Saturday, January 28, 2012
Digital Digest: New Big Bang Blu-rays, Bazinga!; Father Dowling Mysteries - The First Season DVD Review
BLOG FEATURE REVIEW
Catholic priest Father Frank Dowling (Tom Bosley) continually stumbles over murders, abductions and other high crimes in his hometown of Chicago. Assisted by street-smart Sister Stephanie "Steve" Oskowski (Tracy Nelson), wherever the holy duo go, someone usually turns up dead. While the local police are quick to find a likely suspect, the snooping priest just as quickly finds a good reason to take a closer look. Now, for the first time on DVD, you can enjoy this 2-Disc collection of the first season of Father Dowling Mysteries which includes the Original TV Pilot Movie! Father Phil (James Stephens) is going to have to take 10 o'clock Mass, because Father Dowling has got a murder to solve!
Father Dowling Mysteries began with a two-hour TV pilot movie called "Fatal Confession," which originally aired on NBC on November 1, 1987. The show was picked up for the fall 1988-89 season, but it did not begin airing until January 20, 1989 because of a writer's strike. After the first season was broadcast on Friday nights on NBC, it moved to ABC on Thursday nights for the last two seasons. A total of 43 episodes were broadcast plus the pilot movie. Here are the episodes included on this release:
"Fatal Confession" (Original TV Pilot Movie) (11/30/87) (1:36:00) - The pilot episode finds Father Dowling and Sister Steve investigating the apparent suicde of a former parishoner. In between saying Mass, hearing confessions and managing the softball team, Father Dowling somehow finds time to conduct his own investigation.
Notable Guest Stars: Susan Blakely, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Scolari, Sada Thompson, Stella Stevens
1-2. "The Missing Body Mystery" (01/20/89) (1:33:44) - Father Dowling lands on the wrong side of the FBI after a dying man falls dead at his feet. Father Dowling puts the church in a bad light when he insists on tracking down the killer.
Notable Guest Star: Robert Walden
3. "What Do You Call a Call Girl Mystery" (01/27/89) (47:47) - Father Dowling comes to the aid of a man whose fiancée was murdered just as she was about to confess being a prostitute. A search leads to three powerful clients, none of whom want to be invovled in a scandal.
Notable Guest Stars: David L. Lander, James Noble
4. "The Man Who Came to Dinner Mystery" (02/10/89) (47:32) - Father Dowling Mysteries becomes a family affair when guest star Harriet Nelson appears alongside granddaughter Tracy Nelson.
Notable Guest Stars: Harriet Nelson, John Slattery
5. "The Mafia Priest Mystery, Part 1" (02/17/89) (47:47) - Father Dowling finds himself caught in a bizarre mystery when he attempts to prove a fellow priest innocent of murder. He and street-smart schemer Sister Steve get more than they bargained for when they discover the young priest's family is indeed connected to organized crime!
Notable Guest Star: Andreas Katsulas
6. "The Mafia Priest Mystery, Part 2" (02/24/89) (47:51) - Undeterred by appearances, FAther Dowling sets out to prove a young priest innocent of murder after he discovers the priest has been framed by a member of his own family. Nothing is ever easy, of course, and when th real assassin is himself killed. Dowling must rely on a family member who is too afraid to tell the truth.
Notable Guest Star: Andreas Katsulas
7. "The Face in the Mirror Mystery" (03/03/89) (47:50) - When the good Father's evil half-brother shows up unexpectedly, Dowling suspects right away that the evil one is up to no good. After thrwarting his brother's attempted diamond heist, Dowling finds himself in hot water when he discovers that the police can't tell the two brothers apart.
Notable Guest Star: Diane Ladd
8. "The Pretty Baby Mystery" (03/10/89) (46:24) - Father Dowling and Sister Steve find themselves in the most unlikely role of parents when an abandoned baby is discovered at the rectory. When they attempt to reunite mother and child they learn that the mother is being chased by violent kidnappers.
The TV Pilot Movie and premiere episode are presented in their original two-hour format. All of the other episodes have runtimes of 46-47 minutes. There's a disclaimer on the back cover that reads: "Some episodes may be edited from their original network versions. Music has been changed for this home entertainment version." This is a standard disclaimer on most CBS DVD releases, so it doesn't necessarily mean any episodes are actually edited. I don't know how much music the show originally used, but hopefully any music substitutions are very minor. The set has a total running time of approximately 7 hours, 54 minutes.
The packaging for this 2-disc set is clear plastic Viva-case. On the cover, we have a photo of Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson, along with the show title at the top and a church glass background. On the back, there are more episode snapshots of Bosley and Nelson, along with a description of the series and the DVD specs. Tom Bosley is featured on the spine of the case. Inside, you'll find the episode titles, original airdates and short summaries listed by disc. The discs just have gray artwork with the series logo on them. Disc 1 contains three episodes (two of which are two-hour episodes). Disc 2 contains five one-hour episodes.
Moving on to the menus, they are simply designed and easy to navigate. The main menu features Tom Bosley on Disc 1 and Tracy Nelson on Disc 2. A partially shattered glass church background is used. The episode titles are listed vertically in yellow text. The episode you highlight is blue than turns red upon your selection. When you select an episode, it takes you to another sub-menu that features a different photo of Bosley and Nelson on each disc. The subtitles menu features a different photo of Bosley and Nelson on each disc. You can turn on the English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on this menu. Chapters are placed throughout each episode at all of the appropriate places.
The video and audio quality is very good. I don't have any original episodes on tape to compare, but it looks like the episodes were probably remastered a bit for this release. These episodes were shot over 20 years ago, so they do show some age. They are presented in their original full frame ratio and in their original broadcast order. Father Dowling Mysteries was shot on film. There were many outdoor scenes and different locations used. According to the IMDB, Father Dowling's church is in Denver, CO and the first season was shot there as well before moving to Los Angeles for the final two seasons. I thought the episodes may look a little brighter, but this may have just been the way they were originally shot. The show has kind of a dark and gritty look to it. The audio is a Dolby Digital English Stereo track. I didn't hear any problems with the audio. This show had a very nice melodic theme and score in the episodes. English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are available on all of the episodes.
Only episode promos are included as a special feature. These are 35-40 second previews that tell you what's happening "next on Father Dowling". The video quality of these promos isn't as good as the episodes, but they are fun to see and they give you a good idea of what each episode is about. They are avaiable for all of the episodes except for "The Mafia Priest Mystery, Part 2." It would have been nice to have some vintage or new interviews with the cast and crew. Sadly, Tom Bosley died in October 2010. This is a show that I know so little about. It would be interesting to hear about the show's production history. The show also featured a number of guest stars. They could have highlighted some of them in a featurette.
Everyone's favorite mystery-solving priest is now on DVD! Despite being a big fan of Happy Days and Tom Bosley, this is a series that I've only seen a handful of episodes over the years. It's always been a series that I've wanted to see in its entirety, but I just never got around to watching it. Only three seasons were made, but the show has popped up in syndication over the years and seems to have a devoted fan base. I've liked what I've seen in the episodes in the past and look forward to catching up with it on DVD.
There was a lot to like about this series. Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson may have seemed like an unlikely pairing, but they had good chemistry and worked well together. The show also had some great writing, directing and production values. I also loved the show's opening theme credits and music. I'll never forget seeing Tom Bosley wearing his beloved Chicago Cubs jacket. With a relatively small main cast, the show brought in quite a few guest stars on a weekly basis. The TV Pilot Movie and first season included notable guest stars like Susan Blakely, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Scolari, Sada Thompson, Stella Stevens, Robert Walden, David L. Lander, James Noble, Harriet Nelson, John Slattery, Andreas Katsulas and Diane Ladd. Before CSI and all of the violent crime shows of today, there were more family friendly mystery shows like Father Dowling Mysteries, Murder, She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder and Matlock. It was a different era back then. It's easy to understand why these types of shows remain popular today. Everybody likes a good mystery. If the first season sells well, hopefully we'll see the remaining two seasons released soon.
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