Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger goes undercover to bring you the inside scoop on some very naughty goings-on.
"Freeze! Or I'll blow your ass away."—Rita Lance
Long, tanned legs and creamy cleavage cradled in silk. A male lead with piercing blue eyes, a fine physique, spiky black hair that evokes a longing in your fingertips, and a boyish charm that makes women want to tame him. A female lead with captivating green eyes, soft dark hair, a perfect complexion, and an approachable manner that infects the dreams of men. Sex, violence, cops, and crooks. Put them all together, and there's only one conclusion: Silk Stalkings.
Let's get something out of the way early: Silk Stalkings is bad. Downright, gloriously…bad. It is bad in the way that all bad television should be bad, rewarding you for your tawdry tastes.
Silk Stalkings is a cop show in the same way that ALF is a scientific exploration of extraterrestrial life. Despite laughable plots, cringe-inducing dialogue, and complete departure from realism, Silk Stalkings became one of cable television's smash successes. Let's see what it has going for it.
Facts of the Case
This sexy series follows homicide detectives Rita Lance (Mitzi Kapture, Baywatch) and Chris Lorenzo (Rob Estes, Melrose Place) as they investigate "Silk Stalkings," or sexually motivated murders. The investigations are laced with lace and spiced with innuendo as Palm Beach's finest delve into the steamy underbelly of high society.
A contemporary of Baywatch and Love Street, Silk Stalkings is a precursor to today's harder cable television dramas that show actual nudity in sex scenes. Akin to a 1990s version of Charlie's Angels, Silk Stalkings is high on the jiggle factor as it features faux-police action.
In Silk Stalkings we see lots of sex, but we don't really see it. The camera crests the slope of a breast or a buttock, but it always stops at the "line." I don't have an anatomy degree, but I can always tell where the line is. Camera pans up the leg will always stop at the line, as will close-ups of bare backs or midriffs. Lacy, shadowy, and strategically lit shots are highly structured to pique our interest, while never violating standards of decency. It is the trademark mixture of eroticism and restraint that has come to define "bad" cinema.
Nonetheless, the approach worked. I remember 1991 fondly. Our house had three televisions: one in the living room, one in my parents' room, and one in my younger brother's room. When 10:00 came around and Silk Stalkings hit the cable wires, I couldn't turn my eyes from the screen. I knew that Silk Stalkings was trashy, but it was so fun I got sucked in. When the show was over I'd walk upstairs and hear the closing music coming from my parents' TV set, echoed at the other end of the hallway from my brother's room. Three sets, three generations, all tuned into this naughty USA show. It was at one time the highest-rated original cable program ever.
Sex sells, and Silk Stalkings has its fair share. Hot women in various stages of undress abound in this series. The plot lines echo the visuals, with central issues such as bondage, voyeurism, prostitution, incest, swinging, workplace trysts, nannies, and other fantasy fodder. In such an environment, a certain amount of heat is built in. While it is certainly the sex angle that draws people in, the sex is not sexy enough by itself to keep them glued to the screen. That distinction goes to lead actors Mitzi Kapture and Rob Estes.
Mitzi and Rob are extremely attractive people, which never hurts. Yet their chemistry together is what compels us. Sergeants Lance and Lorenzo may be the most charismatic screen duo of the decade. They happen to be police officers investigating crimes of passion, but they could be insurance fraud investigators or window washers and we'd still watch. Homicide investigations routinely take a back seat to Chris and Rita's flirtatious friendship.
We learn from the get-go that Chris and Rita find each other desirable (who wouldn't?), but their friendship and professional relationship are more important than a few rounds of golf. In fact, the "will they or won't they" angle is so downplayed as to be nonexistent. They won't, at least not as far as Season One is concerned. Rita and Chris are about intimacy, honesty, and flirtation, but not about sex.
So why is it that every time they share the screen, we can practically see the flames dance between them? It is chemistry, chemistry so powerful that it vaulted Silk Stalkings to the top of the cable ratings. Rita tells Chris about a nice burger joint, but all we hear is "I want to rip that holster and hot-pink blazer off of your broad shoulders and spoil you for all future women." Chris replies with an offhand remark about curly fries, and we could swear he said "Sure, rip my blazer off, you minx, but be ready for a three-day marathon of passion if you do!" It is no stretch to say that Chris and Rita having coffee is as watchable as some actual cop shows are today.
Though he certainly scored big by landing these two leads, Producer Stephen J. Cannell is no stranger to successful television shows. Cannell has been producing hit shows for decades. In the '70s he gave us The Rockford Files, followed by The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, and 21 Jump Street in the '80s, up through The Commish and Silk Stalkings in the '90s. Cannell's shows are cheesy in a way that we don't find offensive. His best shows are like TV crack, selling a vibe that we want more of every week.
Silk Stalkings found a groove and milked it for all it was worth. The formula blinks in red neon right before your eyes: An illicit tryst turns bad and someone winds up dead. [Opening credits, followed by an aerial shot of Palm Beach and a voice-over of Rita talking about golf.] The dead person is connected to high society in some way. No one thinks it is murder, but Chris and Rita's intuition says different. With heat coming down from the press/internal affairs/politicians, Chris and Rita undertake an unpopular investigation. Rita and/or Chris flirts with a suspect to get more information, or calls on one of their many colorful underworld contacts. [Sexy cheesecake photo interlude.] The investigation stalls, and the Chief gets mad. [Cut scene to the bad guy.] Chris and Rita catch a break and close in on the criminal. A cunning plot twist ensues, the criminal dies, and Chris and Rita flirt together. [End credits.] Throughout these episodes, we learn that undercover wires always go bad at a critical moment, the police draw their guns and open fire about 45% of the time, and that most suspects in homicide investigations lounge around the pool in see-through negligees.
DVD Verdict often provides grades for each episode, but the episodes in this series are so uniform that such an exercise would be futile (B, B, B, B, B-, B, B, B+, B, B, B, and so forth). So let's try something new. The following episode discussions assume that you have either seen the episodes, have access to one of the numerous episode guides on the web, or feel that every Silk Stalkings episode has a certain uniformity that precludes any real spoilers. Nonetheless, the guilty parties will be referred to as "perps" to maintain a veil of secrecy. Instead of giving a grade, I'll cover why you should watch the episode, what makes it bad, what makes it hot, and how justice is served by the Palm Beach PD.
•"Silk Stalkings" (Pilot)
•"Going to Babylon"
•"In the Name of Love"
•"Men Seeking Women"
•"The Sock Drawer"
There you have it, 22 doses of illicit, guilty pleasure. Each episode is introduced with a fantastic opening sequence featuring Silk Stalkings's bluesy, freaky, off-kilter theme song and a montage of erotic espionage imagery. The boxed set packaging completes the theme. Like the series itself, the boxed set is thin, sexy, and nice to look at. The six DVDs are contained in three slim cases and enveloped in a gleaming cardboard sleeve with fluorescent letters. Anchor Bay has just set the standard for boxed set packaging.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To say that everything is rosy in Silk Stalkings land would not be a white lie—it would be a contempt of court, lying under oath felony. The easiest place to start is an analysis of the audiovisual quality. To put it bluntly, there is none.
The transfer is rife with edge enhancement. In a show that relies heavily on glossy pinup footage, this sin is particularly damaging. The edge enhancement is such that Rita appears to have a mustache in most of her close-ups, which breaks my heart. Every time her ruby lips move, a fuzzy outline moves with them.
Unfortunately, it doesn't stop with edge enhancement. Silk Stalkings has a brilliant, deeply saturated palette, and the colors weep into each other. Red and ultramarine are the worst offenders, and they are two of the most popular colors in Silk Stalkings. Pile on periodic bouts with softness, fuzziness, signal breakups, and pulldown errors, and you wind up with a major disappointment.
Sadly, the sound is just as bad, or worse. Volume levels fluctuate widely—which highlights the clipping, frequent dropouts, and harsh sibilants. The grating S sounds had me wincing on a regular basis. In contrast, there were plenty of times that I couldn't make out what was being said at all. Closed captioning or subtitles would have been a big help. Against this generally poor backdrop, the periodic massive sound snafus didn't seem so jarring.
It might be a good thing that the dialogue isn't clear, because it often reeks. Most episodes have a line or two that will just crack you up because of their putrescence. Of course, this cheesiness is one of the draws for Silk Stalkings fans. You grow to love it.
While you're learning to love things, show some patience with the copious overacting. Aside from the series regulars, most of the acting is over the top. The acting isn't all that way, because we're sometimes treated to underacting as a change of pace. High school drama students might produce more convincing emotions than some of the bit actors in Silk Stalkings.
The extras are a series of interviews with the principal actors and Cannell. They are a treat for fans of the show, a chance to hear a stellar producer and three favorite actors reflect on how much fun they had with Silk Stalkings. The problem with the extras is that they reveal spoilers, huge spoilers, mega-gigantoriffic spoilers. The entire series is laid bare, including the destinies of each character, complete with clips from future seasons. Please, if you haven't watched beyond Season One and plan to do so, skip the extras.
I'm not a huge fan of menus that repeat the theme song ad nauseam. Nor do I enjoy having to fast-forward through the show's theme 22 times. Chapter stops are your friends, particularly those that zip us past the common footage.
Coincidentally, both actors and footage are often recycled in this series.
Silk Stalkings wears its inherent badness on its chest, like a medal of honor. If you watch this show expecting decent cop action and suspenseful plots, you are barking up the wrong tree. Silk Stalkings is instead an opportunity to indulge your naughty side and ride shotgun in a beautiful relationship between two hot partners. It is a sensual treat, especially when shared with your own partner in crime.
The poor audiovisuals mar the experience somewhat, which frustrates the trip down memory lane. Nonetheless, Silk Stalkings is finally here on DVD, which is a treat in itself. This show is a poster child for why we love bad television; it makes us giddy inside, that's why. Bring on more Lance and Lorenzo!
All evidence points to Silk Stalkings's guilt. Nonetheless, the court will show leniency in this case because Mitzi Kapture and Rob Estes are dynamite together. This case is hereby thrown out.
[Editor's note: Judge Rob would like to dedicate this review to his wife and longtime Silk Stalkings watching partner, Meg.]
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Interviews with Cast and Crew
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