‘Maverick: The Complete First Season'
Back in what can accurately be called the horse and buggy days of television, when there were only three TV networks to choose from and all three were overrun with westerns, one saddle-tramping series trumped all the rest with a winning hand of adult-friendly wit and satirical fun-poking at the cowpoke genre. And it had its straight dramatic moments, too.
“Maverick” starred Oklahoma-born Hollywood newcomer James Garner as dapper Bret
The seven-DVD “Maverick: The Complete First Season” package contains all 27 hourlong episodes from its initial 1957-58 run, and most of these installments are as entertaining today as they were nearly 55 years ago, when the series became third-place ABC's surprise hit that fall, raking in the ratings chips from two Sunday night stalwarts — “The Ed Sullivan Show” on CBS and “The Steve
Most of its popularity was due to Garner's affable charm and wry delivery of humorous and lighthearted dialogue. He was solo in the first seven episodes, by which time Warner Bros. realized the demanding filming schedule was causing production to fall behind. Enter Jack Kelly as the equally personable but more serious-minded brother Bart Maverick in episode 8, “Hostage,” finding immediate chemistry with Garner and beginning an alternating cycle of Garner featured one week, Kelly the next. This allowed the studio to have two episodes filming at once, thus speeding up production.
Garner and Kelly would continue to appear together occasionally, as in the season finale, “Seed of Deception,” when the brothers Maverick are mistaken for Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, and are targeted for death by a gang of crooked cowboys plotting a bank robbery. But Kelly never achieved Garner's level of popularity, even after Garner left at the end of the third season over a contract dispute.
Other Warner TV stars-in-waiting make occasional appearances in the show's first season, including Peter Brown (“Lawman”), Edd Byrnes (“77 Sunset Strip”), and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (also “77 Sunset Strip”), who debuts his recurring role as the amusingly refined con artist Dandy Jim Buckley.
Of all those in Warners' late-'50s TV stable, Garner found the greatest big-screen success, and this is the show that launched his career.
He's still fun to watch as he brings his genuine laid-back Oklahoma demeanor to one of early television's most memorable characters, and the series remains standing as one of the best of that era. For winning entertainment, it's a sure bet.
— Gene Triplett