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Ventura presents
Wiseguy: Mel Profitt Arc (Season 1 Part 2) (2000)

"Only the toes knows..."
- Mel Profitt (Kevin Spacey)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: February 10, 2004

Stars: Ken Wahl, Kevin Spacey, Joan Severance, William Russ, Jonathan Banks
Other Stars: Jim Byrnes, David Spielberg, Melanie Chartoff, Gerald anthony, George O. Petrie, Elsa Raven
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes)
Run Time: 7h:23m:06s
Release Date: December 30, 2003
UPC: 634991163323
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-BB- A

DVD Review

Wiseguy was considered a very innovative television show in the late 1980s with its use of what were called "story arcs," carrying elements of the plot over a number of episodes. Much more detail and back story could be committed to each arc and, when it worked, greater suspense was achieved. Wiseguy was created by Stephen Cannell, who has developed and written some of the most successful television franchises in television history, including The Rockford Files, Hunter, A-Team and many more. Sometimes the arc nature of Wiseguy's storyline works by providing an element outside the typical weekly series conventions, but sometimes it appears disjointed and not well planned (for example, an out-of-nowhere trip to Tennessee or the sudden unexplained turns of plot in the latter stories). Some of the episodes work marvelously, but some seem out of place in the overall picture of the tale. With a series like this you take the good with the bad.

Ken Wahl stars as Vinnie Terranova, who works for a branch of the Justice Department called the Organized Crime Bureau, or OCB. Vinnie's assignment at the beginning of the first season is to infiltrate organized crime and, after serving 18 months in prison to set his cover, Vinnie is torn between his desire to tell his ailing mother the truth about himself and wanting to go after Sonny Steelgrave's (Ray Sharkey) mob family, who were responsible for killing his training officer. He fights his way into the organization and eventually makes his bones and brings down Sonny and his organization. Vinnie is supervised by Frank McPike (Jonathan Banks), who is a unique character and a hallmark of the show. However, some of his antics are a little hard to take. Jim Byrnes plays Dan "Uncle Mike" Burroughs a.ka. Lifeguard, who has provides intelligence gathering backup and communicates with Vinnie mostly over telephone.

Independent Operator
Time: 48m:01s
Original airdate: 1/4/88
Writer: Stephen J. Cannell
Director: Aaron Lipstadt
After time to recover from the difficulty of the Steelgrave case, Frank assigns Vinnie to what seems to be a relatively low-key and routine case investigating hit man Roger Lococco (William Russ). Vinnie meets up with Roger and somewhat lamely, wins his confidence by posing as a mob hit man. Roger has the quite annoying habit of calling everyone he meets "Buckwheat" and he takes pleasure in showing off his lifestyle to Vinnie. Vinnie finds out that Roger works for Mel and Susan Profitt, a brother and sister team who run a worldwide drugs and munitions organization. At a drug orgy/party on Mel Profitt's yacht, the first episode ends with Vinnie coming face to face with Susan, played by Joan Severance, and feeling a definite attraction. Vinnie accompanies Roger on a hit for the organization and there are problems. Although more exposition than action, this episode gets Vinnie safely inside the organization and set him up as a contractor working with Lococco on security.

Fascination for the Flame
Time: 48m:31s
Original airdate: 1/11/88
Writer: Stephen J. Cannell
Director: William A. Fraker
Making his first appearance on screen in the arc is Mel Profitt (Kevin Spacey), the nutty criminal genius who sits astride the criminal organization that Vinnie has stumbled onto in his investigation of Roger Lococco. Vinnie continues both his investigation of the Profitt organization and cementing his budding relationship with Susan. Paranoid in the extreme, Mel suspects that a member of his gang, Paco Bazos (Franklyn Seales), is about to marry a plant. Insulted, Paco brings up a death squad to hit Mel. Failing that, he arranges to kidnap Susan to force Mel to give him all of their drug action, knowing that the loss of his sister would be drive Mel over the edge. Spacey chews the scenery as the mentally disturbed, drug addicted Mel who zooms from highs to lows in his global power game. The decadent lifestyle of the Profitts breaks some ground in prime time television, or as Mel says, "the idle rich are hard to entertain..."

Smokey Mountain Requiem
Time: 47m:12s
Original airdate: 1/18/88
Writer: David J. Burke
Director: Neill Fearnley
Vinnie has second thoughts about the case and meets with Lococco to tell him that he is leaving the organization. When he goes to Mel to resign, Mel offers him a chance to take over the drug operation that formed the beginning basis of his business and reveals much more about the larger picture of the organization, including the theories of Malthus. However, Vinnie must go to Tennessee with Roger and take the drug organization back from the local hard cases who have seized control. An odd episode with a lot of wasted time. It purports to import important back story, but it looks like a couple of out-of-place hit men doing very little. This episode features Rance Howard, father of actor/director Ron, as a man forced to allow Mel's gang to use his farm.

Player To Be Named Now
Time: 47m:38s
Original airdate: 1/25/88
Writer: Stephen Kronish
Director: Ron Rapiel
Mel has an obsessive desire to buy a baseball franchise and he wants to take it away from an old business associate, Eddie Van Platt (Jon Polito), who he believes cheated him in a Mexican drug deal. Oddly, Mel also wants to play for the team and he and Vinnie go for some batting practice in which Ken Wahl demonstrates some baseball experience and Kevin Spacey doesn't. Meanwhile, Vinnie is fighting his growing feelings for Susan as he is sucked deeper in the swirling chaos of the organization and Mel is becoming increasingly unhinged. Mel's feelings for Susan rise to the surface as his jealousy over her relationship with Vinnie boils over. Roger is also feeling the pressure as he loses control of his bearings when approached by an old friend (Jane Brucker). Polito was Detective Steve Crosetti for two seasons on Homicide: Life on the Streets. This episode features a great confrontation scene between Mel and Vinnie.

The Merchant of Death
Time: 47m58s
Original airdate: 2/1/88
Writer: Carol Mendelsohn
Director: William A. Fraker
Mel has a problem delivering on weapons for a Central American customer and other munitions contacts begin drying up. Mel decides to blackmail a Deputy Minister of Defense into supplying him with the weapons he needs and sets up Vinnie up to be arrested for espionage in the French Consulate. Susan is conflicted about using Vinnie in this way and ends up in bed with him. Vinnie and Susan find themselves being drawn closer together despite the obvious dangers from Mel's psychosis. Good characterizations make up for an episode that lacks in depth of plot line. Some aspects of the story are moved ahead, but mainly it is Vinnie and Susan in this one.

Not For Nothing
Time: 47m:23s
Original airdate: 2/8/88
Writer: David J. Burke & Don Kurt
Director: Bill Corcoran
Hiding out in Vancouver after the fall of the Steelgrave empire, Aldo Baglia (Robert Mangiardi) sees a photo of Vinnie in the paper and decides to get revenge with a sniper rifle. We learn more about the mysterious Roger, who uses CIA contacts to tracks down Aldo. But Aldo accidentally falls off the roof of a building before he can answer any questions, frustrating Roger's attempts to learn more about Vinnie. Upset about Vinnie being shot and his wife leaving him, McPike falls into the arms of a pretty CIA agent (Melanie Chartoff) in one of most difficult to watch seduction scenes in recent memory. Please Frank, just stick with running agent and leave the scenery alone! This episode features an interesting reach back to the previous arc, as Vinnie's chickens come home to roost and represents the beginning of the end of this arc with the appearance of Herb Ketcher (David Spielberg).

Squeeze
Time: 48m:29s
Original airdate: 2/15/88
Writer: Gina Wendkos
Director: Bill Corcoran
The visitation to Vinnie's past continues when Mel orders Vinnie to set up a meet with the mob to use his immense cocaine trade to regain financial power. With more business failures, Mel is becoming more unhinged. "I'll eat your children," he screams at a business associate who brings him bad news. Roger's suspicions of Vinnie continue and he has him checked out by his contacts. Roger learns that Vinnie is in fact an undercover agent of the OCB, but does nothing about it. McPike finds out that Lococco was once a military hero and that his file is under a special clearance. Vinnie takes Mel to Don Aiuppo (George Petrie), who arranges for the drug trafficking to be overseen by the new breed of sharp-dressed gangsters who will stop at nothing, including threatening Vinnie's mother, Carlotta (Elsa Raven). This is the hinge episode of the arc as the past and future are mixed and identities are shifting.

Blood Dance
Time: 47m:20s
Original airdate: 2/22/88
Writer: Eric Blackeney
Director: Kim Manners
Roger continues to bait Mel into funding a military coup is the Central American nation of Isle Pavot. Mel, who is quickly losing touch with reality, is convinced that their contact, Louis Cabra (Richard Portnow), has put a voodoo curse on him. He orders Vinnie to find a woman who can remove the curse and sends Vinnie into the dizzying world of the voodoo religion and power politics. The strings are being pulled in every direction in this episode.

Phantom Pain
Time: 47m:17s
Original airdate: 3/14/88
Writer: Stephen Kronish
Director: Dennis Dugan
Th police arrive with a warrant for the arrest of Susan and while she's in jail, she tells Vinnie she's pregnant with their baby. Roger sets Vinnie up for Mel's murder, then sets about driving Susan mad so he can gain control of her vast fortune to fund the Isle Pavot coup. McPike finds out the connection between Roger and Ketcher, which reinstates his interest in the case.

Dirty Little Wars
Time: 48m:04s
Original airdate: 3/21/88
Writer: David J. Burke
Director: Robert Iscove
With Mel and Susan out of the picture, Frank considers the case closed. The arc takes a complete right turn as Roger assumes his role as the leader of an Iran Contra/Bay of Pigs coup for what seems to him the "right" reasons.

Date With An Angel
Time: 48m:12s
Original airdate: 3/28/88
Writer: David J. Burke & Stephen Kronish
Director: Les Sheldon
Vinnie and Roger are subpoenaed to testify at a Senate hearing concerning Ketcher and the failed overthrow of Isle Pavot, but Vinnie refuses to testify as a mob killer and wants to appear as an OCB agent. Roger testifies, then demands to be released from protective custody after an attempt on his life. Herb Ketcher struggles with the shifting political winds in Washington D.C. as he attempts to justify his actions. This is episode is notable for containing a performance by former underage porn actress Traci Lords, who predictably plays a prostitute, but she has some less than predictable connections.

I supposed in humanizing these characters, showing their back story, and their fears, the writers run the risk of making these people who should be the finest in their profession look to be nothing more than trivial bunglers. This is true of contemporary shows such as The Agency and Line of Fire. It is amazing to think that there are so many corrupt doofuses running around in the FBI, CIA, and the fictional OCB. Er, well, with recent events I guess it is believable after all.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The video of Wiseguy is full frame and is very good for a television transfer. There is that flat videotape look, but great care has been taken to balance the colors and keep the details crisp.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Wiseguy comes with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 sound tracks. What we hear is a certainly sufficient, although rather typical, TV stereo. There is an occasional muffled quality, but overall clear with decent sound design for the home theater.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 50 cues and remote access
Packaging: Four-fold case
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus Episode: Aria for Don Auippo
  2. Episode Commentary: A Player to Be Named Later by Ken Wahl
  3. Interviews: Stephen J. Cannell, David Burke, Kevin Spacey, Joan Severance, Elsa Raven, William Russ
Extras Review: A nice assortment of extras for the release of this chunk of the Wiseguy with a couple of interview coups and a standalone bonus episode.

Bonus episode: Aria for Don Auippo (47m:47s)
A very cute little tale that continues some elements of the story begun in Squeeze. Vinnie is surprised to learn that his mother is now dating Don Aiuppo and finds himself approving of the match. The Feds intervene by deporting the aging Don or so they think. Elsa Raven stars as Vinnie's mother Carlotta and George Petrie is the Don.

Episode commentary: Ken Wahl was not interviewed for the special features but did provide a commentary for what he called his favorite episode, Player to be Named Now, the one in which he and Kevin Spacey got a chance to dress up in baseball uniforms and take batting practice. Wahl is reasonably interesting and it is fun to hear his joy and remembering his baseball days. The Wiseguy box has a prominent web link to Wahl's web site but if you visit, you find only a blank page. Yo Kenny! If you need a site, give us a call.

Interviews with:
Stephen J. Cannell (co-creator) and David Burke (executive producer) provide management insights, separately and together, into the creation and development of the second arc of Wiseguy.
Kevin Spacey (Mel Profitt) provides a lengthy history of his involvement with Wiseguy and reminisces at length about his character, fellow actors, and the show.
Joan Severance (Susan Profitt) gives the history of her casting and development of the unusual sister of the main villain.
Elsa Raven (Carlotta Terranova, Vinnie's mother) liked Ken Wahl.
William Russ (Roger Lococco) still gets called "Buckwheat."

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Wiseguy has a reputation as "smart" television. The series did rise above the vulgar norm of series television on occasion and the Mel Profitt Arc contains some of those moments. With solid, compelling performances by Kevin Spacey, Joan Severance, William Russ, and Ken Wahl making up for lapses in dramatic continuity, this series is a very entertaining piece of television.

 


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