Rerun Junkie Character–Marty Morrison

I’ve written a bit about Marty Morrison before when I wrote about Barney Miller and The Pride of the Ol’ 1-2, but I always knew I was going to dedicate an entire post to the man because as characters go, Marty Morrison is pretty brilliant.

Portrayed by the fantastic Jack DeLeon in eight episodes, Marty Morrison makes his grand entrance in the second episode of the series having been arrested by Wojo for stealing a purse. The entire scene of Wojo booking Marty in front of his victim is nothing but a showcase of Marty’s wit.

Wojo: Okay, Marty. This is the second purse you snatched in a week. Now you’re getting bad habits.
Marty: Kleptomania is a disease, not a crime. Besides, I’ve thrown away better purses than that.

Mrs. Florsheim: I want that man in jail. And I’m not afraid of reprisal.
Marty: Oh, who would want to reprise you?

Mrs. Florsheim: You’re just lucky the police got to you before my husband did.
Marty: Same to you.

Wojo: Mrs. Florsheim, what time was the crime committed?
Mrs. Florsheim: I beg your pardon?
Marty: What he wants to know is when did you buy the purse.

Wojo: Was there anything missing from the purse?
Marty: Good taste.

At a glance Marty is a stereotypical catty, somewhat effeminate gay man. That’s how that first scene with him plays out. A catty, gay thief.

But he makes some good points. He’s had all kinds of jobs, even tried to get on the police force. But at the time, they didn’t allow openly gay men on the force. As Marty points out, “Why can’t there be gay cops? There are gay robbers.”

Later in the episode, he makes a vaguely suggestive statement to a man he’s sharing the lone 12th cell with. Naturally the guy doesn’t take it well. And naturally, Marty responds with his scathing wit.

As funny as the character is, he also does an exquisite job of highlighting the other characters’ prejudices, particularly Wojo’s. In the earlier seasons, Wojo is extremely uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality. The ultra-masculine former Marine has a tendency to be hostile towards Marty, and Marty has a tendency to throw that hostility back at Wojo in the form of his own clever insults or suggestive comments. Of course, Wojo’s growth over the eight seasons of the show includes coming to some sort of acceptance of Marty. As a plot devices go, he’s pretty great.

But Marty is more than just a plot device for another character’s growth. He’s more than just a token queer character. Marty gets to be a person, which was definitely more than what a lot of queer characters got to be on TV during that time period. In a time in which homosexuality was still viewed as a deviant choice by most, Marty gets to rise above much of that stigma. Why? Because we like him. He’s not like the deranged murderers that show up on other cop shows at the time. He’s a petty thief that’s been known to smoke pot. No different than any of the straight crooks and pot smokers that made their way through the 12th. Marty is harmless.

And being harmless allows Marty to help highlight the injustices that queer people faced. We watch Marty flirt with a Russian pianist seeking refuge in the United States from the oppression of his home country in “Asylum”. He also stands up for the man and offers to help him get to immigration since, according to the State Dept., no one with any official status is allowed to help and by Marty’s own admission, he doesn’t have any status.

While the cruelties of Russia were easy for an audience to absorb back in the ’70s, bringing that cruelty closer to home was more effective. In the episode “Discovery”, Marty brings in his friend Darryl Driscoll to get some help from the fellas at the 12th, something that Mr. Driscoll is sure will be their undoing. Mr. Driscoll was accosted by a man claiming to be a 12th precinct detective and had to buy his way out of trouble for $50. It’s only understandable that he’d think he was walking into a lion’s den. But Marty, despite his own frequent law tangles, considers these men to be his friends, and of course, Barney and his men -even Wojo- step up to take Mr. Driscoll’s complaints seriously. Marty, who is accustomed to the insults spit at him by many of the uniformed officers, had no doubt that they’d be treated like human beings by the detectives.

He’s been in enough trouble to know the 12th precinct pretty well.

In addition to stealing handbags and possessing pot, he once shoplifted luggage. Walked right out of the store and right into the 12th’s holding cell. It turns out that Marty’s get-rich-minded scheme of marrying a much older woman couldn’t deter his sticky fingers. And in another episode, Marty asks Barney to put in a good word for him with his probation officer as he and Mr. Driscoll are hoping to move to the much more gay-friendly city of San Francisco. Lucky for all of us, though, the duo stayed put in NYC.

Marty mostly cleans up his act by the time the show hits the finale, which is also Marty’s last appearance. Fitting that the man who helped establish the quality of characters populating the mug books of the 12th precinct would stop by to say goodbye to his friends and the place he made a mark on.

In a time when gay characters were scarce and often vilified, Marty Morrison was a funny, charming, likeable character that helped ease the stigma surrounding gay men, at least a little. Even if the character isn’t a perfect representation, he helped pave the way for the depiction of authentic, messy, queer humans that are more frequently (yet not frequently enough) seen onscreen today.

Foiled by Miranda

It is a guaranteed scene in a cop drama.

Our detectives are interviewing a suspect, trying to break them, and they say those fateful words…

“I want a lawyer.”

Thwarted, the detectives end their interrogation and look for another way to nail their suspect, which turns out to not be their culprit a big part of the time.

This oft-repeated scene is a brilliant piece of copaganda. The invocation of the Miranda rights is typically presented as a bad thing, a major hurdle to an investigation. Only criminals trying to get away with something would ask for a lawyer or invoke their right to remain silent. Or hell, even ask to end the questioning and leave because they’re not under arrest. But the truth is that these rights are guaranteed for everyone and not just criminals are entitled to use them.

If you’re unfamiliar, Miranda rights are the spiel that used to frequently be recited onscreen, usually when a person was placed under arrest, typically to the tune of: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

I don’t think you see it as often now as it’s just sort of understood that it happens. I could be wrong, of course. I watch several cop shows currently in production, but not all of them. Maybe some shows are saying it more than others. But it happened a lot on older cop shows. In fact, there’s a few Barney Miller episodes that make a point of ensuring the rights have been read.

Here’s the thing: if you’re under arrest or being detained, the cops do not need to read you your rights to have the rights available for you to invoke. This is especially important since the Supreme Court decided to take away any repercussions for law enforcement NOT informing people of their rights. The cops do not give you your Miranda rights; they’re already there.

Here’s the other thing: if you’re not under arrest or being detained, then the questioning is voluntary, which means that anything you say can be used against you, but you’re also free to end the questioning at any time. Cops will sometimes inform you of this, but often times they’ll word it in such a way that makes you feel like you can’t really end the questioning or leave. But you can.

When you watch these scenes play out on television, there’s an underlying, unspoken insinuation that an innocent person wouldn’t have to invoke their Miranda rights or stop an interview before law enforcement was finished. And it’s a trap that many innocent people fall into. “I haven’t done anything wrong, so I don’t need a lawyer/I’ll answer the questions” turns into marathon interrogations leading to false confessions. It’s not an uncommon thing.

Innocent people can, do, and should invoke their Miranda rights or leave a voluntary interview.

So should criminals. Those rights are available to everybody.

And even though it is a major source of frustration for our heroes -and hell, even me as a viewer out for fictional justice and firmly on the side of our mythical good guys- I can’t help but get a little thrill whenever I see someone invoke their rights onscreen. Hell yeah, honey. Shake what the Fifth Amendment gave ya.

It’s not like someone won’t be totally waiving their rights and spilling their guts in a full blown confession in the last five minutes anyway.

TV Bosses I’d Work For

Have you ever watched a TV show and thought to yourself, “Man, I wish they were my boss”? Well, I have. So I put together a short list (in no particular order) of the TV bosses that I’d work for.

Barney Miller (Barney Miller)- I feel like this is probably an obvious choice for someone enamored with police shows. Not only did Barney have a more reasonable approach to lawbreakers, he also had an excessive amount of patience when it came to the people in his squad room. He’d finally get to his breaking point, but it took some persistent aggravation. Given that I can be aggravating, it’s good to know I’d probably never get to that point with him, thanks to Wojo and Levitt beating me to it.

Steve McGarrett (Hawaii Five-O)- A no-brainer if you know me, Steve McGarrett is in many ways the ideal. He’ll mentor you, correct you, joke with you, go to bat for you, but he won’t tolerate any bullshit. You gotta put in your effort. I love a boss who has your back, and Steve definitely has the backs of Five-O.

Horatio Caine (CSI:Miami)- Much like Steve McGarrett (as I’ve written about), I dare say that Horatio would go even further for you, particularly in the later seasons when he was decidedly less attached to the rules. He’d do everything possible to turn you into the best CSI he could, but he’d only help you if you were willing to accept it. Some lessons have to be learned the hard way. Right, Ryan? I have no doubt Horatio would kill for you, though, and I really appreciate that kind of dedication.

Miss Kitty (Gunsmoke)- Leaving aside the not-explicity-said-but-definitely-understood nature of the work some of the Long Branch employees were doing, I have no doubt that Miss Kitty looked after all of them. From bartenders to saloon girls, she wasn’t a successful businesswoman because she let the clientele walk all over her and abuse her staff. She’s the fuck around and find out boss.

The Middleman (The Middleman)- All of the patience of Barney Miller, the mentoring of Steve McGarrett and Horatio Caine, and the protective nature of Miss Kitty, with a healthy dose of optimism and clean language. He makes ridding the world of comic book foes less of a chore and more of a good day at the office.

Sgt. Getraer (CHiPs)- As far as bosses with a sense of humor go, Gertaer is up there. Think about it. He had to deal with Ponch’s bullshit all the time. If he didn’t learn to laugh, his blood pressure would have been through the roof. He also has the ability to roll with the punches, which is a pretty good quality to have. Probably the only boss on this list that would go country-western dancing, roller skating, and participate in some questionable athletic shenanigans for charity.

Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Stargate: Atlantis)- If I’m in another galaxy with the prospect of never returning to Earth and our best chance of survival is making new friends, I’m going with Elizabeth. She kept things under control, put people in their place (I’m looking at you Shepherd), and didn’t take any shit from anybody -Wraith, Genii, or Replicator. She had things under control even when they were out of control and honestly, I wish she would have been in charge every Black Friday.

Colonel Sam Carter (Stargate: Atlantis)- Everything you got with Elizabeth, but with the added bonus of a military background, a different science expertise, and some “I have seen some shit” experience. She was also perfectly cool with blowing shit up and I need that in a boss.

Richard Woolsey (Stargate: Atlantis)- If you’ve seen the show, I know what you’re thinking, but let’s be real. Once he got broken in, Woolsey made for a pretty good boss. As a bureaucrat, he brought an element of sneakiness to his dealings with with others in the Pegasus Galaxy and was a pretty crafty negotiator. He also quickly figured out it was best to leave the science to the scientists and the defense to the military. A boss who knows when to let the workers do their thing and when to rein them in is valuable.

Is it cheating to have three bosses from the same show? Maybe. Did I exclude some excellent bosses from this list? Probably.

But this is my list.

Go make your own.

Rerun Junkie Confession–I Love a Series Finale

Warning! I will be spoiling the hell out of how several reruns ended. Proceed with caution.

The only episode of The Big Bang Theory I’ve ever seen in its entirety was the series finale. Never really cared for the series, but I had to see how it ended.

I’ve got a thing for a series finale.

Many series don’t get a formal ending. They get cancelled. Which is a shame, especially when they end on a cliffhanger because they fully expected to get another season, but had the rug pulled out from under them. An official series finale wasn’t a common place thing with older series. Most of them just ended without any grand exit even if they weren’t cancelled.

But whether the episode was intended to be the end of a series or not, whether it’s a big send-off or a quiet goodbye, I’m fascinated by how shows end.

The Fugitive was the first series that had a real finale: the one-armed man was caught and Richard Kimble was finally proven to be innocent. It set the template for other shows to follow. Wrap up all of the plot lines and say goodbye.

Obviously, the biggest series finale was M*A*S*H. Though alive when it went off the air in 1983, I can’t say for certain that toddler me actually experienced the end of the show’s 11 year run. I didn’t get to watch it until about twelve or thirteen years later when I was in high school. I’d been watching the reruns since junior high (not counting falling asleep to the episodes they showed after the local news when I was a kid spending the night at my grandparents’ house), but the finale was never shown. And now I can’t remember if some station did a one-time replay or if someone loaned me a copy of it. Either way, I finally managed to see it.

Talk about a grand finale. I can see why so many people tuned in. It was more than just bringing a popular series to a close. It was an event.

Safe to say most shows don’t get that kind of treatment.

Barney Miller got a three-part finale that saw the 12th Precinct building sold, everyone getting split up, Barney and Levitt getting their long-sought after promotions, and Barney turning off the lights and closing the door as he left the squad room. A fitting, bittersweet end.

One of the most brutal series finales is courtesy of Quantum Leap. Dr. Sam Beckett is leaping from person to person in his timeline, trying to right the wrongs of the past while searching for a way home. Spoiler alert! The last episode features a title card announcing that Sam Beckett never made it home. How do you like your feelings? Crushed over ice? Because that’s the only way you were getting them with the way this show ended. It still makes my chest ache to think of it. And I didn’t even watch the show religiously.

Sometimes a show gets cancelled with enough warning that it’s able to tie up enough loose ends that the final episode feels like a satisfying enough conclusion. Stargate: Atlantis comes to mind. Atlantis ends up on Earth and our cast is hanging out on the balcony, taking in the Golden Gate Bridge sunset. It promises more adventure is possible, but it’s not a cliffhanger. Stargate: Universe wasn’t so lucky. The show ended with everyone but Eli in stasis pods, and Eli had only a couple of weeks to fix the broken one or he’d die when the life support ran out. Yeesh.

The A-Team ended up with a shortened final season when their retooling didn’t boost ratings like they’d hoped. What should have been the final episode perhaps wasn’t the strongest, but the final scene was a perfect sum up of the show. They’d get their freedom and keep working to get justice for the underdogs. However, months after that “final” episode aired, the network aired a partially finished episode (they used scenes from another episode to “finish” it) and that became the series finale. “Without Reservations” is good, but the ending doesn’t hit that finale feel like “The Grey Team”.

Steve McGarrett finally caught Wo Fat in the last episode of Hawaii Five-O, but the Marshall family never made it back from The Land of the Lost. Dorothy finally found the love of her life and got married in the last episode of The Golden Girls, but as far as we know Mork and Mindy are still stuck in the stone age.

Planned or not, happy or sad, I love to see how a show ends.

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.

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.

Heteronormativity Is a Helluva Drug

I didn’t expect to like the reboot of Magnum PI. I only gave the pilot a shot because I’d been watching the 1980 series and decided to compare and contrast. I already knew that Magnum was now Latino and Higgins was now a woman. I went into it thinking it’d be fine, but not for me, like most reboots.

The pilot was a fun ride. I gave it the three episode test (pilot establishes the show; second ep is the adjustments; third ep is the vibe) and ended up hooked.

My one hope for the show was that they wouldn’t default to hooking up Magnum and Higgins.

Well, it was good while it lasted and it lasted until early in the 2nd season. Once it became clear that the endgame is Magnum and Higgins are omg-meant-to-be (and that it’s apparently going to be played out in poorly executed fanfic tropes), it then became a countdown until I got fed up and quit watching. That lasted until half-way through the 4th season. I haven’t given up entirely but I am absolutely half-assing it and I don’t care about the show like I once did.

It’s a shame, but thems the breaks.

And there’s plenty of history behind the continuation of the heteronormative narrative that defaults opposite sex leads or lead/supporting into a romantic tension leading to a relationship.

Obviously, the most known example of this is Dave and Maddie on Moonlighting, a show that so depended on the will-they-or-won’t-they, that when they did, it pretty much cancelled the show (to be fair there were other behind-the-scenes issues that contributed to the show’s demise, too). Also, Agnes and Herb had the much better relationship.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Remington Steele drew from the same playbook. On Barney Miller, it played out over five episodes between Wojo and Wentworth before Linda Lavin left to be Alice.

In the case of shows like Tales of the Gold Monkey, it’s less of a will-they-or-won’t-they and more of a when-will-he-commit. Because there’s obviously something going on between Jake and Sarah (hell, they kiss in the pilot), but it’s a situationship that allows Jake to kiss other ladies depending on the plot. There’s a similar sort of set-up happening with Walter and Roxanne on Automan. Are they dating? Kinda, maybe, it depends.

Emergency! actually began with Dr. Kelly Brackett and Nurse Dixie McCall in a romantic relationship, which was dropped in later episodes without explanation (read: break-up). From that point on, Brackett and Dixie were friends and colleagues, caring for and respecting each other in both professional and platonic ways, showing that, hey, it could be done.

I’m not saying that it wasn’t. There were series that didn’t necessarily default to the romantic relationship. Della Street didn’t get involved with Perry Mason or Paul Drake (though Paul did nickname Della “Beautiful” and there was some joking that might be considered flirting). Likewise Britt Reid clearly cared about Miss Case and vice-versa, but there was nothing but boss-secretary friendship happening with The Green Hornet. Clearly, it could be done.

But there’s no denying that it could be a struggle. For most of Hunter‘s seven season run, Rick Hunter and Dee Dee McCall were partners and friends, a caring and satisfying platonic relationship that Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer were happy with. But as the story goes, the network and the fans wanted more. As a result, a Season 6 episode informed the audience that Hunter and McCall had once slept together, but it caused an issue with their work relationship.

It’s the default aspect of the hetereonormative narrative, the well-worn path of it, the perpetuation of the idea that the only chemistry that exists between opposite sexes is sexual and the only important relationships are romantic that really grates. Worse, it’s dull. And it’s dull because it’s expected. No other options are presented or considered.

Magnum PI had an opportunity to explore something beyond the default, to establish a couple of opposite sex platonic soulmates without some sort of caveat or exemption (like one or both of them being queer), to really dig into that kind of relationship and do something different.

Instead, it fell for the same quick and easy high that’s been dulling senses for decades.

It really is a helluva drug.

Policing Copaganda

It’s no secret that one of my favorite TV genres is ‘70s cop shows. I don’t know why. You can say it’s because my father was a police officer for twenty-five years, but I think that has little to do with it considering very little of what I’ve seen on the screen reflected what he dealt with policing my small town in the middle of a cornfield.

But that could be why even though I love these shows, I never really thought about them accurately reflecting reality. Maybe because my dad would point out the inaccuracies in these shows. Maybe because as soon as I got my license, my dad drilled it into me that if I got pulled over not to allow the cop to search my car without a warrant. Maybe because my dad has always told me never talk to cops without a lawyer.

I’m sure that’s why I get all swoony when I see someone exercise their rights on these shows. That is like reality in that it doesn’t happen often. Most people don’t know them, let alone use them.

The point of these shows is entertainment, of course. Even Adam-12, which had episodes shown in police academies to illustrate certain situations because it was so accurate to uniformed officer life, had more hostage situations and shoot outs than even a cop in the busiest metropolitan area would encounter.

Action, drama, a witty one-liner or seven, and the good guys (usually) win. I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for it.

And it’s all, of course, fiction.

I think of it as the depiction of ideal policing and justice. It’s what we want it to be, what it’s supposed to be, what the people in power try to convince us that it is (when it’s absolutely not). The police are there to protect and serve, the justice system is fair, the good guys get the bad guys, and the bad guys get punished. It’s all make believe and I prefer to see it on the small screen. Sort of like my affinity for slasher movies. I prefer my violence to happen fictionally.

I blame Jack Webb for some of that. He was a devout believer in law enforcement and the justice system. The Los Angeles police department was wildly corrupt back in the long, long ago (save your jokes) and underwent a huge reform (I said save your jokes), which made an impression on Webb. While Dragnet and Adam-12 depicted a lot of the work detectives and uniformed officers do accurately, it was still idealized. A sanitized depiction of the job, the life, and justice. This is the way things work when everything works as it’s supposed to.

The police involved shootings on most of these cop shows is where this idealization is most evident. Adam-12 probably had the best technical depiction, though Hawaii Five-O had a thorough one as well with “And They Painted Daisies on His Coffin”. Even Joe Friday himself had to have his shooting of a burglary suspect investigated. And while they all present the idea that lethal force is harshly scrutinized and thoroughly investigated, these episodes are also constructed to insure the audience’s maximum sympathy to our protagonist cops. Of course, every shooting is always justified.

It’s been said that cops (including my father) felt that Barney Miller is probably the most accurate and realistic when it comes to the depiction of law enforcement. Maybe because it was a comedy it had no trouble depicting some of the mundane realities of police work: the paperwork, the bureaucracy, the budgets, the lack of manpower, the limitations and inadequacy of the law and the justice system. The 12th precinct wasn’t dealing with non-stop homicides like most cop shows. They were dealing with what cops actually deal with the most: petty shit. The show might be a little too honest to be pure copaganda, but it still does its part, if only in a ‘not all cops” kind of way.

The ideal depiction of police and justice continues today.

According to this article, police procedurals today distort the view of how policing and the justice system actually work. These shows don’t accurately reflect the imbalances in the justice system, the abuse of power by the police, the inherent racism, white supremacy, and wealth-bias that’s integral to the system.

And if you watch enough reruns of cop shows, particularly from the ‘70s, you can see how that groundwork was laid. It’s easy to forgive and/or overlook our protagonists playing fast and loose with the law and people’s rights because they’re the good guys.

After all, they’ll tell you that themselves.

Best Characters to Join a Show After the First Season

One day a question floated across my Twitter timeline: Who’s the best character to join a show after the first season?

And my immediate response was, “I can’t answer this with a tweet. I need a blog post!”

So here I am, months later, finally getting around to answering that highly subjective question. In order to keep from rambling, I only picked characters from shows I’ve written about here. And even then, I restrained myself to keep it down to a dull roar.

Let’s start off with a couple of the more subjective ones and work our way (okay, my way) closer to objective.

Ben Kokua (Al Harrington) and Duke Lukela (Herman Wedemeyer), Hawaii Five-OYeah, you’re going to have to fight me on this one. Ben replaced Kono (Zulu) at the beginning of the fifth season and stayed through the seventh season. I feel he made a nice addition to the team. Solid, native, not flashy, except when he was undercover and had to wear ugly shirts as part of the gig. Al Harrington had already been on the show a few times, playing other (and usually bad) guys, and has since had a recurring role on the new show (playing yet another character). Clearly, every version of this show needs Al Harrington in some form, though I maintain Ben was the best.

Duke is a legend in my mind. Though Herman Wedemeyer was there from the beginning, the character of Duke didn’t actually happen until the fourth season. Of the 155 episodes that Herman Wedemeyer is credited for, only seven were not as Duke Lukela. Better yet, we get to watch as Duke goes from uniformed officer bit role to a detective with a starring credit in the final season. How marvelous is that? And if you still doubt that Duke should be on this list, then let me point out that the current show also has a Duke Lukela and he’s played by Dennis Chun, the son of the original Chin Ho, Kam Fong. Now that’s legend.

Sheriff Mort Metzger (Ron Masak), Murder, She Wrote–When Tom Bosley left the show, Cabot Cove needed a new sheriff. With Amos Tupper retired, the new law in town came in the form of Mort Metzger, a city cop who didn’t understand why the murder rate of a small town was so high and why some old woman was so involved in solving them. It was the fish-out-of-water aspect of Ron Masak’s character that not only separated him from Amos, but from everyone else in town. He spent half of his time bewildered by the goings-on of the locals, his hard line approach not so effective in a town where everybody knows everybody. Considering Ron Masak was in episodes of both The Monkees and Land of the Lost, it’s no wonder he was able to bring a touch of brilliance to this character and even make his never-seen, often-referred to wife Adelle come to life.

Detective Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg) and Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey), Barney Miller–Both Steve Landesberg and Ron Carey appeared on the show as different characters prior to becoming the two of the characters on this list. Steve Landesburg first appeared as Father Paul in the first episode of season 2. The 12th episode of that same season, he made his first appearance as Dietrich, a dry-humored, incredibly intelligent detective who came in as Fish was going out. Of course, the two would appear together for over a season until Abe Vigoda’s official departure at the beginning of season 4. Many of his first episodes involved him trying to find a place in the 12th precinct. By the time the show ended, it was hard to imagine what it was like without him.

Ron Carey’s first appearance was as a character called The Mole in the last episode of the second season. It was only the third episode of the third season when he made his first appearance as Carl Levitt, a short, overly-enthusiastic uniform keen on making detective some day and taking every available opportunity to get into plain clothes. Not just a punchline, Levitt got to be the hero by saving some kids, ratted out the squad room with petty grievances to both protect them and to express his displeasure from being put down all the time, and eventually made detective in the final episode. As well he should.

Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis), Gunsmoke–This twenty-year show was on the air nine years before Festus Haggen settled in Dodge City permanently. It’s hard to imagine Gunsmoke without Ken Curtis, especially since most of the syndication packages typically show the later episodes, but Dennis Weaver played Chester Good for 290 episodes (1955-1964). Festus’s first appearance actually came in 1962, but he became a regular in 1964 after Dennis Weaver left and ended up becoming such an iconic character that it’s hard to imagine Ken Curtis as anyone else (he was, though, playing a few different characters on the show before becoming Festus). Dodge City wouldn’t be the same without him.

This list is far from complete, of course. And it’s far from objective, as I warned. I might just answer this question again sometime in the future. New list, new shows, new characters. The answers are endless.

Who do you think the best characters are that joined a show after the first season?

Rerun Junkie Show Analysis–The Pride of the Ol’ 1-2

Since it’s Pride Month, I wanted to do a post on the gay representation on Barney Miller, just a quick overview of it because there’s really quite a bit I could pick apart and analyze and also because Marty Morrison really deserves his own character post.

Anyway.

Barney Miller was known for depicting the less dramatic, weirder side of law enforcement. It also pushed and poked at many social issues of the time. Some of them were very specific to that moment, like the budget crisis and the fallout from Vietnam, but many of the issues the show presented are still very relevant today. One striking aspect of the show is the representation of gay men in the form of recurring characters Marty Morrison (Jack DeLeon), Mr. Darryl Driscoll (Ray Stewart), and Officer Zatelli (Dino Natali). I read somewhere that show creator Danny Arnold worked with gay groups to get the portrayal of these characters right.  Instead of relying heavily on stereotypes (thought Marty is a classic catty gay man) or presenting them as unnatural or deviant, the show depicted them as humans facing societal challenges, bigotry, and discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

I love Marty Morrison and the pizzazz that Jack DeLeon brought to that character. He was out because it was impossible for him to be in. A petty criminal, he stole my heart as well as purses. In his first appearance on the show there’s a scene in which Barney tells Marty to get a real job and Marty tells him that he’s had “more jobs than you have hair on your head”. He also tells him that he tried to join the police force, but that they turned him down for being gay (“What’s wrong with a gay cop? There are gay robbers.”). Perhaps it’s just me reading into the scene, but there’s a suggestion there that part of the reason for Marty’s criminal behavior is because of his difficulty to hold a job as an out gay man in the 1970s. Or even get one. At the time, I would imagine that most jobs okay with his sexuality were few and far between and most likely limited to very specific industries.

It was through Marty that the show introduced Mr. Darryl Driscoll. The character was first somewhat effeminate, but throughout the appearances, that lessened in favor of Ray Stewart giving the character a more sophisticated personality. His first introduction to the squad room saw him being hustled by a fake cop, threatened with violence if he didn’t give the man money. His reluctance to actually go to the police to file a report echoes the real fear the gay community had (and still has) in regards to law enforcement. Later on in the series it was revealed that Mr. Driscoll had been married and had a son, something not uncommon for gay men. The resulting custody dispute on the surface seemed to be the result of the former Mrs. Driscoll’s opposition to Mr. Driscoll’s sexuality and shielding their son from that. In reality, the reason was more mundane: Mrs. Driscoll was tired of being the bad guy because Mr. Driscoll indulged his son during his visitations.

It was Officer Zatelli who got the truth from Mrs. Driscoll. A uniformed officer in a similar duty role to Ron Carey’s Officer Levitt, Officer Zatelli first showed up in the fourth season. However, it was in the 6th season that an anonymous letter claiming there was a gay police officer led to Zatelli outing himself as both the letter writer and the gay officer. Dino Natali’s portrayal of Zatelli was “straight”. He wasn’t much different from any of the other cops and that was the point. Though the detectives in the squad room knew he was gay and though he told  Mrs. Driscoll that he was gay when she was making a fuss about her son being around “those kind of people” and though Barney encouraged him to come clean to the department because policy prevented punishment for his sexuality (a policy change from the first season as indicated above), Zatelli couldn’t do it. As Barney warned, it was an accidental outing thanks to Wojo that exposed his secret. Instead of termination or forced resignation (like Lt. Scanlon wanted), Zatelli was transferred to a much cushier job, which he believed was a sign that he had a like-minded friend in high places.

Speaking of Wojo, Max Gail was presented with an interesting challenge for his character in regards to his evolution in opinion about gay men. The first season, particularly the first handful of episodes, saw Wojo as kind of a brutish caveman. His dislike of Marty came more from him being a thief rather than him being gay. However, the introduction of Mr. Driscoll, pairing the two men up the way they did, brought Wojo’s discomfort, ignorance, and prejudice into a sharper focus. In a two-part episode called “Quarantine” that saw the members of the 12th as well at Inspector Luger, Marty, Mr. Driscoll, and a sex worker named Paula Capshaw all -you guessed it- quarantined due to either smallpox or chicken pox depending on the outcome of the tests done on a sick criminal, Wojo insists that Marty and Mr. Driscoll sleep on opposite sides of the squad room. Like the two men would just bow-chicka-wow-wow right there if they were allowed to be in close proximity of each other when the lights went out. Wojo lost that argument, but it was an excellent illustration of his prejudice and misconceptions surrounding gay men. Over the course of the series, we got to see Wojo’s own learning experience and watch him as his opinions grew, matured, and evolved. In a way, he was almost a stand-in for no doubt many men in the viewing audience. (I’m singling out the men here because Wojo’s issues with homosexuality was very masculinity-based, but really, that’s another post for another time.)

Like I said, this is just a quick overview. There’s so much more I could get into and just might at some point in time. The gay representation on Barney Miller is really rather unique given the time period. It’s a reflection of the way social norms were evolving at the time as well as a bold step for both a cop show and a comedy.

The characters still resonate and the humor still plays today because the focus was always on the humanity, not stereotypes-as-punchlines.

And that’s pretty special.