Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Barbary Coast (1975)

Barbary Coast
Debut: May 4, 1975
Created by Douglas Heyes
Starring: William Shatner, Richard Kiel, Dave Turner, Doug McClure
Synopsis: 19th-century government agent and master of disguise Jeff Cable fights crime with the reluctant aide of San Francisco owner and gambler, Cash Conover. 

Trey: Barbary Coast is a 1975-1976 Western series that aired on ABC. It was William Shatner's first live action starring TV role since Star Trek and featured 70s B-movie staple, Doug McClure, as his sidekick.  The show is named for its primary setting, San Francisco's infamous red light district in the latter half of the 19th century.

The series didn't get a great reception and only lasted one season. We watched the final episode "The Dawson Marker," which aired January 8, 1976. In it, Cable (Shatner) is on the trail of gold stolen by Confederate raiders that's about to be claimed by the heirs of the original thieves, each of whom has a marker that together will unlock the secret location of the treasure. I suspect as typical with this show this involves some disguise, con artistry, and a modicum of fisticuffs, generally handled humorously.

I think the setting and set-up is a good one. It clearly takes some inspiration from The Wild Wild West but removes some of the 60s spy-fi eccentricity and settles the action in San Francisco full-time. The more humorous direction is borrowed from Maverick (certainly the gambling focus is), and maybe Alias Smith and Jones which also featured two leads.

Jason: The premise is one with potential. I could see a modern HBO remake with the debauchery turned up to 11 working. 

Trey: Shatner acquits himself well, doing a better job than audiences of the era might have expected with the humorous material.

Jason: Shatner, whose character appears in disguise as one of the would-be heirs throughout the episode, pulls it off with panache to spare, but it's not enough!

Trey: It is not. McClure is a bit flat, to me, and may be miscast.

Jason: McClure, who I know chiefly from his 70s Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations, seems more at home fighting animatronic plesiosaurs. 

Trey: The script for this episode is serviceable, but not great. Uninspired, might be the word. 

Jason: Serviceable is the right word. The plot works on paper! But, by the end of the episode I thought to myself "Well, so long Barbary Coast, you were a serviceable hour of lukewarm entertainment.

Trey: The guest stars seem unwilling or incapable of enlivening it. It was funny to see Spencer Milligan--Land of the Lost's Rick Marshall--as a bad guy.

Jason: It was, but only for a moment. I think we are in full agreement here. Sometimes you look back at the nearly forgotten past and uncover hidden gems like Mr. Lucky. Other times are like this. 

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