The second half of the first season is what really made people take notice of the series Wiseguy and that had a lot to do with the character of Mel Profitt, as portrayed by Kevin Spacey.
The series Wiseguy was created by 80’s icon Stephen J. Cannell and was the first series to use story arcs instead of telling an entire story in one episode. Cannell had a hard time selling this to the networks and it bounced around for a number of years before CBS finally picked it up.
The story premise is of an FBI agent name Vinnie Terranova. He’s attached to the Organized Crime Bureau and was put deep undercover in the first part of the season with the New Jersey mob. Part of his cover had him do an 18-month prison sentence to make him believable. Ken Wahl starred at Terranova and makes a convincing hood from the Bronx. He’s got the accent and looks down pat, trust me.
The second part of the first season puts him on the trail of brother and sister drug smugglers, Mel and Susan Profitt. He’s drawn into the case through tracking a suspected hired gun, Roger LoCocco (portrayed by William Russ) who draws him into the web of elegant, sexy drug parties the Profitts host. Their lifestyle is a seemingly endless array of orgies and violence. Their history dates back to being abandoned in an alleyway. Later on, the two murdered the biological child of their adoptive parents after he caught the two kissing. Bad seeds, indeed.
What follows is a series of stories as Vinnie becomes embroiled in the strange world they occupy. It stretches from a drug business in rural Tennessee to Mel’s drive to own a baseball team at any cost to illegal arms sales to their desire to take over and run their own country. This story covers the gamut of illegal activities and does so with two guest actors who are fantastic.
Kevin Spacey as the quite crazy, but genius head of an operation so widespread no one is sure how far it reaches turns in a magnificent performance – the one that launched his career. It makes me wish for a time when they gave out “guest star” awards for the Emmys because he surely would have garnered one. The series is worth watching if for this performance alone.
Joan Severance is Susan Profitt. Why she didn’t go further after this series as well is beyond me. She becomes embroiled in an affair with Vinnie. She treads a thin line between her brother’s insanity and jealousy and trying to control a man she doesn’t know is a government agent. It becomes clear after just a few episodes, that she’s really the cold, calculating force that drives their empire of a variety of illegal operations.
Wiseguy has lots of action, suspense, and drama. There’s also more to the story and to some of the characters than first meets the eye. Not much is known about Roger LoCocco at first, but he seems at times to befriend Vinnie, and at others to be his rival. His character seems to evolve and what becomes known about him as the storyline wears on is fairly surprising. He stays in the story even once the Proffitts have gone, as the story becomes even more complicated. It seemed as if Cannell was trying to take this in the same direction as the Iran-Contra Scandal, but it didn’t quite take off. The story involving the Proffitts was much more interesting.
Frank is given a meatier role as well as he deals with his ex-wife leaving him and the attentions of an attractive agent. There was just so much material to work within the shadow of Spacey’s fantastic acting that much of the side stories in the characters following the series forward from the Sonny Steelgrave arc got a bit lost.
The first three discs of this four-disc series are what comprise the Mel Profitt arc. I got the feeling that some of the “filler” episodes present at the end of Wiseguy: Season 1, Part 1 were put in out of sequence and should have been at the end of this season rather than at the end of the Steelgrave storyline. In one of the episodes during the Mel Proffitt arc, Vinnie talks about wanting to meet Lifeguard, something he seemed to have done already in the extras at the end of the Steelgrave arc. The episode order and special features are really screwed up for this series overall. I think that Studio Works and its distribution company wanted to squeeze out a certain number of DVDs in each set and they sacrificed episode continuity for that.
There is also one huge problem with the only episode on the fourth disc, Aria for Don Auippo. Right from the beginning, it has the feeling that its part of the following season. The opening sequence is different from the previous episodes this season. However, about twenty minutes into the episode, it gives away a huge plot twist that’s coming up in the series involving Vinnie’s family. I was both shocked and disappointed. For a series that’s been so great otherwise, this seemed to me like a major screw-up in the name of getting a fourth disc out of this set.
The Special Features on the fourth disc also contain a series of interviews, some of which are primarily about the previous story-arc and DVD set about Sonny Steelgrave. I was really happy to see a decent interview with Kevin Spacey about his work here. So many actors once they make it big beyond the television series they started with are reluctant to go back and acknowledge that time.
Available in English 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo and English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. on the third DVD in the set, I had a problem with the surround sound being distorted and went back to the digital stereo.
Fascination for the Flame
Smokey Mountain Requiem
Player to Be Named Now – available with commentary by Ken Wahl
Merchant of Death
Not For Nothing
Dirty Little Wars
Date With an Angel
Aria for Don Auippo
Special Features: Interviews with Stephen J. Cannell, David Burke, Kevin Spacey, Joan Severance, Elsa Rave, and William Russ.