Created By: Anthony Wilson
Starring: George Peppard, Ralph Manza, Murray Matheson and Christine Belford
Before he was Hannibal Smith of the A-Team George Peppard was Banacek, a specialist in restorations. His usual ten percent recovery fee is expensive but cheaper than the hundred percent payout that the insurance company would have to fork over if Banacek didn’t manage to “restore” their insured stolen property. Banacek’s ten percent fee finances his elegantly appointed home in Boston, his 1941 Packard convertible as well as his chauffer, Jay. The different jobs also introduce him to a string of beautiful and vulnerable women to seduce and insurance company investigators to humiliate.
Most episodes start with some valuable mcguffin getting crated up with a room full off witnesses checking out the procedure. Then somehow the mcguffin goes missing, The Insurance Company’s man in charge will bring in Banacek, much to the chagrin of the lowly insurance investigators who all resent Banacek’s compensation and independence. Generally a freelance investigator would have to wait sixty days for the insurance company to try to recover the property before he could earn a finders fee, but Banacek, the bane of the salaried insurance investigator, is so good that he gets called in immediately after the theft in every episode except the pilot. Banacek will then start his routine. He will poke around and interview all the suspects. Jay his chauffeur usually shares his opinion of how the theft was performed and Banacek will humorously shoot it down. Banack will check in with his friend Felix, the proprietor of Mulholland’s Rare Books, to gather background information on the parties involved and technical information on the stolen property or equipment that may have been used in the heist. Around this time Banacek will spout an old Polish proverb of dubious provenance, spar with the insurance company investigator some more and interview the suspects a second time maybe getting into a scuffle or two as tempers flare. About fifty minutes in Banacek will have it all figured out. In classic detective story fashion everybody will gather around the scene of the crime and Bancek will reveal how the heist happened, and show where the property was hidden and earn his ten percent. It’s formulaic and there is little variation from episode to episode.
The show was part of NBC’s Wednesday Mystery Movie and didn’t air every week. That’s why there are only eight episodes a season. That also explains the unusual length. Each episode is around an hour and ten minutes so that with commercials it would have fit its ninety minute slot. It’s not that great a show. Besides a few insurance men that pop up from time to time the only recurring characters in the first season were Banacek, Felix and Jay. The cast got a bit more regular for the second season with the addition of Carlie as a combo rival love interest. We get introduced to Carlie in the pilot but she vanishes all throughout the first season only to pop up in the second. The writing and acting and general production values are much better for the second season, but I liked the unpredictability of the cast during the first season, after all where else are you going to find David Doyle, Bosley from Charlie’s Angels, or David White, Larry Tate from Bewitched, posing as frustrated insurance executives. Throughout both seasons the guest stars are one of the main attractions, Ceasar Romero, John Saxon, Dick Van Patten, Linda Evans, Bert Convey, William Windom, and Kenn McCarthy, to name a few. If their names aren’t recognizable if you watched much TV during the seventies their faces will be. The writing, production values and even acting are spotty in the first season, but all improved for the second season, maybe they had a bigger budget or more time to spend on each episode.
It’s dangerous to assume that a TV show reflected reality at any time period but it’s still interesting to view the show as a snapshot of life in the early seventies. Banacek lights up not a cigarette in nearly every scene but a cigar. It not so much how much he or anyone else smokes it’s that he does it everywhere. Public buildings, private homes, museums, offices and there is an ashtray everywhere. Another thing that I couldn’t help but notice is how much Banacek gets around. Someone with a good imagination could even argue that he was a misogynist if he or she wanted to push the term. You never actually see him mistreat any women, actually he always acts the gentleman, if quite a forward gentleman, but when you pick up a new girl every week there’s bound to be a bit of drama going on between episodes. If you don’t want to get that deep, and I’m not sure I do, I had fun just looking at the cars on the road and parked in the streets. At least some of the scenes were shot in Boston, someone more familiar with the city may get a kick out of seeing it circa 1972, but that southern California ranch were the exteriors to nearly all TV shows and half of the movies you’ve ever scene still looks exactly the same.
The DVD is presented in a full screen format. The source material is not the best, it looks like what it is an early seventies TV show. On top of that there are a lot of compression artifacts on the first season DVDs, some scenes look like overly compressed JPEGs. Luckily the scenes with the compression problems are long shots and it doesn’t distract too much, but it’s noticeable. The second season is spread out over three DVDs instead of two and the quality is much better.
The original audio was in mono like you would expect for a show of this vintage. It’s generally good but the source material sometimes is not the greatest quality. It’s generally good but often the levels jump in the middle of a scene and the level of ambient noise jumps up and down, like they didn’t have time to ADR the whole scene and only rerecorded the worst audio, this may have been covered up somewhat by commercial breaks when it originally aired, but watching it uninterrupted the jumps can be distracting. The second season is much better about this. I suspect they had a bigger budget the second season so they either they had the time and equipment to get the sound right on set and location or they had the time to do the ADR. In spite of the issues with the first season audio the dialog is always clear and understandable and mixed well with the score. The theme is that lazy brassy, pop jazz that seemed to only exist for TV theme shows. The theme is created to Quincy Jones the first season and Henry Mancini the second.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD set comes packaged in two Amaray cases and a cardboard slip case. The artwork is eighty percent George Peppard, but it’s appropriate since he’s the main attraction of the DVD case. There’s not a lot of extras, just the pilot episode a photo gallery and some TV guide crossword puzzles that you have to print out from a computer to fill out.
I feel a little bad scoring this box set this low because I did enjoy it, but the show is not that great. It’s formulaic and the acting is mediocre, but the show has its charms. It’s like a video time capsule. I’m not familiar enough with Boston to know how much of it is shot on location, but where ever it’s shot it’s an interesting look at early seventies urban life. It’s also a lot of fun identifying the supporting cast as they drift in and out episode to episode. It’s not really worth it as straight detective show, but the time capsule aspect makes it worth picking up if your interested in that type of thing.
Overall (Not an Average) 6/10
The Movie 6/10
The Video 6/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 6/10
Overall (Not an Average) 6/10