The pinnacle of the life of Judge Daryl Loomis was when he was suplexed by the pope.
Trust me. I know what I'm doing.
When I look back at the television shows I loved as a kid, there seems to be a clear pattern of terrible entertainment. There was one show, though, that always stood out as one of my favorites, but given my track record, I was nervous that it, too, would turn out to be garbage. But then I got the opportunity to review Sledge Hammer! The Complete Series and, wow, it turns out to be the most underrated and unfortunately forgotten show of its generation.
Facts of the Case
The streets of San Francisco are littered with scum sucking criminals who need to be put in their place. Enter Inspector Sledge Hammer (David Rasche, Delirious) and his .44 Magnum, a duo that strikes fear in the hearts of crooks everywhere. His itchy trigger finger and complete lack of respect for police procedure constantly draws the ire of Captain Trunk (Harrison Page, Lionheart), though, so he assigns Hammer a new partner in good cop Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin, Prom Night). Hammer partnering with a woman, what has this world come to?
Sledge Hammer! holds up better than almost any comedy of its era…or any other, for that matter. The basic humor template is more Night Court than Family Ties, and thank goodness, but its jokes are way more modern than anything else of its day. If I'd known anything about old movies when I was ten, I'd have loved this show even more than I did but, today, I get to enjoy that even more. The pilot episode is a straight-up parody of Dirty Harry, including the appearance of John Vernon as the San Francisco mayor whose daughter has been kidnapped. Rasche plays up the Harry Callahan to the hilt, but the references go way farther than just that. Everything from Bogart films to Robocop gets its due skewering in the show's plots, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so much, but they're all over the place in this show.
What makes the series so modern, though, is the way it mocks itself, its poor ratings, and the crappy shows that stole its viewership. Miami Vice and Dallas get some punches, while Mr. Belvedere and the burgeoning Fox network each get torn a new one; it's kind of hard to believe that they didn't get in trouble with some of their antics, but I guess their ratings were low enough for nobody to care. This gets its most hilarious treatment in the first season's finale, in which they bring out Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach to appeal for the future of the show (in much the same way that Arrested Development did as they floundered in their third season). Their future uncertain, the show's producers decided to go out with a bang, literally, only to find that their ploy worked and they got to come back for a second season. The caveat is that the show's budget was slashed and they had to switch from 35mm to 16mm stock, making the show look incredibly cheap and ensuring that there would be no third season. That didn't stop them from running wild with their plots and references, making the second season even crazier than the first.
One of the most important things to sell a comedy as silly as this is the performances and the leads make the most of their time onscreen. As a constant two-year long parody of Clint Eastwood, Rasche does a fantastic job squinting and gritting his teeth. He's completely in character and sells it without any step outside of it. He may be saddled with a few catch phrases and being caught talking to his gun, but he has plenty of solid lines. He tells a multitude of sexist jokes, but they're all played for effect and don't reflect the show at large. Anne-Marie Martin's Doreau is the perfect foil for Hammer; she has a moral code and is a love interest that is just out of reach. Harrison Page plays the most conventional sitcom role as Captain Trunk, but his straight man work is essential to the success of the show. With plenty of minor celebrities as guest stars, car chases, and gunfights, Sledge Hammer is the best television action comedy of its generation and, truly, one of the best shows I have ever watched.
The 41 episodes that make up Sledge Hammer! The Complete Series arrive on five discs from Image Entertainment. It's great to have the whole thing in one set, but these 1.33:1 standard definition transfers aren't the greatest thing in town. The first season looks better than the second, which is expected given the downgrade in film stock, but the first season still isn't very good. There is a ton of edge enhancement, colors are murky, and black levels are far from consistent. All of this is enhanced for the second season. The Dolby 2.0 stereo is decent, though. There isn't much to write home about, but it's solid in both seasons. There are no extras on any of the five discs.
I was a little scared that I'd have my nostalgic love for Sledge Hammer! killed by actually watching it as an adult. Little did I know that it would surpass every other show from its era in both wild referential humor and utterly ridiculous plotlines. If you're a fan of television comedy, then or now, you owe it to yourself to pick up Sledge Hammer! The Complete Series, regardless of the barebones release and less than perfect transfer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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