Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wesley's other police characters and the absence of Captains

Tuesday, the 18th, was Wesley Lau’s birthday. I had hoped my local station’s episode would have Andy in it that night, but it was The Counterfeit Crank, a very good and fun episode, yet one without Andy.

It’s interesting, watching the writers’ and actor’s attempts to get the Lieutenant Anderson character to evolve through the seasons. Although the writers didn’t make much effort at first, even giving Wesley dialogue written for Lieutenant Tragg, they did try harder later on, granting the character a distinct personality separate from Tragg’s. They didn’t go nearly as far as they could have with the character, only branching out for occasional episodes such as The Hateful Hero, but thanks to them and Wesley, they still managed to create a memorable addition to the Perry cast.

I started thinking about some of the other policemen and law enforcement characters Wesley portrays through the years. There’s a sergeant in an episode of Cannon, an old friend of the titular character who becomes stressed when he feels Cannon is overstepping his bounds on a case. That sounds familiar. But the sergeant is not Andy and Wesley makes him different despite any similarities.

There’s a beat officer in Panic in the City, truly one of the most preposterous and ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen. But it still manages to be fairly entertaining, if one suspends disbelief, and in any case, the climax is definitely heartbreaking. I was disappointed they didn’t use Wesley nearly as much as they could have, but on the other hand, I was very happy his character survives the nuclear scare that’s central to the plot.

He even plays a CIA agent in The Venetian Affair, a dark and intense suspense film starring Robert Vaughn. (Other than the title, and Robert’s presence, there is no connection with his popular cult favorite The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) Edward Asner plays Robert’s former and Wesley’s current boss, and Wesley gets quite a decent amount of screentime off and on throughout the film, appearing right up to the final scene.

Back in the police department, Wesley portrays a Captain in the short-lived Bill Bixby series The Magician. The Captain is used in three different episodes, twice in fairly small parts and once in a larger capacity.

The Captain is a very interesting fellow. He definitely has some of Andy’s reserved, even businesslike nature, but he’s different—older, wiser, and a bit of a visionary. He’s willing to go along with unusual plans to see if they will come to fruition in solving particularly baffling cases. Or rather, he doesn’t just “go along” with them, as Andy does, but he takes an active part in convincing others to give then a chance to work. One can see his open-minded and forward-thinking approach to police work.

It made me think about something where Perry is concerned. I don’t recall ever seeing a police Captain in any of the Perry episodes (unless one appears very briefly and unnamed in a cameo role, such as in The Hateful Hero during Jimmy’s police board hearing). Certainly the highest-ranking officer who takes an active part in most of the episodes is always a Lieutenant. Perhaps if more scenes had been done at the police station, they would have found it necessary to show the Captain. As it was, they seemed to find him unnecessary.

Captains are definitely a staple of police and crime shows in the 1970s on up, such as Kojak and the afore-mentioned The Magician. A Captain is one of the main characters in Monk. In the 1950s and 1960s, there’s one each for the main casts of M Squad, The Mod Squad, and Car 54, Where Are You? (And probably many others, too.) It seems a curious omission for Perry to make. True, it’s more about lawyers than the police, but still. I wonder if Erle Stanley Gardner was ever asked about this (or if Captains featured into at least some of his books as opposed to their absence in the television series).

The main Perry police precinct seems to be the largest one, as depicted by the exterior shots of the real building in Los Angeles. I wonder what the Captain is like who is over Tragg, Andy, and Steve. I also wonder what any of the Lieutenants would be like as Captains. Would their viewpoints expand any by then? Would Andy be a little more like his counterpart on The Magician? Or would he remain as basically the same person?

Interesting questions with no real answers, save in possible fanfiction stories.

In any case, however, I always delight in watching Wesley no matter what role he’s taking on. He’s an amazing and versatile actor who could have done so much more with Andy given the chance. The contrast between Andy and Amory Fallon only showcases a small portion of Wesley’s overall talent; I’ve seen him as everything from a sickly and manipulative gambler to a cold-hearted criminal to a staunchly upright priest, and just about everything in between, including poor average Joes caught up in nightmarish scenarios. But I’ll always have a particular soft spot for his many law enforcement characters, including Andy.

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