DVD Review: WISEGUY: The Complete First season.

Mill Creek Entertainment
Release date: August 25, 2009
MSRP: $14.98

Stars: Ken Wahl, Jonathan Banks, Jim Byrnes, Kevin Spacey and Ray Sharkey

For those of you that are not familiar with the series, WISEGUY debuted in 1987 and starred Ken Wahl as Vinnie Terranova, an agent for the FBI agent with the Organized Crime unit. Vinne goes deep undercover to bring down the bad guys.

The show was innovative in that it carried a story arc as long as need be, not for merely one or two episodes. It delivered a gritty, well-written story that could be enjoyed by the general public as well as those looking for something with more substance.

Season one starts with Vinnie going under in an Atlantic City crime syndicate run by Sonny Steelgrave (Ray Sharkey). Vinnie develops a relationship with Sonny, one that goes beyond his job. This often causes him to pause and debate on the best course of action. Vinnie reports to his handler Frank McPike (Jonathan Banks), and also makes contact with Dan “Lifeguard” Burroughs (Jim Byrnes). They work to keep him focused on his job and to make sure Sonny’s influence is not too deep. In addition to the main story, they also take some time to focus on these two side characters, giving them some depth.

The latter part of season one has Vinnie working with Mel Profitt (Kevin Spacey) and his sister Susan Profitt (Joan Severance). The Profitts are very good at what they do and have thus far flown under the radar of the FBI. If Vinnie can bring them down, it would be a major bust. But, Vinnie quickly starts to feel as though he is in way over his head. Mel is bi-polar. While Bi-polar is something that is hard to deal with in normal folks, it is especially troubling in a crime boss that can kill you with one uttered word. Susan is not much better, as she clearly has issues of her own.

Ray Sharkey was fantastic as Sonny so the show really needed to do something special to prevent the second story from being overshadowed by the Sonny tale. Spacey is utterly amazing in the role that put him on the map as a rising star. Severance also delivers the goods as Susan and helps the show maintain the high standard the first story established.

The picture quality is mixed. There certainly is some pixalation present as well as some fuzziness. I noticed that they have put 5 and 6 episodes on each disc. I can’t help but wonder if things might not have been better if they had used a higher bit rate and put just four eps on each disc?

But the set is still very watchable. In fact, I have seen worse quality from the biggest studios. I do my viewing on a 51” Sony and had little problem. As I said, some issues are present, but they did not ruin my overall viewing.

In addition, songs have been changed. This is nothing new and folks should accept that this is likely going to be part of almost any television series on DVD. It seems like each time it happens, some fans get up in arms. Financially, it simply is not pos to include all the original songs and still make money. These eps are also in mono. This, I can’t really rationalize for them, except to say the price point makes this a bargin release. You are getting what you paid for. For casual fans, this set will still be worth the money.

Sadly, but not surprising, there are not extras here.

Excluding the hairdos and some clothes, WISEGUY stands up nicely. There certainly are some negatives to the set, but the price helps offset that. The depth and complexity of the characters helped pave the way for shows like THE WIRE and THE SHIELD. The writers assume the audience has a decent attention span and at least a few brain cells. Anyone that enjoyed the aforementioned shows should pick up a copy of WISEGUY and settle in for some damn good television.

Order season one of WISEGUY.

Jeremy Lynch
For more reviews from myself, and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.