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T.J. HOOKER PRESSROOM : "OFFICER DOWN! - A PERSPECTIVE ON T.J. HOOKER"

OFFICER DOWN!
A PERSPECTIVE ON T.J. HOOKER

by Tom Maxwell, from "Stay Free!" #2 (May 1992)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Back in the early days of the worldwide Internet, one of the few sources of real information you could find online about T.J. Hooker was the following essay, penned by a person with a unique perspective on the show. While the vast majority of this article adopts a derisive tone, it ends with such a vehement plea for the show's return to syndication that its place in the world of T.J. Hooker criticism was forever secured.

However, in early 2001, this essay disappeared from the Internet, vanishing without a trace [It has since reappeared here]. Thanks to the dedication of TJ-Hooker.com Staff member Stacy Sheridan, this essay can now live again online.

Here then is the T.J. Hooker critical classic, "Officer Down!"

A dark alley somewhere in L.A. The quick barrage of synthesized drums settles into an unimaginative backbeat over which a hookless melody is played by a "rock" guitar. From behind the dumpster, a silouhette of a matronly male cop emerges. The form is vaguely familiar. And the way he runs - half Jerry Lewis with arms flailing, half shuffling jog - a tingle of recognition! Then the hair is visible, that oddly perfect floating coif, and there can be no mistaking the great William Shatner, this time starring in the late 80's cop show T. J. Hooker.

Only William Shatner, the embodiment of irony, would be able to turn such a heavy-handed, morally bankrupt and repetitive show as Hooker into a paradigm of television entertainment. His affectation and bullying, his preening, and his frequent fits of self-righteous rage are central to the show's success. Shatner's unwavering self-concern works to its greatest effect in the show's stiff and distant "consoling" scenes, and his obvious distaste for anything physically demanding combined with his visible paunch and artificial demeanor make for some riotous action sequences. Only William Shatner, who exists in the strange non-realm of absolute self-importance and constant self-mockery, could impart that marvelous unconscious irony to what would otherwise be a dull-witted, mechanical loser.

Shatner is in fact so entertaining that he could successfully co-star with mannequins, and actually he does: the doe-eyed and invariably dubbed Heather Locklear (the Cheesecake), who really adds a sense of otherworldliness when her disembodied voice appears on the soundtrack; the smug and irritating Adrian Zmed (the Beefcake); the forgettable James Darren; and some other guy whose name escapes me but he's done bit parts for a long time. All are uniformly wooden, and each is crowned with a similar immaculate helmet hairdo. More like the amnesiac stars of Gililigan's Island than the show's contemporary Hill Street Blues, the characters in Hooker rarely have a past, and people that appear in Hooker's life, if they survive, serve only to underscore his inability to have meaningfull relationships. Close relatives, old friends and ex-flames are introduced, then quickly kidnapped or killed so Hooker can go berserk because he's "emotionally involved." The exception are Hooker's children - a blank little boy and a hot 13-year-old blonde with pigtails, realistically dressed in a short blue dress and white knee socks and clutching a teddy bear. Shatner, by the way, is wonderful with children. His interpretations of intimacy and fatherhood give particular delight. People in the world of T. J. Hooker are automatons and object types, reacting predictably to "new" situations.

Situations, I think, created in the mind of T. J. Hooker himself.

This assertion is compelling and changes the whole meaning of the show. The plots, for example, are so shockingly repetitive and wish-fulfilling as to suggest a cherished daydream. Certainly the one-sided crooks and sidekicks lend credence to this idea. So, for the sake of illustration, I will substitute the word "fantasy" for "episode" from here on. The smallest number of viewings reveals strict adherence to the same set of situations, responses and plot devices. These standards are easily enumerated:

1. The Old Friend/Ex-flame/Beloved Relative is introduced. At about the same time, mostly minority bad guys commit a heinous crime, probably involving this person, in turn triggering Hooker's all-important "emotional" involvement.

2. Will Adrian Zmed get laid? A generous amount of time can be spent pursuing this unpleasant option.

3. Hooker, now excused from normal moral and state laws because of his "involvement," finds, bullies, and extracts information from the Spineless Pigeon, who rats automatically. He, like everyone else in the fantasy, is uncomplicated. Shot of a man banging a drum. Hooker: "So, it's Willie the Drummer. I was wondering when I would see you again."

4. Since everybody's hot for Heather Locklear, at some point she must be the sexual object either by posing as a stripper (natch) or a call girl, or by getting shot and being unconscious in every scene. That particular "Officer Down" fantasy is remarkable, with Shatner as the leering, whispering daddy/lover: "I know you can make it, Princess. You can lick anything." Chilling! In another fantasy a wounded cop struggles to lift his head, looks at Heather Locklear and says "You're so pretty!" before dying.

5. Now having broken several laws, Hooker is reprimanded by what's-his-name for "getting too close." Hooker responds with the Sensational Diatribe, which includes the word "scum" or "low-life" and further illustrates Shatner's greatness at walking the tightrope of perfect irony. After the Sensational Diatribe, Hooker leaves immediately, because he always gets the last word. This is tacitly understood by everyone.

6. The chase scene. Usually the most dully directed scene in the fantasy; in one, the same shot of cars racing down a back lot is shown twice. The civilian car that narrowly avoids wrecking is always a Caprice Classic station wagon. Always. Lucky that the station wagon makes it - all cars that wreck explode. If Hooker has to get out and run it is memorable, and the long and lovingly-filmed shots of him trying to climb fences are bon-bons to be savored.

7. Epilogue. Order is restored (however improbably), a lame lighthearted moment, a freeze-frame. The end credits are the same as the opening credits.

Interspersed throughout are the usuals - numbingly unimaginative business names like "Community Hospital" or "Gear Box Transmission" (really pointless details for a mind careening towards its next dose of wish fulfillment), the soulless soundtrack, and always Shatner's wonderfully ornate delivery and exaggeration. The fantasies directed by Shatner himself outdo themselves in camp over-the-top drama, and are the most shining examples of the show's dream world orientation.

Hooker succeeds in spite of itself, and is a treasure trove of unintended hilarity. If each episode started with Hooker falling asleep or staring absently from behind his desk, the series would have been received as a work of genius. It is a testament to the great and complex talents of William Shatner, at once effete and macho, mincing and domineering: the perfect over-the-hill loser pretending to greatness. A lesson for us all.

Because T. J. Hooker relies so little on anything but passivity on the part of the viewer, it can be enjoyed at any hour under any condition. BOTH THE CONVERTS AND THE CURIOUS SHOULD PETITION WTVD CHANNEL 11 TO RETURN THE PROGRAM TO ITS LATE NIGHT ROSTER.







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