On the first episode of "The Dukes of Hazzard," which aired on CBS in 1979, Cousins Luke Duke (Tom Wopat) and Bo Duke (John Schneider) found themselves outside an orphanage. Luke said Bo could be proud that he'd probably fathered several of the children inside. Bo laughed and thanked him for the compliment.
That set the tone for one of the stupidest, crudest and lowest-aiming series in CBS history. Incredibly, it's the show that just won't go away. Tonight at 8 on Channel 9, CBS brings it back again with the second two-hour "Dukes" reunion movie since the series itself expired in 1985: "The Dukes of Hazzard--Hazzard in Hollywood."
It's garbage, but there's an audience for it. And that's hardly unique in television land.
During the opening credits, a country singer trills, "Let the good times roll" over footage that includes Bo slugging some fellow in the face. Soon we're back in Hazzard County with the two Duke boys, who still have no visible means of support and few visible signs of intelligence. Hazzard County's holding a hoedown to raise money for a new hospital. A new mental hospital is what they need.
The Dukes can still enter their car through the windows, feet first, but they're looking a bit fat in the gut as well as long in the tooth. Wopat has won plaudits for his performance on Broadway in "Annie Get Your Gun," with Bernadette Peters. One hopes he was paid very well for the giant step backward that "Hazzard" amounts to.
In the script by Gy Waldron (who created the series) and Bob Clark (who made the "Porky's" films), the Dukes tumble into trouble when they head to Hollywood with $500,000 worth of country music tapes recorded at previous hoedowns. They hope to sell the tapes to a record company and thus raise money for the hospital. Tagging along are perky, plucky Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach) and such hokey local yokels as Roscoe (James Best) and Cooter (Ben Jones).
Jones is the only member of the cast--you might think there'd be others--who is also a former member of Congress. He served as a Democratic representative from Georgia from 1989 through 1993, eventually losing a bid to return to the House. He was defeated by Newt Gingrich. There have to be six or seven ironies in there somewhere.
Also along for the trip is a stuffed dead basset hound. His owner, Roscoe, couldn't bear to be without him when he upped and died. This movie really is a stuffed dead basset hound, too--an embalmed corpse that should have been buried years ago.
Most of the characters are supposed to be lovable half-wits, but often they seem contemptibly stupid rather than forgivably so. "They're dumber than a rock," complains one of the villains--a graduate of the Russian mafia--after taking a few shots at them on the road to Hollywood. Perhaps the secret of the show's success was that viewers could laugh either with it or at it. Lucky be they who make it through life without ever encountering those who laughed with it.
At least the producers endeavor to keep this from being a celebration of white redneck culture, as the series was. In Los Angeles, the Dukes and their cohorts cross paths with people of many different ethnicities, most of them helpful and--inexplicably--attracted to these baboons in jeans.
A character called Enos, who used to live in Hazzard, is now working as a detective for the LAPD, supporting the suspicion that L.A.'s notoriously vicious police department has lamentably low standards. Enos, played by Sonny Shroyer, is depicted as being irresistible to women. One female executive opens a few buttons on her blouse when she hears he's about to enter her office. Why women find this bloated clod alluring is never explained.
It does seem to fit in with the show's lingering misogynistic undercurrent: Womens is stupid but they sure is cute. And they're cuter still if they can twang a country tune; guest stars include singer Anita Cochran. Mac Davis inherits the role of "the balladeer," who narrates the story, from Waylon Jennings. The film thinks so little of its audience that after one character tells an obvious whopper of a lie to another, Davis on the soundtrack says, "He's lying." Oh. Thanks.
Sorrell Booke, who played corrupt politician Boss Hogg, and Denver Pyle, who played Uncle Jesse, died in the '90s. The film is dedicated to Pyle's memory. He was a fine character actor, one of that great brigade of reliables who show up in film after film even if the public never quite learns their names. "Dukes" was the low point of his career, but he has, as they say, gone on to a better place. Oh, a much much much better place.
After years of rotting in the ratings sewer, CBS has made a strong comeback in recent seasons, even if it hasn't generated a single milestone hit a la "Seinfeld" or "NYPD Blue." But in grim statistical terms, the network's audience is still older and more rural than advertisers like. "The Dukes of Hazzard" is apparently a sop to those tobacco-chewin', hog-callin', wrinkled old CBS standbys. It's a sop whose time has long passed. If there must be another sequel, please let it be "The Dukes of Hazzard Meet With a Nasty Accident."