|The Rockford Files: Season Two (1975)
Starring: James Garner, Noah Beery, Jr., Joe Santos, Gretchen Corbett, Stuart Margolin, Tom Atkins
As strong as the first season of “The Rockford Files” may have been, it’s interesting to note that, within just a few episodes of season two, the viewer becomes quickly aware that not only has the show truly found its footing, it’s in possession of some of the strongest scripts to hit television during the 1970s.
Just to offer a quick, one-paragraph summary, James Garner is Jim Rockford, an ex-con turned private investigator. He’s not afraid to use his fists, but, then, he’s not really that tough a guy, so he’s just as likely to end up on his ass as kick yours; he’s also not afraid to use chicanery, trickery, or subterfuge to follow a lead or solve a case…which means that his buddy in the police department, Detective Dennis Becker, is always chastising him for his methods, even though he begrudgingly looks the other way on occasion. Jim’s dad, known as Rocky (and played by Noah Beery, Jr.), lives in the area and has been known to get into some of his son’s cases, as does Angel (Stuart Margolin), a former prison buddy of Jim’s…although he’s usually pretty reluctant to get involved. Oh, yes, and Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) is Jim’s attorney…but is she more?
Actually, before the second season is over, she is. We learn that she and Jim came close to having a relationship before, but it didn’t take; before this season is over, however, they successfully start one. Angel also ends up being the focus of more episodes this time around, and he’s always good for a laugh; it’s amazing that Jim keeps him in his circle of friends, given that Angel proves on a regular basis that, history or no history, he’s always willing to sell Jim down the river if it’ll save his own skin.
There are some particularly funny episodes in season two, one of which stars Rob Reiner as a professional football player with an ego that’s a good size larger than most of the fields on which he plays; Louis Gossett, Jr. also has a slightly comedic turn as Rockford’s former parole officer. Surprisingly, though, the most effective dramatic episode is one starring the man who wrote the theme from “Shaft” but won greater fame as the voice of Chef.
Isaac Hayes plays Gandolph “Gandy” Fitch, one of Rockford’s many former prison buddies. Gandy’s just gotten out of the joint after a 20-year stint, and he’s on the lookout for the person who was really responsible for the crime that got him locked away. (Although Hayes was decidedly younger than the character he was playing at the time, his always-shaven head lent him an older look, so all they really had to do was sprinkle some grey in his beard and voila!) Was he really innocent? Well, you’ll have to watch the episode, won’t you? And trust me, you want to. It’s an impressively emotional performance from Hayes, one that will remind you that, although he’s best known for his comedic appearances these days, he’s actually a pretty good dramatic actor, too.
The special features this time around are marginally more impressive than on the first season set. Instead of an interview with Garner, this time we get a conversation with co-creator Stephen J. Cannell, although it’s inaccurately described as Cannell reflecting on the second season; what he really does is reflect on the show as a whole. If he discusses the second season specifically, it’s only briefly and is in no way the main topic of conversation. Also included is the original series pilot, which really should’ve been on the first set, but it also works better here, as it really demonstrates how far the show has come in just one short year. (It’s also interesting to see that the show’s original concept involved Rockford only tackling closed cases from the police files.)
Amazingly, “The Rockford Files” would get even better in its third year, when “Sopranos” creator David Chase took over as executive producer, but there’s still no denying that this was a five-star season for the series.