Friday, July 09, 2010

Shatnerthon: Loving TJ Hooker. Without Irony.


I'm not sure I believe in loving something ironically anymore. I used to, and yesterday I saw my third Twilight film in the theater for reasons other than love, but I think that fails the irony test as well. (Don't worry, I didn't pay full price.) I've long been against the concept of a “guilty pleasure,” because pleasure without harming anyone else should be reason enough in itself not to feel guilty. But what's pushed me over the irony line is T.J. Hooker.

I once reassured a friend that I would never, ever fall so far as to watch T.J. Hooker, let alone like it. That is one step too far, I said, even for William Shatner. But you know what?

I love T.J. Hooker. I love it unashamedly, with full knowledge of its flaws and indeed a considerable amount of affection for them. Maybe that is ironic love, as it is figured for some, but I don't find the distinction useful. Or fair.

For those of you who don't know (and probably aren't reading this), T.J. Hooker was an American television program which ran from 1982-1986. It was meant to be an ensemble show about cops-in-training in the fictional Lake City (which looks—gasp!--a lot like Los Angeles) because, supposedly, Shatner wasn't looking to star in another show. (Same thing apparently happened to Boston Legal.) But as things often do with Shatner, fate took over and he became the focal point. He, and rookie cop Vince Romano, played by Adrian Zmed (of Grease 2 awesomeness).

Don't get me wrong: it's a terrible show. It's formulaic, the politics/criminal philosophy/crime-fighting are all problematic, and Shatner's “hair” is very distracting. But the truth is, you need someone like him to anchor a show this bad, because otherwise there's nothing to recommend it. The plots are stupid, the production values rather shoddy (we have a game of looking for the temporary signs the art department has made for various locations and businesses, which look totally pasted-on), and Hooker is always, invariably, right. If the crook is redeemable, he knows by looking. If he's not, he knows that too. No ambiguity. No liberal bleeding-heart crap. Nothing has any bearing on anything that will happen in another episode, crimes are always in the exactly opposite direction than they're traveling, and there's always going to be a cute tag at the end where Hooker gets the jovial jump on Romano yet again!

But see, that's what's so delightful about this show. It's not that it's realistic. It's that it's ridiculous but they're playing it straight and no one seems to think it makes no sense for Shatner to be able to leap onto the hoods of cars, catch airplanes on foot, or run down rapists half his age who work out. He wants it so badly that he always gets it. I think if it weren't Shatner driving it, I'd be bored quickly, but for whatever reason it just makes me laugh. As does the predictable veteran/rookie banter between him and Romano.

And that's the other thing: if it weren't for Adrian Zmed, as much as Shatner, the whole thing might have fallen apart. He's just adorable. He has this amazingly sculpted body, but sort of a goofy-cute face on top of it, and amazingly tall hair. And the scripts let him be both athletic and sort of hapless, so he can show off his great puppy-dog expression. He's a perfect buddy for Hooker. And—moment of even more shallowness--they both have great asses.

Part of the entertainment, for me, is in how bad it is. Is the anticipation: what vehicle will Shatner fight today? How will he get the better of both the crooks and Romano? Who will Hooker touch inappropriately? How many times have I seen the cop car race past the Safeway? By the way, cars? Always explode after flipping over, but only after Hooker's managed to get everyone out.

I started watching out of curiosity and kept watching despite Heather Locklear demonstrating the most incompetent acting I've ever seen. It's oddly charming, strangely addictive, and makes me really sad that only seasons one and two are available on DVD, and one isn't even a full season. (Romano leaves after four, so I'm not really interested in that, either.) It's likely there are hundreds of shows of like quality I'm missing out on, but for me, Shatner's charm (yes, even in his early 50's and with the... hair) makes all the difference. Shatner's having fun with the role. And I find I just can't really hold Hooker's absurdity against him. He fought a school bus, guys. And won.

19 comments:

Stacia said...

Who will Hooker touch inappropriately?

I know the answer: "Everyone!"

I started to watch "TJ Hooker" in reruns on the 2nd season after Locklear showed up, and she was indeed so awful that I just couldn't handle the show. My parents had a high tolerance for bad acting, but for some reason we rarely watched it anyway, despite my parents insisting on seeing the 2 following shows -- Love Boat and Fantasy Island -- every week.

Kris said...

Yeah, Locklear was an impediment. And it's always inexplicable to me--there were hundreds of equally attractive young women in Hollywood, so could none of them act better? My guess is... no. But it still makes no sense.

el guapo said...

This show is so,so,so bad, I know it was the eighties but wow!!, it's terrible. Why does EVERYONE call Shatner Hooker? Does he not have a first name? The plots are terrible, a 10 year old can do better, and how patronizing is Hooker to Romano, he calls him Junior at every turn

Kris said...

@el guapo: I know. It's awful. To answer your question, his name is Thomas Jefferson Hooker, but I have no idea why he'd insist on being "Hooker." And the plots just get worse and worse, as far as I can tell. It amuses me no end, however, but I'm biased.

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