Plot: There’s no rest for the agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, as for every case solved, new ones come in and of course, previously unresolved cases remain on the books as well. Assistant Director Arthur Ward (Philip Abbott) is almost at the very top of the bureau food chain, so he knows his way around office politics and knows his agents even better. To that end, Agent Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) is one of his trusted, go to field agents, a veteran who has earned a remarkable reputation. As a widower, he throws himself deep into his work and seems to take no solace elsewhere, content to serve the public and ensure justice is handed out. Special Agent Jim Rhodes (Stephen Brooks) is well known to Erskine, as they not only work at the bureau together, but Rhodes dates Erskine’s daughter, Barbara. The two agents have their differences, coming from different generations and attitudes, but both are committed to serving the public to the best of their abilities.
Entertainment Value: This review covers the first sixteen episodes of the first season of The FBI, known as The First Season, Part One. I wasn’t alive when The FBI was first run on television, but I had heard stories from my father and always wanted to check out the classic procedural. Now I’ve been able to experience The FBI from the start and while it is rather dated, it holds up as a rock solid series. The series often follows Erskine, an old school agent who lives the job and Rhodes, a younger, more brash agent who also happens to date Erskine’s daughter. While the two are quite different, this isn’t an odd couple type situation, not often at least. And while the romance angle adds a nice spin, it is dropped quickly to focus on the substance of the material. This is not a flashy series by any means, rooted in fairly realistic procedure and an old school mentality, these agents are quite a stunning difference from the ones in modern shows. Erskine is an agent who lives by the book and never deviates, he takes immense pride in working within the rules, even at a personal cost. Such a by the book method does seem antiquated, but at the same time, a refreshing change of pace from current shows and The FBI has a strong old school charm.
The show centers on Erskine, played with skill by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.who enjoyed a storied career as a television staple and later, as a prominent voice actor. He brings the role to life here quite well, giving us an Erksine who is clearly defined by his work, but still has a human side. His motivations are clear and we can connect with our lead, to which Zimbalist deserves much of the credit. While he seems like a simple character on the surface, even in this first season episodes, you can tell there is a depth to Erskine, one I hope is explored in future episodes. Stephen Brooks also has a prominent role in this first season and while he is solid, he is often overshadowed by his costar. I do think the two have good chemistry however, which helps the show a lot. The FBI also boasts an all star assortment of guest stars, such as Burt Reynolds and Robert Duvall, among numerous others. So the cast is strong in these first season episodes, with a great anchor in Zimbalist and a more than capable supporting lineup. I do think the show’s clean cut, by the book approach is going to put off some viewers, but it was a product of its time and I think that holds some charm. In the end, despite being dated in some ways, this first set of episodes offers up good storytelling, performances, and terrific production values, almost like short films instead of television episodes. I had a great time finally being able to see The FBI and I look forward to seeing how the series continues on in future installments.