Lifetime (Thurs., July 22, 9 p.m. ET)
Old TV shows don’t die; from Gilligan’s Island to The Brady Bunch, they keep getting reincarnated as reunion movies. The ubiquitous Robert Urich, who returns to prime time yet again next fall in CBS’s promising sitcom It Had to Be You (costarring Faye Dunaway), is back as Spenser, the tough but tender Boston shamus he played on ABC half a decade ago. This time he’s searching for a troubled runaway teenager who has become involved in prostitution. The girl’s father, a wealthy suburbanite with political aspirations, seems curiously ambivalent about her return.
The same thing that redeemed the series makes the movie worth catching: Avery Brooks, taking a break from Deep Space Nine to re-create Spenser’s sometime sidekick—the laconic, lethal Hawk. Brooks has perfected an icy glare that would stop a Doberman in its tracks. And as Susan Silverman, the sexy shrink who is Spenser’s significant other, Barbara Williams is a considerable improvement over the series’ Barbara Stock.
The film has a notable Boston flavor with locations from Faneuil Hall to Memorial Drive. And Robert Parker, author of 20 Spenser novels, wrote the script along with his wife, Joan. So the dialogue has the ring of authority, with one cavil: The street lingo is strikingly dated. The last time people were using words like “honky” or “jiving” in everyday conversation, Gerald Ford was still in the White House.
Spenser isn’t the modern-day Philip Marlowe he’d like to be. But if Perry Mason, Columbo and the like can keep recycling their tired acts, then Spenser wouldn’t make a bad perennial either.