He was working the nightwatch out of criticide when he first spotted her. She was rough, she was wild, she had cookie eyes and a croissant nose and a face that could melt butter, provided both her face and the butter were on the beach in Miami, and, first but not foremost, she was real. Sort of. Well, not real exactly, but the next best thing: fake.
She was "Police Squad!", arguably the best comedy show of the 1980s and, if you didn't feel like arguing, conceivably the best comedy show of the 1980s. And if you didn't feel like conceiving, well, that's your business. But something in the way she tripped and fell into a stack of garbage cans made you love her. Love her To Death, at least in the case of ABC, which sent her packing last spring after only four short weeks of a scheduled six-week trial run.
So, tonight at 9:30 on Channel 7, that crazy, loony, wacky, zany, homicidal, schizophrenic, borderline-mystical, hell-bent-for-leather, nutty-as-a-fruitcake-and-twice-as-crummy comedy show returns, a gift to the universe from some of the boys who gave the world "Airplane!" The Motion Picture. "Police Squad!" The Television Series does to cop show cliche's what should have been done to them long ago. And yet, it does it with affection. It floats like a butterfly and stings the eye of the tiger like a bee in heat. Or something.
Leslie Nielsen adds a multitude of facets to a basically unfaceted career with his uproarious deadpan portrayal of Det. Lt. Frank Drebin, intrepid crime fighter and abysmal parallel parker, whose never-ending battle against crime takes 24 minutes per week, not counting the commercials. Alan North is his magnificent lump of a cohort, William Duell is the omniscient if mercenary yet philosophical though venal shoeshine boy Johnny, and Peter Lupus (once of "Mission: Impossible") clunkers around amiably as muscle-headed Norbert.
Tonight's episode, never before shown: "Rendezvous at Big Gulch," though the announcer says "Terror in the Neighborhood." And yes, all your favorite "Police Squad!" wheezes are back: guest star Florence Henderson is murdered in the first reel--she barely has time to get her brownies out of the oven--the old cigarette gag is brought back for another encore (Drebin to victim: "Cigarette?" Victim: "Yes, it is") and so is the old funny-name-for-act-two gag ("Act II. Gesundheit").
The point is, every comedy show on television repeats jokes. But "Police Squad!" repeats them with relish, occasionally with mustard as well--with bravado, eclat, elan, Perrier; they're hip-corny jokes (or corny-hip) and on a happily different wavelength from all other prime-time comedy. All other prime-time comedy depends on insults and sexual innuendo. "Police Squad!" doesn't mess around with innuendo. It features actual sex acts performed live in front of the camera (well, a critic must do what he can to get people to watch a great show).
Part of the fun is predicting the payoff of a joke from the set-up. Fans of "Police Squad!" will know pretty much what to expect in the way of literal-minded jests when Drebin says to a fellow cop of a suspect, "When she leaves, put a tail on her," or when he tells a crook who owes him money to "cough it up." This is one of the few prime-time comedy shows so funny that its jokes recur to you later, at unexpected moments, and make you laugh again. Laugh until you're reduced to a dribbling puddle of helpless humanity.
Tonight's episode was directed by Reza Badiyi and next week's, the second of the two previously unseen shows, was directed by movie buff Joe Dante, who did "The Howling," that witty terror of 1981. "Police Squad!" sometimes ventures into areas of bad taste, but that's only one of its virtues. Call it crazy, call it dumb, but don't call it "Gimme a Break."