Rockford Files [1974]

"The best detective series ever," according to TV Guide, the second Rockford Files set begins at the beginning. That's because the double-length pilot ("Backlash of the Hunter") appears as an extra. In this episode, Jim Rockford (James Garner) explains to guest star Lindsay Wagner, "I only handle criminal cases that are closed." The first Rockford file also introduces his errant father, Rocky (Robert Donley, who'll soon be replaced by Noah Beery Jr.), detective buddy Dennis (Joe Santos, The Sopranos), and squirrelly pal Angel (Emmy winner Stuart Margolin) with whom he did time at San Quentin (before being granted a full pardon). Season two highlights include the two-part "Gearjammers," in which Rockford discovers his dad's secret life, "Chicken Little Is a Little Chicken," in which Rockford helps Angel fake his death, and "The Hammer of C Block," with Isaac "Shaft" Hayes as a former cellmate who just can't get his name straight—he thinks it's "Rockfish." (The Oscar-winning Hayes also contributes an original number called "Gandy's Theme.") Even when the episodes are less memorable, Garner's easygoing Oklahoma charm and potent chemistry with his co-stars, including lawyer/ex-girlfriend girlfriend Beth (Gretchen Corbett), makes each one worth watching. Like most Stephen J. Cannell programs (Baretta, 21 Jump Street, etc.), The Rockford Files never had any difficulty attracting famous (and soon-to-be-famous) guests. The second year claims such notables as Linda Evans ("The Farnsworth Stratagem"), Stefanie Powers ("The Real Easy Red Dog"), Blair Brown ("The Girl in the Bay City Boys Club"), Rob Reiner ("The No-Cut Contract"), and Louis Gossett Jr. ("Foul on the First Play'). The only other bonus feature is a short, if informative interview with Cannell, who reveals that the character of Joseph "Rocky" Rockford was modeled after his own father. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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