Television Reviews

DVD Review: Wiseguy: Prey For the City – When a Good Series Starts to Lose It

The original premise of Wiseguy was good. Ken Wahl starred as Vinnie Terranova. Terranova works for a branch of law enforcement known as the OCB, Organized Crime Bureau. To put him deep undercover with the mob, he was sent to jail for 18 months so that his reputation as a hood would be convincing. The first season consisted of two well-done story arcs, rather than stand-alone episodes. For its time, Wiseguy was revolutionary. The first season was a huge hit.

By the second season, however, various smaller story arcs cropped up in the series, including the White Supremacy Arc (disc one) and Garment Business Arc (disc two) in this four-disc set comprising the first half of the show’s second season.

What is good here is the bond between the three main characters. In addition to Terranova, there is Frank McPike (portrayed by Jonathan Banks). He has developed a good friendship with Vinnie which evolved throughout the first season and is cemented here. The two often seemed at odds with each other throughout the Sonny Steelgrave story but grew closer as the Mel Proffit storyline drew to a close. Likewise, the character of Lifeguard (portrayed by Jim Byrnes) steps out a bit, figuratively, from behind the computers and recording equipment. These three obviously have a deep bond and the potential to be the core of the series for some time to come.

Unfortunately, the great stories which seemed to propel the series seemed to start drying up at this point. While the two story arcs dominating this DVD set are far from horrible (one is excellent), they aren’t up to the caliber of writing from the first season of Wiseguy.

The White Supremacy Arc deals with prejudice and hate in a New York neighborhood as it’s “changing”. Stores are changing hands and it seems like the minorities are forcing out the “hard-working people” who always lived there. Richie Strand (portrayed by Tim Guinee) is a kid from the neighborhood who sort of latches on to Vinnie and eventually finds himself in way too deep with the group.

Fred Thompson guest stars as the enigmatic Dr. Knox Pooley. He worships Hitler and listens to recordings from Nazi-era Germany. The group is looking for weaponry and comes to Vinnie to purchase weapons. They are suspected in a variety of hate-related crimes as well as the murder of an off-duty police officer.

The better of the two story arcs in this set is most definitely the Garment Business Arc. Jerry Lewis, Ron Silver, and Stanley Tucci are guest stars in this story. Lewis is excellent and that is something for me to say as I have never cared for him as an actor, nor in his comedy. The unfortunate part of this arc was that Ken Wahl was injured early on and due to time constraints, another actor was brought in as an alternate agent to fill in for Vinnie, who is also written out of the shows as being injured.

Lewis portrays Eli Sternberg, a garment industry manufacturer who goes to loan shark Ricky Pinzolo (Tucci) when he begins experiencing financial difficulties. Caught in the middle is Eli’s son, David (Silver) who has misgivings about the situation and turns to the OCB for help. The trio of guest stars really makes this story work, along with a well-written, tight story. I would have liked to have seen it expanded from five episodes to a full half-season, the way the story arcs in the first season were, but overall it’s a good storyline. It’s just about the only thing that makes this DVD set worth viewing.

The final two DVDs in the set consist of four random episodes which were filler in between the story arcs. First of all, they could have easily fit on one DVD. Why Studio Works felt the need to draw them out over two DVDs is beyond me as there’s no getting around this should not have been a four-disc set. Then there is the problem that some of the events the three main characters talk about in those episodes haven’t occurred yet chronologically.

The quality of the DVD transfer is pretty poor. The volume doesn’t seem even throughout the set and I found myself adjusting it quite a bit. As with the other sets for this series, the original music missing, and what is substituted is often tinny. I wish the marketers of these series would spend the extra money to do them right and include the original music. From what I understand, outside of the United States, you can find DVD boxed sets with the original music intact.

The other problem is the structuring of the DVD boxed set itself. The various story arcs and miscellaneous episodes seem to be thrown together and are not as cohesive as the first two sets.

In addition, there are stories included in Prey for the City which contradict earlier storylines. For instance, in the first season, Frank’s father was shown being thrown out of old-age homes repeatedly. During Stairway to Heaven, he talks about his father dying a slow death. When did this occur? Frank and his wife were separated early on and suddenly here they are together again. Something could have occurred in the episodes which are missing from the music industry arc, but right now as it stands it looks like a huge shift in Frank’s story throughout the series.

Likewise, the last two episodes on the fourth disc are originally from about halfway through the third season, not the second, and refer to events that takes place in a series of episodes surrounding the music industry which have never been released on DVD. There’s no way of knowing the entire storyline talked about, plus they are out of place. What was the purpose of throwing them in here?

While I have enjoyed viewing Wiseguy again after more than fifteen years, I really wish these DVD boxed sets had been done right. The series was much better than these sets will lead you to believe. This set is worth it if only for the first two discs and story arcs. Skip the last two.

Episode Guide:

Disc One:
Going Home
School of Hard Knox
Revenge of the Mud People
Last of the True Believers

Disc Two

7th Avenue Freeze Out
Next of Kin
All or Nothing
Where‘s The Money
Postcard From Morocco

Disc Three

Stairway to Heaven
White Noise

Disc Four

The Reunion

Bonus Material:

Commentary by Ken Wahl on various episodes