Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun, good mysteries
Cons: “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery,” Father Prestwick
The Bottom Line:
Continue fun mysteries
“I Was Wrong. You Can Take It With You.”
In one of TV’s ironies, Father Dowling Mysteries lasted for three seasons, but only one of those was a full season of 22 episodes. And that was the third season, naturally. Watching these episodes knowing the end was coming, I can’t see why the show got canceled because this was just as entertaining as always.
If you missed this show (and based on how short a run it had, I’m sure many people did), it starred Tom Bosley as Father Frank Dowling, a priest is a parish in Chicago. He has a knack for getting involved in mysteries, usually to help out members of his congregation, but occasionally he’s just in the wrong place at the right time. Helping him out is Sister Stephanie “Steve” Oskowski as played by Tracy Nelson. Sister Steve grew up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago before Father Dowling took an interest in her, and her street smarts often help them out as they solve the case. Rounding out the main cast are Mary Wickens as the parish’s housekeeper Marie Murkin and James Stephens as Father Philip Prestwick. And, while not an official member of the cast, we do see Regina Krueger’s Detective Clancy is most of the episodes.
These episodes aired in 1990 and 1991, so there are no storylines; each episode really works on their own. Over the course of these 22 episodes, Father Dowling witnesses a murder when he spends the night in the hospital after a minor surgery. When a TV pilot is filmed based on Father Dowling’s exploits, a murder happens on set. Father Dowling gets jury duty and thinks one of the witnesses was lying on the stand. Someone hires a hit man to kill Father Dowling. When a chimp is accused of murder at the zoo, Sister Steve sets about proving his innocence. A traveling exhibit of artifacts from Egypt might have brought a curse with it.
One thing I enjoy about the show is that not every week involves murder. For example, the Christmas episode has an attempted murder. Others involve someone acting strangely which leads Father Dowling to think a crime is about to take place.
Most of these episodes are fun. Yes, we are dealing with murder and the show takes that seriously, but the show is never dark. In fact, there is often a laugh or two along the way. Many of these comes from sub-plots involving Father Prestwick. Honestly, I could have done without his character since he is usually fairly stupid and not aware of what is going on around him, but that’s a minor complaint.
On a more serious note, there is “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery.” I can’t figure out what they were trying to do with that episode at all. It’s just bizarre. It’s like a strange fever dream and doesn’t fit with the rest of the season. They tried something different and it really didn’t work. But that’s just one episode. Most of them work fine, and they have a slight twist on the standard episode in “The Hardboiled Mystery” that worked perfectly.
Father Dowling has a twin brother who is a criminal, and he shows up again to cause more trouble. Sister Steve gets into the double act in the season premier when we meet her royal doppelganger, and that episode is a ton of fun.
As much fun as I talk about this series being, I do find the mysteries well done. They pull me in and make me care about the outcome. The solutions are always logical, following what has happened before. And the acting is always top notch.
I mentioned earlier that these episodes were filmed and aired in the early 90’s. It does show in some of the fashion we see on the show, most noticeably in “The Malibu Mystery.” But it holds up better than some of the shows filmed at the time.
All 22 episodes from this season are in this five disc set with full screen and stereo sound. They look and sound good considering their age, which is all we can really ask for. The only thing we get in the way of extras are the original promos for the episodes
The show was canceled at the very last minute, so there isn’t a true series finale. However, I’m fine with that. I like the idea of these characters continuing to solve crimes even if we can’t visit them anymore.
This show is worth tracking down. Season 3 of Father Dowling Mysteries is still charming and enjoyable almost 30 years later.