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T.J. HOOKER PRESSROOM : DAREDEVILS MAGAZINE


A Star Trek Fan's Notes On . . .
T.J. Hooker

by Al Christensen
Daredevils Magazine
No. 3, January 1984


There are many similarities between James T. Kirk and T.J. Hooker beyond the similar first initials. This has drawn many Star Trek fans in to watch the show. The telling question asked here is if there was a world as Hooker envisions it, could there be a world as Jim Kirk lives it?

T.J. Hooker must be a refreshing change for William Shatner. Although his second series after Star Trek–the first being the short-lived and undistinguished Barbary Coast–for someone who portrayed a starship commander cruising the space lanes with a pointy-eared Vulcan visiting, and being visited by, other-worldly phenomena for three straight years and in two feature films, the role of a 1980s policeman has to be a welcome counterbalance. No freaky and complicated special effects to deal with here. No niggling scientific details to furrow your brow over. No special orientation to futuristic worlds, societies and personalities. Just everyday situations or contemporary reality as television understands it.

In T.J. Hooker, Shatner has traded in his admirals epaulets and space gear for sergeant's stripes and the tightly-buttoned and aligned dark uniform of the constabulary designated "LCPD". The Enterprise has been exchanged for a black-and-white squad car and Mr. Spock has been replaced with a youthful cheerleader sidekick named Romano. Instead of phasers and communicators, they have revolvers with no stun capability and nightsticks with which to get their point across. While there are no zoom-effect star fields on view screens or weird studio scenery of other planets in Hooker, the viewers are presented with the backdrop of southern California or what looks like Southern California. Some may argue that the inhabitants there are just as strange as those on Rigel VII–with its vistas of the illusory affluent West Coast civilization beneath an eternally sunny clime.

"Trust me, Romano. He's guilty! I've dealt with his kind before."

Some casual observers of Star Trek–those people whose eyes glaze over at the very mention of space travel, a telltale indication that a mental clutch has set in, disabling any intellectual connection between past, present and future–find the show incredulous. A Captain Kirk persona would be equally bewildered at the implausibility of T.J. Hooker. A street cop doing the work of an entire detective team, solving important crimes with amazing efficiency, completes his duty in the face of awesome firepower and other risks to his person, yet complains not about the working conditions, low pay, long hours and everything else that has played havoc with his personal life. He can't find a wife trained in treating bullet wounds, or who agrees with his moderate-to-right-wing philosophy about lawbreakers. Now, is this realistic?

Of course not. Especially if Hooker was a card-carrying union man (and I don't mean the American Civil Liberties Union). An ordinary person would have been prematurely gray from all the excitement Hooker goes through. In one episode alone, there were four spectacular explosions (three occurred in buildings, one in a police car), a harrowing car chase and a homicide in the course of a robbery. No mundane chores such as ticketing speedsters or lecturing in high schools to budding teenage hoodlums. He only deals with terrorists, psychotic arsonists, deranged Bible zealots, mass murderers and other elements that threaten the democratic way of life. He is the stereotypical uber mensch of TV crime shows, the man who is never wrong in the sniffing out of wrongdoers, who is indefatigable in the pursuit of suspects even if it means hanging on to the roof of a rampaging bus, the hood of a reckless car or chasing felons down flights of stairs and through miles of backlots and back alleys.

Though Hooker may occasionally radio for backup units, he never waits for them in a crucial situation or else they just plain arrive too late to substantially affect the outcome. His disdain for teamwork, which in the majority of cases has a better chance than heroic "lone-wolfism," exhibits a lack of confidence in his fellow policemen and in police regulations which in part are determined by law. Surely his behavior is a poor model for newly-indoctrinated rookies of the L.C. Police Academy, for which Hooker works part time as an instructor. It is ridiculous to have all policemen act like "Batman"-style vigilantes–is there a human being born who is infallible of judgment or of the indestructible constitution that such a role requires? It is taken for granted, of course, that Hooker is not mortal in the first place–everybody knows series leads never die.

The esteemed sergeant [Hooker], in delegating authority, exercises little wisdom or organizational skills.

Real policemen of the real world in their criticism of Hollywood dramas have pointed out that patrolmen seldom have reason to handle their guns. The most dangerous situations, they point out, are those arising from domestic violence, as between a husband and wife, not from the acts of the neo-Leopolds and Loebs. Certainly there are opportunities for heroism in everyday life but not in the frequency and magnitude that would warrant iconoclasm and selfish glory-hunting as in the phosphor dot universe of T.J. Hooker. The esteemed sergeant, in delegating authority, exercises little wisdom or organizational skills, reserving the most hazardous assignments entirely for himself. The screenwriters, of course, make sure it is the correct decision that manages at the same time to both spite liberal thinkers and even more extremist, mutton-headed SWAT team leaders. It is this kind of license with law enforcement work that disenchants uniformed badge wearers, prompting them to switch to Hill Street Blues.

It could be argued that distortions and exaggerations of police work are necessary to keep audiences glue to the glass teat. After all, it worked for Starsky and Hutch, Baretta and The Streets of San Francisco–depleting whole armories in the process–so why not T.J. Hooker? It would be relatively harmless if the show was recognized as crude entertainment–a rather juvenile wish-fulfillment program that is often as funny as a Saturday morning superhero cartoon, in an unintentional way. But there is a callous sentiment behind the stunt-a-minute and routine suspense plot formula: it subtly reflects a fed-up attitude from certain quarters of society that hold that the criminal element is running rampant and that the laws and the courts are inadvertently aiding them. It is bemoaned that the lawbreaker's rights seem to take precedence over those of the victims. The public sees convicts leave prisons only to return after committing heinous headline-splashing crimes. We all hear of the small neighborhood liquor store or grocery store that is repeatedly robbed until it is forced to close while the police remain helpless.

"Gotta give you credit, Hooker. Warp drive, photon torpedos and a radio hook-up with Starfleet Command. This is some car!"

In the past, Hollywood's answer to lawlessness was Dirty Harry (now the star of a series of spin-off novels) and Buford Pusser. They did not hesitate to intimidate suspects, preferring to shoot them rather than arrest them. They rarely, if ever, informed a collar about his rights. They didn't go out of their way to please dreamily ambitious politicians or bureaucratic incompetents. These cops are Hooker's true genealogy. They provided the movie-going public with a simplistic and direct answer to a complicated question, deriving emotional satisfaction from the come-uppance of anti-social miscreants. Some viewers clapped no matter whose meat was flying on the screen. The audience that flocked to see these movies was oblivious of or ignored the caveats of The Ox-Bow Incident, Twelve Angry Men, A Clockwork Orange and other films that dealt with crime in a lucid manner to revel in kneejerk reactionism. The Dirty Harry archetype has its historically fascist equivalents, a remedy that all too often ultimately proved to be far worse than the ailment.

Certainly extraordinary circumstances may demand extraordinary action. A flood-ravaged town, for instance, may need the National Guard to suppress widespread looting. There are hard-core criminals who have no hope of rehabilitation and whose release into a community would be an act of reckless endangerment. There are also terrorist organizations with avowed aims to topple national governments and instigate social revolutions. Then there are the "psychos". But in toto these examples account for a small, though sensational, part of crime statistics. Far more common is the socially functioning individual who, for one reason or another, turns to crime.

Hooker remains coldly distant to events around him unless they strike close to a friend.

But, sadly, the root cause doesn't concern Hooker: a shoplifter, a mugger and a wealthy automobile manufacturer trafficking in drugs are all the same. They are "scum," implying that they are subhuman and therefore not like the rest of us–animals don't have constitutional rights, so why should they? If it was Hooker's sister or relative or dear friend standing trial, one must wonder if he would be of the same mind. If the defendant was guilty, would he or she still be classified as "scum"? Would Hooker want them to have their full rights? Would Hooker not wonder how and why someone intimate would engage in illegal activity? In the episode guest-starring Leonard Nimoy, Hooker watched his friend clapped into jail for stepping over the line, but the kind of soul-searching one finds in Hill Street Blues is never evident in Hooker. People don't change and grow and Hooker remains coldly distant to events around him unless they strike close to a friend. Unlike Hill Street Blues and the police dramas written by Joseph Wambaugh, everything in Hooker is clearly defined into us and them, with the crooks invariably running the edge close to psycho so that we're forced to wonder how they've managed to keep running around loose this long as it is. Did they perhaps commit their crimes in another precinct before this, unaware that iron man Hooker was to be contended with on the new turf?

T.J. Hooker definitely suggests that law enforcement organizations get tougher with crime. This is implicit whenever we are shown recruits jogging in formation, as though the Academy was a boot-camp training soldiers for combat (One wouldn't be surprised to se old Marine Corps adages lying about such as, "The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war"). Hooker perceives the streets as a ground for a sort of guerilla warfare, a "jungle" like El Salvadore [sic] or Vietnam, though surprisingly he has yet to be caught venturing into true urban squalor like New York's or acquainting himself with the economically impoverished and culturally isolated. Duty in palm tree lined avenues and gleaming beaches must be real tough.

In one episode, Hooker faced a Vietnam vet–supposedly not a deranged one, just a criminally savvy one–armed with an M-14 sniper rifle, an endless supply of high explosives and a recoilless rife (!) who threatened to blow up the Police Academy unless city authorities met his monetary demands. Needless to say, Hooker foiled the vet's plans after running a gauntlet of lethal booby traps. Subduing the heavy, Hooker then proceeded to spout off about how "bad" veterans were ruining the reputations of the "good" ones, which was an obvious attempt by the show's producers to excuse them from using the common television cliche [sic] of portraying Vietnam vets as ticking sociopathic bombs waiting for life to pull their pin and unleash them on society. It's sort of like using a cliche [sic] and then trying to apologize afterwards with a high sounding speech.

"I don't know what happened to Hooker. But whatever you do, don't say, 'Beam me up Scotty'!"

Arrogant power by its very nature tends to abuse legal rights. In the belief that guns, bullets and truncheons can "cure" social ills, T.J. Hooker is by no means unique in its portrayal of power politics and, in fact, is the rule rather than the exception. The shame of it is that there are people living in this country that stand behind that belief and they constitute a vocal, if not sizable, part of society. Citizen groups that confront the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis and the Communists want special dispensation to abrogate the Constitution in order to ban these parties from their activities. They argue that the very reprehensibleness of these groups, their "anti-Americanism", is reason enough to prevent them from staging lawful assemblies, rallies and marches. While I have no love for the purveyors of hate, such action, to anyone with a smidgen of foresight, is playing into the hands of fringe radicals from both sides who do not desire equal rights for all. Rendering the Constitution meaningless, in any case, would be one step in the direction of a police state. Perhaps at that point we would not have so much crime, but we would not have much freedom either. At that juncture, any group that is singled out for being difficult or disagreeable could be silenced or imprisoned, down to the PTA, the labor unions and even the local Star Trek fan club. More policemen and a dissolution of law is not a real solution to crime in a democracy any more than an increase in surgeons and the abandonment of the medical oath will eliminate cancer.

The Name of the Game once did an episode called "L.A. 2018" in which Glenn Howard had a dream (or was it?) in which he visited a highly polluted L.A. of the future. Although T.J. Hooker at its best is more mindless than the lowliest episode of The Name of the Game, it would be interesting to have a fantasy episode in which Hooker found himself a member in good standing in the L.C.P.D. of a future in which the city had indeed become a police state. How would Hooker feel then when the only good guys are the police and everyone else is the enemy?

I wonder which role Mr. Shatner would like to be best remembered for?

This is not to say that the legal system in the courts is perfect. It can be unfair and unjust and just plain wrong. It is usually slow, ponderous and unwieldy. It can be infuriating, puzzling and corrupt. But in an imperfect world, the United States shines as a nation which places a high premium on law and human rights. As experts in international arbitration point out, in other countries, even those considered "free", the observance of laws and rights may not necessarily be strict; even a basic principle such as "a person is innocent until proven guilty" may be reversed. An example of this can be found in the film Midnight Express which depicts the brutal realities of a legal structure in a foreign country which is more or less friendly to the United States. Sometimes one can only appreciate the privileges and virtues of one's native country from an outside perspective.

If the above sounds rather grim and serious for a lightweight TV show, it is an attempt to portray how feeble T.J. Hooker's grasp of legal procedure and police work really is. Unlike Dragnet, which had two weary detectives resigned to working within the confines of the law and who had to deal with its inadequacies, Hooker revives the extralegalism of the cowboy western in the guise of supercop. The show's redneck point of view has little basis in today's reality as anyone over the age of twelve can see and, though it may spring initially from an honest sense of moral outrage, it clashes with the unethical and opportunisitic exploitation of fear that T.J. Hooker with its mercenary instincts, exhibits.

William Shatner has played both James Kirk and Hooker. Certainly both roles are heroic and noble. But the difference between the philosophical underscoring of each character is a wide chasm. I wonder which role Mr. Shatner would like to be best remembered for?

 

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