Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume One – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

William Conrad struck gold during his Golden Years. His early career had him playing nameless goons in crime films. He voiced Matt Dillon on the radio version of Gunsmoke. When the show was brought to TV, Conrad remained in the audio booth because he was too fat to play the sheriff. But he persisted in his desire to be a lead actor on TV. Success arrived in the early ‘70s with Cannon. He didn’t even have to diet for the gig. But the good times didn’t end there. After guest starring on Matlock, Conrad found himself fighting crime in primetime instead of collecting his Social Security check. His infamous weight made him perfect for the lead on Jake and the Fatman.

The popular misconception is that this show is a spin-off from Matlock. While both Conrad and Joe Penny appeared in “The Don” episodes of Matlock, they weren’t even on the same side of the law. Matlock‘s producers realized that Conrad and Penny looked good next to each other. They cast Conrad as J.L. “Fatman” McCabe, the district attorney of Los Angeles. Penny became Jake Styles, McCabe’s chief investigator. McCabe’s a sloppy curmudgeon with five day growth on his cheeks. Jake lives good on his limited police salary. The two made the series Law & Odd Couple. This pairing allowed Conrad to refrain from the physical chases that marked his Cannon years. The younger Penny tracked down the leads and got banged up. The Fatman merely had to shuffle around the office and courtroom.

Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume One has the TV movie and the first 10 episodes. “Fatal Attraction,” the pilot movie played after the premiere hour long episode. “Happy Days Are Here Again” is a twisted political thriller. Robert Reed (Mr. Brady from The Brady Bunch) is running for Senate. His biggest problem is an affair with a female staffer. She thinks he’s going to dump his wife before the election. A chipper speech writer (John Rubinstein of Family) puts down the pen to take care of business. This is a fascinating creepy mystery although it’s hard to imagine Mr. Brady would ever two-time Mrs. Brady. “Fatal Attraction” sets up the series with a 93-minute movie. Bruce Greenwood (John from Cincinnati) is extra creepy as him and Anne Francis (Forbidden Planet) get up to no good. Francis is his stepmother. She doesn’t mind playing with fire. Bruce looks sinister when he’s aiming the shotgun. “Love for Sale” has hookers being used as drug mules. “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” has a serial killer attacking hobos. What’s extra scary is the madman is played by Dwight Schultz. The A-Team‘s Howling Mad Murdoch really was criminally insane.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” gives us a Fatman’s holiday tale. He doesn’t care much for the season and despises folks in his office putting up a tree. But the Scrooge act is merely frosting around a criminally delightful cake. One of the Fat Man’s underlings is frustrated at being stuck with the job of hunting down deadbeat dads. One of her deadbeats turns up dead via a nasty car fire. She gets suspicious when the ex-wife doesn’t seem too phased at his violent passing. Turns out this is all part of a larger crime scheme that involves evil Santas! This is a viewing must for any Festivus party.

For fans of ‘80s fashion, Jake and the Fatman is the Sears catalogue reality of Miami Vice‘s style. You’ll get plenty of pastels and women with shoulderpads in their suitjackets. The overloaded wardrobe does not tip the cases into complete kitsch. The episodes on Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume One have aged well. The duo worked well as a team. Penny’s racing around the town on assignments kept the show active with plenty of action and romance. Conrad’s slacker swagger in the courthouse scenes kept up the pressure. It’s only a shame he wasn’t the Los Angeles District Attorney during Perry Mason reign of terror against Hamilton Burger. The Fatman would have eaten Burger and Perry for lunch. Conrad proved he had the girth for greatness in his final major role.

The Episodes

“Happy Days Are Here Again,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Laura,” “The Man That Got Away,” “Love for Sale,” “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” “Body and Soul, “The Man I Love, “Love Me Or Leave Me,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. Like several shows during this period, Jake and the Fatman was shot on film, but edited on video. The details and blacks suffer from this post-production shortcut. But do we really need more clarity of Conrad’s unshaven cheeks? The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The levels are fine.

Episode Promos (0:30) are the teasers for the upcoming action. They come with most of the episodes. Nothing too exciting, but it’s nice to see how they pushed the series.

Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume One is much better than my memories of when it first aired. William Conrad nails the character of the Fatman with his growl, pudge and wrinkles that matches his prized bulldog. This is a crime series that didn’t go to the dogs.


CBS DVD presents Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume One. Starring William Conrad, Joe Penny & Alan Campbell. Boxset Contents: 11 episodes on 3 DVDs. Rated: NO RATING. Originally Broadcasted: Sept 26 – Dec. 8, 1987. Released on DVD: July 8, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.