Banacek: The First Season
Arts Alliance America // Unrated // $29.98 // May 15, 2007
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted May 6, 2007
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Graphical Version
In 10 Words or Less
Back on the case with Polish power

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: "Banacek"
Likes: Mystery shows, George Peppard
Dislikes: Bad acting, transfer problems
Hates: Slow pacing

The Show
Who's the Polish private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks? Banacek!

You're damn right.

Part of the NBC Mystery Movie series, which rotated TV movies featuring a number of unique detectives, "Banacek" starred George Peppard ("The A-Team") as the titular investigator, a self-made man who enjoys the good life thanks to his ability to solve cases considered to be lost causes by insurance companies who stand to lose a fortune. In return, he asks for 10 percent of whatever the insurance would have paid out, which normally is a considerable sum. And while he works hard for his money, he enjoys himself as well. Simply put, Banacek is a pimp when it comes to the ladies.

The cases the Boston-based Banacek works normally involve a robbery or disappearance of some sort, the kind that seem utterly impossible to pull off, including the ridiculous tale of a football player who vanishes on the field. While there's the occasional murder involved, the tone of the series is rather light, allowing Peppard to play his playboy character with a lot of humor, often professing his Polish pride via nonsensical proverbs or verbally jousting with the company insurance investigators he competes with and the suspects he investigates.

At 72 minutes per episodes, there's a great deal of time to explore each case, which means meeting a number of suspects, looking into several theories and eventually unraveling incredibly complex criminal plots. At the same time, because of the available time, the shows move ahead ploddingly, picking over every detail and drifting into very deep scenes of dialogue or lingering on shots of Banacek thinking. Keeping these moments from derailing the show is the enjoyable performance by Peppard, along with those by Banacek's chauffeur Jay (Ralph Manza) and friend/research assistant Felix (Murray Matheson). They stand in sharp contrast to some of the supporting turns, which include some pretty bad acting. Jay and Felix are as important to Banacek's adventures as Alfred is to Batman.

The acting of the lesser lights is matched by the fight scenes peppered through the first scenes, which are some of the most laughable action scenes seen on TV. One battle in a hotel kitchen is so ridiculous that it made me burst into laughs, grab the remote, rewind and enjoy it again. Also distracting is the amount the show has aged since 1972, as the technical details of the cases, including such far-out concepts as security cameras and computers, are kind of silly at this point. You've got to just let go and enjoy Peppard's performance as one of the best detectives seen on TV. With a bit of updating, and perhaps George Clooney sporting the short-cropped hair, this concept could certainly give "CSI" and the rest of the TV sleuths a run for their money.

Of the eight episodes in the first season of "Banacek," a few stand out, starting with the first one, "Let's Hear it for a Living Legend," in which that football player disappears. It's the solution and the eventual payoff that makes this such an enjoyable case. The same goes for "To Steal a King," which features the series' most unusual cast of characters and possibly the most involved solution of all the cases. As there's no real continuing storyline, each episode stands on its own, but, disappointingly, one episode doesn't stand at all. The show's pilot film, "Detour to Nowhere," wasn't included in this set. One only hopes they are just saving it for the second set.

The screeners we received were sans packaging, which is a shame, as it would have been nice to see what they did for this new TV Guide DVD series, with cover art that looks like an old cover of the magazine. The discs themselves feature the TV Guide brand prominently on the static full-frame main menus, along with options to play all the episodes, select shows and check out the special features. Each disc holds four 72-minute episodes. There are no audio options or subtitles, but closed caption tracks seem to be included, though I couldn't make them work.

The Quality
The full-frame transfers in this set are good, but not great, thanks to a slightly blurry look overall, color that's a bit dull, and too much dirt and damage for DVDs in this day and age. Scenes shot outside suffer from the damage a bit more than the others, while some scenes looks pristine, but in general, there's a consistent amount of hairs and small specks. The level of detail is relative high for material of this age.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks present the mono sound crisply and straight down the middle. There's nothing technically impressive about the presentation, but no one should have any complaints, considering how clean it sounds.

The Extras
Just a pair of minor bonus features, with a small photo gallery on the first DVD, and 14 PDF TV Guide crossword puzzles on Disc Two, including one with several Banacek clues.

The Bottom Line
"Banacek" has finally reached DVD, and though the show is still as entertaining as it was 35 years ago, it does show its age in spots, and at times even draws some unintentional laughs. The DVDs look and sound good for the show's age, but there's not much to supplement the eight episodes. Those who remember the series and Peppard's suave investigator won't want to miss this chance to reconnect, while those who enjoy a good mystery and a bad-ass detective should give this set a shot.

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