Ray Alexander’s the name, detecting’s his game in a murder mystery that could be a spoke in NBC’s “Friday Night Mystery” wheel. Lou Gossett Jr. is wise, unassailable Ray, who runs Ray’s Backyard Cafe in San Francisco and sleuths when money’s slow. Dean Hargrove’s tired teleplay is a cinch for any armchair detectives who stick around, and secondary characters are cop-show stereotypes.
Besides Ray, there’s worrywart Uncle Phil (Ossie Davis, who deserves better), whom Ray met in the joint and who is the eatery’s major-domo. There’s attorney Jeffrey Winslow (James Coburn), who offers Ray crime cases. Donna Calla (Tracy Nelson of the late “Father Dowling Mysteries”) is Winslow’s paralegal and Ray’s gofer, while Paul Garcia (Danny Nucci) is the street-smart student Ray’s sponsoring while the young man’s going to school.
Case involves Winslow’s client Patricia Radcliff (Rosalind Allen), attractive wife of a wealthy psychiatrist. Slick Brad Dexter (Boyd Kestner), an interior designer supposedly helping Patricia, dopes her up, puts her husband away and fixes the blame on her. Time for Winslow to drag Ray into the case since the cops, except for tapping Patricia’s phone, apparently aren’t doing much investigating.
Helped by the late doctor’s sidekick, Dr. Gail Baker (Amy Steel), Ray spends most of the rest of the program looking up four patients who are suspects in the doctor’s murder. Among them, Scott Jaeck as bullying politician Maxwell and Frances Lee McCain as his wife are standouts.
Gossett plays Ray as laid back, seemingly more interested in his restaurant than in the case, but he’s actually at the ready, using contacts and tricks to catch the culprits. Drama, slow and lacking punch, fails to raise much suspense, and the climax in which Ray alone corners Brad plays like a second-bill meller from yesteryear.
Peter Katz’s production under Gary Nelson’s so-so direction looks terrif, with production designer Donald Light-Harris’ L.A. substitutes for San Francisco sites particularly adept (though L.A.’s Music Center does slip in briefly).
Billy Dickson’s camera work, David Solomon’s editing are pro. Other “Ray Alexander” programs are in development, but the cases better pick up. In Ray’s words: “Uh-oh! I better hurry up and solve this case!”