Monday, July 8, 2019

TV Show Review: Diagnosis: Murder - Season 3

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: 18 great mysteries
Cons: A bit somber at times; continuity issues
The Bottom Line:
Doctor back on case
There are changes this season
And great mysteries

“Look, I Don’t Have to Tell You Anything.  You’d Just Some Snooping Doctor.  You’re Not a Cop.”

As I keep saying, I didn’t start watching Diagnosis: Murder until half way through its run.  I’ve caught various episodes from the first half of the series in reruns over the years, but I am most familiar with the way the show was set up in those later years.  And the show takes giant steps in that direction in season 3.

The basic set up is the same.  The series features Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke), a doctor at Community General hospital in Los Angeles.  He regularly stumbles into mysteries, where he works alongside his son Steve (Dick’s son Barry Van Dyke), a LAPD homicide detective.  Also usually getting involved are Dr. Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell), the coroner at Community General, and a new resident, Dr. Jesse Travis (Charlie Schlatter).  Rounding out the cast this year is Michael Tucci as hospital administrator Norman Briggs, who is usually involved in a comedic sub-plot as the main mystery unfolds.

What kind of cases do the gang get involved in?  Dr. Sloan thinks a teen killed her father when the police rule his death a suicide.  Mark finds himself on the jury of a mobster who is killed by a car bomb soon after he is acquitted.  A homeless man turns up murdered.  Steve’s latest girlfriend might be a cop killer.  A young friend of Mark’s is out promoting her new book when her co-authors start dying one by one.  Amanda’s cousin dies in a motorcycle accident And Jesse develops a crush on a psychic who keeps getting visions of a murder – only no body has turned up.

The show has never been big on continuity.  The show famously changed location from California to Colorado in the middle of season 1 with no explanation.  They do explain the absence of Jack (former co-star Scott Baio) by sending him to open his own practice in Colorado, which I thought was a nice touch, and is a rare attempt to have some continuity.  Not fairing so well is Delores Hall’s nurse/administrative assistant who has just vanished this season with no explanation.  In an effort to incorporate Victoria Rowell’s real life pregnancy, Amanda Bentley was suddenly married and pregnant, with her husband being overseas in the military.  I don’t remember hearing much about the baby or her husband by the time I was watching in season 5.  (And I swear, the season finale was filmed before Victoria gave birth even though her character had given birth before that.)  Between seasons, the Sloans moved as well, not that it is acknowledged.  But Mark and Steve are now sharing a beach house, with each of them living on separate floors for some privacy, instead of living apart like they had in the first two seasons.

Obviously, it is easy to nitpick these items, and I do wish the show tried a little more to cover these continuity issues. However, the show is really about the mysteries, so in the end, these are minor issues to me.

The show does a mix of open and closed mysteries.  What do I mean by that?  In some episodes, we know who committed the murder, and we then watch Mark solve what at first appears to be a perfect crime.  In others, we know a murder has taken place, but it takes Mark to figure out which of the suspects could have done it, and we don’t know until Mark figures it out.  I enjoy both styles, and I think the mix helps keep the show fresh.

In the seasons I know the best, the show found a good balance between fun and serious.  Obviously, murder is serious, but with Dick Van Dyke as your star, you can have lots of fun.  That is mostly missing in this season, as some of the episodes take on very serious subjects.  Others do have more fun, especially with Amanda’s pregnancy, but those are often kept to the sub-plots, which definitely lighten the mood.

The actors are all great this season, and Charlie Schlatter meshes well with the rest of the cast.  His first few episodes are a bit stiff, but I blame that more on the writing than anything else.  I don’t know this for sure, but I feel like the writers had to add his character at the last minute, and the process was a bit awkward.  Not as many guest stars stand out to me this year, a young Jeri Ryan being a noticeable exception.  Since I’ve been watching the Father Dowling Mysteries, I found it fun that Tracy Nelson, the co-star on that series, popped up in a late episode this season.

Season 3 consisted of eighteen episodes, and they are all preserved on 5 discs in their native full frame and stereo sound.  While obviously not as sharp as shows produced today, they do look good.  There’s nothing in the way of extras, but it is nice to watch these episodes themselves.

While the show hasn’t hit the peak for me, I am enjoying catching up with the earlier episodes of Diagnosis: Murder.  Season 3 provides some great cases that entertain us.

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