Saturday, November 26, 2016

The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage (1991)

The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage
Stars: Daniel Hugh Kelly, Steven Williams
7 episodes

Then I became the hottest pilot writer at Universal. I was writing two or three pilots a season. I was making $400,000 a year in pilot fees. (Stephen J. Cannell)

In Short: Pirates and Wall Street dirtballs of the Caribbean.

Sometimes you just have to wonder. I wondered the entire time I was subjecting myself to the rigors of watching an episode of The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage - all 51 minutes of it (and 21 excruciating seconds) - and I continued to wonder until I ran across the quote that opens this review, allegedly from Cannell, the late TV impresario. Whose series successes included The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and Baretta, just to name a few. If this statement is to be believed, then for Cannell, the failure of a pilot was hardly a tragedy. Which is not to say that the pilot for The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage completely failed, mind you, at least not in the strictest sense of the word, since the series was inflicted on the world at large for an entire seven episodes.

This time around Cannell paired up with Walt Disney Television, with the show airing on NBC. The full title of the show was Disney Presents The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage, which is quite a mouthful and it seems that it was just as often referred to as The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage. Disney, of course, had had some notable successes with the pirate theme, with their popular Pirates of the Caribbean ride that opened at Disneyland, in 1967. But they wouldn't see any significant success with pirate themed media for another 12 years after Savage, when the first of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies rolled out.

The stars here were carried over from two of Cannell's other series. Steven Williams had starred in 21 Jump Street, along with future pirate, Johnny Depp. Here he stars as the ghost of a 17th-century Caribbean pirate who killed about a hundred people over the course of his career, a career that ended at the end of a rope. He is paired up with Daniel Hugh Kelly (formerly of Hardcastle & McCormick), as Barry Tarberry, in what might be one of the most offbeat buddy movie/TV pairings of all time. Tarberry is a slimy Wall Street trader who has transgressed so thoroughly that he had to leave the United States for the relative safety of the Caribbean.

The gimmick here is that the pair have to work to save their eternal souls from damnation by saving 100 lives, this by way of compensating for the 100 people that Savage bumped off during his pirating years. Alas, due to the fickle nature of network TV (and the fact that the show was crappy) there were 93 lives that never got to be saved.

Of Note:
Also stars Roma Downey (Touched By an Angel), the "nice" and comparatively morally upright character of the main three and Tarberry's reluctant love interest. Starring as the wacky, brainy gadget guy, Logan "FX" Murphy, is Steve Hytner, who decided to make his character a thoroughly annoying composite of Jerry Lewis and Urkel, from Family Matters. Rather rough stuff (car batteries being used as instruments of persuasion and the like) for a show that included Disney Presents in the title.

Observed: Look for the Union Label (1/7)
Scurrilous rancher types are making a land grab and clear cutting the forests, including the rubber trees that provide a livelihood for many good and noble native people. The ranchers and their flunkies are none too nice about it, mind you (although when they strap a bomb to the geeky gadget guy, they're kind enough to equip it with a timer). Looks like a job for Savage and Tarberry, who is not so enthusiastic about getting involved but reluctantly agrees when he realizes he might be able to get his mitts on the oh so fine lady (Downey) he's been coveting.

It's pretty clunky stuff throughout, with black hats against white hats and nothing on display that even remotely resembles subtlety. Savage looks like a slimmed down version of Barry White and his speech and mannerisms are thoroughly up to the minute, betraying no trace of the fact that he is several hundred years old. Kelly does well at making Tarberry a convincing version of a Wall Street dirtbag, outfitted in the finest Miami Vice-inspired fashions.

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