We gave it a D
The highest-rated original drama series on cable television is Silk Stalkings; the question is, How much longer will it remain so? Now in its fifth season, Silk Stalkings recently underwent drastic cast changes. Chris Lorenzo and Rita Lee Lance, the hubba-hubba Palm Springs homicide cops played by Rob Estes and Mitzi Kapture, were written out of the show over the course of December (both wanted to move on to other jobs). Two new police heroes — Nick Kokotakis’ Michael Price and Tyler Layton’s Holly Rawlins — have replaced them. This switch has the Internet abuzz with Stalkings fans who feel betrayed whenever they’re not busy being mean and bitter (from recent postings: ”I agree that Price looks like a Neanderthal”; ”[Holly] shows too much teeth, anyone else agree?”).
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. How familiar are you with this cult favorite? Silk Stalkings debuted in ’91 as part of CBS’ late-night ”Crimetime After Primetime” slate of adventure shows, as well as on the USA Network. The idea was that, since it aired when the kiddies were theoretically tucked into bed, Stalkings could be naughtier than prime-time fare. The show, created by TV vet Stephen J. Cannell (The A-Team, The Rockford Files), quickly established its formula: In the opening moments, a murder is committed in a setting that allows for the inclusion of mostly-undressed attractive people — in a pool, at a strip club, at a party where two guys snort coke off the rippled belly of a bikini-clad woman. Stalkings has a million variations. Then our protagonists swagger around the crime scene, interview the now barely dressed attractive people, and solve the crime.
The appeal of Stalkings is in how it combines high skin quotient with soap opera subtext — the evolving relationship between Chris and Rita. Their Stalkings was Moonlighting crossed with McMillan and Wife, but with more underwear. By the end of 1995, they had become lovers, then got married, then Rita got pregnant, then Chris was fatally shot, then Rita decided to leave the force. These story lines drove Stalkings to its highest ratings ever, and the series started being ”stripped” — aired Monday through Thursday in reruns, at 11 p.m. — earlier this month.
As Chris and Rita, Estes and Kapture had a nice, relaxed chemistry. Estes (husband of Melrose Place‘s Josie Bissett) was charming, for a guy whose favorite expression was slack jaw, and Kapture was actually a good actress. In later episodes, the pair did everything but roll their eyes whenever the show wheeled out another girl-in-a-garter-belt subplot. Stalkings also features one of the more likable police-captain bosses: Charlie Brill as Cap. (Doddering boomers may remember him as half of the comedy team Brill and McCall — McCall being his wife, Mitzi — from The Ed Sullivan Show.)
But now Cap must play stern father figure to Michael and Holly, and so far, they’re a couple of drips. Kokotakis’ idea of characterization is to mumble lines through a mouth surrounded by stubble; Layton lets her hairdo (a Jennifer Aniston job with blonder highlights) and her wardrobe (hey, detective, wanna bend over that corpse again?) do her acting for her. As far as the Internet tooth debate goes, I come down squarely: I kinda like Layton’s wide smile.
Always a series for horny insomniacs and lonely people looking for bad fashion tips, Silk Stalkings has maintained the integrity of its own cartoonish melodrama. Whether it can maintain its loyal audience with Kokotakis and Layton, however, is a bigger mystery than any solved in the show. Silk Stalkings (old cast): B- Silk Stalkings (new cast): C-