Maverick: The Complete Third Season, 26 episodes, six discs, 1300 minutes, Warner Archive Collection, $59.99
Sadly, James Garner’s third season (1959–60) was his last as gambler Bret Maverick, although Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly) would carry on for two more seasons, and a couple other Mavericks (Roger Moore’s Beau and Robert Colbert’s Brent) would appear in the fourth season. Bart did it alone in the fifth and final season. Writer/creator Roy Huggins had left after two seasons, during which time Bret and Bart’s highly quotable Pappy, the original Beau Maverick, never actually appeared. But he does in the third season’s first episode, fittingly titled “Pappy,” with Garner taking on the old man’s role as well.
The third season shifted Maverick more into the realm of a traditional comedy, rather than a drama with comic elements, in that more characters and scenes present themselves merely for the sake of a punch line. A prime example is the notorious team in the episode “Full House.” Cole Younger, Jesse James and about every other household outlaw mistake Bret for the never-before-seen “brains” of their all-star organization. Each badman introduces himself through his wanted poster: “Sam Bass, $10,000 Dead or Alive,” “Jesse James, $25,000,” etc. Lastly, a small kid comes up and introduces himself as “William Bonney, $1,000.” Bret asks, “Only $1,000?” To which Billy deadpans, “I’m just getting started.” Even Belle Starr shows up, with an eye for Bret that angers Younger. Such scenarios are quite ridiculous, but Maverick has previously dipped its polished boots in history with enjoyable results, as when Bret encounters Doc Holliday in season one.
Overall, season three might not be as consistently excellent as the first two seasons, but it provides some of the show’s funniest episodes. In “The Sheriff of Duck ’n’ Shoot,” which seems a sort of prequel to Garner’s 1969 Western Support Your Local Sheriff, Maverick brings his own form of law and order to control a rowdy town when hired as sheriff. Other standouts include the Bart episode “A Tale of Three Cities,” guest starring the likable Pat Crowley; “Maverick & Juliet,” which involves a family feud that culminates in a one-on-one poker duel between brothers Bret and Bart; “A Flock of Trouble,” in which Bret wins a sheep ranch in a poker game; and “Greenbacks, Unlimited,” where Bret and Foursquare Farley (Gage Clark) rob the Denver Bank multiple times to foil the plans of a professional safecracker played by the brilliant John Dehner, who in the second season was equally good as a dishonest banker in “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres.”
The quality of the show would dip with the departure of Garner, who was able to escape his day player contract with Warner Brothers. It’s a shame WB was too stubborn to realize how iconic the Maverick character was, and how large a part of that was due to Garner. We all deserved to see Bret dealt another hand.
Louis Lalire and Greg “Pappy” Lalire