Public Enemy #2

Dave Thomas has had a tough time finding the right vehicle for his prodigious comic talents ever since SCTV went off the air — neither his movie roles nor his short-lived CBS variety series offered him a proper showcase. But this intricate, tightly written comedy special does.

In Public Enemy #2, Thomas plays two roles — Wynn Dalton, a struggling actor, and Dwayne Gary Steckler, a serial killer. Dalton is hired to play Steckler in a crime dramatization for an America’s Most Wanted-like show called All Points Bulletin (it’s hosted by Mannix‘s Mike Connors in a nice bit of self-parody). Steckler watches the show and is outraged at the mediocrity of Dalton’s portrayal (”Ted Bundy got Mark Harmon. Who do I get? The king of dinner theater!”) and, figuring he can play himself in the follow-up episode, pushes Dalton off a cliff and shows up at the taping.

Steckler plays Steckler to spectacular effect — he’s so realistically weird and scary, the ratings go through the roof. A Steckler segment becomes a weekly feature of All Points Bulletin, and this criminal, still passing himself off as Dalton, becomes a millionaire superstar. Why, he’s even nominated for an Emmy in a new category: ”Best Actor in a News Broadcast or News-Related Series.” But then it turns out that Dalton isn’t really dead…

Public Enemy #2 takes about 20 more twists and turns than your average TV comedy, and Thomas makes the most of them. Writers Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland have created a near-perfect critique not just of so-called reality shows but of the television industry itself. The result is a very nice cable-TV surprise; you’d do much better to watch this than any of the big, empty, sweeps-period movies the networks have planned for you on this date. A-

Public Enemy #2
  • TV Show