Television Reviews

DVD Review: Wiseguy: Between the Mob and a Hard Place – A Few Final Bright Spots

While there were many parts of the television series Wiseguy that were incredible, the way the boxed sets were put together leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, the problems which began with the first set produced by Universal have persisted, rather than been corrected.

First aired in 1987, Wiseguy followed the life of Vinnie Terranova as portrayed by Ken Wahl. Terranova is an agent with the OCB, or Organized Crime Bureau. He has gone deep undercover to infiltrate the mob, even having served time in prison to solidify his cover. His boss at the OCB is Frank McPike, portrayed by Jonathan Banks. His contact is a wheelchair-bound man known as Lifeguard, portrayed by Jim Byrnes.

Right off the bat, there are issues. An entire storyline was skipped over between the last story arc on DVD and Between the Mob and a Hard Place. The entire music industry arc has been left out of the collection. This was likely due to the fact that Universal didn’t want to pay to use the music contained in it, as they are notorious for deleting the original music present in many of their television shows (Quantum Leap is another series being released on DVD by Universal suffering from the same problem). When you are doing a series about the music industry, it would probably be pretty difficult to take out the music.

In Between the Mob and a Hard Place, all of a sudden, Vinnie is involved with Amber (portrayed by Patti D’Arbanville) and there’s no real explanation as to who she is and why they are together. If you’ve never seen the series before and try to pick up what’s going on just based on the boxed sets, you’ll be lost. This is unfortunate because the two actors really have chemistry together and the build-up of their relationship and knowing the history of what’s gone on is pretty important.

Amber is involved in the music industry and owns a record company. After all that has taken place prior to this, including losing her husband, she is now being victimized by her lawyer who is also trying to squeeze Vinnie out of the picture. Vinnie is falling hard for Amber, but she still doesn’t know who he really is. His mother returns from Italy with her husband, the allegedly-retired Don Aiuppo.

Vinnie’s personal life along with the consequences of his mother marrying the former (?) mobster swirl together as he tries to protect those he loves and at the same time do his job and maintain his cover.

The second story arc contained in this set is known as the “Counterfeit Yen Arc”. Vinnie is requested to work on a case outside of the bureau for the federal government. The man at the top is still holding a grudge after Vinnie thwarted his carefully orchestrated plan back in the story arc involving Mel and Susan Proffitt. Vinnie becomes involved in a possible conspiracy to destabilize the economy of Japan with an infusion of counterfeit yen. This involves some people in the highest parts of the government.

Guest stars throughout the arcs include Patti D’Arbanville, Michael Chiklis, and Chaz Palminteri.

As if this set didn’t have enough issues already, there are technical problems as well. Something is wrong with the transfer of A Rightful Place. It seemed to be transferred at the incorrect speed. The picture was jumpy and seemed to be stop-and-go action. On the fourth disc, I could not play back the two “bonus” episodes without the commentary by Ken Wahl. I messed with it for fifteen minutes on both my DVD player and my computer with the DVD player; with Windows Media Player as well as Intervideo WinDVD. None of these would let me cancel out the commentary.

However, watching it with the commentary proved to be very interesting as Ken Wahl also complains about Universal taking out the original music. I doubt Universal actually paid much attention to what he said as I would find it very unusual for someone hired to do commentary on a DVD to actually point out something like this in such a negative light.

Don’t get me wrong, much of the story told in Between the Mob and a Hard Place is pretty good. I wasn’t all that crazy about the Counterfeit Yen Arc, but the story involving the mob on the first two discs is pretty good. Ken Wahl is just smoking, especially with Patti D’Arbanville. The two really work well off of each other and the story is written pretty tightly. It was also nice to see a young, pre-stardom Chaz Palminteri shine as something other than a mobster. In his interview he talks about how he was doing A Bronx Tale in the theatre at the same time and wanted to get away from portraying a mobster. He is superb here as an Italian-American politician trying to claw his way to the top on the backs of the criminals he can prosecute.

I think the Bonus Episodes would be pretty good too, except that I couldn’t watch them in their entirety without Ken Wahl talking over them. How Will They Remember Me? is the story of Vinnie’s much-revered father in the neighborhood, and it won a Golden Globe award. From what I could see and hear of it, it is an excellent piece of television.

Wiseguy was an excellent television show and it really deserved much better treatment on DVD than it received. I recommend it, but only minimally, and I think many people who view it who don’t understand what’s missing will also be confused. I’d like to think Universal would read the criticism leveled at it’s DVD releases and change their tune, but so far they seem to be going for the quick money rather than quality.

Disc One:

Le Lacrime D’Amore Part 1
Le Lacrime D’AMore Part 2 – available with commentary by Ken Wahl
A Rightful Place

Disc Two:

The Battle of the Barge
Sins of the Father
Heir to the Throne

Disc Three:

Day One
Day Three
Day Seven
Day Nine

Disc Four:

Sleepwalk – available with commentary by Ken Wahl
How Will They Remember Me? – available with commentary by Ken Wahl

DVD Extras:

” Interview with Chazz Palminteri