When the first season
of Crime Story
ended spectacularly in the Nevada desert, it was anyone's guess what season 2 would do for an encore. With low first-season ratings and conservative watchdogs complaining about its violence, the show received a surprise renewal that necessitated the "miraculous" return of mob-boss Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) and his dimwit sidekick Pauli Taglia (played by former Chicago burglar John Santucci). Moving from 10:00 p.m. Fridays to a new 10:00 p.m. Tuesday-night timeslot on NBC, the Michael Mann-produced series continued its ratings decline, and this lent the series a giddy, go-for-broke quality that held plenty of surprises. The year is 1966, and Chicago Police Lt. Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and his close-knit Major Crimes Unit continues to track Luca's criminal activities in Las Vegas, where additional complications fueled a number of dynamic, stand-alone episodes, beginning with season opener "The Senator, the Movie Star and the Mob," guest-starring Kevin Spacey (in his first major TV role) and Jenny Wright (Near Dark
) in a sordid, mob-connected plot with obvious parallels to Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. This established the neon-lit, casino-and-nightclub milieu of the season, and Luca's reappearance set the season in volatile motion.
The series' daring, pulp-fictional style attracted an impressive array of guests stars and newcomers, some of whom (like 24's Dennis Haysbert) would later appear in Michael Mann's films. Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs) reprises his role as burglar-turned-rocker Frank Holman; Margaret Avery (The Color Purple) and NYPD Blue's James McDaniel are superb in the racial-tension plot of "Seize the Time"; Laura San Giacomo (sex, lies, and videotape) aces her role as Luca's former flame in "Protected Witness"; and Elias Koteas delivers a fine performance in "Roadrunner," an exciting road-thriller episode that showcases Farina's skill with hardboiled comedy. (For the record, other noteworthy guest stars include Pam Grier, David Hyde Pierce, Billy Zane, David Soul, Steven Weber, Michael Jeter, and recurring performances by Andrew Dice Clay and Rolling Stone editor Jann S. Wenner.) "Pauli Taglia's Dream" is an outrageous experiment in all-out delirium, focusing on Santucci's scene-stealing character and providing a wacky lead-up to the season's climactic story arc, which leads Luca and Torello to their ultimate showdown in an unspecified Latin American country full of corruptible drug-trade politicians.
Of course, any innovative series has a few drawbacks: The violent shootouts turn somewhat redundant as the season progresses, and while Torello's gun-toting crew is brought to life by a perfect supporting cast (Bill Smitrovich, Ray Butler, Steve Ryan, and a young Bill Campbell), there was never enough time (or episodes) to properly develop their characters. The turncoat betrayal of lawyer David Abrams (superbly played by Stephen Lang) is never fully convincing (you just know he's not a bad guy), and when Crime Story's cancellation inevitably came to pass, the final-episode cliffhanger of "Going Home" (broadcast May 10, 1988) left frustrated fans with unanswered questions and nowhere else to go. It's especially regrettable, then, that this four-DVD set offers no extras whatsoever. The fact that Farina, Denison, Mann, and series cocreators Chuck Adamson and Gustave Reininger were not invited to do audio commentaries represents a missed opportunity of epic proportions. We can be grateful, however, that the series' pop-music soundtrack (chosen by the great Al Kooper, credited as "Guy Who Picks Music for the Show") remains intact and unchanged as an essential ingredient to one of the best TV shows of the 1980s. --Jeff Shannon