"Broken Badges" starts out like an enjoyably stupid cop show and quickly deteriorates into an intolerably stupid cop show. CBS introduces the series as a two-hour movie tonight at 8 on Channel 9. Next week it assumes its one-hour format.
Even at that length it will be too long. At two hours, it's a vendetta.
Stephen J. Cannell, whose TV output has included good shows like "The Rockford Files" and innumerable humdrum clunkers, co-produced and co-wrote the premiere, working a painfully facetious variation on one of his previous hits, "The A-Team." This time his squad of renegade crime-fighters consists of mixed-up, misfit cops who work just barely within the law.
Much as NBC's "Miami Vice" did, the show glorifies the idea of the vigilante police officer who bends the rules to catch bad guys; it scoffs at those who observe such genteel amenities as the civil rights of suspects. Most of the law-abiding cops on the show are portrayed as cretinous bumblers or, if they have achieved the rank of captain, tyrannical oafs.
The zany rejects are all supposed to be on temporary psychiatric leave. A police department shrink, who is made out to be a buffoon (as psychiatrists usually are on TV shows), calls them "officers who have exhibited stress-related psychological aberrations" and are considered "completely broken and unusable."
Thus is "The A-Team" cross-pollinated with "The Dirty Dozen."
Miguel Ferrer, the commanding actor seen recently as the insanely surly Albert Rosenfield on "Twin Peaks," proves again he's not just another puffy face with his hot-shot portrayal of Beau Jack Bowman, the Cajun-speaking New Orleans cop who travels to Bay City, Calif., and organizes (loosely) the undercover unit.
"We got smoke risin' here" is his favorite expression; unfortunately, what rises from "Broken Badges" is more like toxic fumes. After a fairly standard cop show opening, during which Ferrer drives a garbage truck into a house (precipitating, predictably, a dressing-down from that inescapable cliche, the bellowing, bellicose boss), the show becomes a ludicrous hybrid of comedy and drama that is unsatisfying as either.
One of the misfits recruited by Ferrer is a short-tempered ventriloquist named Stanley whose dummy, Danny, insults him to such a degree that the two have a knock-down, drag-out fight in the psychiatrist's office. One of the dummy's insults is "You're a hemorrhoid looking for a landing strip." Classy stuff.
Stanley, played by ventriloquist Jay Johnson (who had a similar role on the ABC sitcom "Soap"), has a steel plate in his head, he says, and flies into violent rages when ridiculed about his height. Toby Baker, played by Ernie Hudson (the fourth "Ghostbuster"), is a kleptomaniacal forensics expert who is subject to "fits of depression" and the delusion that he is also Cactus Cole Watson, a long-dead Texas Ranger.
J.J. Tingreedes, played by the mighty formidable Eileen Davidson, is a motorcycle-riding nymphomaniac who, the psychiatrist says, uses her sexuality to subjugate men and has a "constant addiction to danger." When she tries to seduce the shrink himself, he tells her the "canon of ethics" prohibits it, and she replies, "The canon of ethics isn't the cannon I'm interested in right now."
Later, Ferrer utters a line that recalls a notorious off-color remark attributed to Mae West: "Is that a nightstick in your pocket, Charlie, or are you just happy to see me?" As you may have deduced, "Broken Badges" is not only a nasty show, it's a smutty show.
It's about as low as CBS has ever stooped -- the goal these days seems to be to understoop even Fox -- but then, the networks are desperate to woo back disaffected viewers, and third place in the ratings makes CBS the most desperate of all. You'd think even desperation would have a little more dignity than this.
When, in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," Humphrey Bogart challenged bandidos posing as federal marshals to produce badges, the reply became one of the most-quoted lines in screen history: "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!" The point of bringing this up is that we don't need no "Broken Badges," either.