Don't know why, there's no sun up in the sky. Oh yes I do -- because it's Boston, and it's snowing, and besides, Spenser is such a doleful old mope that there's a perennial cloud over his head. We know what's in that cloud, too. What's in that cloud is Spenser's Concern for All Humanity.
And speaking of not knowing why, Spenser, hot on the trail of a shmendrick, pauses to remark, "I don't know why, but I started thinking about Judy Garland chasing rainbows." Dramatic pause. "Not down these streets." Well then why did you start thinking about her, Spense? It hardly matters and neither does "Spenser: For Hire," a smugly sullen new ABC crime show premiering as a two-hour movie at 9 tonight on Channel 7.
The most charitable reaction to an enterprise this shallow yet pretentious is, "They've got to be kidding."
Spenser (no first name), a character developed in 12 detective novels by Robert B. Parker, is "a man of the '80s," according to Warner Bros. Television, which produced the show. He drives a beat-up old Mustang (beat-up old cars are sure signs of individuality among TV detectives), once fought pro, is handy in the kitchen (he cooks), can't resist a Celtics game, likes the occasional Gershwin tune and speaks almost ceaselessly to us through a voice-over interior monologue that eventually gets around to every conceivable topic but nitrogen-fixing legumes.
He coulda been a contender. Instead he bought a one-way ticket to Malarkeyville:
"The thing in my line of work is not to get too wrapped up in caring."
"Deep Thoughts. I don't have them often myself, but I recognize them in others."
"I had to do what I had to do."
"I was proud of myself; I hadn't cried."
These men of the '80s are soooooo sensitive.
"Look, I never said I was smart -- just tough and sexy," he tells Susan, his longtime squeeze, naturally to be told in response, "Dammit Spenser, I love you!" As Spenser, Robert Urich looks not only weathered but weather-beaten, more soulful than a basset hound and more caring than Phil Donahue, but much less interesting than almost anybody on this here planet. Barbara Stock plays Susan affectedly, and Avery Brooks, as bad bald Hawk, gives the old college try at pulling his tough-dude role out of the realm of racial stereotype.
"Spenser" is being sold to us as a twist on detective shows because the hero has a funky wardrobe and is true to one woman (though he can't bring himself to say "I love you") and stalks around Boston with a big hurt look on his puss. It is nice to see a city other than Los Angeles, or Miami, in a TV action show, and the sight of snow in prime time (not cocaine, real snow) is bracing. But come on. The operative cliche's here are older than the moon.
Our rumpled hero explains that Spenser's "first law" is, "When in doubt, eat and drink" and his second, "When in doubt, work out." We never get to the third, but it might be, "When still further in doubt, continue to jabber your lips off." Perhaps this rough-tough softie is a modern answer to the age-old question, what do women want, but let's hope not. Dammit, Spenser, you're boring!