Back

SPENSER: FOR HIRE

         

For Hicksflicks.com, Sept. 19, 2014

Robert B. Parker's Spenser (no first name, please) is a late-20th century Boston gumshoe, a former boxer, a former cop, a gourmet cook and as literate as a college professor.

He's also a frustrated but self-satisfied comedian, as demonstrated by his constant stream of wisecracks that are mostly, but not always, appropriate to the occasion.

Whether the 1985 TV series based on Parker's character captures him well or misses the boat has been debated for decades by fans of the books and fans of the show — but one thing's for sure: "Spenser: For Hire" has been missing in action too long.

The three-season series, starring a post-"Vega$" Robert Urich as Spenser, has never been on home video in any form. Until now.

Warner Archive has, out of the blue, released the first season on DVD, and fans couldn't be more delighted. In fact, Warner Archive, a manufacture-on-demand website, is so sure "Spenser: For Hire" will be a big seller that more-than-the-usual-number of copies have been run off in advance.

The pilot episode, a feature-length TV movie titled "Promised Land," is based on Parker's novel of the same title, which was No. 4 in the Spenser series and introduced the character of Hawk, a tough-guy sidekick played by Avery Brooks (who would go on to captain "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine").

        

  Avery Brooks, left, Ron McLarty, Robert Urich, Barbara Stock, 'Spenser'

The rest of the series went off on its own, ignoring Parker's string of best-selling novels that began in 1973 and have continued beyond the author's 2010 death, with Ace Atkins continuing the series, each new title being preceded by "Robert B. Parker's."

Other characters from the books that made it to the TV series are Boston cops Lt. Quirk (Richard Jaeckel) and Sgt. Belson (Ron McLarty), along with Spenser's psychologist girlfriend Susan Silverman (Barbara Stock).

None of them is quite how Parker created them but the character that suffers the most is Susan, a strong, intelligent woman with whom Spenser forms a strong bond. They aren't married but they act like it in the books. In the show, it's more the occasional-girlfriend treatment so familiar in TV crime shows of the 1980s.

       

Urich as 'Spenser,' during Boston location shooting (in more ways than one).

Having said that, the first season of "Spenser: For Hire" is still well worth catching, whether or not you've read any of the books.

Urich is charming and witty (he starred in a dozen TV series and would later land a prominent role in "Lonesome Dove"), and Brooks is appropriately intimidating — and the use of Boston locations helps tremendously.