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Monday, July 03, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Turn of the Century Fox" (1985)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Turn of the Century Fox" (CBS-TV/Sony 1985) Original Air Date: January 6, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox.  Guest Stars: Rue McClanahan as Angie Chambers, Charles Aidman as Randolph Lehrman, DeAnna Robbins as Miss Watley, Kenneth Tigar as Dr. Benoli.  Written by Thomas A. Chehak.  Directed by Paul Krasny. 

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.

Co-created by two sitcom vets (John Basham, Roger Shulman) and two action specialists (Frank Cardea and George Schenck), CRAZY LIKE A FOX was conceived as a blend of the two when it appeared that the traditional sitcom was slowly fading away (that is, until Bill Cosby proved that theory false just months before FOX finally hit the air in midseason).  

The show's second installment Turn of the Century Fox showed this concept hitting its stride quickly.  Detective Harry Fox is invited to the reading of old friend Tony Chambers' will, of which son Harrison is the executor.  After seeing real estate, automobiles and Giants season tickets bequeathed elsewhere, Harry is disappointed to find that he's inherited a sealed cigar box.  However, Harry's dismay turns to intrigue when wealthy Randolph Lehrman offers him $1600 for the box--with the stipulation that the contents (which Chambers said revealed "the secret to my success") must remain sealed

Two years before SLEDGE HAMMER! and four before THE NAKED GUN, Harry Fox stakes an immediate claim to the title of Worst Driving Detective.  Fox's battered 1975 Coupe de Ville sputters to the Chambers home, almost losing a mirror on the driver's side before the opening credits are over.  Later, a ramming contest with a pursuer ends up with a few more dings in both vehicles and one destroyed Speedy Mat...too bad, the film processor offered one hour nitrate-to-VHS service.

And poor put-upon Harrison ends up with crashing a restaurant's patio dining, getting food spilled on him (likely ruining two nice suits) and, of course, having Harry bum a ride to the Chambers estate.  Rubenstein immediately makes a wonderful straight man for Warden, and surmises why Harry Fox retains such lovability no matter how many times he destroys a vehicle or puts a cigar out on a stucco wall: when Harry ponders why Mr. Chambers gifted him with a secret that he even kept from the Mrs., Harrison knows.  "Because he trusted you to do the right thing."  Even if it meant passing up ever-increasing offers before solving the mystery.

Like lead-in MURDER, SHE WROTE, CRAZY LIKE A FOX always provided guest casts stocked with familiar faces.  The biggest name in Turn of the Century Fox is Rue McClanahan, months away from starting her signature role as Blanche on THE GOLDEN GIRLS.  As the widow of a similarly disheveled detective who was one of Harry's closest friends, she's no stranger to the senior Fox's free spirited ways or the exasperation that is often part of the bargain.  She thankfully takes the wheel from Harry during the third and final chase sequence, proving that Chambers was apparently quite an effective trailer--with her help.

The rest of Mr. Fox's inheritance?  A lone cigar in the box, and some obviously creased baseball cards of the 1942 Washington Senators (62-89, 7th place in the A.L.), likely not too valuable unless one of them was Early Wynn's.  (Grandson Josh informs us that Harry's own collection from the 1930's includes a DiMaggio.)  The comedy always outshined the mystery on this series, which isn't an indictment of the not-bad plotting.  While Turn of the Century Fox offers fewer of the oddballs who always seemed to owe Harry a much-needed favor, there's plenty of laughs to be had in Fox's Clouseau-like ability to create chaos effortlessly and Jack Warden's flawlessly timed one-liners. (*** out of four)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX airs Monday through Thursday at 9 AM Central time on getTV.

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