Cliches overwhelm the creativity in Cannell's new 'Palace Guard'


October 17, 1991|By Michael Hill

Even in Stephen Cannell's worst pieces of weekly doggerel, there is often a glimmer of hope, a clever character or a nice chunk of dialogue that helps you feel a bit better about sitting there with your kids watching "The A-Team" or "Hardcastle and McCormick" or some other action number from the Cannell assembly line.

And, for a few moments in tonight's two-hour premiere, you think that's going to be the case with "Palace Guard," the new CBS entry that gets a two-hour send-off at 9 o'clock on Channel 11 (WBAL). Its usual time slot is Fridays at 10 p.m.

This show is essentially a rip-off of "To Catch a Thief," though with D.W. Moffatt in the Cary Grant role and Marcy Walker taking over for Grace Kelly, many many apologies are due Alfred Hitchcock's memory.

Moffatt plays Tommy Logan, who, when we first meet him, is demonstrating the ability of his mind and his body by challenging his alluring bedmate to a memory contest. Then the phone rings and he's off to a business meeting.

Turns out this guy's an old-fashioned jewel thief, the type they don't make movies about anymore. He doesn't carry a blowtorch, but makes his way through the world today with everything he's got -- style and charm and guile, a talent for impersonation that Cannell has used in several of his con-man characters, and an assortment of gadgets out of James Bond and "MacGyver."

But in the opening motif, Cannell throws a bone to the discriminating audience in the form of the character of Logan's "garbolo gist." It's a nifty little scene in which Logan cases his chosen joint via a nerdy guy who provides an on-target reading of what's going on in a certain hotel room by deftly analyzing its garbage.

Unfortunately, that turns out to be the last we see of the garbologist, but not of the garbage. In the next few minutes, Logan is caught by the cops, spends three years in prison and, on his release, is hired by the head of the hotel chain -- played by a slumming Tony LoBianco -- to run its security division.

He's given as his boss the imminently attractive former B-movie star Christy Cooper, played by the imminently attractive former soap star Marcy Walker. You will not be shocked to learn that this imminently attractive couple does not hit it off at first but that, even as the inevitable sparks fly, the inevitable romance is in the air.

Soon enough, our bickering twosome -- she's in charge of public relations and thinks his hiring makes for bad press -- is sent off to Acapulco where Cannell must have gotten free lodging for plugging some hotel with extensive establishing shots. A guest has plunged to her death from the penthouse suite. Is it murder or suicide? Logan will investigate while Christy tries to keep the messy business out of the papers by buying the reporters a lot of drinks.

What follows is a series of scenes that range from the improbable to the preposterous to the impossible to the absurd. It would not be worth the printer's ink to list the many inconsistencies, but consider that the victim was thought to be using an alias and is not positively identified when our heroes show up, but then turns out to be a movie star whose name, and presumably face, are well recognized by everybody. Go figure.

Oh, and just before leaving on his trip, Logan is asked to look for the boss' daughter, who's been staying in the chain's hotels around the world on her credit card. Whadda ya think? Chance she'll show up in Acapul co? But wait until you see when and where. Coincidence, thy name is Stephen Cannell.

Following one of his old formulas, Cannell throws in a car and a helicopter chase, though, network budgets being what they are these days, he doesn't get to wreck or blow up anything like he did regularly back in early '80s.

There's even a ridiculous out-of-the-blue coda that looks like something added on when a network type said the show needed more family appeal.

Logan is supposed to be cool and confident in that Bond sort of way but, played with Moffat's squeaky voice, in too many scenes he comes off as insufferable and smarmy.

Walker is fine in her prime-time debut and there are the occasional bits of cleverness between them. But those are overwhelmed by the action-adventure cliches that require that you not only suspend your disbelief, but also your taste and intelligence if you're going to watch "Palace Guard."

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