Buddy Faro

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
819
1,854
Even by 1998 standards, this show feels by design very much a throwback to shows from prior decades, such as 77 Sunset Strip and The Rockford Files. While the look of it is quintessentially late-1990s network TV (albeit with some eccentric camera angles and editing choices), the breezy tongue-in-cheek approach, full of wisecracks (some genuinely funny, some cringe-worthy, and a few just perplexing), with paper-thin mysteries designed to be wrapped up in 42 minutes, and no real sense that the heroes are ever truly in danger, feels very much of a bygone era...perhaps not coincidentally, the era when our hero, Buddy, disappeared twenty years earlier. Dennis Farina's charm as Buddy carries the show, which can often become prone to overly-broad attempts at comedy, particularly in scenes where Buddy's partner Bob Jones (Frank Whaley) is left to his own devices without Farina's confident screen presence to ground the precarious tonal balance. In fact, I frequently found myself questioning the show's apparent categorization as a drama, as it feels more like a comedy at least half the time, if not more. There are points where it almost approaches Police Squad! / Naked Gun levels of winking at the audience, albeit not nearly as consistently well executed.

The show also relies very heavily on "man out of time" jokes regarding Buddy, which turn up at least a couple of times an episode, as he encounters something from the 1990s and is perplexed by it (women's aerobics! The Internet! Thrasher metal! The Spice Girls! And how about all this crazy food they sell at sports games now?! Can't I just get a hot dog and a beer?). These jokes likely seemed pretty stale in 1998, but now they just feel positively quaint, as the differences between 1978 and 1998 feel almost negligible, compared to how much the world has changed between the show's 1990s "modern day" and our own present.

The pilot is written by Frost and directed by Frost's longtime buddy Charlie Haid (Renko from Hill Street Blues)...Haid, who also co-executive produces, directed four of the eight aired episodes. The pilot doesn't really do a great job of telling the audience what to expect from the show, as it is mostly concerned with Bob's attempt to locate missing person Buddy, and then the aftermath once he finds him. It is a lot of fun, though. The pilot has a particularly frenetic, wacky pace, briskly edited, and stylistically is defined by a use of POV shots that was mostly dropped from the show's visual language after the pilot. Haid shoots many scenes as if we're in Bob's physical space, staring across the desk at the person he's interrogating (with a fish-eyed lens perspective and wildly-colored 1990s lighting choices), or following someone down a hall (occasionally with Bob then walking into his own POV shot eventually). I almost wish they'd kept this style for future episodes, as it makes things feel a little more lively and weird than the typical network series of the era, although that style also admittedly might have become exhausting after a few episodes.

Most of the plots revolve around the entertainment industry to one degree or another, and there is an element of the series that feels a bit "insider show biz." The second episode (written by Frost) revolves around an assassination attempt on George Hamilton, who supposedly played Buddy in a 1960s TV series based on his exploits (Peggy Lipton gets a shout-out in a line of dialogue...apparently she made her debut in an episode of the 1960s Buddy show called "Blonde Ambition"). Another case centers around a Playboy centerfold and features scenes at the Playboy Mansion and a cameo by Hugh Hefner (who had previously been the subject of an episode of the Lynch/Frost-produced American Chronicles docuseries, which was eventually expanded into a full-length Lynch/Frost-produced biopic). Other episodes take on somewhat more serious topics, albeit still in a show biz context. The seventh episode, "Talk Show Heller" (also written by Frost), has Buddy in a rare angry/vengeful mood as he takes on a Jerry Springer-esque TV host who takes advantage of his guests, especially the female ones, both on camera and off. The final episode aired, "Get Me Cody Swift," deals with the exploitation of child actors by the adults in their lives. These experiments with trying to be a bit more sincere are interesting, but lead to some pretty jarring shifts in tone when the typically silly comedy periodically rears its head.

Outside of Farina and Whaley, the other regulars are Allison Smith as Julie and Charlie Robinson (Mac from Night Court) as El Jefe. Julie is a Sally Field-worshiping aspiring actress who takes on a part-time gig as an investigator with Buddy and Bob's new firm; most of the time she is sent on her own amusing side missions which often emphasize her somewhat ditzy personality and usually serve as comic relief. Robinson's El Jefe is woefully underused...it seems that he knew Buddy in the 1970s, and when Buddy decided to disappear, Jefe also ended up hiding out in Mexico along with Buddy...but the show never reveals what their prior relationship was, why Jefe decided to also disappear from the world along with Buddy, or indeed anything else about him really, other than the fact that in early episodes he repeatedly threatens to kill Buddy because Buddy owes him money (a shtick which was dropped pretty quickly), and that he likes Soul Train. Frequently, Jefe will either be entirely absent from an episode or will only appear in a couple of scenes. It must be said that it's not a great look when out of your main cast of four, the black guy is the one who consistently gets the least screentime/development. The two main recurring guest stars are Pamela Gordon as Buddy's once and future secretary and former lover Velma, and Brent Hinkley as Buddy's pathetic landlord Skip. Both Velma and Skip are played with delicious deadpan, and work very well in the small concentrated doses we get of them.

There is little to no continuity between episodes. The episodes were clearly aired somewhat out of order, as the sixth episode ("Death by Airbrush") shows how Buddy came to own his nightclub, whereas the two prior episodes that aired before this one show Buddy already owning the club. The third episode, directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, is interesting, as it opens in a superficially similar way to Mulholland Drive, with an amnesiac woman wandering Sunset Blvd. with a purse full of money. It's fun to imagine a world where Buddy Faro had lasted longer and Mulholland Drive had gone to series, where Frost and Lynch could have each had TV shows on the air in 1999. In addition to Frost and Glatter, other Peaks alums include Barry Pullman, who writes two episodes (Scott Frost also apparently wrote at least one of the unaired episodes). Tracey Walter from On the Air also guests in the final episode aired (as does Hanson, because you know, it was 1998).

My favorites of the available episodes are the fourth, "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," and the sixth, "Death by Airbrush." Both have some icky/awkward moments in terms of 1990s sexual politics ("Airbrush" is the Hefner one and also has a completely uncalled-for dig at Monica Lewinsky), but in their best moments, these were the episodes that worked most effectively for me in capturing the unapologetically silly tone in a way that felt infectious. "Airbrush" builds to all the characters from various subplots ending up in a room together in the tradition of classic farce. "Kick" has a fun tongue-in-cheek approach to the typical formulaic Columbo-type "mystery of the week" show, as well as a rare opportunity for El Jefe to play some scenes of his own where Robinson shines, and one of my favorite completely random silly bits, involving a delivery service.

Buddy's Basics: While undeniably a lesser work, Buddy Faro is a fun genre exercise and a pleasant excuse to travel back to a simpler time.
 
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MilesDrentell

Sparkwood & 21
Jan 25, 2024
3
2
I'm loving these insightful and thorough explorations of Frost's heretofore neglected work!

As quaint as Buddy Faro seems now, it was on the edgier side of the gentle-toned procedurals that were CBS's bread and butter of the time, yet also of a piece enough with them that it feels like Frost shaped it with the network in mind. It's surprising it didn't last at least a little longer. Not a very ambitious project but enjoyable in its own way. It actually reminds me a lot of Pushing Daisies in its heightened, occasionally cartoonish, low-stakes approach to the detective genre.
 

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
819
1,854
I'm loving these insightful and thorough explorations of Frost's heretofore neglected work!

As quaint as Buddy Faro seems now, it was on the edgier side of the gentle-toned procedurals that were CBS's bread and butter of the time, yet also of a piece enough with them that it feels like Frost shaped it with the network in mind. It's surprising it didn't last at least a little longer. Not a very ambitious project but enjoyable in its own way. It actually reminds me a lot of Pushing Daisies in its heightened, occasionally cartoonish, low-stakes approach to the detective genre.
I haven’t paid attention to network TV in nearly ten years, but even as recently as a decade ago, CBS still made very conservative programming choices overall. NBC and ABC are always trying to appeal to the 18-34 demographic, chasing trends, and that has resulted in some great programming occasionally coming out of those networks (including Twin Peaks!) when they take a big swing, but has often led to years of ratings slumps. Whereas CBS seems happy courting an older demographic, and that strategy seems to have been enormously successful for them. I’m not aware of any period when CBS has suffered ratings-wise. Just bland, safe, predictable programming and steady, comfortable ratings. It’s a business model you can’t really argue against, but it rarely results in any good art. I can definitely see where Buddy wouldn’t have really connected with the target CBS audience. I like your Pushing Daisies analogy regarding the tone.
 

Cappy

White Lodge
Aug 4, 2022
583
573
I watched the eps of Buddy Faro available on YouTube several years back. I remember enjoying the one with George Hamilton and “Talk Show Heller”, although the pilot did drag a bit for me.

The series has some uneven stuff, but Dennis Farina is great here. Probably his best work, even better than those random eps of Miami Vice he was on.

That’s a good point about 1998 not being so radically different from 1978 — I wonder if Frost originally wanted Buddy to be displaced from the late 60s, but Austin Powers had just come out so they had to shift it to the 70s instead.

Pondering about how tiresome the time-placed humor can be makes me think someone should do a limited run Adult Swim type show about a detective from 2023 that ends up in 2024 somehow, and keeps overstating the minuscule differences between the years.

I wouldn’t change the Mulholland Drive film for anything, but there is a part of me that likes to imagine a world where Marc and David never had a falling out, Mulholland Drive got to be a series, and Dennis Farina as Buddy Faro investigated the mystery surrounding “Rita”…
 

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
819
1,854
I wouldn’t change the Mulholland Drive film for anything, but there is a part of me that likes to imagine a world where Marc and David never had a falling out, Mulholland Drive got to be a series, and Dennis Farina as Buddy Faro investigated the mystery surrounding “Rita”…
Imagining scenes between Buddy/Farina and Robert Forster’s Detective McKnight is a fun thought experiment! I don’t think those two guys ever performed together on screen.

As to Buddy seeming more like a product of the ‘60s, yeah, in the pilot he’s asking after “Dino” and “Sammy” and is shocked to find out they’re dead, and Frost mentioned the ‘60s Rat Pack movies as an influence on the show.
 
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MilesDrentell

Sparkwood & 21
Jan 25, 2024
3
2
It might be interesting also to compare Harley Peyton's own post-Peaks TV detective procedural, Moon Over Miami. It had a similarly light tone and stylish aesthetic. A decent fit for ABC, but it didn't last long either.
 

MasterMastermnd

Waiting Room
Apr 12, 2022
411
615
I believe Moon Over Miami is the show inadvertently important to the creation of The X-Files. Glen Morgan and James Wong signed on to write for it based on Peyton's Peaks reputation, saw the Pilot which apparently wasn't good, then badgered their agent to get them out of the contract so they could write for The X-Files, which had yet to premiere.
 
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