New hero, old boss make for hot TV


November 09, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Are you ready for yet another lawyer as the new prime-time hero for the '90s?

There's another one arriving tomorrow night at 9 on WBAL-TV (Channel 11) with the return of "Wiseguy." And it's a happy homecoming for viewers.

Steven Bauer replaces Ken Wahl as star of the revamped show. Wahl was fired as star of the show after he got in a dogfight with executive producer Stephen J. Cannell and CBS last year.

Bauer plays Michael Santana, a former U.S. Attorney who was disbarred sometime during the 1980s for a violation of ethics. When we first meet Santana, he is wandering through a purgatory of too much alcohol and Miami's neon night.

Sound familiar? It is the lawyer as wounded hero -- his or her material possessions gone, trying to find his or her moral compass. Michael Santana, meet Jack Shannon of "Shannon's Deal," Rosie O'Neill of "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" and Simon MacHeath of "Against The Law."

Santana gets involved in the "Wiseguy" cosmos because Vinnie Terranova (the Wahl character) is missing and Santana was one of the last people he phoned before disappearing. Vinnie's supervisor at the Justice Department, Frank McPike (Jonathan Banks) -- himself just released from the hospital after emerging from a coma -- goes looking for Vinnie. The trail leads to Santana, whom he enlists in the search.

The premiere was filmed in Miami and its stylistic debt to "Miami Vice" is huge. It is also filled with some of the most crackpot politics since Cannell's "Top of The Hill" series last year about a California surfer who wins a seat in Congress.

But, bottom line, this is a hot two hours of television. Banks is better than ever as McPike and steals the show from Bauer. Some "Wiseguy" fans might remember that Banks used to steal the show from Wahl, too, whenever he got the chance. Those were often the best episodes.

Bauer might not become the heartthrob that Wahl was. Santana does not have the same Elvis-as-a-federal-agent, hero-hunk appeal that Vinnie Terranova did. But the new "Wiseguy" has a hero for the '90s in Santana. And it's a delight to have McPike back on the case.

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