Jay Tarses, who has been responsible for a few of television’s more innovative series (“The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,””Buffalo Bill”), has put together a top-notch ensemble for “Black Tie Affair.” What he fails to include is enough character substance and plot development to sustain one’s interest in what’s to follow.
Tarses spends the first two 30-minute episodes of his new NBC comedy series introducing the protagonists and setting the mood for this sexy but leisurely spoof of the 1940s detective-film genre.
Setting an authentic film noir mood, Patrick Williams’ sultry theme music (beautifully sung by Sue Raney) fades under the world-weary narration of modern-day San Francisco private detective Dave Brodsky (Bradley Whitford), who introduces his latest caper.
It seems Brodsky’s lustful but unfulfilled client Margo Cody (Kate Capshaw) is out to get the philandering goods on her mail-order catalog tycoon husband Christopher Cody (John Calvin).
Christopher, in turn, is passionately if ineptly attempting to make Margo’s suspicions come true by his pursuit of the pulsatingly beautiful young model Eve Saskatchewan (Alison Elliott).
Complicating matters is the dead body of another young woman Brodsky discovers in Christopher and Eve’s hotel love nest.
The overriding motivation for all these Tarses characters indeed seems to be “smoldering lust” (the original title of the series).
The hot-eyed machinations of the Brodsky/Margo/Christopher/Eve combine set up all sorts of liaison possibilities that Tarses is in no hurry to resolve.
And lurking in the subplots are: Cookie (Maggie Han), Brodsky’s wisecracking assistant; Hal Kempner (Bruce McGill), a sinisterly persistent shoe manufacturer; Felton (John Cothran Jr.), the ever-present witness to the goings-on at the murder scene; and Philip Wingate (Patrick Bristow), the Codys’ prissy but all-knowing employee.
Whitford makes all the right comedic choices as private investigator Brodsky (who runs a rare records store on the side), but comes off a bit too tame to be believed as a potentially serious love interest for such throbbing beauties as Capshaw, Elliott and Han.
Capshaw, making her series debut, is a terrific Margo, a femme fatale who’s torn between her passion for all men and her distrust of them.
And Calvin gives a hilarious turn as her husband, the executive with matinee-idol good looks and the courage of a mouse.
Tarses, whose unique presence on television has been sorely missed, has introduced a complicated but intriguing premise for a half-hour sitcom. Unfortunately, the first two episodes of “Black Tie Affair” don’t offer enough clues as to where he plans to go from here.