Favorite tv shows: Wiseguy (1987-1990)

Vinnie Terranova was one cool cat. He was also conflicted, often empathizing with the criminals that he was trying take down, something that, at that time in my television watching, was new and refreshing. Wiseguy was also different in that a portion of a season (half or less, depending on the storyline) was devoted to a particular case of Terranova’s. I think this was also one of the first shows that my wife-to-be and I got into together (we have very different tastes when it comes to entertainment), often planning our Thursday nights around watching the show. Of course, every good show has its great supporting characters, and Wiseguy was no exception. I remember enjoying Jonathan Banks’s portrayal of Frank McPike (surly, but a teddy bear underneath, is what I remember), and especially Jim Byrne’s character of Lifeguard. I would know Byrnes later as the Watcher Joe Dawson in Highlander: The Series, a role I enjoyed even more.

The best case or storyline of the entire run was the first one, the Sonny Steelgrave arc. I remember really starting to like the “bad guy” and was as conflicted as Vinnie was in his betrayal of the gangster. A later stand-alone episode that dealt with Vinnie’s guilt over Steegrave’s death was particularly good. The next arc brought us Kevin Spacey in an early role, and I believe his first television appearance. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis played a total ass in the Garment Trade arc, and then there was the fourth season.

Apparently creative differences led to Wahl’s departure and the introduction of a new lead. This is usually not a good thing for a tv series, and indeed, Wiseguy was cancelled. But I did end up enjoying the new character (played by Steven Bauer) and the “search” for Vinnie. It also allowed Banks to be featured more prominently, if I recall correctly. Five years later there was a reunion movie that I watched, but wasn’t impressed with. Still, those first three seasons (really, the first) was very entertaining crime drama.

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