Thursday, June 05, 2014

Homage? Spoof? Or Both?

(Last month I had the privilege of breakfasting with author Linwood Barclay, while he was in Seattle vacationing with his wife. Among the subjects we discussed was his fondness for Rap Sheet posts about vintage TV shows. So this one’s for you, Linwood.)

It lasted only five months, and left behind a scant 14 episodes, but the 1980 ABC-TV private-eye series Tenspeed and Brown Shoe lives on brightly in the memories of some small-screen viewers--a cult detective show, if ever there was one. On several occasions, while gabbing with my fellow crime-fiction readers at Bouchercons or other conventions, Tenspeed and Brown Shoe has been mentioned as a program that was killed off much too soon, the suggestion being that it could’ve been a classic, had it been given a longer run and even more network support. As Kevin Burton Smith writes on The Thrilling Detective Web Site, “It was a class act--its clever dialogue and slightly loopy plots even earned it an Edgar Award nomination from the Mystery Writers of America in 1981.”

In his Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994), William L. DeAndrea synopsizes the concept of that hour-long “dramedy” thusly:
E.L. “Tenspeed” Turner (Ben Vereen) was a hustler, a con man who needed a job to stay out of jail. Lionel Whitney (Jeff Goldblum) was a brown-shoed square, a stockbroker who cherished fantasies of a life as a Sam Spade-like private eye, the fantasies fueled by novels credited to one “Stephen J. Cannell,” the actual creator of the show and featuring tough private eye Mark Savage … Cannell’s picture was on the back of the novels, as well. Tenspeed and Brown Shoe opened an agency [in Los Angeles] and went to work fighting crime.
It’s been a long time since I watched any episodes of Tenspeed and Brown Shoe. (A DVD set of that series was released in 2010, but I didn’t purchase a copy.) Just recently, however, I stumbled across the complete 90-minute pilot film on YouTube, and sat down to revisit this “first series to come from Stephen J. Cannell Productions as an independent company.” I was reminded that the show could be overly cute and too thick with schtick at times; yet there’s certainly something endearing about it. Being the persistently generous sort, I decided the film needed to be shared with all Rap Sheet readers. Simply click here to watch the full pilot, in seven parts. An above, I have embedded the main title sequence from the series.


Naomi Johnson said...

So glad you shared this. I'm one of those with fond memories of the show.

Ed Gorman said...

One of my all-time favorite shows. Some of Steven Cannell's best dialogue. I remember Brownshoes talking to his mother about why he wanted to call his engagement off. Pretty good reasons--his fiance was consistently unfaithful and thought he was a dweeb. His mom, eager to get him married off, said these were just superficial things and they'd work themselves out jes fine their married years. Uh-huh.