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.

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

  1. Geez, Pesci hitting on Michelle Johnson sounds almost as creepy as Michael Caine doing it in Blame it on Rio. Wasn’t she still a teenager??

    I’m still going to have to watch this I think, if for no other reason than the hot dog suit


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