Friday, July 26, 2013

Classic TV: 5-paragraph review of 'Crime Story' pilot

Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2: "Pilot"

ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Sept. 18, 1986

* The introduction to hard-boiled fiction comes through different authors and methods in each generation. I did not start out with a love of DONALD WESTLAKE or RAYMOND CHANDLER. I worked backwards to them. My starting point was the richly noir TV series that ran two seasons on NBC-TV from 1986-88 which is available on a nine-disc DVD set. My first SAM SPADE or PHILIP MARLOWE archetype was LT. MIKE TORELLO (), a grim-faced cop from the major crimes unit in Chicago, on the trail of mobster RAY LUCA () and his twitchy, cowardly sidekick PAULI TAGLIA () circa 1963.

* The two-part pilot feels cinematic. The series opens as thieves armed with shotguns knock over a high-class nightclub. Torello and his fellow detectives load up in a massive sedans with tall fins and grills that look like growling steel monsters. They race to the scene across rain-soaked streets with black fedoras pulled tightly on their heads. Pauli, the getaway driver, panics when he hears the cops are en route over the police radio. He speeds away without his pals. The robbers run back inside and take hostages.

* We see Torello and his men inside their sedan. They silently load their weapons. A shotgun racks a shell. The slide of a 1911 Colt .45 slams into position. Police surround the club. The robbers demand money and safe passage to the airport. Torello gives them a squad car. They take three hostages with them. Torello warns the leader before the pull away: "Hey you. You hurt anybody else, when this is over, I'm gonna find what you love the most and I'm gonna kill it. Your mother, your father, your dogdon't matter what it is, it's dead."

* The chase is a rolling gun battle. The kidnappers try to throw one of the women hostages out the back window. Torello's car zips up beside them and blasts the driver in the head. The car rolls out of control and smashes into a house. A foot chase ensues through a neighborhood's alleyways. An old lady trips a fleeing suspect with her vacuum cleaner. Torello blasts him. He takes a long, hard stare at the dead man. He spies two children overlooking the scene from a bedroom window. He walks over to window and looks at the kids. "Get down from the window," he says. And they do. Cue opening titles. DEL SHANNON'S "Runaway."

* If it sounds like I'm love, it's because I am. Whether it comes from the pages of JIM THOMPSON or ROBERT B. PARKER, or the screens of a production, this is the stuff I could watch all day. And what I described above took about 10 minutes of the series opener's 90-minute run. Mann, the man behind produced this series created by and . The conceived it as a series that would take the battle between Torello and Luca from 1963 to the 1980s. The series didn't last long enough to see the full vision completed, but what they did make is wonderful. Network TV is too callow to make something this good today. It would have to appear on AMC or FX, perhaps HBO. They'd have to do it without Farina, who died earlier this month, and had such gravitas in cop roles in part because he was once a Chicago police detective. But man, oh man, I wish somebody would at least try to make something this good in the 21st century.

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