They say that it isn’t over until the Fat Lady sings. Did you ever wonder what “it” was or who the heck this Fat Lady is they keep talking about? I can’t help you there, but I do know who the Fat Man is. It’s William Conrad, who came back to television in 1987 as J.L. McCabe, better known as “the Fatman”. McCabe was one of those tough as nails district attorneys. He was actually an ex-cop, so had great criminal instincts. McCabe wasn’t above bending the law to put away the bad guy, and he wasn’t considered a very friendly type of fellow. He majored in stubbornness and plain speaking. He relied on Jake Styles, his private investigator, to do much of the leg work for the office. Jake was a bit of a flashy playboy, but he always delivered the goods for his boss. Again, Styles wasn’t against breaking a few rules to get what he needed. Styles was played by Joe Penny. McCabe also served as a mentor, of sorts, to young District Attorney Derek Mitchell, played by Alan Campbell. Mitchell was quite wet behind the ears and a little too eager sometimes. His ambition often got the better of him, and it was the gruff McCabe who kept him out of trouble. Finally, the team was completed by Gertrude, McCabe’s loyal and trusty secretary, played by Lu Leonard. While The Fatman put crooks away instead of defending innocent defendants, there could be no mistaking the parallels between Jake And The Fatman and Perry Mason. The two shows were from different times, and the styles might not have been the same, but the dynamic was very much the same. You can see a lot of Della Street in Gertrude and more than a little of the Drake/Mason relationship in the two leads. There was far more action, but that was more a reflection of the change in decades than anything else. And like Mason, the Fatman rarely lost a case.
The Fat Lady was warming up after the first season of Jake. The show did not immediately return for its second year. It was delayed until March and so only ran for 11 episodes. That’s why Paramount has issued this as an “entire” season set. The show never really found its footing and struggled for the 5 seasons that it ran. It wasn’t a terribly original program and was steeped in cliché for its entire run. It was never a ratings monster, and there were constant radical changes in attempts to retool the show over the years. In this season McCabe and his staff, excluding trusty Gertrude, moved to Hawaii in an effort to spice the show up Hawaii Five-0 style. Even that exotic location didn’t help matters, and the series returned to California by 1990. These erratic changes in location and style meant that the show never found the solid fan base it needed to survive. It was likely William Conrad that was the only thing that allowed the show to last 5 years. What made the show work at all was the unlikely pairing of the two characters. It wasn’t only their weight that separated the two. McCabe looked angry all the time and had a slower pace to his method. Jake was almost too slick; at least that’s the way they tried to portray him most of the time. In the end the pair really was too unlikely for most viewers’ tastes. While it did get 3 Emmy nominations, it never won. These nominations were for cinematography and music only. Today Jake And The Fatman wouldn’t have gotten past the mid season.
Each episode of Jake And The Fatman is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. The show isn’t really that old, but the transfer really looks bad. There’s color bleed and a serious lack of definition. I know the series was originally lensed on film, and you can see a ton of specks and artifacts to prove it, but it appears this transfer comes from a video source. It looks as though it had been dubbed. Everything about this transfer is weak and reflects little to no effort to restore it.
The Dolby Digital Mono track delivers exactly what you are looking for and nothing more. The dialog is clear, and that’s all you’re going to get out of this minimalist presentation.
Looking at the full season release on Amazon or here, you might figure Paramount heard my pleas and did away with those half season sets. Fat chance for the Fatman. The abbreviated second season makes two sets even more of a joke. Rest assure the half season releases will soon return for the final three years of the series. I know I bring that issue up a lot, but “I’d hate to see you get burned on this one”.