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October 21, 1987 - Image 81

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-10-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Sleazy Does It
41 Dennis Franz brings good-bad guys vividly alive

The TV private eye. You know the
breed. Clean-cut. Good-looking. Suave
as all get-out. Ready at a moment's
notice to risk life and limb in the pursuit of
justice. They fight fair and obey the law and
rarely get paid. For them, gumshoeing is a
heavenly calling.
There are still a few of those dimpled
dinosaurs left, tooling around TV Land in
their flashy sports cars and chasing the
kind of guy Dennis Franz likes to play-a
guy built like a Naugahyde couch, with the
suits to match, who abides by his law,
which isn't necessarily the law of the land.
He's rude, crude and sleazy. And, once
upon a time, he'd be the guy thrown in the
slammer by episode's end.
But Franz has built a successful acting
career by pitching the TV stereotype of the
private eye on its pretty-boy ear. In particu-
lar, Franz has carved out one specific char-
acter, a slime-with-a-heart-of-gold that he
has played on two different shows under
two different names. Most people remem-
ber this persona as "Norman Buntz," a
hard-to-figure detective on "Hill Street
Blues." And everyone will get a chance to
see Norm this fall, transplanted to south-
ern California, as a private detective on
NBC's "Beverly Hills Buntz."
Whether he's shrugging his
shoulders on the hill or pulling
out a stick of gum in L.A., Nor-
man Buntz has the same basic
appeal. He looks like a bad guy, O
and he acts like a good guy.
Outfitted in deliriously mis-
matched clothes and coming %K,
on like mafioso muscle, Buntz a
has all the class of a knee- a spl
breaker. Yet, in the end, he's Sure
unquestionably a force for jus- gusti
tice. "He's half thug and half mati
cop," says Jeffrey Lewis, one of flashy
two "Hill Street Blues" alums And
behind "Beverly Hills Buntz." viole
"And God knows which half ous
will come out at any moment." stuff
Without a doubt, this perso- the p
na has enduring appeal. Franz vanic
first adopted it-with an em- the k
phasis on the heavy side-as this
"Sal Benedetto" on "Hill Street like t
Blues" in 1983. Sal was killed off did y
after "Hill Street" creator Ste- tor"
ven Bochco cast Franz on the "The
short-lived "Bay City Blues."
When "Bay City" ended, Franz

returned to the hill, playing someone very
similar to Sal, Norman Buntz. And when
"Hill Street" went off the air last year,
Lewis and David Milch decided to give this
personality yet another life. Buntz hangs
out with con man Sid Thurston (Peter Jura-
sik), another "Hill Street" character, and
the two give the series a "buddy" approach.
For 10 years Dennis Franz toiled in char-
acter-actor obscurity. He was in "Body
Double" and "Psycho II." He guest-starred
on such TV shows as "Hunter" and "The
A-Team." Most of the time he played the
same sort of guy. Sleazy, sleazy, sleazy. "It's
one character I can do, and those are the
jobs that I'm offered," he says. "It's a way to
put food on the table. But I do enjoy playing
them. I like to play characters who go to
Lazy lout: Chicago-born Franz has been
acting since high school and graduated
from Southern Illinois with a bachelor's
degree in speech and theater. After serving
a year with a reconnaissance unit in Viet-
nam and spending another year bouncing
around Chicago "as a lazy lout trying to
find an easy way through life," he got in-
volved in local theater. With one company,
Franz was one of 13 people who collectively

Whose side are you on? Norm Buntz
wrote the play "Bleacher Bums," which
has been playing for nine straight years in
Los Angeles.
But if "Beverly Hills Buntz" takes off,
Franz won't need the royalties. For now
the show is a "designated hitter"-airing
monthly to build an audience so that it can
replace a faltering NBC show. Although
"Buntz" definitely will pull in some loyal
"Hill Street Blues" viewers, the producers
have tried not to repeat that show's formu-
la. Whether they can successfully spin off
Norman Buntz into a brand-new world re-
mains an open question. But he seems to be
a character who will not die.
LEE GOLDBERG in Los Angeles

h! That's Really, Really Gross!

"The Hidden" may be
splatter movie. But it's
atter movie with class.
it's got some truly dis-
ng life-form transfor-
ons. And it's got lots of
y, high-speed car chases.
there are many, many
nt shoot-outs with copi-
spilling of blood. This
is guaranteed to boost
ulse rate and spike gal-
-skin response. If you're
ind of person who likes
sort of thing, you will
his movie. Litmus test:
ou think "The Termina-
was cool? Then go to

But there's more to this
movie than action. The vio-
lence may be senseless, but
the story isn't. "The Hid-
den" follows an alien being-
gross-as it takes over one
being after another-very
gross-and cuts a bloody
swath-very, very gross-
across Los Angeles. There
are-thanks to imaginative
directing by Jack Sholder-
enjoyable and even humor-
ous aspects to this movie-long
mayhem. For example, ev-
ery human occupied by the
thing, no matter what age or
sex, develops an undeniable
need for heavy-metal mu-

sic and foreign sports cars.
And for those who need
a little something to think
about during this kind of
movie, there is some actual
character development. The
two detectives who pursue
the thing are a bullet-hard
policeman (Michael Nouri)
and an otherwordly guy
(Kyle MacLachlan) who isn't
what he seems. We don't get
to see the dark night of their
souls, but we learn enough to
empathize. "The Hidden" isa
thriller with enough sub-
stance to make it a guilty,
guilty pleasure.



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