Wednesday, September 16, 2009

DirecTV's 101 Network reopens Eyes

The show's title also refers to something it couldn't attract when it first aired on ABC.

I was surprised to find out DirecTV's 101 Network has started airing this week all 12 episodes of Eyes, one of my favorite TV shows that were cancelled too soon. I thought the 101 was going to premiere Eyes back in July, but apparently there was some sort of delay.

John McNamara TV shows just never get any respect, do they?

McNamara is a former Brisco County, Jr. and Lois & Clark writer whose most entertaining creations have been shows built around antiheroes with no qualms about being unethical. Years before audiences were willing to embrace The Sopranos, The Shield, House, Rescue Me, Dexter, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Nurse Jackie, all dramas with not-so-virtuous lead characters, McNamara gave us a shady corporate climber who sleeps in a cardboard box (1996's Profit) and a private detective who enjoys mind-tricking the criminals who wronged his clients a little too much (1998's Vengeance Unlimited).

But while Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, Dr. House, Tommy Gavin, Dexter Morgan, the players at Sterling Cooper, Walt White and Nurse Jackie are amoral--somewhere in their bastardly selves lurks a conscience or whatever's left of it--Jim Profit was unabashedly immoral. Whether or not dark and detached central characters like Profit are the reason why McNamara's shows don't last more than one season, McNamara just can't catch a break, even when he crafts antiheroes who are still as shady as Profit and Vengeance Unlimited's Mr. Chapel but less insane and a little more likable, like he did with the gumshoes on Eyes.

McNamara's 2005 series centers on Judd Risk Management, an upscale private investigation firm made up of detectives who don't mind skirting the law to protect their clients. The P.I.'s include sexy master of disguise Nora Gage (Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon); buttoned-up, military-trained newbie Meg Bardo (A.J. Langer); Chris Didion (Rick Worthy, so underutilized as "the black Cylon" on Battlestar Galactica), a gay associate who returned to the firm after a leave of absence caused by a nervous breakdown; and Jeff McCann (Eric Mabius), who conspires with Trish Agermeyer (Natalie Zea), the firm's hot equivalent of Q from the 007 flicks, to hide their affair from another co-worker, Trish's dweeby husband Danny (Reg Rogers).

"Every character has a different back story, a different moral compass. I don't think in terms of 'he's bad' or 'she's good' or vice versa. The fun of this world is in exploring the duality of these characters," said McNamara to interviewer John Crook in a 2005 article about Eyes. "This world that these characters are in has an effect on them, just as they have an effect on it. They are not machines moving through the investigation, chewing up facts and spitting them out. It takes a toll on their psyches."

Their leader--and perhaps corrupting influence--is smug smart-ass Harlan Judd, Tim Daly's most enjoyable role to date. After playing so many uncomplicated characters (the straitlaced older brother on Wings, the animated version of Superman, Dr. Richard Kimble on McNamara's 2000 remake of The Fugitive), Daly clearly relished embodying more complicated guys like drug-addicted screenwriter J.T. Dolan on The Sopranos and Harlan on Eyes.

"Harlan's way of keeping people off balance is something I totally identify with. My default setting is to make people not know whether I'm giving them shit or not. I think that I get that about him," said Daly to TV Guide interviewer Craig Tomashoff. "He sort of teases people, [and] I love teasing people. Most of the time, I'm not mean about it. I haven't been punched in a bar yet."

Daly may have been a lucky bastard inside bars and taverns, but he wasn't so lucky with the ax that was wielded by ABC, which cancelled his serialized show after five eps that weren't able to retain the audience that tuned in to Lost, its lead-in on the network schedule. Warner Bros. Television made the unaired Eyes eps available to stream on In2TV, their clunky precursor to Hulu, but I hated watching Eyes on In2TV, and the site didn't even contain the complete series, which still hasn't received an official DVD release. The 101's Tuesday night broadcasts of Eyes will mark the first time the complete series will be shown in America, which is why I'm firing up my DVR. Eyes ranks with The Rockford Files, Smoldering Lust/Black Tie Affair, Veronica Mars and Burn Notice as one of the best private eye shows ever made.


  1. Let's not forget John McNamara also teamed up with McG on the latter's first TV series "Fastlane" and worked on what some people* would now call the reboot of "The Fugitive."

    Frankly, any writer-producer who gives his company a name like McNamara Paper Products and adds the motto "We Make Scripts, So You Don't Have To" deserves celebration anyway.

    *Not me, though. I hate that term.

  2. I think you missed the paragraph in which I mentioned McNamara's version of The Fugitive as one of Daly's past projects.