24 July 1999 | Carson-15
Although not up to the standard of the 1957 series, this is diverting and interesting.
The 1957 version of this series is the Holy Grail of episodic television, with actor James Garner and writer Roy Huggins creating an unforgettable character. This noble attempt at a revival falls far short of the original, but then so does practically everything else, so perhaps in fairness it should be judged on its own terms. The problem is with the scripts, starting with the poorly paced pilot, an hour's worth of script padded to two hours and resorting to a sequence featuring an Indian guide tediously and endlessly leading Garner around in circles in the desert. This scene is trimmed to good effect for the current version making the rounds as a TV-movie. A gambling sequence earlier on misses a boat by not focusing on the other players at all. The Dandy Jim Buckley character with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. would have been ideal to have been revived for these scenes had that been possible. Some of the celebrities of the day incorporated into various episodes are weirdly the wrong age, with such eye-opening curiosities as an elderly Doc Holiday, and Theodore Roosevelt presented as a spherical figure of comic relief at a point when he would actually have been a wiry young rancher venturing west to recover from the double deaths of his young wife and mother. The worst aspect of the show, though, is the premise of Maverick settling down in one spot, when nonstop drifting is such a signature part of his identity. One of the scripts in particular is embarrassingly bad while some of the others are quite good, and Garner himself is always a vast entertainment to watch, particularly in his best role. Another revival, this time as a one-shot TV movie, should be in the offing while Garner is still around to play the part. Jack Kelly, who played his brother Bart in both series, is dead now, and it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to check in on Maverick at a more advanced age. "Bret Maverick" is a good series on its own merit, but not as good as Garner's other three major series, "Nichols," "The Rockford Files," or especially the original "Maverick," which remains the gold standard in the annals of both Garner and series television. This series stands as a footnote to the original and an intriguing curio. NBC obviously jumped the gun by cancelling it too soon.