"Walking Tall" sounds tailor-made for Herve Villechaise.But no, this is not a spoof but a tired anachronism. NBC's TV series version of the movie series about club-wielding sheriff Buford Pusser seems utterly out of whack and would be a harmless failure it it weren't the lead-in to the new and sensationally good "Hill Street Blues."
Bo Svenson, who inherited the role from Joe Don Baker, plays Pusser in the series -- which premieres at 9 tonight on Channel 4 -- muttering through gritted teeth and carrying a big two-by-four with which he clobbers badduns. The characters in the show talk as if they've seen the "Walking Tall" movies, though presumably not the one in which Pusser was killed off.
When a kid at the high school gets a bad dose of PCP and goes bananas, Svenson growls, "This one I'm gonna handle myself!" When his own son jumps off a building under the influence of the drug -- after about half a cup of it is slipped into his sodey-pop -- Svenson grrrs, "This one I'm gonna take care of myself!" This is a sheriff who will risk letting the bad guys escape just so he can have the pleasure of bashing tanks of nasty chemicals with his trusty club.
"Walking Tall" offers the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, the worlds are Neanderthal and CroMagnon.
It's too bad, because Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll's "Hill Street Blues," which follows it at 10 p.m. (an introductory episode was shown Thursday night) is such an exceptionally gritty, tough, tender, powerful and largely unprecedented blast of television.
On tonight's show -- as ferociously funny and forceful as the premiere -- the precinct girds for an announced visit from the president. Capt. Furillo tries to pave the way by doing a Camp David with local gang leaders. Michael Warren and Charles Haid return to active duty of the officers injured in the first episode; they are traumatized by the experience and alienated from one another.
"Hill Street Blues" is a brilliantly choreographed and orchestrated urban anxiety sweepstakes. Of all the characters, perhaps the most vivid -- that's putting it mildly -- is suspect-chomping undercover madman Belder (Bruce Weitz), who, accused by Sgt. Esterhaus (Michael Conrad, a rock) of biting a rapist, protests, "Sarge, I didn't lay a tooth on the kid." r
Belker is a hilarious and yet genuinely intimidating cross between Al Pacino's Serpico and John Belushi's Bluto, but he's only one of the working parts that make "Hill Street Blues" extraordinarily bright. One gang member says to Furillo, "Everybody knows there's a lot of gold in television"; he means money, but there's gold, too, and "Hill Street" is where to find it.