Warner Bros. // 1978 // 1066 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // June 4th, 2008
The elite of the street is now in pursuit! (Yawn!)
After watching four episodes of the '70s television staple CHiPs, I was ready to set up an appointment with my dentist. People have been telling me for years that this is a "fun, lightweight" show, and yet I found it mostly unexciting and lame. Granted, I didn't watch the first season in preparation for this review, but from what I could see from the second, this show lacks the positive qualities of other cop shows from the era like, say, Starsky & Hutch, which was more action-packed, edgy, and funny. Perhaps I would have found more to it as a kid growing up in the late 1970s; my sister was a kid when the show was broadcast and she viewed it as a show that was respectful of police officers and inspired youth to one day get a badge.
For the uninitiated, CHiPs follows the adventures of two California Highway Patrolmen (get it?): Officer Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox, Mission Manila) is a bland, by-the-book type, and Officer Francis "Ponch" Poncherello (Erik Estrada, The Bold And The Beautiful) is the one who always seems to have an overenthusiastic attitude. In the first season, Ponch was assigned to be watched over by Jon, remaining together even after the former's probation ended. Many of the episodes would show them cruising around the L.A. suburbs looking for speeders, reckless drivers, and any other morons who wanted to wreak havoc. CHiPs: The Complete Second Season has 22 episodes:
* "Peaks and Valleys"
* "The Volunteers"
* "Family Crisis"
* "Disaster Squad"
* "Neighborhood Watch"
* "Trick or Trick"
* "High Flyer"
* "The Grudge"
* "The Sheik"
* "Return of the Turks"
* "High Explosive"
* "Down Time"
* "Repo Man"
* "Mait Team"
* "Pressure Point"
* "The Matchmakers"
* "Rally 'Round the Bank"
* "CHP BMX"
* "Ride the Whirlwind"
How I survived all those episodes is beyond me, as my brain now feels like oatmeal.
What tested my patience the most was just watching characters that are all badly written stereotypes. The Baker character is such a pansy, even if he is essentially a Good Samaritan in a patrol uniform. I guess Ponch is supposed to be "cool," though he ends up just having a huge smile at the end of the day. Admittedly, Ponch is the more likeable character, mostly because his sense of humor actually works sometimes. Sure, they are both average guys who like to leer at girls, act professional, and do their job (I actually bought them as patrol officers), but the result makes them utterly lifeless.
There is also the tough-but-fair police sergeant (Robert Pine, Red Eye), the dum-dum cop who is the butt of every one's jokes (Paul Linke, K-PAX), the sexy female officer constantly complaining about male chauvinism, etc. I find it astonishing that CHiPs was so popular that it lasted for six seasons, considering the cop show had by now been mostly reduced to self-parody. In other words, I found the acting atrocious, with the constant zooming in on the actors and freeze frames (not to mention some bad dubbing) not helping matters at all. Still, I wasn't around Thursday nights at 8 pm to soak up the mania the show caused.
It's clear the creators were trying to spice things up with car chases, explosions, and physical confrontations -- you know, the clichés that are present in all cop shows. Some of the stunt work is spectacular considering the low-budget medium. However, the pullovers and arrests get awfully tiresome after awhile, and it soon becomes so repetitive that you could turn the sound off and know pretty much what is verbally exchanged every time.
I know this is television, where everything is treated as larger-than-life. While CHiPs doesn't have the over-the-top sensibilities of, say, The Dukes of Hazzard, it still tried so hard to achieve realism it ended up being slow and hokey. And, yes, the show painted them in a positive light while also doing stupid things. For example, none of these officers is caught eating donuts, though they think it's wise to park their motorcycles in the middle of the freeway!? Oh, and apparently these cops never pull out their guns! Where the hell do they think they are? Dogpatch?
Among the other positive things I can dole out is good use of L.A. locations. Much of the show was shot outdoors, and it all feels comfortable in its own environment. We're talking a late '70s environment here, also; I felt a strange disconnect watching these episodes that premiered right before I was born. In that sense, this ancient world without computers and cell phones was fascinating to watch -- and certainly more entertaining than the stories presented.
Another element that kept my attention was the occasional guest stars. Fans should recognize horror star Dee Wallace as a wife in "Return of the Turks," Eric Braedan as a senator in "Mait Team," and legendary singer Rudy Vallee in "Pressure Point." Also appearing in later episodes are Tom Poston and Robert Donner, who both had supporting roles in Mork & Mindy at the time. Here's my favorite, though: real-life L.A. Rams cheerleader Jenilee Harrison ("High Flyer") makes her debut as...a L.A. Rams cheerleader! If you don't remember, she literally saved Three's Company from cancellation (after Suzanne Sommers got fired), as Cindy Snow, Chrissy's klutz of cousin.
Warner Bros. presents CHiPs: The Complete Second Season in its original full-frame, broadcast format. Considering the age, the prints remain modestly clean, though grain and anomalies are present in every episode. The DD 1.0 audio is not bad, either, with the dialogue being clear and the grating music free of hisses and pops. Yes, I did say grating; in fact, this may be the worst score I've ever heard from an Oscar-nominated composer. (In this case, it's Alan Silvestri, who does most of director Robert Zemeckis' films.)
All the episodes are presented on dual-side discs. The fourth disc is devoted to bonus material, and there really isn't much. The one brand new addition is the 15-minute featurette, "The Real CHiPs," which allows us to meet some real CA Highway Patrol officers, courtesy of host Erik Estrada (who plays Ponch). The history of the CHP is briefly examined, and a tour of their real headquarters is employed. This feature is certainly more satisfactory than the feature-length episode "The Greatest Adventures of CHiPs," which highlights the "best" cases of the first two seasons.
While I sympathize with those who fondly remember the show and love it for it is, I just couldn't grasp the appeal it once had. CHiPs is found guilty, and these so-called officers are sentenced to prison in Dogpatch. Warner Bros. is acquitted, however, for their effort and bravery in bringing this show to DVD.
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1066 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "The Real CHiPs"
* "The Greatest Adventures of CHiPs"
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 1