 11 year run on "M*A*S*H." Seeing Dr. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce practice family medicine and challenge boneheaded bureaucracy in his hometown of Crabapple Cove, Maine would have been spectacular.
Although "Bret" premieres 20 years after our hero last quietly rides off into the sunset on "Maverick," the setting suggests that no more than a decade has passed in his life. The pilot has this renowned gambler riding into the frontier town of Sweetwater for the 19th century equivalent of the World Series of Poker.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of an episode preview and the opening credits of "Bret" offer a look at the blend of action and humor in the series. Further, this theme (which co-star Ed Bruce performs) is a nice update of the theme from the original series.
In a storyline that is very typical of the original "Maverick," Bret wins big at the poker table only to have bank robbers abscond with his loot. This, of course, prompts Maverick to pursue these bad guys.
The stakes are a little higher this time because the size and nature, which includes the saloon and "pleasure palace" where the tournament occurs, of the winnings prompts Bret to semi-retire in Sweetwater.
Garner's "Nichols" and "Rockford Files" co-star Stuart Margolin shows up once more to provide comic relief. His character this time is Phil Sandeen, a shady white man whom Indians raise. (The term Native Americans is not in widespread use in the early '80s.) Garner's brother Jack, who is the Clint Howard of the Garner clan, has a supporting role as Jack the bartender.
The much more upstanding sheriff Tom Guthrie provides a nice contrast to Bret; seeing a character whom that skilled charmer cannot con is as satisfying as watching Bret do his best to bend Guthrie to his will.
A hilarious twist on a relatively common theme in which Guthrie strives to completely disarm Maverick provides one of the best scenes in the pilot and excellent material for future episodes.
Classic elements of "Maverick" also offer much of the terrific entertainment in "Bret." This primarily comes in the form of the titular character, who is now an established and reasonably upstanding member of his community, matching wits with fellow con artists who are a nice mix of rogues from his past and folks who lack knowledge of with whom they are messing.
An early episode has a former acquaintance of Bret presenting himself as a railroad executive who comes to Sweetwater to purchase land in preparation for running tracks through there. Seeing which characters get railroaded in the end is a great deal of the fun in this show.
A very special two-part episode has Maverick involve the majority of the Mayberryful of colorful townsfolk (including a comically inept deputy) in an elaborate con that targets the head of an Utopian society. The hilarious cliffhanger at the end of the first part makes this a "must-see" episode.
An even better episode involves an old con of Bret very unexpectedly coming back to haunt him; The element of upstaging also helps make it memorable.
One of the more serious "Bret" episodes includes the line that is the most hilarious from the perspective of a 2014 viewer. A cry of "wagon ho" right after Bret's presumably promiscuous love interest boards a stagecoach is fall-on-the-floor funny in modern parlance.
A brutal attack on the stage after it departs Sweetwater turns the episode dark by both the standards of the '80s and today. This event impacts the usually relatively stoic Bret hard and prompts a search for the truth that leads also comments on the attitudes of the settlers toward the Indians.
The series finale deserves a place in at least the top 100 episodes of that type. Including brief instrumental bits of the theme song from the original series, having a plot that is very true to the spirit of that earlier program, and ending with a wonderfully entertaining and surprising cameo that also pays homage to "Maverick" alone merit that status.
The series finale goes onto nicely tie up "Bret." It brings some elements back full circle to the pilot and offers a satisfying end to the story of the fast dealer and talker in the Old West.
Anyone with questions or comment regard "Bret" or "Maverick" is entitled to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.