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Glimpsing the madness that is T. J. HOOKER

February 21, 2011 2 comments

I wasn’t feeling too well this morning, so I decided to rest on the couch and see what was on TV.  Turned out the Sleuth channel was showing reruns of William Shatner’s infamous ’80s cop series, T. J. Hooker, so I tuned into that.  And some shows really do live up (or down) to their reputations.  Within ten minutes after I turned on the set, Hooker was sprawled across the trunk of a moving car.  (The cliche is Hooker riding on the hood of a moving car, but apparently he was flexible.)  A minute after that, the car blew up, though Hooker had jumped off and gotten the driver out first.

But that was nothing compared to what I saw in the next episode.  I saw a clip of it in the titles and couldn’t quite believe what I saw, and then it turned out to happen in the first few minutes of that very episode.  A felon who wanted revenge on Hooker arranged to take it by the convoluted means of getting a couple of firebombs, driving alongside Hooker’s car, and tossing them into the moving vehicle.  The one in the front seat stayed intact but the other one shattered and set the back seat on fire.  Rather than immediately stopping and getting himself and his partner out as any sane person would do, Hooker instead drove after the bad guy and threw the intact firebomb into his backseat.  And that car’s driver had the same lack of common sense; for a good minute thereafter, these two cars were racing down the street, trying to ram each other, while they were both on fire.  It was the most absurdly awesome car chase sequence I’ve ever seen.

I dropped in and out of the show for a while longer while doing other stuff, but much of what I saw felt like a parody of itself.  Shatner’s Hooker was such an exaggeratedly tough, no-nonsense cop, the action was so over-the-top ludicrous, the villains so cartoony (right down to postponing shooting the heroes by monologuing about their evil plans long enough for the other heroes to come to the rescue), that at times this “serious” cop show was virtually indistinguishable in tone from Leslie Nielsen’s Police Squad! parody.  (And I do mean Police Squad!, where Nielsen’s Lt. Drebin was a parody of a tough, no-nonsense cop, rather than the Naked Gun movies, which reinterpreted Drebin as a clumsy buffoon.)  Just hilarious stuff, in part because it took its excesses so seriously.

Catchy theme music, though.  Very early-’80s.   I’m surprised to discover that there was a time when Mark Snow actually knew how to write a melody, rather than just whiny, droning atmospherics like on The X-Files and Smallville.

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