Paramount // 1996 // 360 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // October 27th, 2008
I'm walking a different kind of line with this show. I want the tone of it to be something we can enjoy, something we can laugh with. And at the same time, I want it to be about the people... -- Don Johnson
In terms of sheer entertainment value, the 1970s were a high water mark for television cop shows. Detectives drove cherry Ford Torinos, shot criminals without spilling any blood, and solved cases in less than an hour. The 1981 premiere of Steven Bochco's Hill Street Blues pushed cop shows towards a kind of soap operatic realism -- officers were stressed out, over-worked, under-paid, and spent a good deal of their time filling out paper work and maneuvering cautiously through city politics. That trend lasted into the 21st century, hitting its peak with another Bochco production, NYPD Blue, before giving way to the current trend of cops as forensic scientists. In the midst of the Bochco-initiated maelstrom of pseudo-realistic cop shows came writer-producer-director Carlton Cuse's (Lost) Don Johnson vehicle, Nash Bridges. I missed the series' entire six-reason run on CBS (from 1996 to 2001). I wish I hadn't. When I finally caught up with it in syndication, I found a lighthearted modern show in the spirit of 1970s cop adventures -- what a blast. Nash drives a cherry '71 Plymouth Barracuda, he and his fellow cops shoot criminals without spilling blood, and they solve crimes in around 47 minutes. Nash Bridges isn't the smartest or most realistic cop show to ever hit the airwaves, but it's a hell of a good time and a refreshing antidote to all the depressing bureaucratic complexities that dominate the storylines of its peers.
The series follows the escapades of Investigator Nash Bridges (Don Johnson, Miami Vice), a senior member (and later Captain) of San Francisco's Special Investigations Unit. Bridges is an affable guy and damned good cop, but too much of a workaholic to be a steady presence for the women in his life: his two ex-wives (one played by Annette O'Toole of Smallville), teenaged daughter Cassidy (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Prison Break), and a steady stream of hot girlfriends. Nash's home life is further complicated by the presence of his father Nick (James Gammon, Major League), a grizzled Alzheimer's patient with a habit of getting the boot from nursing homes. In the series' early episodes, Nash's partner on the job is the young Evan Cortez (Jaime Gomez, Training Day). The duo frequently looks to Nash's former partner, private investigator Joe Dominguez (Cheech Marin, Up in Smoke) for help solving cases (Dominguez comes out of retirement to resume his role as Nash's partner in the series' third episode). The SIU team is rounded out by Grateful Dead fanatic and tech expert Harvey Leek (Jeff Perry, Wild Things) and the boss, Lieutenant A.J. Shimamura (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, The Last Emperor).
The plotlines on Nash Bridges are predictable cop show fodder. You'll find Nash and his SIU cohorts locking horns with Chinese gangs, Russian gangs, and street gangs; busting heroin dealers, bookies, and even a high-class crook who deals in stolen computer chips. These cops spend more time in shootouts and car chases than filing paperwork. All of the action is well choreographed and competently shot. But the zippy pace and enjoyable action is only the icing on the cake. The cake itself is the warm rapport and amiable repartee among the series' capable cast. Nash Bridges is a show about people who enjoy each other's company and, in turn, whose company viewers find easy to enjoy. Holding the entire enterprise together is Johnson's formidable onscreen charisma. Bridges is a warmer, funnier, and more likeably human cop than Miami Vice's Sonny Crockett. Johnson's second run at the cop genre may not have produced the pop culture tsunami that his first go-round did, but Nash Bridges offers more pure entertainment than Vice, with its dour tone and silly fashion posturing, ever did.
Nash Bridges: The First Season contains all eight episodes of the show's initial season, spread across two discs:
* "Genesis" (Pilot)
* "Home Invasion"
* "Skirt Chasers"
* "High Impact"
* "The Javelin Catcher"
* "Vanishing Act"
* "Aloha Nash"
* "Key Witness"
The show looks solid on DVD. The episodes have been transferred in their original full frame aspect ratio. Colors are bright and accurate, detail is decent, and there's a touch of fine grain to let you know the series was shot on film. The transfer of the "Genesis" episode is a tad dark and a bit too grainy. The other seven episodes are better than broadcast quality. The Dolby stereo surround audio track is far from spectacular, but it's free of flaws and gets the job done.
Supplements are plentiful for such a small batch of episodes. Carlton Cuse and Cheech Marin provide an audio commentary for the pilot episode, while Johnson talks over "High Impact." There's a two-minute interview with Johnson and Marin, shot during the first season's production, as well as a more contemporary writer's roundtable featurette that runs 18 minutes and finds five of the series' screenwriters discussing their work. "Don Johnson and the Original Gonzo Idea" is a brief 2008 interview in which the actor discusses how Hunter S. Thompson helped him flesh out the original idea for the series before Cuse came along and made it his own. Finally, there's a promo reel for the first season of the show.
Nash Bridges: The First Season is a great, inexpensive introduction to the series. The show gets better in subsequent seasons with the addition of stronger female characters played by Kelly Hu and Yasmine Bleeth as well as a steady stream of colorful guest stars from Willie Nelson to Stone Cold Steve Austin, but the eight episodes found here are loaded with old school cop show fun.
Not guilty, Bubba.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 360 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Writers Roundtable
* On-Set Interview with Don Johnson and Cheech Marin
* Audio Commentaries on Two Episodes
* Don Johnson and the Original Gonzo Idea
* Season One Promo