Chuck Norris debuts as a Lone Star lawman in troubled Cannon TV series (studio’s financing failed and production halted at completion of four hours of CBS’s 13-hour order). Overinflated two-hour pilot shows promise on a simpleminded action-film level. “The A-Team” did the same thing with much more wit, though, and in a timeslot more consistent with its greatest potential audience.
Cordell Walker (Norris) is a Texas Ranger, of half-Native American blood and raised on the reservation by his “Uncle” Ray (Floyd Red Crow Westerman).
Though not above bending the Constitution when he judges it necessary, Walker would rather fight than shoot. Crooks oblige much of the time, tossing away artillery so that the Ranger can kick them in the groin.
Every once in a while, Walker switches into his Native American mode, spouting mystical wisdom. Not surprisingly, Westerman pulls that kind of thing off far more convincingly, even though he doesn’t call him “Grasshopper.”
Sheree J. Wilson co-stars as district attorney Alex Cahill, though she’s not given much to do in this episode except stand around looking right purty. As her shrewd handling of J.R. Ewing in “Dallas” proved, Wilson deserves better.
Clarence Gilyard, on the other hand, is given much more opportunity to display range as Walker’s new partner than he ever was as a regular on “Matlock.” This time, Gilyard is Jimmy Trivette, a computer-wise ex-football star who came West from Baltimore’s urban jungle because he was a Lone Ranger fan while growing up.
Gailard Sartain appears as the buddy who’s always getting Walker into some sort of trouble; James Drury pops up briefly as Walker’s uptight boss; and a sympathetic friend of Walker’s (Steven Ruge) is killed early on, so that his death can get the Ranger really ticked off.
Plot in the opener involves a bunch led by renegade ex-CIA operative (Marshall Teague) to rub several banks, with two subplots calculated to widen Norris’s — and Walker’s — appeal to a family audience. He protects a teenager (attached to a circus that we never see) who’s still threatened by baddies who have raped her, and Sartain volunteers Walker and Trivette to appear in a local charity rodeo: Walker as a bull rider, and Trivette as a rodeo clown.
Running gag has Walker constantly mispronouncing Trivette’s last name as “Trivit.” Still, we all know that the uneasy pair will gain mutual respect, and that Walker will pronounce the name correctly by episode’s end.
Pilot is much more talk than action — did producers really believe that audiences pay to watch action stars, even one with Norris’s appeal, develop as sensitive characters? Interesting ex-Ranger, played by Sartain, mysteriously disappears by the second episode.
Ft. Worth and environs are used to good advantage, too much of plot depends on uncanny timing of heroes’ showing up, and it would be interesting to see what would happen if explosives were banned from the script.