The B.L. Stryker made for TV movies may not have reinvented the wheel, but they were decent fun. Airing TV from February of 1989 through the final episode in May of 1990, the shot lived series starred Burt Reynolds in the title role as a private detective who operated out of his boat which he kept docked in Florida. Created by Christopher Crowe (who was a writer on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Untouchables) and executive produced by Magnum P.I. himself, Tom Selleck, B. L. Stryker didn't stick around too long but it was fun while it lasted.
The series isn't hyper-stylish or particularly inventive but it affords Burt Reynolds a chance to strut his stuff in a recurring role and to build the lead character up a little bit, one episode at a time. Granted, by this point in his career Reynold's glory days were behind him, but he does do a good job with the character and he infuses enough of his natural charisma and charm into the part to make it work. He doesn't quite have the chutzpah that he shows in films like Smokey & The Bandit, or, if you want to go low brow, Gator or White Lightning, but he does manage to infuse Stryker with enough energy and life that we can't help but appreciate the guy.
The plots and storylines in the series range from the predictable to the mundane. There's really nothing here that will differentiate the series from other P.I. series of the era (Magnum P.I. springs to mind immediately) but these self contained thrillers are at least a nice mix of action, suspense and humor - a mix that Reynolds' personality lends itself to quite well. While the sex appeal that made him a star in the seventies and early eighties may have started to fade by the time he became B.L. Stryker, his wit, his comedic timing and his penchant for just forcing the audience to like him (whether they want to or not) is still readily apparent.
As stated, the first season didn't last long nor did it break any new ground in the genre, but the enjoyable first five made for TV movies in the series play out as follows:
The Dancer's Touch: B.L. comes out of retirement when a serial rapist starts selecting young high society girls for his victims. Will Stryker find what it takes to stop the fiend from acting again before it's too late?
Carolann:A woman from B.L.'s past has moved to a country in the middle east where she's become a queen! When her husband's ties to some illegal arms dealers land them in hot water, B.L. finds himself reluctantly on the case.
Blind Chess: B.L.'s loyal secretary calls in a favor when her brother winds up in jail, a suspect in a murder case that may or may not involve the woman he's been having an affair with. Luckily, or maybe not so luckily, a wealthy amateur sleuth wants to help Stryker find the real killer.
Auntie Sue: Stryker's eccentric old Aunt Sue wants nothing more than to get a mansion for her and her two equally eccentric friends to live in together. If his aunt weren't a big enough problem for B.L., there's a group of hoods out to shut him down for good.
Blues For Buder: A friend of Kimberly's hires Stryker to find the right school for her unusual grandson. Unfortunately for Stryker, the grandson is more interested in a corrupt evangelist than in getting a proper education.
Part of what makes B.L. Stryker fun to watch is to see just who pops up in the five episodes that make up the first season. Helen Shaver, Abe Vigoda, Philip Michael Hall, Bunny Yeager (!!), and Kirsty Swanson, all pop up in The Dancer's Touch while Douglas Fairbanks Jr. guest stars in Auntie Sue. Neil Patrick Harris pops up in Blues For Buder, as does Kirsty Swanson again. Ozzie Davis has a recurring role as 'Oz' and he appears in the first three episodes in the set while Academy Award winning actress Rita Moreno plays Kimberly throughout the series.
So yeah, basically what you're left with is a pretty standard private eye series that's bumped up a notch or two by Burt's charisma. It's unlikely that anyone but the most ardent Smokey fans are chomping at the bit for a DVD release but here it is just the same and revisiting the episodes is certainly an enjoyable enough experience. The problem is that there's really very little to say about B.L. Stryker outside of the fact that Burt shows up and acts cool in it. As such, your life isn't going to be changed by this series. It's fun, it's enjoyable, but it isn't really important or interesting. If you're in the mood for disposable entertainment (and in all seriousness there's absolutely nothing wrong with that in the least) then you're likely going to find this release right up your alley. If you want any legitimate suspense, any real mystery, clever writing or interesting ideas, well, B.L. Stryker isn't what you need. Change the channel and watch some HBO programming as this series simply doesn't work on that level, nor dose it attempt to. It's fun, generic, bubblegum pop television - nothing more, nothing less. Accept it and enjoy it on that level and you're set.
NOTE: This review is based on test discs. Final retail product may differ from the discs that were sent to evaluate for the purposes of this review.
The material in this set was all shot to be shown fullframe and that's exactly how it's all presented here. Unfortunately, the picture quality leaves more than a little bit to be desired. Not only is the image not properly flagged for progressive playback but the colors are a little flat and the image fairly murky. Fine detail is washed out at times and every once in a while skin tones look orange-ish.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks on the three DVDs in this set are fine. They're not great, but you won't have any problems understanding the dialogue or following the storylines at all. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are well balanced though at times the audio is a bit on the flat side. Overall, the five episodes sound about as good as they would have when originally broadcast.
Aside from animated menus and chapter selection for each of the five episodes in this set, there are three scripts included in PDF format for those equipped with a DVD-Rom. The scripts included are for the following three episodes: Blind Chess, Auntie Sue and Blues For Buder.
Better video quality and some more interesting extras would have helped out a lot on this release but for those who only care about the episodes, this set should suffice even if there's no doubt that it could have and should have been better. The series itself is a fun take on the typical private investigator show but Reynolds adds some charm to the role that makes this one stand out from the herd a little bit. Consider B.L. Stryker - The Complete First Season a solid rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.