James Garner gives the half-hour sitcom form a try with Man of the People, and his style looks cramped. He plays Jim Doyle, a con man who becomes a city councilman and continues to scam folks in his small town in California. Doyle is kept in line by a primly honest office assistant, played without charm by Corinne Bohrer (Free Spirit). Kate Mulgrew (Heartbeat), a perfectly good actress, is consigned to what seems like a fourth- or fifth-banana role as a mayor every bit as corrupt as Doyle.
Now, Garner was wonderfully rascally as both Jim Rockford and Bret Maverick, but this Doyle character — well, he’s just an out-and-out weasel, bilking suckers and snickering about it. This being early prime time, Man makes sure to give Doyle a few redeem-ing moments. In one episode, for example, Doyle gets involved in a high-stakes poker game to raise money to build a recreation center for poor children. There’s no laugh track in this series, but there are no laughs, either, which makes for long seconds of frozen, dead air when a punch line is delivered.
A most telling moment occurs in the final seconds of this episode: Having won the money, Doyle is surrounded by grateful kids, and Garner’s discomfort at such a shamelessly sentimental scene is palpable. He leans over to give a little girl a peck on the cheek, and you can almost see Garner blush. He shouldn’t be reduced to this sort of thing. C-