WISEGUY (TV Series)

Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Season 4 Movie

9/16/1987-12/8/1990. Various days, times. 1 hour.
4 seasons; 72 episodes.
CBS.
Drama.
Code: WG 9/1987
Pictures

SERIES PLOT

CHARACTER drama in multiple-episode story arcs about a FBI agent who works undercover for the Organized Crime Bureau.

REGULAR CAST, SEASON 1-3

Ken Wahl as Vinnie Terranova, FBI undercover agent.
Jonathan Banks as Frank (Francis Xavier) McPike, FBI field supervisor, later field director for the OCB.
Jim Byrnes as "Lifeguard" aka "Uncle Mike" (Daniel Benjamin Burroughs)

REGULAR CAST, SEASON 4

Steven Bauer as Michael Santana
Jonathan Banks as Frank (Francis Xavier) McPike, FBI field supervisor, later field director for the OCB.
Cecil Hoffmann as Hillary Stein
Jim Byrnes as "Lifeguard" aka "Uncle Mike" (Daniel Benjamin Burroughs)

AWARDS

Jonathan Banks in the role of Frank McPike was Emmy-nominated in 1989 for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series. JB commented, "It beats a sharp stick in the eye." He received an outpouring of support from the Cannell organization (Cannell shows, though often ratings winners, have rarely garnered awards) but said, "I honestly expect nothing." (USA89-2) The award went to Larry Drake of L.A. Law.

CHARACTER

Frank is idealistic and moral, but cynical. He’s tough and can be brutal at times, with an alpha-male dislike of invasion of his territory. Uses black humor and sarcasm. Drinks only when things are at their very worst, avoids alcohol at other times. Has difficult relationship with his father. His marriage to Jenny is a casualty of the job. (Jenny appears in episodes 32, 55, and 56.) Has a romantic relationship with Lillah (episodes 16-19), a fellow government employee. Independent, has difficulty accepting help, even from friends. Loyal to co-workers. Admires and supports skilled agents and superiors; can be insolent to incompetents, those that don't understand the pressures of undercover work, or those that interfere with getting the job done. Did two tours of duty and was wounded in Vietnam, worked for Greenbelt police, then the FBI as an undercover operative. Has killed in the line of duty.

COMMENTS

Many fans view Frank McPike as Jonathan Banks’ best role. With the aid of excellent scripts, JB used his own ideas of how to create "a good guy you don’t like," a good guy with the roughness of JB’s villains to give us a superb character. Frank’s acerbity, sarcasm, pain, toughness, and loyalty make him unique and endearing.

Wiseguy deserves a more detailed description than this episode list, which touches only briefly on the major points. An accurate, except for some typos, episode guide is available in issues #32-33, July-August 1993, of EPI-LOG magazine, published at P.O. Box 1322, Dunlap, TN 37327 (may no longer be available.) Edward Gross' Secret File: The Making of a Wiseguy (Las Vegas, Pioneer Books) contains photos, episode information for season 1-3, and interviews with actors, guests and writers.

COSTUME

Frank’s trademark glasses, with old-fashioned, round silver-wire frames, were JB's idea. (MG94)

Standard McPike attire is the "FBI uniform," a gray suit, white shirt and striped tie; the only episodes where Frank does not wear a suit are 3, 21, 47, 58, 62, 63, and 64. About half the time the suit is light gray, half the time dark gray. Along with this there is often an overcoat, light or dark. The most common clothing when not in a suit include jeans, tan slacks, a black leather jacket, blue sweatshirt, sweaters, and a gray cloth cap. Other exceptions are noted with the episodes.

There is a recurring device of using Frank’s clothes to indicate that Frank is a guy that knows he doesn’t always look quite right, and is sometimes uncomfortable because of it. Examples include the ‘not-purple’ tie in episode 25, the ‘nightie’ comment in his speech to Lillah in episode 16, the pajama top in episode 3, the ill-fitting waiter’s jacket in episode 5, the lost button from his suit in episode 14, and so on. JB has a slightly annoyed, slightly rueful expression that shows Frank knows that he’s stuck with this sort of thing, that it’s his lot in life not to look perfect.

In season four, Frank has a short beard with some gray.

CRITICS

"Banks is plenty convincing as his irascible boss." Variety, 9/23/1987.

"...McPike (the implosive Jonathan Banks)..." Washington Times, 9/20/1989, sec.E, p.3. "The best cop show on tv... Jonathan Banks (another Emmy nominee) is also terrific in the first episode, providing some necessary humor by interrupting Vinnie and Amber's afternoon tryst..." Variety, 10/4-10/1989.

"And there is a truly memorable, Emmy-worthy performance by Banks..." Gannett News 11/9/1990.

"...what a fabulous character McPike is. Stubborn to a fault, aggressive, fanatically loyal and fiercely independent, McPike is also graced with a bitterly sarcastic sense of humor, even in the face of serious danger... McPike is almost - but not totally... intimidation-proof." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/9/1990, Magazine p.11.

"The best reason to keep watching is Banks, who seems liberated by Wahl's absence. He chews up the scenery from one end of Miami to the other, doing his magnificent slow-burn-and-outburst... I think the producer's got the wrong guy in the lead role." Orlando Sentinel Tribune, 11/10/1990 Style p.E.

"Only the stabilizing presence of Jonathan Banks salvages the premiere of what was once the smartest, classiest crime drama on network television... any successes in this season debut can be credited entirely to Banks' tremendous intensity, though his character worked better as a stoic and cynical counterpoint to Wahl's passionate Terranova." Variety, 11/19/1990.

DEATH SCENE

In episode 63, "Sanctuary," Frank is shot by Kousakis, he flat-lines and is dead for a few minutes and the doctors give up on him, but he revives.

JB on WG

"I'm not sure I'll feel at home playing a TV good guy. But I'll make certain he has some quirks that will make viewers a little uneasy." (UP87)

"Let's make him somebody you don't like. Let's get a good guy you don't like." (WT88)

"You don't lead me into playing a good guy very easily. I would have a tough time making McPike completely good." (NJW88)

A Secret Service agent approached him during a White House tour, and told him, "You (McPike) are the biggest sleazebag," which pleased him. (WP88)

"I like Frank. I like Frank when Frank's up against it. I think I like his quarrelsomeness the most. That he is irritable. That he is a guy that wakes up and hates going to the cleaners and hates the noise of the kids and the color of the carpet, and he still goes out and does his job. And at the same time I think if Frank saw a lost dog in the neighborhood, he'd try to ignore it and couldn't." And also, "I think there is a time bomb somewhere in Frank that nobody has pushed. This is a man who has pulled the trigger before and wouldn't think twice about pulling it again because that's the discipline and the training he's had." He is intrigued by "what it does to [Frank] to have ever been brutal. It's just what I see from my friends, that they don't walk away from that unaffected. Something happens when they've been involved with violence. You can see the age on their faces for the rest of their lives." (WT88)

"I've been jealous of every villain that's been on this show... Some great roles have rolled through here. But a lot of times my character doesn't even come in contact with them." By the end of two seasons, he still liked Frank, but said, "I've never done a character for so long and he does go home with me at times." (USA89-1)

"I think he's very human. He loses his hair. He doesn't look right. He feels uncomfortable in places. He's wrong a lot. His family life's not the best. And he wants it to be. He wants all those things to be right. But life's a bitch." (GG89)

"He's not that good. And he's pretty rough around the edges, and acerbic, and an old grump, and I like him a lot." (PS89)

As of 1990 "Call it Casaba" (episode 41) was his favorite Wiseguy episode. (MOW90)

LINES

This show has top-notch writing. Burke and Kronish particularly are brilliant. Watch for recurring images (for example, those symbolic dead dogs), complex plotting, wonderful dialogue, foreshadowing, and attention to continuity and consistency of character development. LINES that illustrate Frank's character, and favorite lines, are listed under the episodes. There is so much great dialogue it's very hard to choose favorites.

SCREEN TIME

All episodes except 48 and 57.

WORKED WITH

Jim Byrnes (HUC 2/1994)
Robert Davi, episodes 43-46 (GC 2/1981)
Jesse Doran, episode 48 (SQWS 2/1994)
Leo Gordon, episodes 63-64 (SQWS 2/1994)
James Handy, episode 5 (WIJ 10/1986)
Clyde Kusatsu, episodes 11-21 (WTR 5/1994)
Art LaFleur, episode 70 (SAF ?/1976?; BLA 5/1978; IW 2/1983; BIB 9/1984; FM 2/1986; CRG 8/1986)
Lochlyn Munro, episodes 58, 62 (HUC 2/1994)
David Myers, episode 56 (ROF 4/1968; CRG 7/1986)
Ray Sharkey, episodes 1-9, 33 (WSR 8/1978)
Ron Silver, episodes 27-31 (BSI 1/1993)
David Spielberg, episodes 16-21 (BLA 5/1978)
Billy Vera, episode 7 (ABB 8/1984)