I'll probably hate myself in the morning, or at least by Halloween, but so far among sitcoms in the new season, my heart belongs to Sledge. Three weeks ago, without a parent or guardian, I went to a screening of the first episode of Sledge Hammer! (Fridays; 9 P.M.; ABC) and sat in the dark and cackled. There's still a stupid grin on my face every time I remember just one of the sight gags, which is too offensive to describe in the lead paragraph of a review.
What is Sledge about? We live, alas, in a media age in which executive producers of new television programs try to explain themselves by sounding like deconstructionists at Yale or the Sorbonne -- as if, for instance, Crime Story were an urban variation on Claude Levi-Strauss's primal myth of the Tucuna Indians. In such an age, the writer-producer-creator of Sledge, Alan Spencer, is as lucid as Pascal. He explains himself in a press release:
"It's our hope that we will be giving the audience the type of comedy they have to pay to see in movies. Sledge Hammer! is dirtier than Harry, meaner than Rambo, and more articulate than Cobra. Ultimately, what the show is about... is a half hour."
In other words, Sledge (David Rasche) is another renegade cop who loves his .44 Magnum, not to mention this rocket launcher, more than life itself, or at least the lives of "no-good, yogurt-eating creeps." According to one colleague, "This man talks to his gun like it was a person." According to another, "That man makes Rambo look like Pee-wee Herman." According to Sledge, who is given to wearing pave-mirrored motorcycle glasses and ties that look like diseased snakes, "Trust me... I know what I'm doing."
What Sledge has been doing is firing warning shots at jaywalkers, for which he has been suspended from the Force by Captain Trunk (Harrison Page). He is called back when the city needs him because the daughter of the mayor has been kidnapped, maybe by Arabs, maybe by the mayor's wife, and Sledge will have to team up with, gasp, a woman, Officer Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin), who specializes in high heels and terrorist psychology. Before they sort this out, and after the usual jokes about fire hydrants and Julio Iglesias, Sledge will destroy an entire building to get rid of a sniper, avoid charges of police brutality by obliging a mugger to "punch yourself in the mouth," and take Dori on a tour of the wild and sleazy side of town -- the bars, the pimps, the loan sharks, Republican headquarters.
Dori, of course, dispatches a hood with a ladylike karate chop. Says Sledge, "Doreau, that was absolutely unnecessary and excessive. I loved it." Says Dori, "Thanks. I was top of my class in hand-to-hand combat." Says Sledge, "I'd like to fight you sometime." This, perhaps, says something profound about sexual politics. Then again, perhaps not. Anyway, to quote Sledge again, "Enough of warmth."
Is this a one-joke show? Certainly. Can it sustain itself? Maybe, among so many half-joke shows and in a time slot that doesn't compete with Miami Vice.
But Sledge will depend primarily on Rasche himself, an accomplished actor on and off Broadway who -- I kid you not -- got a master's degree at the divinity school of the University of Chicago before joining the Second City Cabaret. He looks a little like Kirk Douglas, a little like Vic Morrow. Unlike Eastwood and Stallone, he shows teeth even when he isn't about to bite you in the pineal gland. And his eyes glitter like a jukebox full of whale noises from outer space. He contains many manias. I wish him luck and ratings.
About that offensive sight gag: Captain Trunk on Sledge is black -- as are so many exasperated superior officers on TV cop shows -- with the obligatory Afro haircut. Sledge, without his gun to play with in the squad room, makes paper airplanes. One of these paper airplanes sails away, sneaks up on Captain Trunk, and nestles in his Afro. For the rest of the program he wanders around with a paper airplane stuck in his head. I thought this was funny, but I am often wrong.
[Picture of Sledge from the pilot episode. Caption reads: RENEGADE: David Rasche, as the cop who loves his Magnum more than life.]
|This is the scene in Under The Gun where he has just pulled a grenade out of his jacket pocket and says to his gun, "Lucky this jacket didn't go to the cleaners."