Tune in Tonight: 'Cry Wolfe' debuts
By KEVIN McDONOUGH
United Feature Syndicate
"Cry Wolfe" (10 p.m., ID) debuts, a 21st-century reality TV take on the private eye.
Private detectives used to dominate popular fiction. Time was, every other 25-cent paperback, movie or TV drama featured freelance gumshoes ferreting out the crooks, cheats and swindlers the cops couldn't, or wouldn't, find.
Private detective TV shows proliferated before popular culture celebrated the police. Cops were sometimes seen as corrupt appendages to big city political machines, or incompetent time-servers. Or both.
TV viewers saw detectives as suave operators like "Peter Gunn," a knock-off of Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade and any number of movie private eyes. TV police were the butt of jokes in sitcoms like "Car 54, Where Are You?" Sheriff Andy (of "The Andy Griffith Show") may have been a wise man, but Deputy Barney Fife was closer to TV's portrayal of police. As late as the mid-1960s, the image of the confused, hand-wringing Irish cop was central to the Chief Clancy O'Hara character on "Batman," a bumbler who burbled, "Saints, be praised!" while the Caped Crusader did his work for him.
Respect for TV police ("Dragnet 1967," ''Adam-12," ''N.Y.P.D.," "The Streets of San Francisco," etc.) arrived as voters began to respond to "Law & Order" candidates and worry about urban crime and civil unrest. Movies, most notably Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" Callahan films, not only respected the police, but egged them on to vigilante tactics.
''Shaft," ''The Rockford Files" and "Magnum, P.I.," would come along, but fictional private eyes, and viewers, had to treat the police with a little more respect.
Brian Wolfe of "Cry Wolfe" isn't exactly Nero Wolfe. He's deeply rooted in the reality genre. He may work the not-so-mean streets of Los Angeles, but he sports a New England accent as thick as any Wahlberg. As on any number of shows about ghost hunters, antique pickers or tattoo parlors, the "action" and "comedy" consists of his chitchat with his female assistants, who sometimes pose as his wife to catch a suspect.
With the help of his genial and patient assistant Janine McCarthy, Wolfe uses social media to find cheating spouses, dishonest employees, con artists and scammers, and to deliver the good (but mostly bad) news to their clients.
Remember how Jake Gittes used to have to steal information from the hall of public records in "Chinatown"? PIs have it so easy now. Using only Facebook, Janine can find photos of a woman accused of luring a client's husband into a real estate honey trap. In another instance, a suspect leaves a second-by-second account of thinly veiled infidelity on her Twitter feed! How do you spell "stupid" in 140 characters or fewer?
As detective stories have told us since Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," the clues are out there. You just have to know where to look and what to make of them.