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'Harry O': The Complete Second Season

Gumshoe by the book.

Harry O

Distributor: Warner Archive
Cast: David Janssen
Network: ABC
US release date: 2013-02-05

PopMatters reviewed the first season of this detective series here, Although the first two episodes feel like leftovers from Season One, this second and final season maintains a level a cut above that one. The show found a more secure voice in exploring the workaday investigations of its dilapidated hero. He's just about making a living, and his weary narration does double duty as character and information.

The writers still too often rely on having Harry Orwell (or his guest--he's a lousy protector) get shot in his own house just before a commercial break. He catches so much lead, he might as well be in combat. They also rely on his non-committal frown and gruff sarcasm making him irresistable to lovely women. For example, he's clearly carrying on in what to him is a no-strings relationship with his stewardess neighbor Sue (Farrah Fawcett-Majors), although she exhibits signs of jealousy.

The primary director is Richard Lang, who likes to open the episodes with a mildly expressionistic style that uses mobile subjective shots, tilted angles, and the claustrophobic feel of wide-angle lenses, often in cramped spaces like cars and hallways, the better to emphasize the show's gritty, non-glamorous ambience. Something happens to grab our attention, and then someone contacts Harry to investigate what just happened, upon which he annoys the angrily put-upon yet grudgingly respectful Lt. Trench (Anthony Zerbe) of the local police and his aide, Sgt. Roberts (Paul Tulley). Things often come to a climax with Harry charging in an an unlikely action hero who must shoot or punch somebody.

The cases are mostly routine, with the series relying on its sombre tone. The best episodes are those with the most off-handed and ironic humor, especially the three outings that bring back an excellent guest character from the first season: eager-beaver young detective Lester Hodges (Les Lannom), whose gung-ho cheer throws cases off-kilter. Seasoned TV crime pro Robert C. Dennis scripted the first two of these, while Lester's final appearance has "series pilot" written all over it, as Harry takes a back seat to the work of his newly licensed protégé and the kid's other brilliant mentor, forensic whiz Dr. Creighton Fong (Keye Luke). This episode is structured as a star-studded whodunit, the stars being Roddy McDowell, Anne Archer, Stuart Whitman, Sorrell Booke, and Dean Jagger. Too bad that series never materialized.

Robert Dozier and Alex Beaton produced this season for executive producer Jerry Thorpe. Showing up in a handful of episodes are Margaret Avery as hooker/informant Ruby (later reformed into a nurse); Bill Henderson as Spencer Johnson, Harry's mechanic; Richard Stahl as Dr. Samuelson, the coroner; and Susan Adams as Jean Parnell, a forensics expert in a wheelchair.

Guests include Harold J. Stone, James McEachin, Rene Auberjonois, James Hong, Larry Hagman, Robert Loggia, Ina Balin, Louis Gossett Jr., Linden Chiles, Katherine Helmond, Severn Darden, Sam Jaffe, Kenneth Mars, Howard Hesseman, Lesley Ann Warren, Joanna Pettet, Linda Lavin, Felicia Farr (as Harry's ex-wife, Elizabeth Carson), Ralph Meeker, J. Pat O'Malley, Susan Strasberg, David Opatoshu, John Rubinstein, Bruce Glover, Michael Lerner, Eugene Roche, and Ruth Roman.

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