Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Charming characters, creative mysteries
Cons: Pacing at times
The Bottom Line:
Thirteen more stories
Father Dowling cracks the plot
Gentle and charming
“I Hate Buses.” “Do You Need a Ride?” “I Thought You’d Never Ask.”
The Father Dowling Mysteries is a mostly forgotten TV mystery show from the very early 90's. Which is a shame because it is still fun. I just got done watching season 2, and I enjoyed it.
The show follows Father Frank Dowling (Tom Bosley), a priest at St. Michael’s in Chicago. It seems he is constantly stumbling onto mysteries, and his partner in crime solving is Sister Steve (short for Stephanie) (Tracy Nelson), who grew up in one of Chicago's rougher neighborhoods. Rounding out the main cast are Marie (Mary Wickes), the housekeeper, and Father Phillip (James Stephes), another priest who joins the cast full time this season after making a couple of appearances in the first season. These last couple of characters usually have a few scenes an episode usually involving a sub-plot. Even when the main mystery plot involves them in some way, they still don't have the number of scenes that Frank and Steve do.
Season two was short, with only thirteen episodes. Over the course of these cases, Father Dowling follows a newly married man who appears to be having an affair, investigates when Father Phillip gets swindled, and even attempts to clear himself of a murder he stumbled into thanks to his no-good twin brother. Sister Steve's past also comes back to haunt the pair when her delinquent younger brother finds himself suspected of murder. And Marie is kidnapped and held for ransom.
While murder is a common theme in the series (as it is with most mystery shows), it isn't the main focus of each episode. I find that a refreshing change. Sometimes, the murder is a result of the crime already under investigation. In one case, they are even trying to prevent the murder of an artist. An in other episodes, no one dies. I love the creative crimes that the duo still manage to come across, so I am all for this. The episodes can be a bit slow at times, but this pacing issue is my only real complaint.
I'm sure it won't be a surprise to you that a show with a Catholic priest as the main character definitely falls into the cozy mystery category. Yes, upon occasion Father Dowling and Sister Steve follow clues that lead them to the seedy side of town, but these moments are all played for laughs and we never see anything but instead get hints of what is happening off camera.
While I would be hard pressed to call this series a true comedic mystery series, each episode does have a lighter moment or two, usually coming from Sister Steve. So is it any wonder she's my favorite character?
Another thing I love is the relationship between Father Dowling and Sister Steve. No, there is nothing romantic there; remember who they are. However, it is very clear the two love each other dearly in a father/daughter type of relationship. Given the differences in their ages and the fact that Steve's father wasn't very good, I can fully understand this dynamic, and it makes their scenes so much more fun.
All four actors are great in their rolls. I always enjoy the dynamic the four of them and their characters share, although I do find Father Phillip a bit annoying much of the time. Then again, that's how he is written. Naturally, a show like this has a large list of guest stars each episode, who always slipped into the mysteries perfectly.
The thirteen episodes from this season are preserved on three discs. The full frame picture and stereo sound is in perfect keeping with time of the show's original release.
Speaking of which, at times the actors wear something that could only come from the late 80's or early 90's. This attempt to include modern fashion dates the show in a very funny way. It doesn't take away from my enjoyment at all, but it does stand out.
Father Dowling Mysteries is a slow, gentle mystery show, and it is perfectly charming for it. Pull up a chair and settle in for season 2.