Today, we look at how Maverick hits its peak complexity in the classic episode, “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres.”
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
Maverick was a brilliant deconstruction of the Western series created by Roy Huggins, one of the greatest TV writers of all-time, and starring James Garner, one of the greatest TV stars of all-time.
The concept of the series is that Garner’s Bret Maverick just wants to play cards, and thus his adventures simply come out of the gambling, and not from him WANTING to get involved in adventures. He’s heroic when he NEEDS to be, but it is not his natural inclination.
The series soon added Jack Kelly as Bret’s brother, Bart Maverick, in order to allow the show to film multiple episodes at the same time (one with Garner, one with Kelly). The scripts were all written for a generic “Maverick,” and Garner, as the initial star of the series, was allowed first pick at the beginning of the season. Kelly would then star in the leftover scripts.
As you might imagine, that meant that the best WRITTEN episodes were now also the best ACTED episodes (Jack Kelly was quite good, as well, don’t get me wrong, but Garner was, well, you know, a movie star). Never was this was more evident than the Season 2 episode, “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres.”
As a quick aside, another notable thing about Maverick was the recurring characters. Other gamblers and stuff like that. A number of them were played by actors who later got their own series at Warner Brothers (the same studio who did Maverick). The most famous actor was
Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who played Dandy Jim Buckley (a rival gambler). Richard Long played Gentleman Jack Darby, ANOTHER rival gambler who was basically interchangeable with Dandy Jim Buckley. Samantha Crawford (Diane Brewster) was a femme fatale/gambler, and Leo Gordon played Big Mike McComb, who met Maverick while Big Mike was working for a bad guy, but he decided to quit and travel with Maverick for a while.
So anyhow, Bret is robbed by a ruthless banker (played by John Dehner) after winning a lot of money in a poker game, and since Bret knows that the banker is going to be expecting him to come back for the money, Bret very conspicuously spends the episode whittling on a porch in front of everyone, so that when his brother Bart and the other characters (who are mostly rivals of Maverick’s, but the banker broke their specific code of honor, so they’re willing to help Bret out) put together a complex con (the episode was written by Huggins based on a story by Douglas Heyes and it was directed by Leslie H. Martinson), a con so good that the hit film, The Sting, pretty much just used the con from this episode in it.
It’s a great episode with a ton of great actors in it.
Reader Pat K. wrote to suggest this one, but amusingly, I was already planning on doing this one next, so that’s a funny coincidence!
Okay, if I’m going to have 358 more of these, I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!