The best thing about the new one-hour syndie series is that it’s suggested by James Fenimore Cooper’s uncorrupted natural man, Natty Bumppo, sometimes known, among other things, as Hawkeye. If the adventures in the first two episodes (airing back-to-back) seem quaint and at times droning, it does boast fierce Indians, French and British armies, and Hawkeye watching everything.
Filmed in Vancouver by Stephen J. Cannell Prods. Inc. Exec producers, Stephen J. Cannell, David Levinson; co-exec producer, Steve Feke; supervising producer, N. John Smith; co-producer, Jack Eyler; directors, James Contner (first hour), Brad Turner (second hour); writer-creator, Kim LeMasters; suggested by characters in James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Leatherstocking Tales”; The production itself is handsome, and Lee Horsley makes a valiant if not dynamic Hawkeye, busily eying activities in the 1755 Hudson River Valley.
Into this pre-Revolutionary War saga ride Elizabeth and William Shields to set up a trading post at Fort Bennington, where William’s brother, Capt. Taylor Shields, is stationed.
Hawkeye — whose parents were killed by Indians and who prowls the forests with companion Chingachgook (Rodney A. Grant) — can shoot out the eye of a gnat. He kills Indians only in self-defense, and he rescues people who need help.
Chingachgook so far looks stoic, and that’s about it. Writer-creator Kim LeMasters apparently is biding his time.
Elizabeth is played with precision by Lynda Carter, whose speech pattern aims at proper but comes off stilted. Michael Berry does a commendable job as her husband William, and Garwin Sanford plays Taylor in the time-honored tradition of suave villainy.
Lochlyn Munro and Jed Rees, whose antics relieve the duller moments, are good-hearted bumpkins whom Elizabeth hires to work in the store, and Eric Keenleyside and Richard Sali do Taylor’s evil bidding.
By the end of the second hour, there are hints Elizabeth and Hawkeye have yearnings for one another, which doesn’t spoil some of the fighting among Indians and the settlers.
In a day when few youngsters read Cooper — or anything –“Hawkeye” may seem laborious, but Horsley’s mysterious 1700s woodsman and his pal Chingachgook could prove an attention getter — look at the 1800s Lone Ranger and his friend Tonto, or this century’s Batman and Robin.
First two episodes laced together look good, if at times murky, and Kate Healey’s costume designs and Phil Schmidt’s overall production designs are impressive. Glitches appear here and there (such as where Hawkeye finds a second candle during an emergency), but tech credits are otherwise strong, and Joel Goldsmith’s score helpful.
Series, appearing so far in 84% of the country, will turn up in N.Y. on Fridays 9-10 p.m., in L.A. on Saturdays at 10-11 p.m. The slow pace is relieved by flying arrows and tomahawks and Hawkeye’s cool eye measuring prey. Period pieces don’t come often to commercial TV; here’s an honorable if not captivating attempt.