Battle of the Sexes

When I watched the first season of Baa Baa Black Sheep, I dreaded getting to the episode titled “W*A*S*P*s”. Right there in the episode description it said that “a battle of the sexes lands on the frontline”.

I loathe a battle of the sexes.

I make no secret of the fact that much of the rerun content I watch (and some of the current content) is “male-oriented”. It’s action stuff. It’s police stuff. Classic cis het guy fare. So there isn’t a lot of quality women content or input. And yes, some of it can be eye rollingly bad. But nothing quite irritates me like the battle of the sexes.

The context is typically of women doing man’s work, whatever the hell that is. I wasn’t raised with gendered work. I was raised with work and somebody better do it and don’t make me tell you twice.

Think of “St. Gilligan and the Dragon”, which I talked about in this post. The women go off on their own because the men are being pricks The women are able to hack it and the men are useless. The implication, of course, is that the men don’t know how to do things like cook and do laundry because it’s something women do and is therefore beneath them. Starving and stinking for their mancards.

Naturally, it’s played for laughs because the battle of the sexes is a frequently used theme in sitcoms.

One such episode that has always stuck with me is The Brady Bunch episode “The Liberation of Marcia Brady”. Basically, Marcia goes on the record that she thinks women can do anything men do and then Greg ends up goading her until she decides to prove herself by joining The Frontier Scouts. For the final initiation, Marcia has to use her Frontier Scout skills to navigate through the woods following a trail that Greg has left.

The twist? Greg has purposely made the trail as hard as possible to follow without breaking the rules. And to everyone’s surprise, Marcia succeeds.

Marcia’s initiation is a perfect example of how the patriarchy works. In order to prove that women can do anything men can do, Marcia actually had to do better than what the guys had to do because the boys were so threatened by the idea of a girl joining their little scouting group they had to actively sabotage her.

Something similar happens in many episodes of Barney Miller whenever there’s a female detective. I can remember it happening with Wentworth, Batista, and with the two officers in “Hot Dogs”. All of the women were seen as overly enthusiastic and aggressive in doing their jobs because it went right over the heads of their male counterparts that they had to be. They had to do everything the men did, but they had to do it more and they had to do it better -and in heels!- lest they be considered failures and ruin it for every other woman on the force.

There’s a similar vibe in the Emergency! episode “The Indirect Method”. Roy and Johnny are charged with training a female paramedic who is described as hard-nosed. Is it any wonder? The pressure is intense. She’s doing man’s work, after all.

As for the Baa Baa Black Sheep episode, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I didn’t hate it. The women were not only good at their job, but also serious about it in a way that was less about being as good as the men, and more about showing their passion for flying. Yeah, the guys tried to treat the ladies like they would any pretty face in the vicinity, but it turns out the women were more like them than they realized. Translation: our fellas got hoodwinked by them.

This battle of the sexes was a little more evenly matched. And while it did have it’s hang-ups and of course, the guys had to save the ladies (though, they didn’t really do anything that fighter escorts wouldn’t do for transport planes other than be a little mushy), at least the respect cultivated between the two groups was genuine and not based on arbitrary standards of excellence.

As a result, the episode got my respect, too.

Rerun Junkie Guest Star–Nehemiah Persoff

Nehemiah Persoff sadly passed away last month at the age of 102, but with 207 credits listed on IMDB, there’s a reason why it felt like he was always on TV for about a thirty year span. Pretty impressive when you consider that he never had a regular or recurring role on any series. Maybe best known for his role in Yentl, Mr. Persoff left his mark on many TV shows during his career.

He did multiple episodes of Hawaii Five-O, but his turn as the unpleasant Harry Cardonus, the weak-link in a criminal organization that McGarrett manipulates in order to get him to testify, really stands out. While under police protection, his attitude towards Steve McGarrett, Five-O, and HPD makes you wonder if Steve won’t kill him before his buddy does. He’s unlikable from the beginning, but there’s enough character and humanity to him that makes him feel like a real, fully formed human and not just a plot device.

Mr. Persoff frequently played rabbis and other Jewish characters. His turn as Yakov Berger, a Hassidic Jew and diamond merchant on two episodes of Barney Miller (the closest he came to a recurring character) are fantastic. In the first episode, “Middle Age”, he’s the intended target of a theft. In the second episode, “Riot”, he along with other members of the Hassidic community take umbrage with the precinct’s lagging response times to calls to an extreme. Both episodes are quite funny, thanks in large part to Mr. Persoff’s performance.

Most likely because of his olive complexion and his gift with accents, he was often cast as Middle Easterners or Latinos. His performance as Pancho Hernando Gonzalez Enriques Rodriguez in the Gilligan’s Island episode “The Little Dictator” is probably the best example of the latter.

A gifted, versatile actor, Mr. Persoff turned up on a wide variety of shows. Westerns like Wagon Train, Rawhide, The Big Valley, The Wild Wild West, The High Chaparral, and several episodes of Gunsmoke; Sci-Fi shows like The Twilight Zone (in a rather haunting episode called “Judgment Night”), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, The Time Tunnel, Logan’s Run, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trek: The Next Generation; and family friendly fare like The Flying Nun, Little House on the Prairie, and Doogie Howser MD.

He ran the gamut of crime shows, from Honey West, Mannix, Richie Brockelman Private Eye, Vega$, and Magnum PI to The Untouchables, The Mod Squad, Adam-12, The Streets of San Francisco, Columbo, McCloud, and Police Woman to Burke’s Law, McMillan and Wife, Ellery Queen, Baretta, Quincey ME, Murder, She Wrote, LA Law, and Law and Order.

He checked in with Ben Casey, Marcus Welby MD, and Chicago Hope. He got spooky with Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller. He courted intrigue with The Man from UNCLE, Mission: Impossible, and Search. He hung out with both The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman; sided with Wonder Woman; helped out MacGyver; rode the Supertrain; and spent some time on Fantasy Island. He even has the distinction of guesting on two shows that shared the same name (but not the same premise) twice! I Spy (a series in 1955 and again in 1965) and Hunter (a series in 1976 and again in 1984).

Nehemiah Persoff was a talented man with an incredible range from the dramatic to the comedic and everything in between. And those talents can be regularly found on just about any rerun. It’s nice to know we can still find him any time we want to tune it.

Rerun Junkie Confession–I Love Crossovers

When Dan and I first started making our plans to chat about The Green Hornet for Eventually Supertrain, I knew that we would be discussing the whole series, but I was absolutely delighted when he said that we’d be including the Batman crossover episodes.

In those episodes, our heroes Green Hornet and Kato take a trip to Gotham City where their status as villains precedes them and puts the Caped Crusader and his sidekick on alert. As it turns out, Britt Reid is old frenemies with Bruce Wayne and they spend the two-parter jousting over some woman who’s obsessed with the color pink while their alter egos attempt to apprehend Colonel Gumm.

It’s magnificent.

But I’d probably think that anyway because well, I am a sucker for a crossover.

There’s just something about seeing characters you know so well meeting other characters you know so well in each other’s environments. It’s oddly exciting to me. It’s fun. It’s different. I think The New Scooby Doo Movies did this to me. I saw Davy Jones running from ghosts with Shaggy and Velma and I was hooked.

Speaking of childhood, I was addicted to ABC’s TGIF. It should be no surprise to you how absolutely stoked I was as a young person to watch Steve Urkel from Family Matters show up on Full House and crash into Step by Step. For my 11 year old self, that was must-see TV.

It probably would be for my 42 year old self, too.

Back in the day when all of the CSIs were up and running, they managed to a crossover with all three of them, and though I’d kind of fallen out of love with them at that point, you better believe my ass watched all of those episodes anyway.

The 1980 Magnum PI was implied to exist in the same universe as the 1968 Hawaii Five-O, but a proper crossover never happened. However, Magnum PI did crossover with both Murder, She Wrote and Simon & Simon, creating its own little universe that should have seen Rick and AJ visit Jessica Fletcher at some point, but it never happened. That probably would have been too much for my heart seeing as how much I enjoyed them visiting Hawai’i. But I still love watching the crossover episodes we did get.

With the reboots, the 2010 Hawaii Five-0 crossovers included Magnum PI, MacGyver, and NCIS: LA, which means that it shares a universe with JAG, NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans (RIP), and NCIS: Hawai’i, which recently did its own crossover with NCIS.

Talk about crossover inception.

In the vein of all of this, there’s something special about characters from the original show visiting the show’s spin-off. Like Arnold from Diff’rent Strokes showing up at Eastland to visit Mrs. Garrett on Facts of Life (Arnold also showed up on Silver Spoons, and Diff’rent Strokes had three different crossover episodes with the show Hello, Larry). Or like the Fonz and Richie Cunningham showing up on Laverne and Shirley. And Laverne and Shirley turning up on Happy Days after they got spun-off. The two shows even had a crossover two-parter. Laverne and the Fonz also turned up on Mork and Mindy and Laverne made an appearance on Blansky’s Beauties because Garry Marshall had a whole universe going there.

Likewise, characters crossed over in the Henningverse, would go from The Beverly Hillbillies to Petticoat Junction to Green Acres and back again.

And of course, Stargate: SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis, and Stargate: Universe all crossed over with each other. I mean, they were all based with the same government program. It’d be weird if they didn’t.

I know that these are just stunt episodes, many times using the popularity of one show to help boost the ratings of the lagging one. But sometimes it’s just two popular shows colliding and exploding in a joyous cacophony of fun.

I’m going to be honest. I never get tired of it. I don’t even care if the shows crossing over have nothing in common and the premise is completely ridiculous, I’ll still watch it. Give me all of the crossovers.

Make the TV Universe infinite.

Book ’em, Danno–Episode 35

Book 'em Danno Podcast

Season 3 begins to wind down with this two-parter. In “FOB Honolulu”, Five-O is looking to recover counterfeit currency plates that people everywhere are dying to acquire. Like there’s a literal trail of dead bodies they use to track the plates across Asia. It’s part of the slide show.

Wo Fat is back and we’re introduced to a KGB colonel charmingly called Misha the Bear, whom I wished made more than one appearance because he was a good time.

Also there’s Monte Landis, excessive amounts of knitting, and one of the best tail dodges I’ve ever seen onscreen.

Listen on Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Now this is a fabulous disguise. The gum chewing really completed the look.

in disguise

The Good About “Bad” Shows

There are people who will trip over themselves to tell you something is bad. And by bad, I mean bad as in not good. These people who only consume critically acclaimed content will gleefully inform you that whatever show you love is really bad, actually.

These people are plentiful and to be perfectly frank, they’re buzzkills. I can only assume that they’re acting out of a desperate need to feel superior to others in order to fill some sort of void in their own self-esteem. Or they’re just joyless jerks. I don’t know. I’m not here to judge. But I can say they will go above and beyond to make their point and make you feel shame about enjoying a “bad” show.

Unfortunately, as someone who hate watches Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan every time it comes on TV, their arguments are wasted on me. I am immune to such discourse because I am gleefully unqualified when it comes to declaring things “good” and “bad”. You can’t reason with someone like me. You can’t make me feel bad about my TV choices.

Because I always choose joy.

Okay, I know it doesn’t look like it with the hate watching thing, but there’s still a joy in that. And I have hate watched a show. The only reason I ever watched Arrow was because David Nykl had a recurring role on it and he was really the only thing about it that I liked. Oliver Queen was the worst and his friends were all enablers and I will die on that hill. But there was still something joyful in talking shit at my TV in between Anatoly sightings. I had fun, at least.

I’m also having a blast doing this CSI: Miami re-watch. This show is bonkers and I love it. But even back in the day it wasn’t exactly considered to be quality television.

Which is a shame because it is pure joy.

There is a place for these shows on our TVs and in our lives. It’s okay to enjoy them. I don’t necessarily think that “bad” shows contribute to brain rot if you watch them intelligently. You’re talking to someone whose favorite thing is copaganda. ’70s cop shows are my jam. I enjoy them for what they are, but I don’t buy their message. I love Steve McGarrett, but I know he’s not an accurate representation of reality.

Are their a lot of “bad” shows? Sure. Are there a lot of “bad” shows that masquerade as “good” shows? Absolutely. Are there a lot of shows that I wouldn’t watch? God, yes. But will I fault anyone for enjoying their “bad” shows? No. I want them to have as many spots of happiness in this unkind world as possible.

Do I watch things of quality? Yes, it’s been known to happen, usually by accident. By my own admission, I watch a lot of shows that are less than quality caliber. On purpose. And I’m fine with that.

They make me happy.

And that’s a good thing.

Rerun Junkie Guest Stars–Burt Mustin

For nearly 30 years, if a TV show was in need of a quirky and/or spunky senior citizen, they could call on Burt Mustin.

According to IMDB, he racked up 199 credits between 1951 and 1979, a feat that wouldn’t be too remarkable if he hadn’t made his first onscreen appearance at age 67. As fate would have it, Mr. Mustin’s retirement as a salesman gave birth to a second career that has blessed us all.

Mr. Mustin had recurring roles on several series including portraying Arthur Lanson on Phyllis, Jud on The Andy Griffith Show, Grandpa Jenson on Petticoat Junction, and Gus the Fireman on Leave It to Beaver. He also frequently made repeat appearances on shows as different characters, including Our Miss Brooks, Adam-12, My Three Sons, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Texan, Dragnet 67, and The Monkees.

It’s the last two shows that contain my favorite Burt Mustin performances.

In the Dragnet 67 episode “Homicide: DR-22”, he plays Calvin Lampe, who is at first thought to be a nosy neighbor of and then a possible suspect in the murder of a career girl. It’s later revealed that he’s a retired chief of detectives and friend of Friday and Gannon’s boss. He ends up helping the two whippersnappers solve the homicide. Calvin Lampe has an unmatched attention to detail and his insinuation in the case is at first a source of a bit of annoyance before Friday and Gannon realize how valuable it is. One of my favorite scenes is Lampe talking to Friday and Gannon while a uniformed officer in the background (played by Jack Webb favorite Marco Lopez) gives them a yikes look.

Mr. Mustin appeared in two episodes of The Monkees that I love. He was the butler in the classic “The Christmas Episode” and he portrayed a Tarzan knock-off by the name of Kimba in “Monkees Marooned”. The bit in which Peter translates for him is a hoot.

He stuck to The Andy Griffith universe, appearing in both Gomer Pyle: USMC and Mayberry RFD and even popped up on The New Andy Griffith Show; spent some extra time in the Henningverse on a couple of episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies; completed the Jack Webb odyssey with a couple of episodes of Emergency!; and appeared on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda.

He turned up on Westerns like Maverick, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Virginian, and Alias Smith and Jones; hung out with Lucille Ball on both The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy; and cut up on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, Laugh-In, The Brady Bunch, Sanford and Son, All in the Family, and Love, American Style. He got mysterious on Mr. Lucky, Surfside 6, and 77 Sunset Strip; saw some action on The Girl from UNCLE, Batman, The Fugitive, and Get Smart; got spooky on Thriller, The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Outer Limits; and he even did a couple of medical stints on Ben Casey and Marcus Welby MD.

There wasn’t a television genre that Burt Mustin couldn’t shine in. He’s a delight in everything he appears in, elevating a generic senior citizen into something more memorable and cementing his face into the good graces and fond memories of generations.

Not bad for an old guy, huh?

Rerun Junkie Show–David Cassidy: Man Undercover

david cassidy man undercover

I first remember coming across David Cassidy: Man Undercover when I was doing guest star research for Book ’em, Danno. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to watch it. David Cassidy playing an undercover cop in the ’70s bridge between The Mod Squad and 21 Jump Street? Yes, please! It became one of my Holy Grail shows. It hasn’t been released on DVD, so streaming was my only hope.

I lucked out when it showed up on Crackle. The only hitch in the giddy-up? Episode 5 is missing for some reason (EDIT: Thanks to Gail for providing a link to Episode 5 in the comments). Missing an episode or two in a 200 episode show is no big deal (there are two eps of Hawaii Five-O I haven’t seen because they don’t get play in syndication, but one of them I’ll be able to watch thanks to streaming; bootleg is the only way I’ll ever see the lost episode); in a 10 episode short-lived series, it can be more significant. However, I think my binge watch of the nine available episodes is sufficient, at least for this little write-up.

As the title so expertly explains, David Cassidy plays undercover officer Dan Shay. He and his fellow undercover officers including Paul Sanchez (Michael A. Salcido) and T.J. Epps (Ray Vitte) answer to tough, loud, and supportive Sargent Abrams (Simon Oakland), while his wife Joanne (Wendy Rastattar) takes care of their daughter Cindy (Elizabeth Reddin), worries about his safety, and wonders if he’ll ever get to attend family events like a normal husband.

Every episode Dan Shay goes undercover as someone else named Dan (and I’m pretty sure every last name started with an S, but it might have just seemed that way) to infiltrate some sort of crime group and bring them down from the inside. Now, we’re talking about heartthrob David Cassidy here. Even four years after The Partridge Family, he was still something of a baby-faced hunk, which played in his favor for some undercover assignments and against him in others.

He was believable as a street racer, a college student in a baby-making scheme (yes, you read that right), and as a junkie. He was really good as the junkie, something you wouldn’t expect from such a normally clean-cut guy.

It was a stretch of believability when he went undercover as a pimp (yes), a motorcycle gang member, and an arms dealer. It’s no fault of his own. David Cassidy pulled off the acting, but when you put him next to another arms dealer played by James Whitmore Jr., the difference is glaring. He just didn’t have the right look.

Other guest stars include James Whitmore Jr.’s Baa Baa Black Sheep Squadron co-star WK Stratton (who was also almost too sweet-faced to play the bad guy he was playing); Ty Hardin, Norman Alden, Frank Campanella, Gerald Berns, Donald Petrie; soon to be TV names Heather Thomas, Gary Graham, and Randi Oakes; J. Jay Saunders, Jenny O’Hara, Alan Vint; voice artist king Michael Bell; Lana Wood, Ed Harris, Ed Nelson, Barry Nelson; horror faces Christopher Stone and Cliff Emmich; Jacques Aubuchon, Vince Howard, Joe Santos, Ken Swofford; ladies Jenny Sherman, Robin Dearden, Barbara Tarbuck, and Christina Hart; Paul Koslo, Vincent Bagetta, Tom Simcox, Craig Stevens, Carl Weintraub, Justin Lord, and Frank Converse.

Even if David Cassidy couldn’t always pull off the undercover assignments to my expectations, the episodes for the most part were decent to good. I particularly liked the twist of the college baby ring. Instead of coercing knocked up college girls to give their babies up for adoption to couples who could pay the huge fees, they solicited willing college students to make designer babies the old-fashioned way. Paying couples could flip through a book of headshots and pick the DNA they wanted. Then the chosen two would bow chicka wow wow their way to a baby and a payday. The problem was there was no take-backs and those who tried to back out of the deal were dealt with harshly. And that’s where Dan came in.

The episode in which Dan goes undercover as a junkie was also quite good, but more for the relationship that Dan established with another junkie. Sure, he used and manipulated him, but it was also clear that Dan cared about the man, too.

That’s the thing about the show. It’s very earnest. Dan is not only big on getting justice, but also on doing the right thing. The show humanizes addicts and sex workers, when most shows at the time still treated them as castoffs, undesirables, and garden variety criminals. That doesn’t stop them from playing Joanne as a petty, insecure wife when Dan is undercover as a pimp (I know) and working closely with a sex worker. Which is a shame because most of the time, their relationship is pretty grounded. She worries for him and gets frustrated with his work, but they also have silly, loving moments together that work really nicely to keep her from being a typical serious police wife.

I think the show would have benefited by keeping Dan’s undercover assignments toward his strengths of looking like a young, hip guy and/or derelict, juxtaposing that with his home life as a husband and father, but apparently, there’s more excitement in trying to convince us that Dan is a tough prison thug (I was not convinced; nothing to do with the acting, everything to do with the looks).

The show does tend dampen any climax peril for Dan. The only time I ever actually feared for him was when he was nearly molested in prison (which wasn’t the climax) and even then he quickly dispatched the offender. Most of the time the episodes wrap up pretty quickly and neatly with the bad guys not fighting back a whole lot. Sometimes it makes sense, but I expect James Whitmore Jr. not to go so quietly.

Even so, I enjoyed the show.

It’s just more evidence that I’ll watch Simon Oakland yell in anything.

Rerun Junkie Episodes–“To Kill or Be Killed”

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 3 Hawaii Five-O episode discussed in Episode 34 of Book ’em, Danno. Do not read this post if you haven’t seen the episode and don’t want to be spoiled for a fifty year old show.

Trigger Warning: This post also contains mentions of suicide, so please take care of yourself accordingly.

In the third season Hawaii Five-O episode “To Kill or Be Killed”, the death of a soldier just returned from Vietnam sparks a search for his draft-dodging brother in an attempt to find out the truth about the soldier’s death. It seems draft-dodger Michael had gone to talk to his brother Jack just before Jack either jumped or was pushed from his apartment balcony.

According to their General father, Jack was the perfect son who’d sacrificed friends and his girl to enlist in the military and serve is country. Meanwhile, in the initial interview with McGarrett, he doesn’t even mention Michael, something Steve asks him about later. Though the General says he didn’t think it was relevant even though he knew Michael had gone to see Jack just before he died, it’s pretty clear by his demeanor in his son’s anti-war pad that’s he’s not exactly proud of the kid.

In Five-O’s efforts to solve the mystery of Jack’s death, they discover that someone had Jack under surveillance. Turns out that it was the army. The General pulls ranks to hear the tapes they made, but even he is stonewalled. The officer in charge can only assure him that Michael didn’t kill Jack. It’s a heartbreaking scene, watching the General as he begs to hear the surveillance tape so he can finally know what happened to his son.

The final scene in the office with everyone listening to the tapes is devastating. And the very end…infuriating.

We knew that Michael was going to talk to his brother about being drafted. He was struggling with it and needed advice. The tape revealed that he found Jack in his apartment about to kill himself with a gun. They struggled for it and after Michael got it away from him, Jack explained that he was involved in a terrible incident in Vietnam in which his squad wiped out a bunch of innocent villagers (hence the army surveillance once he got back). Jack was overcome with guilt about it. Michael thought he’d talked him out of suicide, but after Michael left, Jack jumped from the balcony.

The war destroyed him.

And what is General Dad’s reaction to hearing the tape?

He tells Michael that an incident like what Jack was involved in was a rare mistake and that he should still serve his country like his brother. But Michael chooses to go to jail instead and General Dad declares he’s lost both of his sons.

Yes. He disowns his son for not serving after his other son died as a direct result of his service.

I very nearly broke my no-spoilers-without-Dan rule on the podcast because I so wanted to discuss the final scene. The ending of this episode makes me viscerally angry. You’re not a real fan of the General because he lauds one son over the other, but his heartbreak is so genuine that you can’t help but feel for him. And you think he just might have a change of heart after what he’s heard on that tape.

But no.

I think what pisses me off the most is that it’s such a believable reaction. The denial of a man who has dedicated his life to the military being confronted with the brutal reality of how his blind service contributed to the death of his son. He can’t accept it. He can’t accept that he has in anyway participated in a bad thing, that war is not the glorious, brave mission to keep the world safe like he’s been told and like he’s told his sons. War is brutal and ugly and destructive and takes more peace than it gives. Vietnam in particular stripped away all of the spit shine that made war look like a valiant act.

The General can’t handle any of that.

He’d rather have a dead son.

It’s a crushing final blow to Michael who ends up losing his whole family to not only do what he feels is right, but to also avoid the same fate as his brother.

Not every episode is guaranteed to have a happy ending, but when it comes to those unhappy endings, this one is certainly one of the most effective.

Book ’em, Danno–Episode 34

Book 'em Danno Podcast

It’s a triple feature!

An old cowboy struggles to hold onto his ranch with tragic consequences in “Paniolo”; Five-O attempts to thwart an elaborate heist in “Ten Thousand Diamonds and a Heart”; and the death of a soldier puts his drafted brother in a tight spot in “To Kill or Be Killed”.

It’s an extra long episode, but it’s extra good. A sad-fun-sad sandwich. Prepare accordingly.

Listen on Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Please enjoy these visual references to certain points in my discussion of the episodes. Steve’s tracking outfit in “Paniolo”, a shirtless Tim O’Connor in “Ten Thousand Diamonds and a Heart” for those who never knew they needed it, and the framing that really struck me in “To Kill or Be Killed”.

steve paniolo

tim oconnor shirtless

steve no war

Police Involved Shooting

In the world of cop shows, there are two kinds of very special episodes: a cop gets shot or a cop shoots somebody.

This post is about the latter.

Here’s how the episode usually goes: One of our cop heroes shoots somebody. There is then an investigation into the shooting in which there’s an underlying implication that this investigation isn’t fair because our good guys always have good shoots. There’s some drama. Then our shooter is once again declared a cop hero.

Obviously, there are variations and not every episode follows this format, but that’s basically it for many of the episodes I’ve seen.

The police involved shooting episodes of Dragnet and Adam-12 are probably the most technical I’ve ever seen due to Jack Webb’s dedication to the manual. While we do have that little bit of angst that comes from our hero being questioned, there’s still an objectivity about it. This is how the process is supposed to work. Jack Webb very much so believed that police officers were meant to be held to a higher standard which is why these episodes stand out. This treatment of our good guys isn’t exceptional -it’s routine.

Despite Jack Webb’s good intentions, this sort of intense scrutiny is an idealization of what we’d like to believe happens during these investigations, but we know doesn’t.

I pointed this out when I was covering the Hawaii Five-O first season episode “And They Painted Daisies on His Coffin” on Book ‘em, Danno that the investigation into Danny shooting the supposedly unarmed young man and him subsequently getting arrested for murder was idealized. It’s only in the most extreme circumstances that a police officer is arrested for this kind of shooting today. You can’t tell me that it happened more often when there wasn’t the prevalence of video.

A first season episode of Starsky and Hutch called “Pariah” dealt a little with the public fallout of a police involved shooting. Starsky ends up shooting an armed robber who turns out to be only sixteen. The kid’s mom is devastated and Starsky feels incredibly guilty over the death. The public isn’t exactly thrilled with the circumstances, particularly one guy with an agenda who says if Starsky is cleared, he’ll start killing cops. Starsky is cleared of any wrongdoing because of course and the killing spree begins and will continue until Starsky resigns. So this is an example of taking our very special episode and upping the ante by adding in public scorn and then throwing in a vendetta for good measure.

The police involved shooting episodes are always very special episodes because they’re the only episodes in which the violence our heroes inflict on the criminals is ever questioned. In any other episode, they’re offing the bad guys without even the slightest mention of the paperwork. Every other shooting is completely justified, no question.

One exception to this rule (at least that I know of because I haven’t seen every cop show–yet) is Barney Miller. Possibly because it’s a comedy that primarily deals with the mundane and oddball aspects of police work, the show had a unique take on the police involved shooting.

For one, perps weren’t getting shot every week. The members of the 12th precinct got shot at more than they shot and even those instances ended up funny and mild. So, they didn’t need a very special episode about a police involved shooting to separate it from all of the other police involved shootings that were never questioned.

Because in the entire run of the show, there were only three episodes in which a member of the 12th shot someone. In the first season “Hero”, Chano infiltrates a hostage situation in a bank and ends up killing the two would-be robbers. It’s quickly apparent that Chano isn’t handling it well at all despite the incident being considered a good shoot. By the end of the episode, he breaks down into sobs in his apartment.

Dietrich has a similar reaction to his shooting in the seventh season episode “Resignation”. After shooting a suspect in the backside, Dietrich decides that this part of the job goes against his morals and attempts to submit his resignation. Though Barney susses out the real root of Dietrich’s angst, which goes a little sideways from just his morals, it still illustrates the negative effect of a shooting on the firing officer.

In the eighth season episode “Inquiry”, Wojo faces an investigation after shooting a suspect, winging him in the arm. In this episode, there’s doubt that Wojo was justified in the shooting, particularly with his history of being rough with suspects. We’re also introduced to the then-current requirements for the investigation: Wojo is suspended, put on desk duty, has his sidearm confiscated, and advised of his rights before he’s questioned. What’s startling is that during the questioning, a clearly frustrated Wojo admits that he was trying to kill the suspect. Which is what the police are trained to do. Center mass. Shoot to kill.

Everything turns out in Wojo’s favor, of course, but he’s still rattled and to be honest, so are we. Our Wojo can be rough, but a killer? It’s hard to believe. It’s harder to acknowledge that our good guys were trained that way.

Which is probably why the police involved shooting episodes of Barney Miller are so much more impactful than the very special episodes from other cop shows. They aren’t shooting it out every episode. There’s barely any shooting during an entire season.

Which is more true to life than you might think.

But this is fiction.

And in fiction, tension comes from putting our heroes under the gun.

So to speak.