Brilliant But Cancelled: Crime Dramas
R1 - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (27th June 2006).
The Show

Television is a very competitive medium, if your show hasnít picked up decent numbers in its first few episodes that could spell cancellation. Many shows receive the axe deservedly; these shows are often badly scripted, poorly cast and occasionally badly marketed. Shows such as 1990ís Cop Rock, M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994), Baywatch Nights (1995-1997) and the god awful Renegade (1992-1997) which surprisingly went on for 5 years before someone pulled the plug, itís fair to say that most people have forgotten about these shows and will likely to continue forgetting they ever existed for years to come. However there does come a time when a TV show comes along that wows the critics, is brilliantly executed, perfectly cast and well written that for some reason or another fails to attract any viewer-ship. Recent examples are the criminally cancelled The Job (2001-2002), which thankfully gave way to Rescue Me (2004-current) and Firefly (2002-2004). Other shows that critics loved that got canned also include Johnny Staccato (1959-1960), Delvecchio (1976-1977), Gideon Oliver (1989) and Touching Evil (2004) and Universal Pictures has decided to releases these shows in a sampler disc under the banner Brilliant But Cancelled, why they chose this route rather than releasing the complete seriesí as a box Iím not quite sure?

Johnny Staccato (1959-1960)
This series lasted only one season, 27 episodes aired between September 1959 to March 1960 and featured actor/director John Cassavetes as the title character, a Jazz pianist who moonlights as a private detective. Set in New York, this noir-influenced series paid tribute to the likes of Robert Bresson and Samuel Fuller. Every episode had Johnny faced with a new crime to solve and nothing is ever quite as it seems. In this episode featured on this disc Tempted (which was the 10th episode aired) guest starred Elizabeth Montgomery of "Bewitched" (1964-1972) fame. An old friend crashes back into Johnnyís life with a valuable necklace, convinced sheís being followed for the loot, Johnny agrees to help her until the necklace can be returned to the Jewelry shop in which she works. Shadowy figures and a double-cross all make their faces shown by the end.
This is a good example of formulaic television, taking the noir genre and toning it down for TV, the story is also condensed and fells that way as an ending is quickly gotten to. The show works only for its casting and cool music, Cassavetes is perfectly cast in the lead and commands the screen. Overall itís an enjoyable show that salutes the best of noir in a limited capacity. Perhaps one day this entire series can be released on DVD.

Delvecchio (1976-1977)
Produced by legendary TV producer Steven Bochco, responsible for such shows as Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), L.A. Law (1986-1994), Doogie Howser, M.D. (1989-1993) and NYPD Blue (1993-2005) among others, Bochco produced this series in 1976 starring Judd Hirsch as the title character Detective Dominick Delvecchio. Delvecchio is a hard-nosed detective whoís studying to pass the bar exam and become a lawyer, only thing is heís failed the exam many times before and continues to hit the pavement solving crimes for the Washington Heights Precinct in Los Angeles.
In this episode Licensed to Kill which was the 16th episode to air, guest starred John Hillerman of Magnum, P.I. (1980-1988) fame as a crack doctor. When a loved one commits suicide, Delvecchio investigates and discovers foul play. This is a fairly paint-by-numbers detective series that offers no surprises, a dilemma occurs, the possible suspects are investigated, a discovery is made and an arrest at the end. The series did have an angle that was different from other paint-by-numbers crime formula, the characters were well defined and relationships explored. The main characters were fleshed out throughout the series but the show creators also managed to flesh out the minor supporting and guest characters during the episode.

Gideon Oliver (1989)
This series only lasted 4 episodes, featuring Louis Gossett Jr. as the title character, a Columbia professor of anthropology who uses his unparalleled knowledge of human behavior useful in solving puzzling crimes. The network only aired two of the four episodes when it got the axe. Sleep Well, Professor Oliver was the second episode and featured an all-star guest cast (although they werenít exactly stars back then, however they certainly are now) that includes Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, Anthony LaPaglia, a very young and nearly unrecognizable Cynthia Nixon and Tom Sizemore. In this episode Gideon investigates the mysterious death of a colleague that leads him to discover a devil worshiping cult. The series was smart and well written, however the often bizarre subject matter may have led viewers away, and Gossett Jr. is well cast as the Columbia professor and reminds us that he can still deliver a fine performance.

Touching Evil (2004)
Executive Produced by Bruce Willis, and Albert and Allen Hughes, lasting only 12 episodes, this acclaimed series followed two FBI agents from the bureauís Organized and Serial Crime Unit, a rapid response elite crime squad. Agent David Creegan (Jeffrey Donovan) returns to the bureau after a year-long psychological leave of absence. He took leave after he was nearly killed by a gunshot wound to the head. He and his partner Agent Susan Branca (Vera Farmiga) must quickly profile serial killers and bring them to justice, while Creegan struggles to remember circumstances and the man who shot him.
In this episode, the two track down kids mutilating animals and try to find the culprits before they move on from horses to people.
The show has very X-Files (1993-2002) feel to it, from the showís opening credit sequence to the mysterious and edgy Agent Creegan, a character that can almost be related to David DuchovnyĎs Fox Mulder. The show has a slick editing style to it, that can also be seen in crime shows such as CSI (2000-current) and also has a very moody, depressed look to it that fit the overall theme of the show. The acting is first rate and the writing is equally impressive, so why did this show get cancelled. I suppose the minor similarities to the X-Files may have hammered the final nail in this showís coffin.

Video

All shows are presented in their original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1, these full screen transfer vary from show to show mainly due to age, the older shows suffer from more problems than the newer ones. Below is a look at each transfer.

The transfer for Johnny Staccato certainly shows its age, the black and white images do have dirt elements and damage throughout, the image is mostly soft. The contrast between black and white is good and well balanced.

The transfer for Delvecchio is also soft and looks like a VHS transferred to digital, the colors are distressed and faded, blacks are muddy and this basically looks like a show from the 70ís, technological limitations and all.

Gideon Oliver is much better in contrast to the two previous shows, colors are well represented however the reds and oranges tend to bleed and a loss of detail is the result. The image isnít as sharp as Iíd like it to be.

Finally Touching Evil is the best transfer of the lot, the image is sharp, the colors are well balanced, blacks are deep and bold, and shadow detail is consistently good throughout. Considering this is a fairly recent show you can expect a high quality transfer and thatís what you get here.

Audio

Each show contains an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, all tracks are fine and present the dialogue without distortion, the track for Touching Evil is as expected the best of the lot, itís quite dynamic for a mono track. The others all lack depth but considering little action takes place and dialogue is king a mono track is all that is entirely necessary for these shows.
Optional subtitles are also included in English for the hearing impaired for each of these episodes.

Extras

Universal have included no other content on this disc other than a collection of bonus trailers:
- "Brilliant but Cancelled" promo which runs for 48 seconds.
- "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" the complete series on DVD which runs for 37 seconds.
- "Columbo" Seasons 1-4 on DVD which runs for 58 seconds.
- "Murder She Wrote" seasons 1-3 on DVD which runs for 45 seconds

Overall

Iím not entirely sure why Universal chose to releases these episodes together on this Ďsamplerí under the banner Brilliant but Cancelled. Perhaps they didnít have enough faith in their own shows to release the complete seasons on DVD? Whatever the case may be if youíre in anyway curious about these shows then by all means pick this up, otherwise if youíre a fan of any of these shows itís best to wait for a proper series release.

Shows:
- Johnny Staccato B-
- Delvecchio C
- Gideon Oliver B+
- Touching Evil B+
Picture:
- Johnny Staccato B-
- Delvecchio C
- Gideon Oliver B-
- Touching Evil A
Sound:
- Johnny Staccato B
- Delvecchio B
- Gideon Oliver B
- Touching Evil A

The Show: B- Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: F Overall: C

 


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