This review contains moderate spoilers.
'Long Distance Daddy' is undoubtedly one of 'Riptide's most enjoyable episodes. Everything feels to be working on this one – good cast, good plot, some nice action sequences... everything is in place, and is a great example of how good the show could be when it was on top form.
Without meaning to be horribly stereotypical, the mid-1980s saw a noticeable influx of young Asian male actors in American TV and movies – see also Roland Hurrah III (featured in episodes of 'Magnum, p.i.' and 'Airwolf'), Ke Huy Quan (seen in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' and 'The Goonies')... and the kid seen here, John Louie, who puts in a likable performance as young Chin Lee, who will do anything to protect his young sister Mia.
The story is written by Babs Greyhosky, one of Stephen J. Cannell's regular writers, and she delivers a great script that has many quirks and touches that could have come from Cannell himself.
Although serious at times (and often touching, regarding Chin Lee and how he has protected his sister), for the most part the episode has a tremendous sense of fun, a mood that I felt to be missing slightly in many episodes late in the show's life (but that's for later reviews).
This is one of those stories where everything collides – stowaways witness murder, murdered man is son of a Mob kingpin, naturally everyone blames the Riptide trio (for whatever reason)... and then there's Mean Mick Matthews. A giant, B.A. Baracus of a man whom Cody and Nick had to put away in their time as Military policemen, and now who is out of prison seemingly with a score to settle. The moment he finally turns up at the Riptide, just in time to stop the mobsters bumping off the detectives, revealing him to now be a monk, is really amusing.
Two notes of trivia for fans of Cannell shows: the opening shots of the B-52 in flight were originally filmed for the first season 'A-Team' episode 'Holiday in the Hills'; and Joseph Sirola and Marshall Teague, who play Mob villains in 'Long Distance Daddy', also play Mob villains in the third season 'A-Team' episode 'The Big Squeeze'.
Very little I can find wrong with this episode... I suppose there are a couple of corny moments (but hey, this was the 1980s), and the opening teaser spoils Murray's tactic of getting Quinlan to follow him at the climax of the story (punching him in the face), but I can forgive that.
When Channel 5 in the U.K. ran the series in 1997, they jumbled the order of the episodes, and broadcast this one a few episodes after 'Raiders of the Lost Sub', my other contender for "best episode of the first season", so I always think of it as coming slightly later (in fact, they showed it as the penultimate episode of the season). I had already been blown away by 'Raiders...', but soon came to love 'Long Distance...' too, and have been struggling to try to decide which is my favourite of the pair ever since.
Anyway, all-in-all, this is a top-notch episode, with a great feel, and one that should leave you with a smile on your face. Anybody new to 'Riptide', skip the first couple of awkward hour-long episodes (for now), look in the direction of this instalment instead.
At time of writing (April 2011), I see that 'Long Distance Daddy' is in TV.com's top 10 highest ranked episodes of the show (along with some bizarre other entries, but that's again for later reviews!), and deservedly so. It's definitely in my personal Top 10 favourites of the series, and I consider it to be a series classic. I give 'Long Distance Daddy' a definite 10 out of 10.