Retro Television Reviews: Half Nelson 1.3 “The Deadly Vase”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Fridays, I will be reviewing Half Nelson, which ran on NBC from March to May of 1985. Almost all nine of the show’s episodes can be found on YouTube!

The pilot for Half Nelson was pretty good!  Now, let’s see if this rest of the show lived up to its promise.

Episode 1.3 “The Deadly Vase”

(Directed by Alan Cooke, originally aired on March 29th, 1985)

I cannot escape Robert Reed.

Seriously!  Robert Reed is one of those actors who seems to show up every week in my retro television reviews.  If he wasn’t starring in The Brady Bunch Hour, he was guesting on The Love Boat or Fantasy Island.  And now, he’s the guest villain in this week’s episode of Half Nelson!

Reed, with his graying perm and his aging porn star mustache, plays Seymour Griffith.  Griffith is a fabulously wealthy Beverly Hills attorney who is planning on becoming even more wealthy by stealing a valuable vase and selling it to a crooked antiques dealer named Morgan (Cesar Romero).  Unfortunately, while stealing the vase, Griffith kills the owner.  (Griffith is also having an affair with the dead man’s wife.)  Somewhat inconveniently, for Griffith, the dead man was a client of the Beverly Hills Patrol!  Rocky Nelson is on the case, both because he’s romantically pursuing the dead man’s daughter (Michelle Johnson) and also because Rocky believes in justice.

This week’s villains

The tone of The Vase is notably different from the pilot that preceded it.  The Pilot had its comedic elements (such as Rocky continually borrowing famous cars from the studio) but it was ultimately fairly serious and it even ended on something of a down note, with Police Chief Parsons (George Kennedy) committing suicide rather than face justice for the murders that he committed.  In the pilot, Rocky was definitely out-of-place as a New Yorker in Los Angeles but, at the same time, he was finding his way around his new town and learning how to fit in.

The Vase, on the other hand, reimagines Rocky as a short, Italian version of Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop.  Chester (Fred Williamson), who was a supportive boss in the pilot, is suddenly a bit uptight about Rocky investigating a crime in Beverly Hills.  He even sends his newest recruits, Kurt and Beau (played by Bubba Smith and Hang Time‘s Dick Butkus), to follow Rocky around Beverly Hills and make sure that Rocky doesn’t offend any rich people with his New York attitude.  This episode pretty much just duplicates the plot of Beverly Hills Cop.  During one car chase, The Heat Is On plays on the soundtrack and it’s hard not to notice that the other musical cues are almost identical to the ones heard in Beverly Hills Cop.

Smith and Butkus aren’t the only new members of the cast.  Dependable character actor Gary Grubbs joins the show as Detective Hamill, who is far less a fan of Rocky’s than Parsons was.  Hamill shows up long enough to order Rocky to stay off the case and to get growled at by Rocky’s pit bull.  Hamill also gets to have a conversation with Dean Martin about whether or not Frank and Sammy and Shirley MacClaine would be willing to do a benefit for the Beverly Hills police department.  Dean is only onscreen for a few minutes but it’s still nice to see him there.

Joe Pesci, who was so strong in the pilot, spends most of this episode looking more than a little annoyed so I’m going to guess that he may not have been happy with the show’s new direction.  About the only time Pesci seems to be having fun is when Rocky is hired to play a hot dog in a commercial.  The director of the commercial is played by Donald O’Connor and yes, Pesci does wear a hot dog costume.

Joe Pesci getting dressed up like a hot dog pretty much saved this episode as the mystery itself was fairly bland and Robert Reed never really felt like a worthy opponent to Rocky.  Hopefully, next week’s episode will be a bit of an improvement …. or, at least, let’s hope the show finds another excuse to put Joe Pesci in a hot dog costume.

Film Review: Murder Mystery 2 (dir by Jeremy Garelick)

Four years ago, Nick and Audrey Spitz (Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston) solved a convoluted murder mystery and became minor celebrities.  Nick quit his job with the NYPD.  Audrey quit her job as a hairdresser.  They opened up their own private detective agency.

Unfortunately, as a narrator explains to us at the start of Murder Mystery 2, things haven’t gone smoothly for Nick and Audrey.  They’ve struggled to establish themselves as detectives.  In fact, Nick doesn’t even have a P.I. license because he has yet to pass the exam and he balks at having to actually study criminology.  While Audrey tries to convince him to, at the very least, read a book on kidnapping, Nick is more concerned with coming up with cute business cards.  His big idea to combine the traditional business card with floss and a razor.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to use a business card to take care of my teeth but maybe that’s just me.

When Nick and Audrey are invited to an exclusive wedding, it’s a chance for them to reacquaint themselves with Vikram (Adeel Akhatar) and Colonel Ulenga (John Kani), both of whom were featured in the first Murder Mystery.  When Vikram is kidnapped and one of his bodyguards is murdered, it’s a chance to Nick and Audrey to once again prove that they’re capable of solving a crime.  When former MI6 agent-turned-security consultant Captain Miller (Mark Strong) literally emerges from the sea and takes over the investigation, it’s a chance to Audrey to meet one of her heroes and for Nick to get a little jealous.  And when the action moves to France, it’s an excuse for the film’s cast and crew to hang out in Paris for a few weeks.

I enjoyed the first Murder Mystery, which was a surprisingly sweet and funny comedy that showcased Sandler and Aniston’s chemistry while also make good use of Sandler in one of his more likable comedic roles.  Like all Sandler characters, Nick may be something of a manchild but he’s not deliberately destructive.  He means well.  The first film’s mystery was enjoyably convoluted and a lot of the humor came from just how out of place Sandler and Aniston were in an Agatha Christie-style whodunit.

Murder Mystery 2, unfortunately, it not quite as much fun as the first film.  A huge part of the problem is that Nick and Audrey are no longer amateur detectives who are both shocked and secretly thrilled to be solving an actual murder.  Now, they’re professional (if somewhat incompetent) detectives.  The first film had a sweet subtext about Sandler trying to prove that he was as good a detective as thought he was.  He had something to prove, to both his wife and to himself.  In the second film, the emphasis is more on action than humor.  Suddenly, Sandler and Aniston are engaging in high-speed car chases and battles atop the Eiffel Tower.  It all feels a bit mechanical and, much as with his direction of The Binge, director Jeremy Garelick often seems to just be going through the motions.

On the plus side, Sandler and Aniston still have their chemistry and both of them still know how to make an otherwise corny joke work.  Jennifer Aniston gets to wear a lot of really pretty outfits and Adam Sandler gets a memorable scene where he tries to convince himself that he can jump over a moat.  There’s a genuinely funny moment towards the end of the film, when a character unrelated to the mystery randomly shows up and interrupts a tense showdown.  Even though I wish the film had done a bit more with character, Mark Strong also seems to be having parodying his own image.  There are moments of Murder Mystery 2 that are actually pretty amusing, though I think chuckled more than I actually laughed out loud.  Ultimately, though, Murder Mystery 2 is rather forgettable.

Live Tweet Alert: Join #FridayNightFlix for Fire And Ice!


As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, I am involved in a few weekly live tweets on twitter.  I host #FridayNightFlix every Friday, I co-host #ScarySocial on Saturday, and I am one of the five hosts of #MondayActionMovie!  Every week, we get together.  We watch a movie.  We tweet our way through it.

Tonight, at 10 pm et, #FridayNightFlix has got 1983’s Fire and Ice!

If you want to join us this Friday, just hop onto twitter, start the movie at 10 pm et, and use the #FridayNightFlix hashtag!  It’s a friendly group and welcoming of newcomers so don’t be shy.

Fire and Ice is available on Prime and Tubi!  See you there!