ABC (Thursday, March 21, 9 p.m. ET)
Almost a third of prime time is already filled with shows starring good guys—detectives, cops or vigilantes—who track down bad guys. Now a trendy twist has been added to the private-eye show: Suddenly the stars don’t have to be handsome customers of health clubs as in Remington Steele or Magnum, P.I.; their gumshoes no longer need be Italian. TV discovered that the elderly could solve crimes, too. Enter Murder, She Wrote, starring the old reliable, lovable Angela Lansbury as a New England novelist who cracks cases in her spare time. That worked so well that CBS copied itself with Crazy Like a Fox, starring old reliable, lovable Jack Warden as another private eye. And now ABC is copycatting with Eye to Eye, starring old reliable, lovable Charles Durning as a semi-retired private eye in Hollywood. He’s the sort of guy who still calls women “honey” and “doll,” but he’s too sweet to be called sexist. Into his life pops Stephanie Faracy as the daughter of his former and suddenly dead partner. Together they solve Dad’s murder. Like many mystery shows, this one revolves around a partnership with one who’s nuts and one who’s not. In Eye to Eye, Durning is the sane one—a member of the church choir, even. So Faracy is the oddball. She can’t hold a job—as a real estate agent, a talent agent or a Smokenders instructor. She knows the map to the stars’ homes by heart and, in a chase scene, heads off the bad guys not at the pass but at Burt Reynolds’ house. She has just enough quirks to drive Durning nuts for a season. With his chubby kind of charisma, Durning makes Eye to Eye charming, even entertaining. It’s good TV. Its only sin is the company it keeps: yet another good-guy mystery show, yet another old-guy private eye. It’s been said before that TV makes a living cloning itself until its genes are so diluted it’s forced to find something new to put on the air. And that’s still true: TV plays it safe, and that’s boring. So it’s no wonder that such hosannas are raised on those rare occasions when a network does come up with something other than a pale photocopy—a Miami Vice, a Hill Street Blues, a Cosby. It’s a shame that a decent show like Eye to Eye gets lost in the crowd and met with a yawn because it looks like too many other shows you’ve seen too often.