Monday, September 18, 2006

The Screaming Mimi

I picked up the first season of "Riptide", one of a number of Stephen J. Cannell productions being released by the Canadian company VEI. If you like these shows, like "Hardcastle and McCormick" and "Stingray" (coming soon, according to the booklet), consider ordering them from; there are no extras, but the picture quality is pretty good considering that these were fairly low-budget shows (or more specifically all the money went for the stunt work), and unlike the U.S. releases of Cannell shows, there don't appear to be any music changes.

I wasn't particularly familiar with "Riptide" before this, and after watching the first season I have to say it's not one of my favorite Cannell shows. Of course with any of Cannell's self-produced shows (even the critically-acclaimed ones like "Profit" and "Wiseguy") you have to make allowances for less-than-beautiful production values and weak guest performances. But the funny writing usually carries them through; as I've said before, what sets Cannell productions apart from other action shows of the '80s is that Cannell specialized in the injection of character comedy into otherwise standard action plots.

But to get the character comedy, you need good characters. "The Rockford Files" had great regular characters and (because it was a Universal production) had access to a lot of really strong guest performers; it therefore was Cannell's best show because it had the most opportunities for strong character comedy. Among the self-produced shows, "The Greatest American Hero" and "The A-Team" had some weak plots and guest characters, but had a strong core of distinctive and funny regular characters who could provide the basis for the comedy. (The weak Cannell stuff is the stuff where the main characters aren't funny at all; his novels strike me as falling into this category.) "Riptide" comes off as a weak effort, then, because the main characters really aren't distinctive enough to create solid comedy; in fact, two of them -- the two beach bums played by Joe Penny and Perry King -- are really the same character writ twice, and a lot of their scenes together fall apart because neither one has any distinctive character traits; without character differences, whether it's the mild differences of Rockford and his father or the huge differences of Ralph Hinckley and Bill Maxwell, you can't get a lot of funny scenes. (Though they occasionally pull off a funny scene with some overlapping dialogue, but even when arguing, they're basically two identical people.) So what you're left with instead are the plots, which are nothing much to speak of, and a whole lot of helicopter chases and cars flipping over.

The other thing I forgot is that Anne Francis was supposed to be a regular on the show, as the hard-boiled skipper of a tour boat; she was even in the opening credits for a while even though she only appeared in the pilot and one other episode. I guess the idea at the time was that a show like this needed a familiar TV name -- like Brian Keith or George Peppard -- but Francis didn't last on this one, and it became still another '80s action show with no female regulars.

TV DVD Reviews has more on the show as well as a brief review of a U.S. DVD release.

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