There’s a fine line between entertaining and deceiving, and “Cry Wolfe” — a half-hour series from Investigation Discovery — dances right up to it. Actually, the idea of taking a real-life private detective, Brian Wolfe, and having actors re-create his cases is ostensibly pretty clever. But after a fleeting disclaimer, the series goes the extra mile to foster the perception that this is all real, including shaky hand-held video and even a faux camera crew following Wolfe as he “investigates” leads. In one respect, at least the program’s aptly named, given the tale about that wolf-crying kid whose fibs resulted in nobody believing him.
With his thick Boston accent and brusque manner, Wolfe is certainly a colorful character, even if his cases tend to be of the cut-rate variety. The first two half-hours each focus on wives convinced their husbands are cheating on them, which, in movie terms, puts Wolfe somewhere around the keyhole-snooping level of Jake Gittes in “Chinatown.”
If only. Give their due to the actors who go through re-enacting scenes with Wolfe and his secretary (he insists on referring to her only by her last name, McCarthy), but this attempt to concoct a sort-of hybrid — mixing old-fashioned detective shows with ID’s lurid true-crime-and-infidelity niche — feels like trying to bunt for a hit. Besides, the whole thing likely would have worked just as well if the network had simply mounted it like one of its typical true-crime shows, without all the pretense and artifice.
Granted, many people have come to expect a level of staging and insincerity in their so-called reality TV (TruTV has certainly banked on it), but there’s still something distasteful about trying to mislead viewers, many of whom just stumble onto these shows, and aren’t all that media savvy, while hiding behind such a flimsy disclaimer.
Whether or not that approach makes anybody want to watch “Cry Wolfe,” the casual mendacity in which the genre now regularly traffics is enough to warrant shedding a couple of fake tears.