Shatner plays Jeff Cable, an undercover agent for the governor of California in the late 1800's. His mission is to help clean up San Francisco's Barbary Coast, a hotbed of criminal activity. He does this by conscripting a local casino owner, Cash Conover (played by Dennis Cole in the pilot and Doug McClure for the other 13 episodes), a man with an artificially deflated reputation.
Cable listens in on the various nefarious characters that frequent Cash's Golden Gate Casino in order to learn of plots, cons and schemes occurring on the coast, and pretty much every one of Cable's plans involves guilt tripping Cash into putting his life (and more importantly, his money) on the line.
In the pilot movie, Cash and Cable have to take on a faceless mob claiming to bring justice back to Barbary Coast. When they discover that the group is being riled up by a former KKK member that Cable wasn't able to arrest some years back, Cable decides that this particular mission is more than just another job.
While the pilot does a good job of setting up the relationships of the series, the rest of Barbary Coast takes on a much more lighthearted tone, with Cable putting on a wide variety of disguises ranging from a gypsy street merchant to a known criminal and even a rickety old man. As for Cash, he is a well known citizen and even with Cable's makeup and prosthetics, he would be hard pressed to pass himself off as anyone other than the man he is.
One of the few exceptions to that rule was an episode that took the duo to another city. In this episode, Cable and Cash learn that some stolen money is hidden in a jail cell. Cash poses as a Marshall and spreads wanted posters about a criminal that Cable is posing to be. When the local police find Cable, they throw him in the cell and prepare to claim the reward. The plan goes sideways when another outlaw makes his way into town and is thrown into the same cell as Cable. While Cable works to find where the money is hidden, the new outlaw's gang blows a wall out of the prison and Cable is forced to leave the stash behind. Worse yet, it seems a member of the gang actually knows the man Cable is impersonating.
In another episode, Jesse James apparently comes out of retirement in order to hit a couple of banks. Cash is asked by one of Jesse's contacts to put together a team for the next heist and Cable puts himself in the mix in order to learn if the ring leader really is the famed gunslinger.
One of my favorite episodes in this series had Cash and Cable pitting two scammers against each other. When Cash learns that some of his patrons are trying to run a fake diamond mine scam out of his casino, he decides to point them at a local protection racket that is hitting Cash up for money. What follows is a clever scheme that has Cable posing as a geologist hired by Cash to check out the land. Cable confronts the con artists and claims he will keep quiet for a major portion of the money. Meanwhile, Cash "lets it slip" that he is investing in the diamond mine and the protection racket group decides to throw all their money into what appears to be a more profitable situation. The result is both sets of bad guys end up at each other's throats while Cash and Cable are able to redistribute the protection money back to the local entrepreneurs of the Barbary Coast. Even with these details revealed, the episode is still a great one to watch, just to see how everything comes together.
There are very few characters that show up in multiple episodes. For the most part, each story is independent and contains a whole new cast. The only real recurring characters outside of the main two are Cash's employees, his barker and bouncer Moose (Richard Kiel, The Spy Who Loved Me) and his piano man, Thumbs (Dave Turner). While generally background characters, each one tends to play a part in their boss's schemes.
Unfortunately, there aren't any special features on this DVD. A retrospective featuring Shatner would have been a great addition to this collection (unfortunately, McClure died in 1995), but given how short-lived the series was and that it most likely doesn't have a major draw, I can understand the lack of additional investment. Even so though, Barbary Coast is a fun series and seemed to be designed to show off Shatner's acting chops and prove that he can play a wide variety of characters, not just a starship captain. I have to say though, if I were to base that decision on this series alone, I'm not all that sure I would have been convinced of that fact.