- Title: Spenser for Hire – Promised Land
- IMDb: link
The year was 1985 and private detective shows were in vogue. The decade saw shows like Magnum, P.I., Remington Steele, Moonlighting, Matt Houston, Simon & Simon, Mike Hammer, Jake and the Fatman, Partners in Crime, and others all hit the airwaves. One of those shows was Spenser for Hire. My introduction into the world of Robert B. Parker‘s Boston private investigator came not from one of the author’s novels but the television show based on them. And I’ve been a fan ever since.
Setting him apart from Thomas Magnum, Matt Houston, or Remington Steele, Spenser (Robert Urich) was a low-rent local private eye in Boston with limited resources. Hew was a smart ass with a strong moral code, both of which would get him into trouble multiple times throughout the series. As with the novels, the show was set in Boston and, thanks to heavy location shooting in the city the show was set in, Boston itself plays a major character in the show.
Adapted from Parker’s novel of the same name, the show’s pilot episode “Promised Land” introduces us to the detective, his shrink girlfriend Susan Silverman (Barbara Stock), friends a the Boston Police Department in Seargeant Frank Belson (Ron McLarty) and Lieutenant Martin Quirk (Richard Jaeckel), and Spenser’s less scrupulous associate Hawk (Avery Brooks). Other aspects of the show such as Spenser’s cooking, literary mind, sense of chivalry and guilt, and Henry Cimoli’s Gym are all introduced as well. The plot of the episode follows closely to the book as Spenser is hired by a husband (Geoffrey Lewis) to track down his missing wife (Donna Mitchell). Doing so, but seeing clearly the woman has no interest in doing so, Spenser refuses to tell his client, who has bigger problems to deal with than his missing wife, where she can be found.
Without a client, but unable to let either matter rest, Spenser begins poking into the husband’s money troubles and learns he owes a sizable sum to local gangster King Powers (Chuck Connors) who Hawk often works for. He’s also contacted by the wife whose new activist friends get her into some serious trouble. Working to solve both problems with a single solution, Spenser finds a way to save the wife from prison, save the husband from Powers’ leg-breakers, and find a bit of justice for his former client who was killed by one of Powers’ underlings in the opening scene.
After the series ended I started reading Parker’s original novels, and his other series, which continued under other writers following Parker’s death in 2010. With all three seasons finally available on DVD it’s fun to return to Spenser’s world. Set before cell phones and the Internet, Spenser for Hire holds up well 30 years later. “Promised Land” isn’t the best episode of the series but it’s a strong series opener at sets the stage for the next three years. Despite other actors stepping in years later in a series of TV movies following the books more closely, I can’t help but always think of Urich, Stock, and Brooks at the proper version of each character. Fans of the show should definitely track down the series, and for those who love private eye dramas Spenser for Hire is certainly worth a long look.