Don’t you miss the 80s? Don’t they seem like an incredibly free time now?
By Paul Mavis
I mean…you could buy groceries without being made to wear a mask. Yes, you could! And you went to school…in a building. Yes, that happened! And people had jobs. Fun jobs…like private investigators (my favorite pretend profession when the cops pull me over). Well, I was in the mood for both the other day (P.I.s and the 80s…not the cops and felony assault), so I took a fast trip down to my vast, subterranean DVD vault, hopped onto the monorail tram to the north wing, sub-section K-9, vault 138, row S-59, and took down my season one DVD set of Simon & Simon, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
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You remember Simon & Simon on CBS, that laid-back, kinda funky detective show that featured great star chemistry between Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker? Watching the DVD set again after all these years, an added bonus is the time capsule feel we get with these thirteen 40-year-old (!) episodes. A comedy of oppositions, featuring two brothers who, despite their obviously different lifestyles (one’s preppy and law-abiding; one’s scruffy and ornery), always come together at the end to solve the mystery, Simon & Simon captures real nice that TV So-Cal/south of the border feel we TV watchers love so much.
At least we eventually came to love it…right after it was almost canceled. Positioning was everything for Simon & Simon. What could have been just another in a seemingly endless supply of new network series that never caught on with the public, fading away without the slightest fanfare, was saved at the last minute when CBS decided to give it one more try, and change its air night. Simon & Simon originally premiered in November, 1981 (one of the victims of the Writers Guild strike that year that delayed the fall schedule) on Tuesday nights at 8:00pm—an unfortunate spot for the new show, since the easy-going detective series was getting killed by the still-potent one-two comedic punch of Happy Days (18th most popular show on television) and Laverne & Shirley (20th), over on ABC.
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By spring of ’82, the axe was about to fall on Simon & Simon when producer Philip DeGuere and head writer Bob Shayne convinced CBS to give the show another season, only this time airing on Thursday nights at 10pm (a better time slot for this kind of actioner), following big hit Magnum, P.I.. Tom Selleck’s series had recently taken a small hit in the ratings in its second year, so CBS thought a companion detective series might boost both properties. Ratings immediately shot up for both shows, and CBS had a proven new night of hits on Thursday for the upcoming 1982-1983 season. Simon & Simon went from the basement of the Nielsen’s in its first year, to a remarkable 7th for the 1982-1983, and stayed on the air for a total run of seven and a half seasons.
Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker play Rick and A.J. Simon, two “odd couple” brothers who team up as partners in a struggling private investigation business in San Diego, California. A.J. is the uptight, well-dressed preppy younger brother who likes the finer things in life (he wears suits and drives a classic 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible), and he keeps the business (and his brother) on an even keel. It’s an uphill battle, though, considering the handful that is Rick.
Friends with various small-time crooks on both sides of the border, Marine Corps Vietnam vet Rick wears (for 1981) “funky” clothes such as big belt buckles, plaid work shirts, leather jacket, boots, and big cowboy hats, usually with a feather hat band, along with his ubiquitous black aviator shades. Rick doesn’t want to work, and only does so when he needs money for his house boat or truck (a sweet, sweet Dodge Power Wagon). A.J. wants to grow the business, and become as respectable as their neighbor and rival detective agency, Peerless Detective Agency, run by loudmouth Myron Fowler (Eddie Barth). Myron’s gorgeous, statuesque daughter Janet (Jeannie Wilson), often helps the boys with their investigations, while occasionally maintaining a flirtatious relationship with Rick. How Rick and A.J. manage their lives together while solving their weekly mysteries (with the resulting friction from their opposing viewpoints on…everything), makes up most of Simon & Simon.
Unfortunately, the original pilot from 1978, Pirate’s Key, isn’t included in the season one Simon & Simon collection. Set in Florida rather than California, it may have shed some more light on the relationship between the brothers, as well as giving an indication of the initial direction of the show. As it is, the first episode for this season, Details at Eleven, is listed in the DVD menu as the pilot, and it does have a more varied approach than subsequent episodes, with a great deal more set-ups and location work (especially in Tijuana). It also has a more laid-back approach to the characters and the plots—a tone that will gradually fade away during the rest of this and subsequent seasons, with Simon & Simon becoming more of a generic action show, than the little character-driven mystery show it was at first (the second season production move—for economic reasons—from scenic San Diego to seen-it-all L.A. standing in for S.D., is a big contributing factor to this pasteurization).
Indicative of this gradual change is the switch over to a new theme song after the first season. The first theme is a charming little mix of Jimmy Buffet/mariachi band/Burt Bacharach-inspired—particularly his Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid theme, a movie that inspired producer Philip DeGuere’s original concept of the series—themes by Barry De Vorzon. Along with the cool little theme is an opening photo-montage credit sequence of stills that almost resemble View-Master shots of the actors. By the second season, this theme is abandoned for a straight ahead rock and roll instrumental that’s now associated with Simon & Simon.
I miss that funky little groove; it summed up the hazy kind of So-Cal feeling that the show originally had (oddly, the new theme is included on episode four on this set—with no explanation for this). By the end of Simon & Simon‘s first season, the show feels more and more like other TV detective series, with big explosions and the same sets used over and over again. Still, this first go-around has the unfamiliar San Diego locales that are a welcome relief from the overused L.A. ones, and the natural, often amusing chemistry between McRaney and Parker. Besides…it beats watching Fonzie become a teacher (what the hell were they thinking?) and Laverne and Shirl moving to California.