"Today's FBI" is slightly to the left of yesterday's "The FBI," the ABC series that ran from 1965 to 1974 and had the personal blessing of J. Edgar Hoover, but the distinction between then and now isn't a very fascinating topic for discussion. ABC's new FBI show, premiering as a two-hour movie tomorrow at 8 p.m. on Channel 7, seems a harmless enough hunk of retrograde law-and-order baloney.
As the pivotal agent, Mike Connors replaces Efrem Zimbalist Jr., stepping into two of the most easily filled shoes in the history of entertainment. Even so, the stiff and aging Connors doesn't exactly hoof up a storm in them. His little band of regulars is a carefully tokenistic cross section of America: a black, a woman and, fortunately enough, considering the first show is about Italian-American gangsters, an Italian-American.
The two-hour opener concerns mob infiltration of waterfront unions. Among the accidentally funniest scenes is one in which two agents mix it up in a waterfront bar and the strongest word the stevedores use is "pinheads." Funnier still, but on purpose, is a suspenseful scene in which guest star Paul Sorvino, as an honest waterfront businessman, accidentally drops his concealed FBI bugging device on a men's room floor, right in front of the crook he's helping to finger, and manages to convince the mobster that it's only his pacemaker.
Although the FBI is as squeaky-clean as in the old series, there is one hint of fallibility in the premiere; the undercover agent who's landed a job as Mr. Big's chauffeur begins to empathize too strongly with the mobsters. A stern talk from Connors snaps him out of it. In order to apprehend Mr. Big, Connors tries to obtain a wiretap, but the U.S. attorney's office says nix on that; it doesn't enter the agent's head to order up the bug anyway. No no no -- this is today's FBI!
For a crime show, there is little violence on the screen, although agent Maggie Clinton (Carol Potter) is almost raped by a thug. "Paulie," she says, fighting him off, "you don't want it this way," to which he replies, "Oh yes I do. Fighting makes it better." It's the kind of unsavory little scene that serves to remind one how little such shows add to the quality of television, much less the quality of life.