Dennis Farina has always been a guy who can accomplish more with his expressive face than just about any other actor can using his vocal cords. And yet he’s never really gotten his due despite making just about every project he touches better, including, on the bigscreen, “Get Shorty” and “Saving Private Ryan.” That dearth of appreciation may soon change thanks to “Buddy Faro,” the freshest, snazziest hour premiering on the Big Four this fall.
Actually, “Buddy” is as much comedy as drama thanks to “Twin Peaks” co-creator Mark Frost’s stylishly engaging script, inventive direction from “Hill Street Blues” alum Charles Haid, Joel McNeely’s jazzy soundtrack and a self-deprecating performance from Farina that paints him on arrival as the coolest man in primetime. He’s always been cool, of course. It’s just that this show makes his coolness so apparent that it’s impossible to ignore.
What makes Farina so amazingly hip is that he’s oblivious to it and equally amenable to making himself look like a total buffoon, which Farina is as “Buddy Faro” opens. Faro is a legendary private eye who once owned L.A., immortalized on TV and in song. Then he vanished for 20 years.
As things kick off, whitebread pseudo-detective Bob Jones (Frank Whaley doing impressive straight-man work) is hired by chatterbox Julie (Allison Smith) to find Buddy. Seems the man has just inherited a small fortune and she needs to get him the bucks. Jones finally tracks down Faro in a dusty Mexican town, where he is beached in a gutter reeking of booze.
Rescued from his own hell, Faro is picked up by Jones and Julie and redeposited in Hollywood, where he finds that 20 years have brought a lot of things he’s never seen before such as ATMs and cafe latte. But the man readjusts quite nicely, and before you know it, he’s slurping martinis, puffing stogies and fending off bullets from the usual assortment of big-city scum.
Frost’s opening script deftly mixes mystery and absurdity, while helmer Haid (who also co-executive produces) and director of photography Aaron E. Schneider create a quietly off-kilter visual feel that embodies an almost cartoonish, Joel and Ethan Coen quality. Stuff happens that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (including a strange cameo from Jack Jones), but it doesn’t matter because watching it all unfold is such a hoot.
The look here is boldly noirish, the music wildly eclectic (Tom Jones’ “Delilah” is among the tunes). And Farina looks as if he’s having the time of his life, snickering and strutting his way through a marvelously entertaining pilot. And yes, Aaron Spelling is one of the exec producers of this Spelling TV project. Let’s give the man credit where it’s due.
If “Buddy Faro” can sustain the considerable promise of this opening hour, CBS may just finally have its breakthrough show on Friday nights. Second hour will tell us a lot. Tech credits all sparkle.