New 'Wiseguy' has problems but is still very smart


November 08, 1990|By Michael Hill

"Wiseguy" returns to the CBS lineup Saturday night with a two-hour episode loaded with cliches in its script, improbabilities in its plot, and a basic lack of imagination in its direction.

By the way, it's also pretty good.

This is the new, different "Wiseguy" that came about when original star Ken Wahl either asked to jump ship or was forced to dTC walk the plank, depending on whose story you believe.

The original plan called for Wahl's Vinnie Terranova character to be around for a few episodes to make the transition to a new federal undercover agent, but the recriminations put the kibosh on that.

So, Saturday at 9 o'clock on Channel 11 (WBAL) -- "Wiseguy" will run at 10 o'clock in its regular hour-long version -- Vinnie is a couple of hours overdue in checking in with his handler, Lifeguard. Frank McPike, the agent in charge of Vinnie who's played with such a nice edge by Jonathan Banks, is just out of the hospital after recovering from his own shooting, but his instincts tell him to jump.

To no surprise to those who know about Wahl's departure, Banks' instincts are right. Vinnie's apartment is abandoned with only an ominous white handprint on the door for a clue.

After learning that Terranova made some inquiries about a friend, a priest killed by death squads in El Salvador, McPike ends up in "Miami Vice" country, chasing down a tenuous lead that takes him to the unglamorous abode of one Michael Santana, whom we have already met in the opening scenes from three years ago.

Santana was a crusading federal prosecutor who overlooked problems with a search warrant in order to insure a conviction of a drug lord. This miscue got him disbarred. Now he lives on a houseboat with a sultry nightclub singer and drinks a lot.

You also know that he's destined for redemption as the next undercover agent because he's played by Steven Bauer, best known for his role as the title character in "Drug Wars: The Kiki Camarena Story." Santana will be a different sort of hero than Terranova, as Bauer plays him bigger, broader, more accessible, less brooding.

What saves this episode from its cringe-inducing cliches and incredible coincidences -- who decided that Santana's former fellow prosecutor/girlfriend should end up working for, and sleeping with, the bad guy? -- is a story that just won't quit.

The trail from Terranova to Santana leads to the politically-active arm of Miami's Cuban American community to the entire political mess in Central America to conflicts between the CIA and the FBI over who has jurisdiction when these foreign policy matters start spilling blood on American soil.

There's even a villain with the "Miami Vice" moniker of Guzman, deliciously played by Maxmilian Schell.

This Miami-based arc will run for five episodes and, though there are enough potholes in this first episode to indicate that the journey might be rough, you still want to know where this road is going to wind up.

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