Positioning was everything for Simon & Simon. What could have been just another in a seemingly endless supply of new series that never catch on with the public, fading away without the slightest fanfare, was saved at the last minute when CBS decided to give it one more try, and change its air night. Originally premiering on Tuesday nights at 8:00 PM, the easy-going detective series was getting killed in the ratings against the still potent line-up of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, both of which still occupied the bottom of the Top 20 Nielsen ratings. In April of 1982, as a last ditch, CBS put Simon & Simon on after Magnum, P.I., the hit Thursday night detective show that had recently taken a small hit in the ratings in its second year. Ratings immediately shot up for both shows, and CBS had a proven new night of hits on Thursday for the upcoming 1982 - 1983 season. Simon & Simon went from the basement of the Nielsen's in its first year, to 7th for the 1982 - 1983, and stayed on the air for a total run of seven and a half years.
If you turn on cable today, it seems like Simon & Simon is on all the time; reruns run almost every four hours or so, it seems, on the Sleuth Channel. So it's easy to just bypass it; after all, who cares if you miss it? It will be on again and again and again. I remember catching it when it aired that first season (who wanted to watch Fonzie be a teacher on Happy Days, or Laverne and Shirley cavort around in Burbank, California?), and liking its laid-back style. It was good counter-programming for the inanities going on over at ABC. Watching it now, it still has a cool, semi-funky feel to it, particularly the very first few episodes, which really emphasized the Southern California atmosphere of the proceedings.
Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker played Rick and A.J. Simon, two "odd couple" brothers who team up as partners in a struggling private investigation business in San Diego, California. A.J. was the uptight, well-dressed preppy younger brother who kept the business (and his brother) on an even keel. It was an uphill battle, though, considering the handful that Rick was. Friends with various small-time crooks on both sides of the border, Rick wore (for 1981) "funky" clothes such as big belt buckles, plaid work shirts, leather jacket, boots, and big cowboy hats, usually with a feather hat band, along with his ubiquitous black aviator shades. Rick didn't want to work, and only did so when he needed money for his house boat or truck; A.J. wanted to grow the business, and become as respectable as their neighbor and rival detective agency, Peerless Detective Agency, run by loudmouth Myron Fowler (Eddie Barth). Myron's gorgeous, statuesque daughter Janet (Jeannie Wilson), often helped the boys with their investigations, while occasionally maintaining a flirtatious relationship with Rick.
Unfortunately, the original pilot from 1978, Pirate's Key, isn't included in Simon & Simon: Season One. Set in Florida instead of California, it may have shed some more light on the relationship between the brothers, as well as giving an indication of the initial direction of the show. As it is, the first episode for this season, Details at Eleven, is listed in the menu as the pilot, and it does have a more varied approach than subsequent episodes, with a great deal more set-ups and location work (especially in Tijuana). It also has a more laid-back approach to the characters and the plots that will gradually fade away during the rest of this and subsequent seasons, with Simon & Simon becoming more of a generic action show, than the little character-driven mystery show it was at first. Indicative of this gradual change is the switch over to a new theme song after the first season. The first theme is a charming little mix of Jimmy Buffet/mariachi band/Burt Bacharach-inspired (particularly Butch Cassidy) themes by Barry De Vorzon. Along with the cool little theme is an opening photo-montage credit sequence of stills that almost resemble Viewmaster shots of the leads. By the second season, this theme is abandoned for a straight ahead rock and roll theme that's now associated with Simon & Simon. But I miss that funky little groove; it summed up the hazy kind of So-Cal feeling that the show originally had (oddly, the new theme is included on Episode Four on this set -- with no explanation for this). By the end of Simon & Simon: Season One, the show feels more and more like other TV detective series, with big explosions and the same sets used over and over again. Still, it has the unfamiliar San Diego locales that are a welcome relief from the overused L.A. ones, and the natural chemistry between McRaney and Parker, that make Simon & Simon: Season One a good bet for some entertaining TV watching.
Here are the 11 episodes of Simon & Simon: Season One:
Details at Eleven
It's breaking news for the boys when the relative of a TV anchor goes missing.
Rick is taken for the ride of his life with a sexy coed and a stolen sports car.
It's teen trouble for A.J. and Rick when a bank manager hires them to find a precocious hacker.
A Recipe for Disaster
A.J. and Rick head south of the border to find a girl who's been kidnapped by her father.
The Least Dangerous Game
When an animal tender is murdered, A.J. and Rick go undercover as zookeepers to get on the trail of a killer.
The Dead Letter File
A letter bearing deadly news is delivered to the Simons' address 22 years too late.
The Hottest Ticket in Town
When A.J. and Rick help their cousin get in to a sold-out concert, they uncover a ticket racket that could be deadly.
Ashes to Ashes, and None Too Soon
Divorce is a killer when a man falls to his death from a hotel window after the brothers serve him papers.
The Uncivil Servant
The Simon brothers take on the I.R.S. when their main competitor hires them to find who has been stealing confidential files.
Earth to Stacey
A rich and beautiful socialite asks A.J. and Rick to track down her deadbeat fiance.
A.J.'s in for a tsunami of a surprise when evidence suggests his old surfing buddies are involved in a kidnaping.
The past and the present clash when A.J. former girlfriend begs the brothers to recover some stolen antiques.
Tanks for the Memories
A walk down memory lane takes the Simon brothers to a high school reunion and a dangerous former classmate.
Simon & Simon: Season One: looks great with nary a blemish on its picture. Shot originally on film, it makes a nice transfer for this DVD set.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English soundtrack has a good, solid base to hear all the dialogue -- just the way you heard it on your TV speaker 25 years ago(!).
The only bonus feature on Simon & Simon: Season One is a documentary on 80's TV called The Great 80's Flashback. It's not a coincidence that the shows it looks back on are largely Universal offerings such as Miami Vice and The A-Team. Some of the commentators are good, such as Ray Richmond and Alex Ben Block, but seriously -- Debbie Matenopoulos? It's frankly an insult to have her on this (not that you're going to hear anything new from anyone here, if you know even the basics of 1980s TV history). There's also a bonus episode from Season Two, The Secret of the Chrome Eagle on Disc 4. It's a nice bonus that makes you want to buy Season Two when it comes out.
Simon & Simon: Season One is a great introduction to the laid-back, funky, cool detective show that featured great star chemistry between Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker. It's a nice time capsule of the times, and really benefits from the new (at the time) use of San Diego location work. It's a comedy of oppositions, with brothers who, despite their obvious differences, always come together at the end to solve the mystery. The mysteries aren't any big surprise, but then again, you're probably not watching it for that aspect, anyway. The show didn't hang on to its individuality for long, but Simon & Simon: Season One captures the So-Cal/south of the border feel nicely. Recommended.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.