Judge Eric Profancik gives much love to the juggernaut that is "Zmed".
A street cop who gives a damn!
Being an avid Trekkie, I had never seen an episode of T.J. Hooker until I received these DVDs in the mail. If you've read any of my innumerable reviews at The Verdict (okay, you can count them and there are only 23 at this point), then you know my passion for all things Trek should make such a situation quite implausible. How is it I never watched Hooker until now? Because I didn't bloom into full Trekkie until the late '80s, well after this show's run. Now I am in full bloom, and I realize that Shatner is not only Captain James T. Kirk, but he's also The Man! Finally coming into his own full bloom, he's recently earned accolades for his work, including back-to-back Emmy wins for his portrayal of Denny Crane on Boston Legal.
I knew of only two things in regards to Hooker. First, it had a general reputation as a fairly cheesy, hammy show. Second, the show was probably best known for too many car chases with Shatner thrown on a car hood—so much so it was parodied on Saturday Night Live. Now that I have watched the show, I realize that it's really just Star Trek in disguise. Almost everything in this show can be traced back to that historic show from the Sixties. Let's look at some key facts of Hooker:
• William Shatner: No brainer—star of both.
See, T.J. Hooker is just Star Trek with Shatner in a policeman's uniform, hilariously running around way too much. Why did I wait so long to tune in?
Facts of the Case
Sergeant T.J. Hooker, a man with a troubled past, asks to go back on street patrol and spearhead a new "on-the-job" police recruitment program for the LCPD. These brash and hungry new recruits have undergone a rigorous training program at the Police Academy, graduated, and been paired with a seasoned officer on the force. Hooker's new partner in the 4-Adam-30 car is Vince Romano (Zmed), personally chosen by the hardened vet. Hooker is cut from the old school mold, and he believes strongly in officers on patrol and cleaning up the streets from the bad guys. He bleeds blue, thinks blue, and dreams blue. He has instincts of steel, has done it all, and knows everybody. Watch as Hooker gets back in action and back on the streets.
This DVD set contains the complete first and second seasons of the show:
I'm going to start things off by saying that I had low expectations for T.J. Hooker. Seeing as I had successfully avoided it for two decades, I had come to the conclusion during that time that the show was a trifle; a silly waste of time. I had no idea the show lasted for five seasons (if five episodes truly constitutes a first season, that is), and I figured it was laughed off the air after a year or two. But when I sat down and began to watch the show, I was decidedly surprised to discover that the show isn't all that bad. True, it is a trifle; a silly show stuffed with enough ham and cheese to make enough sandwiches for everyone in the United States. Yet it has something in it that lets the silliness slide, and you can sit back and enjoy it for what it is: a guilty pleasure.
I would be lying if I didn't admit that my main reason for liking this show is Shatner. He is so pompous, so arrogant, so egotistic, and so full of himself, you can feel his self-love wafting at you even now. While those words might normally conjure strong negative notions of the man, that's furthest from the truth. He's so gently arrogant and charmingly pompous that you love Hooker. He's a man's man, fighting to make the streets safer for you. Hooker is confident in his skills and abilities, and he will use them to his fullest power to preserve and to protect. Watch as Shatner goes on an eating rampage, chewing up scenes left and right.
Concurrent with that is the opening five or so minutes of the first episode, "The Protectors." Just seconds after the opening title scrolls past, out marches Hooker onto the academy grounds to introduce himself to his first batch of recruits (and to the new viewing audience). Twenty years ago, I'm not sure what my reaction would have been—but watching it now, it was hilarious. With his swagger, his machismo, his impassioned and cliché-riddled speech about fighting crime, it all combined to be pure ham. Cops don't talk that way, but Shatner does. This role was custom-tailored to the man who would wear his uniform like a sausage casing. And he wears it well.
Did I inadvertently put on my rose-colored Trek glasses while viewing this set? Perhaps I did. I've grown to appreciate Shatner more with each passing year, seeing his vanity as an amusing personality flaw, and enjoying his play on his own notorious faults. And while I am only slightly surprised to find how much I like Shatner in this series, I believe the best word to describe my reaction to Adrien Zmed is flabbergasted. Zmed has always existed in the back of my mind as a joke, a one-hit wonder who is probably best known today as a crossword puzzle answer instead of an actor. But Zmed really shocked me—he's not a bad actor. He, too, relishes the ham, but he's good in this role. Hooker and Romano may not be the best officers in television history—though the show makes them out to be—but Shatner and Zmed have great chemistry. You can really sense that mentor relationship, with Hooker calling Romano "Junior" far more often than he ever says "Romano." Over the course of the episodes, you can actually see Zmed mature as an actor, a little bit. He embraced the role and did a lot with it.
There are two things that I must mention when it comes to Zmed/Romano. First is playing him up as a sex symbol. I don't see it, but there must have been something there for him to be sans shirt as often as he was. Presumably he graced a teenybopper magazine cover or two at the time. Secondly, and more enjoyable for me, were the scenes where Romano was dancing. If I thought Hooker's opening speech was hilarious, then seeing Romano disco dance (or whatever it was called in the early '80s) was breathtakingly riotous. I know I screamed in disbelief, and I'm sure I shed a tear after he did his best (or is it his worst?) Tony Manero impersonation.
Though she deserves more, I'm going to give just a quick mention to the delightful Heather Locklear. She doesn't appear in the series until the last episode of the first season, she's woefully underutilized as a dispatcher for most of the second season, but she does finally get a partner (James Darren) and gets out on the street in the final episodes of the set. Obviously, she's here mainly as eye candy. At this point in her career, she fills the roll beautifully (though I'd just call her very cute), and her witty repartee with Romano was fun to watch. What I didn't realize, until a coworker reminded me, was that Ms. Locklear was starring in two shows on two networks at the same time, T.J. Hooker and Dynasty. That's a rare accomplishment!
What about the stories themselves? If you've read between the lines you should have gathered that the episodes perfectly portray the stylized drama of the '80s; that is, it's pretty off base. The crime detection and investigations are weak, criminals are dumb, and the cops are mostly lucky. Each week a crime is committed, Hooker and Romano are just minutes away, they happen across the bad guy(s), give chase, the bad guy(s) get away, Hooker schmoozes somebody for some inside information, and then he catches them with just minutes to spare in the episode. It's quite the redundant pattern, replete with sloppy police work and way too many conveniences. Still, it somehow is forgivable and enjoyable on some quirky level.
What can you expect when you pick up this set from your favorite retailer? Not much, unfortunately. This six-disc set is wholly unspectacular on all fronts, with nary an enticing bonus feature to compel you to run out and buy it. The full frame video, "remastered in high definition," doesn't live up to that billing. It is acceptable for a television show of its age, with the expected soft colors, soft details, and touch of graininess and speckles of dirt you've come to know and love. The discs look perhaps a touch better than what you'll see on reruns. The simple Dolby Digital 2.0 mix will not elicit any significant groans from the viewer, with clean dialogue and no hiss or distortion. Aside from the original promos for 24 out of 27 episodes, it's a bare-bones set.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In the world of memorable theme songs, you will not find T.J. Hooker. This theme song, and the corresponding opening credits, are horrible. It is probably one of the worst songs of all time, and easily the worst cop show theme on record. (Goodness, I hope it was never released on record!)
Additionally, the writers needed to invest in a thesaurus. I lost count of how many times someone uttered "scum," "creep," and "punk." What about "hood," "miscreant," or "thug"?
From the Aaron Spelling factory comes T.J. Hooker. As hokey and goofy as the show is, as over-the-top Shatner acts, and as lame as the police work unfolds, there is still something watchable about this show. It all comes together to create a guilty pleasure, something that's easily digestible and memorable in its own special way. You won't find a show that more perfectly encapsulates the flaws of the '80s, with more feathered hair than you can shake a stick at.
Suffice it to say, the show did try. Hooker was given a dark background of bourbon, divorce, and death, and some character evolution was doled out. Each show also had a simple lesson that would come tumbling out of Hooker's mouth. But twenty years later, it's still a whole bunch of cheese. For fans, nothing in this set will wow you—nor should anything on it (or lack of being on it) deter you from putting it in your collection. For the curious or the newbies like me, this is, at best, a rental opportunity.
T.J. Hooker is hereby found guilty of impersonating an officer. William Shatner, who has the athletic ability of James Kirk, should not be chasing so many bad guys. He is sentenced to thirty days of desk duty.
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