"I don't like a lot of talkin', and I hate singin' in the unit," a tough cop tells his partner in the second episode of ABC's "Cop Rock." This guy is definitely in the wrong unit.
As many residents of this planet are by now aware, Steven Bochco's bold new series about urban angst, premiering tonight at 10 on Channel 7, is a musical. The cops do indeed rock -- also rap and even croon. Singin' in the unit (an alternate title perhaps?) is the least of it.
A jury rises like a choir to sing its verdict in the most electrifying moment of tonight's premiere. A drug-addicted mother sings her baby a lullaby before selling the child into adoption. On next week's show, a lineup of tough guys suddenly becomes "A Chorus Lineup" as the lads twist and shout.
If you took away the songs, you'd still have an arrestingly good cop show, and that may actually strike some viewers as a disadvantage; caught up in the story, they may regard the songs as intrusive, if not ridiculous.
But those who have had it with the numbing sameness of most prime-time entertainment -- the carrot-stick rut of the sitcoms, the well-worn patterns clung to by many dramas -- have to give Bochco credit for what is without any question a daring departure, one that sometimes works spectacularly and sometimes goes clunk into the nearest brick wall.
Bochco, co-producer William M. Finkelstein and producer-director Gregory Hoblit (like Bochco, a "Hill Street Blues" alumnus) plunge right into the fray, leading off with a rousing rap number sung by men arrested in a beautifully shot nighttime drug bust: "In these streets, we are the power... ."
There's about one song per act after that. Ron McLarty, as aging forensic chemist Ralph Ruskin, sings a grateful "She Chose Me" after his wife, a fellow cop named Vicki (Anne Bobby), kisses him good night. Next week, she returns the tribute with her own solo.
If the jury has the best number on the premiere, Barbara Bosson (Mrs. Bochco), miscast as the mayor, has the worst, some nonsense about civic corruption sung in her office with backup singers and a glowing suitcase full of money as a prop. It looks like one of the more awful songs from the film version of the rock opera "Tommy." Bosson's makeup seems designed to make her look like a fat Maggie Thatcher.
The songs will strike many viewers as abrupt, but one assumes the filmmakers wanted it that way. The element of surprise is very rare in prime time, and "Cop Rock" is full of surprises. There's little background scoring during the dramatic portions of the show; the songs tend to burst forth rather than evolve.
How are the dramatic portions of the show? Spotty. The character of the police chief played by Ronny Cox is as overdrawn a burlesque as the mayor is. The chief straps on six guns in his office and fires away at cardboard cutouts, one of them of the mayor.
On next week's show, it's established he's a no-good sexist reactionary when he delivers this speech on an elevator: "Used to be, a woman was like a horse. You could saddle them up, ride 'em until they dropped, then put a bullet between their eyes and get yourself another one."
But several of the plot lines set in motion tonight look to be eminently worth following. A cop is killed in the line of duty (and duly mourned with a blues eulogy next week) and when a brutal, unprincipled detective named LaRusso (powerfully played by Peter Onorati) gets the suspected cop killer in his sights, he cannot bear the thought of him going free. So he pulls the trigger.
That leads to a departmental coverup that straight-arrow Capt. Hollander (Larry Joshua) attempts to penetrate. Meanwhile Officer Franklin Rose (stalwart James McDaniel), mourning his dead partner, gets stuck with a bouncing baby-face named Joe Gaines (the achingly ingenuous Mick Murray), who threatens to drive him crazy.
It's Joe, whitest of white boys, who sings the Motown medley from the copilot's seat that prompts Rose's complaint about singin' in the unit.
Frank dialogue is a Bochco trademark, and "Cop Rock" is full of shock talk, from the "bust yo' ass" refrain of the opening cop song to a suspect's urgent pleas that he be allowed to visit the bathroom, to a worried prosecutor's lament, "How can I relax? The judge is ready to cut me a new bodily orifice."
Randy Newman wrote all the songs for tonight's show, but a composer team will come up with scores for future installments. Newman will continue to appear in the title sequence, a studio session with "Cop Rock" actors, out of uniform, sitting around his piano. Unfortunately, despite the fact that this is another huge ensemble cast, the names of actors don't appear over their pictures in the credit sequence.
That's just plain rude.
"Cop Rock" has generated more advance hubbub than any other new show, some of it negative. Bochco has been "accused" of not inventing a totally new form of entertainment; when did he claim to have done that? There certainly are precedents for "Cop Rock." ABC even did a weekly Broadway musical, "That's Life!" with Robert Morse in 1968.
But nobody has mixed drama this dark with original musical numbers on network television before. Even when the transition from music to drama seems abrupt, or the staging of a number a bit too prosaic, "Cop Rock" has the audaciousness and energy of a true original, plus moments of brilliance that are almost blinding.
'Mike Wallace' Pauline Kael, now mercifully back in the New Yorker after too long an absence, once described the movie "That's Entertainment, Part 2" as the Gene Kelly memorial service for Gene Kelly. "Mike Wallace, Then & Now," a CBS News special at 10 tonight on Channel 9, seems right up that alley.
If CBS wanted to pay tribute to the mighty Mike, shouldn't it have hired someone else to dole out the encomiums? It's a little embarrassing to have Mike there hosting the show himself and it gives the program a self-indulgent tint.
Lots of fascinating folks do show up in clips tonight, some from Mike's black-and-white years at ABC in the '50s, when he made smoky pugnaciousness his trademark, others from the glorious 22-year history of "60 Minutes," the thoroughbred warhorse that just finished the 52-week '89-'90 season with a still-awesome 17.5 average rating and 32 share.
The best parts are the ambush interviews, especially one with an affable con man running a diploma mill out of a California office and simply delighted to have Mike and "60 Minutes" there; so what if he later went to jail for mail fraud?
But then Geraldo Rivera, on another network, discredited ambushes by chasing a pimp down a city street, and "60 Minutes" started easing up on them. "After a while, it became apparent that we were getting more heat than light out of these ambush interviews," Mike says tonight. Yes, but what swell heat!
"You are a sweet kid, you know that?" the great Ethel Waters tells Mike in a brief clip. "You're contemptible," growls an angry businessman. Among the many famous faces flying by are those of Johnny Carson, Manuel Noriega, Eleanor Roosevelt, Salvador Dali, Malcolm X, Frank Lloyd Wright, Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat, Richard Nixon and the Ayatollah Khomeini, whom tough-guy Mike treated with grisly obsequiousness.
Mike even bravely revisits the 1982 telecast of "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception," a 90-minute report that incensed the American right and so irked Gen. William Westmoreland that he filed a multi-million-dollar libel suit. After 2 1/2 years in court, he dropped it. "It was an unhappy episode all around," Mike says now. "But that, occasionally, is the price of investigative journalism."
"Then & Now" wasn't very smoothly put together, but it is an impressive cavalcade. If some of Mike's work is a lot more talk show than journalism, all of it has been good TV.
'Hitler's Daughter' As cable is the lowest form of television, basic is the lowest form of cable. Lower than this no one would want to get without a diving bell.
The USA Network, a basic-cable staple whose very existence is definitively expendable, proves the point again with "Hitler's Daughter," which is not only an execrably amateurish movie but a criminal waste of a darn good title. USA premieres the film at 9 tonight.
Sherman Gray and Christopher Canaan must have gotten the giggles plenty a time as they wrote their script, but little could they have imagined what a director as listlessly disinterested as James A. Contner could do to it, as opposed to with it.
You never saw such a sluggishly paced political thriller in your life, and this despite the fact that the plot is chockablock with incendiary shenanigans, most involving an extremely eventful campaign for president of the United States.
Consider: The vice president is photographed in bed with a prominent anchorwoman, his wife murders an FBI agent who supposedly was blackmailing her, the opposing candidate has a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital, and Nazis are running through the streets in pursuit of priceless evidence that could expose their plot to take over the country with Hitler's daughter at the helm!
How's that for a busy day? Unfortunately, the hero of the tale, played wimpishly by Patrick Cassidy, couldn't put two and two together if he had a million-dollar computer, and even when he's supposed to be running for his life, he kind of ambles. Near the end of the film, his loyal girlfriend is murdered, but he never gives this a second thought.
Before that unpleasantness, he and his cohort get hold of the aforementioned priceless evidence and what do they do with it? They send it to a government official via U.S. mail! Wouldn't you think they might Fed-Ex it when the fate of Western civilization is hanging in the balance?
Not until the end do we find out which of three leading suspects is Hitler's daughter -- the anchorwoman, the vice president's wife (played with campy relish by Veronica Cartwright) or the senator running for vice president. By then, it's hard to care very much.
The executives at USA Network in charge of these cheapo flicks should remember one thing: If you can't rise to the level of mediocrity, at least you should be able to turn out a yummy piece of trash. "Hitler's Daughter" lacks even the foolish charm of kitsch.