DVD Review: Father Dowling Mysteries (The Final Season)

You’d figure an American TV show that started in Fall of ’87 and ended in the spring of ’91 would have enough episodes for a healthy syndication package. Sadly this was not the case for the Father Dowling Mysteries. After the pilot movie aired, a writer’s strike delayed its production schedule. Its truncated first season on NBC ended in an unholy axing. ABC resurrected it up as a mid-season replacement which meant another short order of episodes. Season three was finally going to start on time in the Fall. Father Dowling finally appeared on the road to Matlock success. So why is this collection called Father Dowling Mysteries: The Final Season? Because ABC had the sleuthing priest scheduled against The Cosby Show and The Simpsons. It was no mystery that Father Dowling had no prayer. At least he had 22 adventures before receiving last rites.

Father Dowling (Happy Days‘ Tom Bosley) is a Catholic priest in Chicago who likes a good murder mystery as much as his beloved Cubs. His desire to solve crimes is almost matched by the street-wise Sister Stephanie ‘Steve’ Oskowski (Square Pegs‘ Tracy Nelson). Who holds down the church while Father Dowling is scooping the cops? Father Philip Prestwick (Paper Chase‘s James Stephens) is eager to pick up the slack. Although it seems that Marie (Sister Act‘s Mary Wickes) really makes sure things don’t go to hell between the preoccupied priests and nun.

“The Royal Mystery” keeps things from being merely congregation crimes. Turns out that Sister Sam is a dead ringer for a visiting royal family member that someone wants dead. She switches identity with the noble woman so Father Dowling can smoke out the assassin. David McCallum (NCIS) migt be a suspect. “The Medical Mystery” has an angel of death at the local hospital. Father Dowling must keep Father Prestwick alive after his surgery. “The Showgirl Mystery” isn’t that naughty. Turns out one of Sister Sam’s friends is about to marry her longtime boyfriend. He’s a rich guy and she’s an entertainer. But on her wedding day, the guy dies. She knows something is wrong since their safety deposit box has been raided.

“The Movie Mystery” makes the church the location for a major motion picture. But there’s trouble not in the script. Father Dowling must save the film by finding the evil that came from Hollywood. “The Undercover Nun Mystery” kills a nun at the convent. Amongst the Nun-icide suspects is Colm Meany (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and John Vernon (Animal House). “The Murder Mystery Weekend” is once more a party about a fake death turn into a real killing. Father Dowling must track down the host’s killer. “The Christmas Mystery” brings the holidays to the church. But instead of lighting the Advent candles, Father Dowling searches for someone that wants to kill a widow. The big suspect turns out to be Santa Claus.

“The Fugitive Priest Mystery” brings back Father Dowling’s twin brother (also Tom Bosley). He claims to have gone straight, but is it part of a big con? Michelle Forbes (Battlestar Galactica) plays a gym instructor. “The Prodigal Son Mystery” gets an earful in the confessional from John Rubinstein (Family). When John gets busted for killing his mistress, Dowling can’t sit back. Kate Vernon (John Vernon’s daughter and star of Battlestar Galactica) gets tangled in the “Hail Marys.” “The Moving Target Mystery” has a hitman fear that he’s got a target on his back. “The Priest Killer Mystery” puts Father Dowling on a Serial Killer’s list. Can he save himself with the help of Sister Sam posing as a cabbie? John Astin (The Addams Family) could be out to snuff Dowling. “The Mummy’s Curse Mystery” gets blessed by a visit from David Hemmings (Blow-Up). “The Hardboiled Mystery” places the clue to a murder inside a mystery novel. “The Consulting Detective Mystery” makes Dowling doubt his sleuth skills when he gets an innocent man busted. Timothy Stack (Son of the Beach) and Kurt Fuller (Wayne’s World) are part of this lack of faith. “The Joyful Noise Mystery” makes Ivan Dixon (Hogan’s Heroes) a man of the cloth. Dowling gets tangled in politics, jazz and ultimately murder. This was Ivan Dixon’s last acting gig in TV.

Father Dowling Mysteries: The Final Season is a bit of a shocker simply cause the show felt like it was on as long as Matlock. The lack of episodes does explain why on the nostalgia channels, they don’t team up the Chicago priest with the best lawyer in Atlanta. Father Dowling Mysteries did appear over the course of 5 years, but made as many episodes as an HBO series. Poor Father Dowling could survive Satan, killers and an evil twin brother, but he couldn’t handle Bill Cosby and Bart Simpson.

The Episodes
“The Royal Mystery,” “The Medical Mystery,” “The Devil In The Deep Blue Sea Mystery,” “The Showgirl Mystery,” “The Movie Mystery,” “The Undercover Nun Mystery,” “The Murder Weekend Mystery,” “The Reasonable Doubt Mystery,” “The Vanishing Victim Mystery,” “The Christmas Mystery,” “The Fugitive Priest Mystery,” “The Substitute Sister Mystery,” “The Missing Witness Mystery,” “The Prodigal Son Mystery,” “The Moving Target Mystery,” “The Priest Killer Mystery,” “The Mummy’s Curse Mystery,” “The Monkey Business Mystery,” “The Hard Boiled Mystery,” “The Malibu Mystery,” “The Consulting Detective Mystery” and “The Joyful Noise Mystery.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The series was made during that time when they shot on 35mm, but did all the editing off a standard definition video. It’s a little fuzzy on the resolution. The audio is Dolby Digital Stereo. The mix gives Tom Bosley that priestly tone as he cracks a case. The episodes are subtitled.

Original Episodic Promos (0:30) are provided for the episodes.

Father Dowling Mysteries: The Final Season brings to a close a series that should have lasted as long as Matlock if not for the evil work of Bart Simpson. This is a charming mystery series that should have had more episodes over all those years.

CBS DVDs presents Father Dowling Mysteries: The Final Season. Starring: Tom Bosley, Tracy Nelson, Mary Wickes and James Stephens. Boxset Contents: 22 episodes on 5 DVDs. Released: March 12, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.

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