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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

'Spenser for Hire' S1 DVD: Macgyveresque Brainy Brawny Beantown Hero

Spenser For Hire(85-86)
The exceptional synergy between the '80s detective action-adventure series "Spenser for Hire" and Warner Archive makes one wonder why it took some years after Archive picked up the slack that former Warner vintage DVD division Rhino left before coming to the recent six-disc release of the 1985-86 first season of this three-season series.

The following clip, courtesy of You Tube, of the opening segment in the "Spenser" pilot provides a sense of both the Bostonness and '80s vibe of the series.



Having veteran TV hunk/tough guy Robert Urich play the titular private eye and Avery Brooks, who would go onto play Captain Benjamin Sisko on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," play the even tougher Hawk alone screams for this set being released in 2010 at the latest.

The theme of Spenser is that this MacGyver-like '80s style hero is highly educated and a gourmet cook. His more formal prior professions include boxer and police officer. He also shares the MacGyver characteristic of mostly being known solely by his last name.

Also like fellow ABC hero "Mac," the adventures in which Spenser engages commence either with a mission that he chooses to accept or through equally arguable being at the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time. Either way, this modern-day champion for goodness springs into action and almost always saves both the day and the "innocent" of the week.

The pilot, which Archive presents in its original two-hour TV-movie format, immediately sets the tone of "Spenser" by opening with a scene of the Boston subway system, known as either the MBTA or "T," that is vivid enough to evoke thoughts of the year-round humidity and stench of urine that still pervades many stations in that system.

Other favored Boston locales in the first season include Copley Square locations, the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market area, and the especially historic North End that is home to some of the best ever Italian bakeries. (A note to tourists is that making "Fat Tony" jokes in that area is ill advised.)

The not-so-strong storyline behind that virtual tour of the subway system is Spenser attempting to help a former teen prostitute escape the clutches of crime boss King Powers, whom Chuck "The Rifleman" Connors plays in a wonderfully campy manner.

Spenser's heroics in that regard prompt Connors to unleash his "hounds," including Hawk, on our hero; the tactics of some of these hired guns is particularly cruel and senseless. In the case of Hawk, the experience transforms a relatively casual friendship into a beautiful one that becomes one of the best bromances in television history.

The better storyline, which is more typical of a "Spenser" episode,  involves a wealthy businessman hiring Spenser to find his missing wife. Spenser making it clear at the outset that he is willing to locate the absent spouse but will not divulge her location without her permission is an early illustration of the chivalrous code by which he lives.

Fairly predictably, the search of Spenser leads to intrigue that extends beyond the circumstances regarding the flight of the subject of his inquiry. This aspect of the episode has its own silly elements but makes for entertaining '80s style television.

Like many series, the first regular episode of "Spenser" better represents the series. The aspects of this includes having Spenser move into the former firehouse that serves as his home. The "Ghostbusters" element of living in a firehouse and the "Vegas," which is the series for which Urich arguably is best known, aspect of having Spenser park his car in his living space add great fun to the show.

This unusual residence additionally provides another "MacGyver" element in that that hero lives on a houseboat throughout most of the series.

The mission this time is protecting a witness whom the mob does not want to make it into the courtroom. Although not one of the strongest in the series, the primary twist is a creative one.

A latter episode combines the elements of Spenser stumbling onto a case and being hired to solve one. Our hero arriving on the scene in the midst of an apparent robbery leads to the cliched (but humorously presented) plot of the young sister of the victim hiring Spenser to get to the bottom of the matter. This one has an unexpected fun camp element that is too amusing to spoil.

The season ends with a wonderful episode that provides a slight change of pace in that it has Spenser entering full crusader mode to uncover the truth regarding a tragic accident at a public housing complex. The terrific noir elements, which includes government corruption and setting a patsy up for a fall, make this one stand out.

The solution to the mystery regarding the merits of "Spenser" S1 is that it is well worth viewing; seeing the late Robert Urich in one of his best roles, a pre-Sisko Avery Brooks do his best '70s style hardened enforcer act, and the copious scenes of a pre Big Dig Boston add to the stories that are at their best when sublime and their most amusing when they are ridiculous.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Spenser" is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.