“Now we’re off to catch the bad guys. Do you have any idea how we might do that?”
It’s yet another TV series that was short-lived but well-liked, and fondly remembered by those who saw it back in the day. Now that Tenspeed and Brown Shoe is on DVD, does it live up to the fans’ beloved memories?
Lionel “Brown Shoe” Whitney (Jeff Goldblum, The Fly) is a bored stockbrocker who dreams of becoming a heroic private eye. E.L. “Tenspeed” Turner (Ben Vereen, Zoobilee Zoo) is a con artist fresh out of jail and looking for the next big score. After meeting, the guys decide to start their own detective agency, even though they have no idea how to be detectives. They have many misadventures.
This four-disc set contains twelve of the show’s thirteen episodes, which get my vote for the goofiest-sounding episode titles in TV history:
• “Robin Tucker’s Roseland Roof and Ballroom Murders”
A mysterious billionaire hires Whitney to find a girl, no questions asked. He and Turner do ask questions, though, uncovering a conspiracy and learning the girl is in danger.
• “Savage Says: There’s No Free Lunch”
Whitney falls for a client, a lovely dancer who believes someone is trying to kill her. Meanwhile, some crooks that Turner ripped off years ago return to settle the score.
• “Savage Says: What Are Friends For?”
An old friend of Whitney’s, who married his old flame, shows up asking for help. His case gets the guys involved with a dangerous motorcycle gang.
• “The Sixteen-Byte Data Chip and the Brown-Eyed Fox”
This time, it’s Turner’s turn to fall in love with the client, after she hires him and Whitney to find her missing brother, a computer programmer involved in a sneaky tax scam.
• “The Millionaire’s Life”
To keep the detective agency afloat, Turner enlists an old buddy to pull of a big con behind Whitney’s back. When their phony crime uncovers a real crime, the guys find themselves with a new case to solve.
• “The Most Dangerous Bird is the Jailbird”
A sexy lounge singer asks for the boys’ protection from a murderous gangster. Their “protection” involves breaking into a mansion owned by actor George Hamilton.
• “It’s Easier to Pass an Elephant through the Eye of a Needle than a Bad Check in Bel Air”
Turner’s troublemaking nephew arrives in town, just as Turner is pulling a scam on a wealthy sheik. The nephew has a book of sensitive financial info on him, but the thugs after the book thing Turner has it.
• “Loose Larry’s List of Losers”
Turner is assigned a new parole officer, one who wants nothing more than to see Turner locked up again. When someone tries to kill him, Turner and Whitney try to solve the case to earn favor with the cop and keep Turner out of jail.
• “This One’s Gonna Kill You”
Whitney investigates a 40-year-old unsolved murder. When people start shooting at him, he discovers he’s not the only one who still has an interest in the case.
Whitney and Turner’s office cleaning lady turns out to be long-lost Russian royalty (!) in possession of a valuable jeweled dagger. An unscrupulous history professor is after the dagger, so she turns to our heroes for help.
• “The Treasure of Sierra Madre Street”
A judge hires Whitney and Turner to determine whether a criminal is faking an insanity plea. Said criminal, however, has a tragic story to tell, and the guys’ loyalties are torn.
• “Diamond Aren’t Forever”
Whitney’s uptight parents pay a visit, disapproving of their son’s new line of work. They can’t help but get involved as he and Turner get caught up in the hunt for some stolen diamonds.
If our main characters are named Whitney and Turner, then why is the show called Tenspeed and Brown Shoe? God if I know, because the first episode isn’t on this set. I only know the basic premise and the fact that Whitney is “Brown Shoe” and Turner is “Tenspeed” thanks to the text on the back of the box. Allegedly, the pilot isn’t here because of ownership and/or legal issues, but it’s still a disservice not to include it. Newcomers like me will be lost without a proper introduction to these characters and their world, and the show’s many cult following fans will be disappointed to see the series is not complete on this set.
As for the rest of the show, I can see why it’s still so loved and admired by viewers after all these years. It’s a funny, quirky take on the private eye genre. Most episodes are bookended by Whitney reading from these trashy detective novels he loves, the sensationalistic plots of which mirror or contrast his own adventures. When the real private eye life clashes with Whitney’s dream of what he believes it should be like, that’s when he’s out of his element, and, as such, that’s when the show is at its best. It’s during these moments that Turner is there to inform Whitney how “real life” works.
The straight-laced Whitney is all about helping people and doing the right thing. The streetwise Turner, on the other hand, is all about doing whatever it takes to get by, no matter how ethical or unethical. A lot of times, Whitney will march headfirst into a situation and announce himself as a private eye, only to get nowhere, while Turner takes a sneakier approach sweet-talking and conning his way toward their goals. Somewhere in between their two styles, they get the job done, solving the case and helping out the client of the week.
This was one of Jeff Goldblum’s first starring roles, and it’s easy to see why he went on to be such a success. His peculiar brand of charisma is in full force, quirky and nerdy and yet somehow self confident at the same time. The writers know to play off his mannerisms by giving him long, rambling speeches loaded with goofy phrases, such as when he cautions a pickpocketing child not to leave his morality in a bus station locker. What? Nonsensical, but funny.
As the con artist Turner, the running joke for Vereen is that he usually adopts other personas about once per episode, wearing crazy costumes and talking in other voices or accents. At times, it seems like he takes nothing seriously, and I started to wonder if there was any genuine friendship between these two guys, or if Turner was just using Whitney for his own ends. At one point, though, when Whitney gets injured, a following scene has Turner looking after his pal in a funny way, demonstrating that there is some humanity and heart to his character after all.
Don’t expect a lot of action in this series. Although there are chases and gunfights, the emphasis is on the wisecracks and the screwy characters. Likewise, the actual mysteries are not complex whodunits, but more like excuses to get the guys into various crazy situations each week. The show is all about laughter, and not thrills or explorations of the human condition. There’s no better example of this than the karate. Whitney claims to be a black belt, but his fighting style is pure slapstick. He lets out high-pitched shrieks spoofing Bruce Lee, while the actual fight choreography is slower than Kirk fighting the Gorn. Clumsy and far from exciting, but weirdly entertaining—kind of like this series as a whole.
The full frame picture and 1.0 mono audio are middle-of-the-road specs at best. There are absolutely no extras, and, as with most Mill Creek releases, the discs are barely held in place in those flimsy little envelopes. Flimsy little envelopes haunt my nightmares!
Get this: The episodes have their eyecatches intact. What’s an eyecatch? It’s the little graphic and bit of theme music that pops up at the end of an act break, with an announcer who tells us, “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe will be right back.” This is the first non-anime TV release I’m aware of that has the eyecatches. So is it good to have these for historical purposes, to experience the show as viewers experienced it back in the day, or is it bad, in that they interrupt the action and take viewers out of the story? I’ll let you decide.
Tenspeed and Brown Shoe is not the best detective show ever made, but it’s funny and quirky, and enjoyable enough for what it is. This weak presentation on DVD, though, means I just can’t recommend a purchase. Put it on your rental queue if you’re curious to see it.