Judge Lacey Worrell brings a feather-light touch to this outstanding crime spoof series.
Trust him. He knows what he's doing.
One of the most welcome fringe benefits of DVD technology is the growing trend of releasing television series that may not have made it to the number of episodes necessary for syndication but are still beloved by fans. Sledge Hammer! did not make it past two seasons, but this DVD release of its first season is one of the best I've seen to date.
Facts of the Case
Intrepid detective Sledge Hammer always tries to do the right thing…that is, if your idea of the right thing is physically threatening innocent witnesses, shooting at suspects during interrogations, and insulting women with demeaning remarks. This show is most definitely a spoof, and in the words of its creator, it is "Get Smart meets Dirty Harry." When in the pilot episode Sledge's boss calls him "sadistic, depraved, bloodthirsty, [and] barbaric," good old Sledge takes it as a high compliment. His favorite charity is "Toy Guns for Tots." He brings down a sniper by shooting a bazooka he happens to have handy in the trunk of his car and ends up leveling a building.
Included in this release are a slew of extra features that include TV spots, an unaired version of the pilot episode, and a 30-minute featurette that contains present-day interviews, as well as audio commentaries on four episodes by series creator Alan Spencer, who was still a teenager when he wrote the pilot script.
I was 12 years old when this show premiered, and I can remember the little boy I used to baby-sit on Friday nights begging me to allow him to stay up and watch Sledge Hammer!. Watching it again on DVD, I can easily see its appeal. This show was risky, even by today's standards. In fact, I doubt it would ever be given the green light by the networks in this day and age, when we are so concerned about offending people that everything on television seems so homogenized and, well, vanilla. One of the series' best loved and most remembered episodes, "All Shook Up," features Sledge going undercover as an Elvis impersonator to find a serial killer. The series is full of instantly quotable dialogue, exemplified by a scene in this episode between Sledge and his beleaguered boss:
Captain Trunk: "How's this investigation going? Any leads?"
To give you a sense of perspective, the Elvis episode was written and produced before it became common in American culture to emulate The King. This was at a time in our history when Elvis had only been dead for about 10 years and his empire was not yet generating the gazillions of dollars it does today. The most we heard about Elvis was whispers about his drug use as well as the ubiquitous Elvis sightings trumpeted in the supermarket tabloids. For that reason, as well as for the excellent writing and attention to detail, this episode was far ahead of its time. Listen to this episode's commentary for Alan Spencer's description of the loathing he felt for the sitcom Mr. Belvedere. This led him to insert a joke into the script that erupted into a war with the Mr. Belvedere folks. Sledge Hammer! was definitely breaking new sitcom ground.
The high quality of the series is evident even in the pilot, whose plot revolves around a kidnapping with a twist. The episode is devoid of much of the awkwardness that pervades pilots of other sitcoms. The actors have a sense of instant chemistry, especially Anne-Marie Martin as Sledge's long-suffering partner, Dori, and Harrison Page as his captain. There is even a hint of sexual tension between Sledge and Dori that is interesting but manages not to detract from Sledge's brutal—albeit comedic—approach to his vocation.
The DVD packaging is terrific; the included 16-page booklet is tucked into a mini case file. I highly recommend the show's website, as well: There are active message boards and records of the critical acclaim the show has received, and Alan Spencer is a regular contributor to the boards.
Since the cancellation of Sledge Hammer!, series star David Rasche has compiled an extensive list of credits, including guest appearances on highly regarded shows such as Las Vegas and Monk. Harrison Page went on to appear on shows like JAG, ER, and Melrose Place. Spencer remains proud of his creation and is incredibly appreciative of the show's loyal following; a fan of this show could not ask for more when it comes to the careful preparation of this release. Listen closely to the end of the featurette when all involved express regret about the series' end; the wistfulness is almost painful, as if none of them knew at the time what a special thing they had going. Spencer's vehemence about the laugh track is also interesting; he was furious when ABC insisted on one after initial test screenings, and given that the laugh track is absent from this release, I believe Spencer is finally vindicated. There is no need for a laugh track when the viewer is laughing along with the show on his or her own.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although the sound quality is excellent, the picture remains grainy, giving it a dated feel. Also, you must have a somewhat offbeat sense of humor to find this show funny. (Count me in!) Those of you who are obsessed with political correctness, gun control, and women's rights may want to bypass Sledge Hammer!. Better yet, join us sickos over on the Dark Side…it's so much more fun!
Alan Spencer remarks in the special features that "This show is a sitcom for people who hate sitcoms." Being one of the few people on the planet who loathes shows like Friends and (no hate mail, please) Seinfeld, I couldn't say it any better than that.
The love and care that went into assembling this release not only will please existing fans of this show but are guaranteed to win over some new ones as well. Almost twenty years later, Sledge Hammer! remains risky and cutting edge. How many sitcoms—past or present—can boast about that?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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