Low-key, genial fun. When I reviewed the first season of Diagnosis Murder, I had never watched it during its original run. Being a die-hard Murder, She Wrote fan, that series pretty much filled the bill when I wanted some glossy TV mystery and suspense. And even though Diagnosis Murder isn't the equal to Angela Lansbury's monster success, it's really starting to grow on me. Diagnosis Murder has a kind of sneaking-up-on-you appeal that I would imagine was the same for all the loyal fans that kept this mid-level performer around for a healthy seven season run.
As fans of Diagnosis Murder know, the series revolves around Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke). As Chief of Internal Medicine at L.A.'s Community General Hospital, one would assume Sloan would have his hands full with just treating patients and teaching young residents, such as Dr. Jack Stewart (Scott Baio). But no; Dr. Sloan's real passion is crime solving. Working as a special consultant for the L.A.P.D., Sloan frequently works with his son, Detective Steve Sloan (Barry Van Dyke), on cases involving death by mysterious means. However, it's not unusual for Dr. Sloan to go off on his own, without the police's approval, in an effort to crack a case and track down a murderer - which often leads to danger for the sleuthing doctor. Aiding Dr. Sloan in his investigations is Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell), a pathologist at Community General, as well as Dr. Stewart. Working as Dr. Sloan's frequent nemesis is tight-fisted, dollars-obsessed Norman Briggs (Michael Tucci), the hospital administrator, while Nurse Delores Mitchell is Dr. Sloan's practical, sassy receptionist.
For its second season, CBS kept Diagnosis Murder in its graveyard Friday 8:00PM slot, on an extremely weak night overall for all four networks. Failing to improve on its numbers from the previous season (which were unspectacular to begin with), CBS canceled Diagnosis Murder at the end of the 1994-1995 season. However, a healthy response of phone calls, letters and telegrams from loyal fans convinced CBS to give the series a second chance, and it was brought back mid-season for the 1995-1996 season. For the rest of its run, Diagnosis Murder would often be either right on the chopping block, or close to it, seemingly getting a last minute reprieve every season.
This second season would see the final regular appearance of Dr. Jack Stewart, as well as Delores Mitchell. Whether or not Baio moved on once the series was initially canceled, or he was a victim of the network's retooling of the show once it went back on the air, it's a shame he didn't last longer. Watching the twenty-two episodes of Diagnosis Murder: The Second Season, Baio is a real charmer, and he has an easy way with the light comedic lines he has to deliver. He's even quite good in a few semi-serious scenes, particularly one where he bonds (sort of) with uptight Michael Tucci. He's a good contrast to the laid-back, professional ease of Van Dyke, as well as a clever romantic foil to the sexy, fun Victoria Rowell. The scripts this season continue on in the same genial, fluffy manner as the first season, providing much more slight comedy than a typical Murder, She Wrote - no doubt due to the influence of Van Dyke. I was fairly impressed by quite a few of the episodes in Diagnosis Murder: The Second Season, for their accomplished mixture of suspense and amusement. Now granted, Diagnosis Murder isn't hard-core Hitchcock (you'll figure out the murderer in the first five minutes if you've ever watched TV before), nor is it full of belly laughs ("amusing" would be a better word than outright "funny"). But it does manage to satisfy one of the most critical demands of a successful TV series: it passes the time agreeably. We don't watch a show like Diagnosis Murder to be enlightened or to be challenged. We watch to be entertained, and Diagnosis Murder: The Second Season does that surprisingly well.
Here are the 22, one hour episodes of Diagnosis Murder: The Second Season:
Many Happy Returns
Dr. Sloan's patience is taxed to the limit when he is audited by the IRS.
A Very Fatal Funeral
Several members of a charity are murdered, and Community General's administrator is the prime suspect.
A love triangle is suspected when a wealthy patient fails to keep an appointment.
The Busy Body
Dr. Sloan's spends his birthday in hot pursuit of a restless cadaver.
My Four Husbands
A celebrity friend of Dr. Sloan's becomes a suspect when one of her ex-husbands is killed.
Murder Most Vial
Community General falls under a cloud of suspicion after the death of a media mogul who threatened to sue the hospital.
You Can Call Me Johnson
Dr. Sloan becomes a target when Jack's "godfather" dies after surgery.
Georgia On My Mind
The cryptic last words of a murdered private detective are the only clue to his death.
The Last Laugh (Part 1)
There's nothing funny about the death of a plastic surgeon who may have been murdered by his wife.
The Last Laugh (Part 2)
Dr. Sloan is not amused when he learns that he has been duped during the investigation of his colleague's death.
Death by Extermination
Dr. Sloan's sister gets more than she bargained for when she buys a new home.
Standing Eight Count
A boxer goes down for the count -- permanently -- after winning a championship bout.
The Bela Lugosi Blues
Loss of blood appears to be the cause of death in the murders of two eligible bachelors.
The New Healers
The script of a TV show filming on location at Community General did not include the untimely demise of its leading man.
Call Me Incontestable
Dr. Sloan has his doubts when clients of a dating service apparently take their own lives.
A Blast From the Past
When a killer is paroled from prison, he seeks revenge on the father of the man who put him there.
Playing for Keeps
The members of a women's volleyball team seem curiously unaffected when one of their teammates turns up dead.
Sea No Evil
Dr. Sloan comes to the aid of a lifeguard after a swimmer drowns on his watch.
How to Murder Your Lawyer
Law school turn deadly when Steve's professor is almost run down in the parking lot.
Amanda goes undercover at an adoption agency to locate a missing friend and her quadruplets.
Death in the Daytime
Stars of The Young and the Restless appear as themselves after a series of mishaps occur on the set of their show.
My Baby is Out of This World
The wife of a rock star takes things to a whole new dimension when her husband is murdered.
As with the first season, the prognosis for a nice picture on Diagnosis Murder: The Second Season is negative. Grainy with compression issues galore, you better watch this on a regular 4 x 3 TV. Colors are muted and washed out, as well. All in all, not a pretty picture.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo track is more than adequate for the dialogue-driven episodes here. Close-captioning is available.
There are no extras for Diagnosis Murder: The Second Season.
Light-hearted -- and frequently light-headed -- Diagnosis Murder: The Second Season is an agreeable time passer if you're looking for a amiable TV murder mystery. Fans of the series and Van Dyke will definitely want to buy it, while others new to the show should rent first to see if it's to their taste. I recommend Diagnosis Murder: The Second Season.
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.