Sally Sullivan & Bernie Fox (Mom P.I.)

Created by Chris Haddock

Save your snark! Mom P.I. (1990-92) was a sly little gem from Canada’s CBC-TV, an offbeat family show that managed to be smarter and more clever than it looked, without sacrificing one bit of heart — or scaring anyone away.

SALLY SULLIVAN was a recently-widowed mother with two kids to feed, struggling to make ends meet by waitressing at The Pacific Café, a decidedly working-class diner in Vancouver, and keeping a constant eye out for more work. Be-bop lover and aging hipster BERNIE FOX (played with comic verve by The Rockford Files‘ Stuart Margolin), meanwhile, is a decidedly working-class private gumshoe with a bad ticker who’s recently lost his partner, and has been told by his doctor to take it easy and lighten his workload. You see where this is leading?

Sally’s the eternal optimist, a do-gooder who believes in happy endings and the golden rule. She’s also prone to, uh, jumping to conclusions.

Bernie’s a cynical old grouch, a street-smart smoothie and slightly-crooked manipulator whose seen it all, and thinks W.C. Fields had the right idea about kids and dogs. So guess who his new wannabe part-time assistant is?

Kudos have to go to head writer Chris Haddock for refusing to turn this into a saccharine-fest. As Margolin boasted at one point in an interview, “We have our antennas out for cute.” To their credit, they succeeded.

This was a little great show, cramming Sally’s various domestic, personal and professional crises and a witty little mystery, often jammed with red herrings and Sally’s misconceptions and blundering misconceptions, into each thirty-minute episode, and shining the light of recognition on the little crimes and misunderstandings we all fall prey to. The working-mom schtick had been done before, but these characters were affably imperfect, without being cloying or glossy stereotypes, and the writing was fresh and sharp, relying on character more than pyrotechnics. No big car chases, stylized slo-mo shoot-em-ups, or some Phil Collins thunker booming on the soundtrack — just smart and entertaining television.

Creator/head writer Haddock had previously created Diamonds, a so-so Moonlighting ripoff, and later went on to create DaVinci’s Inquest (1998-2000, CBC), a much-loved show revolving around a coroner, which offered a far grittier, and bleaker look at Vancouver, and Intelligence (2005-07, CBC), an even more ambitious show revolving around intelligence gathering , spying and power games both in and between numerous rival law enforcement agencies (the Vancouver cops, the RCMP, the CIA, the FBI, etc.), biker gangs and a West Coast drug lord trying to get out of the game.

EVIDENCE

  • “Oh, no! Not Chinatown!”
    — Bernie, when an assailant pins him down, and starts waving a switchblade under his nose

TELEVISION

  • MOM P.I. Watch it now!
    (1990-92, CBC)
    23 30-minute episodes
    Created by Chris Haddock
    Writers: Chris Haddock, Stuart Margolin
    Directors: Chris Haddock, Stephen Surjik, Anne Wheeler, Stuart Margolin
    Starring Rosemary Dunsmore as SALLY SULLIVAN
    and Stuart Margolin as BERNIE FOX
    Also starring Emily Perkins, Shane Meir, Robyn Slevan, Freda Parry, Blu Mankuma

    • SEASON ONE
    • “Pilot” (October 12, 1990)
    • “Career Moves” (October 15, 1990)
    • “Duck Flambé” (October 22, 1990)
    • “Murder Maybe” (October 29, 1990)
    • “Gumshoe” (November 5, 1990)
    • “Undue Influence” (November 12, 1990)
    • “Brendan B. Gone” (November 19, 1990)
    • “Return to Sender” (November 26, 1990)
    • “Looking for a Living” (December 3, 1990)
    • “Blue Christmas” (December 10, 1990)
    • “Beneath the Pacific” (January 7, 1991)
    • “Over the Edge” (January 14, 1991)
    • “Spinal Trap” (January 21, 1991)
    • SEASON TWO
    • “Safe at Home” September 30, 1991)
    • “Fists of Fate” (October 28, 1991)
    • “Bad to be Born” November 4, 1991)
    • “Repo Ride” (November 11, 1991)
    • “Time Wounds All Heels” (November 18, 1991)
    • “Cash and Money” (November 25, 1991)
    • “A Fugue for Mr. X” (December 9, 1991)
    • “Through a Door Quickly” (March 16, 1992)
    • “Night Train” (March 23, 1992)
    • “1 For You, 19 For Me” (March 30, 1992)

RELATED LINKS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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