James Garner Returns as Bret Maverick on getTV
Reviving classic TV shows may be all the rage now, but James Garner did it before it was fashionable.
In December of 1981, after The Rockford Files had completed its six-season run, Garner returned to the character that first made him a star. We didn’t call them “reboots” back in the ‘80s, but Bret Maverick is just that: a series that continues the story of a beloved character decades later in a new era and setting.
The return of a TV icon was big news in 1981, and happily Bret Maverick doesn’t disappoint. Star and producer Garner delivers a delightfully quirky, single-season series that demonstrates why he’s universally regarded as one of the greatest talents in the medium’s history. And you can see what we mean when Bret Maverick joins the getTV schedule on December 30 as part of our new "Sundays Under the Big Sky" lineup of classic westerns!
Set roughly twenty years after Bret disappeared from the original series (thanks to Garner’s contract dispute with producer Warner Bros), Bret Maverick introduces us to an older, but not necessarily wiser, titular hero. Now fifty-ish, his days as a charming drifter looking for the next big score are over. He’s settled down in Sweetwater, Arizona as co-owner and silent partner of the Red Ox Saloon — won, of course, in a poker game against no less a legend than Doc Holliday (John McLiam).
But just because Maverick has settled down, that doesn’t mean he has, well, settled down. He’s stirring up trouble of a different sort, as the reluctant guardian angel of a Western boom town in transition in the 1880s. As Sweetwater grows and develops, it attracts all manner of shysters, swindlers, and opportunists. And who better to protect it than someone who is a shyster, swindler, and opportunist himself!
Maverick’s partner at the Red Ox is Tom Guthrie (Ed Bruce), Sweetwater’s sheriff for a decade before he was forced out by banker and political boss Elijah Crow (Ramon Bieri). Teaming a cop with a criminal is an idea as old as celluloid, but an ex-cop and a reformed criminal joining forces was a masterstroke by series creator Gordon T. Dawson (future producer of Walker, Texas Ranger). Maverick and Guthrie are both looking for new beginnings as they struggle with their past, and that subtext gives Bret Maverick surprising depth for what is otherwise a lighthearted action comedy.
Garner — who was a far better actor that he’s often given credit for — plays many scenes with a level of gravitas and poignancy he simply could not have pulled off 24 years earlier. And Bruce has a close-to-the-vest charisma that serves as a perfect counterpoint to Garner’s thousand-watt charm. Their Odd Couple-style bickering is a delight and Bruce — a singer/songwriter best remembered for “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” — more than holds his own with the legendary Garner.
If you know James Garner’s work you know he loved actor/director Stuart Margolin, and audiences loved them together. After six seasons as the title character’s untrustworthy sidekick on The Rockford Files, Margolin returns in Bret Maverick — as the title character’s untrustworthy sidekick! His Philo Sandeen (a.k.a. “Standing Bear”) is tracker, phony shaman, and the only man in town who can thoroughly beat Bret at his own game. Like in Rockford (and the 1971–72 Western series Nichols), Garner and Margolin give Bret Maverick some of its funniest banter and most unforgettable moments. And Margolin directed the excellent, two-part pilot episode which is a fun and effective introduction to the series premise and cast.
Unlike the original, Bret Maverick is an ensemble show, with supporting characters often taking center stage in the action. Darleen Carr plays Mary Lou “M.L.” Springer, the tomboyish reporter and photographer for the The Territorian newspaper, with Priscilla Morrill as her boss Mrs. Springer and David Knell as bespectacled copy boy Rodney Catlow. Veteran character actor Richard Hamilton is Cy Whitaker, the crotchety, Walter Brennan-esque foreman of Bret’s ranch The Lazy Ace. John Shearin is Mitch Dowd, the ambitious sheriff installed by bank owner Crow after a spurious “election.” And Marj Dusay recurs as Kate Hanrahan, the town madam who has a “business arrangement” with Mr. Crow.
Guest stars include some of the great supporting actors of the era, like Dixie Carter, Ed Nelson, Hector Elizondo, Monte Markham, Glenn Withrow as Billy the Kid, William Hootkins as Teddy Roosevelt, and one we won’t mention (because his appearance in the series finale is too good to spoil).
“Maverick didn’t come here to lose,” Ed Bruce sings in the show’s opening theme song, and that’s really the mission statement for Bret Maverick. Like many of us, our hero may be better-behaved in middle age, but he’s still got plenty of fight in him.
Bret Maverick airs Sundays at 3p ET beginning December 30. For more, visit the getTV schedule.