Sledge Hammer! – Season 2
Picture: C+ Sound: C Extras: B Episodes:
As I look back into the
recesses of my childhood television memories, there are number shows that I
vaguely recall, yet have distinct sense that I found them quite enjoyable. I remember an early 80’s show about a
Phoenix; another one about a reckless inventor from the past who journeys
through time with a modern-day teenager, and who could forget Automan (well, I guess a lot of
folks). But one show I do remember
quite well, even though it was short lived, was the underappreciated Sledge Hammer! Although my cultural and cinematic knowledge
was in its infancy when the show originally aired, I found the series witty and
intriguing; I remember it had my cynical father in stitches. But, looking back at the series for this
review, I enjoyed a whole new layer to this rather poignant, original, and
Created by Alan Spencer, Sledge Hammer! originally aired during
the latter parts of the Reagan administration, where military budgets blossomed
and yuppies ruled. The series follows
the crime-fighting antics of the clumsy, bombastic title character, Sledge
Hammer (played with ironic precision by David Rasche), and his loyal, understanding
partner, Dorie Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin).
Season 2 begins where Season 1 left off, a cliffhanger where Sledge is
attempting to dismantle a nuclear bomb.
In a genius move, the first episode begins with the bomb exploding,
followed by the caption, a “few years earlier,” where the show truly
begins. This rebellion against
traditional storylines is a consistent feature throughout the series.
The narrative arc of each
episode follows a similar trajectory; Sledge, the self-absorbed, cocksure
detective tackles a case with reckless abandon (with the emphasis on reckless)
and his mindful, unflappable partner takes it upon herself to solve the crime
and apologize for Hammer’s antics (very Inspector Gadget-like). However, it is not the storylines where the
series harbors its creative power. The
numerous one-liners are often quite topical (for the time) and rather
cutting. According to Spencer, a dig
against Mr. Belvedere landed him in hot water with the network. However, a healthy number of jokes were
aimed at the Reagan Administration, peace movements, and television executives
(an equal opportunity insulter).
Moreover, the running
jokes were ironic insights that were constant reminders of the show’s
underlying politics. Hammer, often
finding it difficult to speak with other humans, enjoys a lovingly, and perhaps
unrequited, relationship with his gun.
The gun, who (not that) is pampered like a rich lady’s Pomeranian, is
the only character consistently entitled to hear Hammer’s self-disclosure (trust
me, the personification is apropos). The
gun-as-confidant motif, I believe, served well for an era driven by military
considerations. Likewise, Hammer’s
catch phrase, “Trust me, I know what I am doing,” which is often followed by a
destructive act, speaks to a shoot-first and (maybe) ask questions later
mentality. Or, it could just be a
simple joke that requires little interpretation.
With relatively few
exceptions, every episode provided a rather playful, and quite respectful,
homage to a great film: “A Clockwork Hammer,” “Vertical,” “Hammeroid” (Robocop spoof), “It Happened What
Night” (Even the art on the discs plays on iconic film images). Spencer imbues each episode with the care
and cynicism of a very knowledgeable movie geek—perhaps a more comedic,
self-reflective, and ironic version of Tarentino.
Unfortunately, Season 2 is
the last. Spencer, asked if a show like
this could be made today, he was quick to answer, no. I agree, even for cable television. Even though the production value was quite low (which is probably
a reason why Spencer and Co. could do what they wanted to do), I would imagine
no network would want to endorse a show with such a mixed comedic style—over
the top physical comedy, extremely silly relationship (a guy talking to his
gun!?), biting cynicism, and a mocking irony.
Sledge Hammer! just would not
mesh with the comedic (non)sensibilities of today’s viewers.
This four-disc set
includes all nineteen episodes and a bevy of extras. The set comes in a rather handsome, well-built cardboard case
that opens like a book (the American flag backdrop replete with bullet holes
only adds the show’s ethos). Inside,
one finds a small manila folder, a mock up of a police file that contains a
rather extensive history on the series, including the difficulties of getting
it developed, finding a regular time-slot, and dealing with network
There are also a number of
extras including a couple of rather insightful commentaries by Alan Spencer and
Anne-Marie Martin, a cast retrospective, a tribute to Bill Bixby (yes, the
Incredible Hulk directed a number of episodes), a question and answer session
with Spencer, and a series of stills and promotional materials. As for the quality of the actual episodes,
they are hamstrung by the original production value (Season 2 was shot in 16
mm); the picture is occasionally fuzzy and the sound a tad bit hollow. Even the interface is a trifle
underwhelming. But, for what the set lacks in production value, it more than
makes up for in affection. Sledge Hammer! is clearly a labor of
love, from the creator to the cast, and it shows in their commitment to the
material and more so in the interviews.
So, if you are interested
in the reliving a great sitcom from the 80’s, one that really pushes the edge
of the envelope, into the comedic danger zone, might I recommend Sledge Hammer! Trust me, I know what I am saying.
- Ron Von Burg