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Saturday, February 28, 2015


After reviewing season DVDs for series such as "The Love Boat" and "Hotel", I've discovered that certains shows I wouldn't have been caught dead watching when they were new are now strangely entertaining in an "I Love the 70s" kind of way. They're just as cheesy (to put it mildly), just as poorly-made, and just as dumb, but watching them now through cheese-colored glasses somehow makes them magically entertaining in their own weird way.

One show that perfectly embodies this phenomenon is showcased in the new Warner Bros. Home Entertainment 5-disc, 23-episode DVD set CHiPS: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON. I never watched a single episode of "CHiPS" during its original run (1977–1983) because I always had something better to do (I was basking in the revelries of my wild youth, after all) or at least something better to watch. Now, however, I have plenty of time to sit back, relax, and savor the whiz-bang Cheeto-flavored exploits of these totally unrealistic motorcycle cops to my heart's content.

All teeth, hair, and muscles, cycle cops Frank "Ponch" Poncherello (Latino ladies' man Erik Estrada) and Jon Baker (WASP-y beach boy Larry Wilcox) are the epitome of benignly uber-macho hunks of beefcake with hearts of gold. This helps them deal with all the screwed-up guest stars they encounter on the freeways of So-Cal and juggle their different subplots until the big lugs are able to straighten everything out by episode's end.

One thing's for sure--this show couldn't be any more 70s if it tried. And I'm talking bad 70s, which, of course, are now good 70s, at least in a so bad it's good type of way. For example, the two-part season premiere (titled, incredibly, "Roller Disco") revolves around a big beachfront roller-disco bash so that we can enjoy plenty of slow-motion bikini babes on wheels doin' their thang.

Of course, roller skates are relevant in other essential ways as well. The powerhouse team-up of Jim Brown (THE DIRTY DOZEN) and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson (FROM DUSK TILL DAWN) is totally squandered on a goofy subplot in which they play petty smash-and-grab thieves on skates. Helena Kallianiotes, the spacey chick from FIVE EASY PIECES and the Raquel Welch roller epic KANSAS CITY BOMBER, is also on hand as their leader, with hidden pop-out wheels built into her platform shoes to help her cover their escape after each job.

The big cliffhanger at the end of part one is Fred's stuntman in an aerial freeze-frame during a skate jump over a flight of steps while fleeing from an off-duty Ponch, who also happens to be wearing skates. (I'm not making any of this up--it's all documented right here on the DVD.) A pesky kid ups the "aww" factor by initially wanting emulate the thieves before turning over a new leaf and helping the good guys. Yay!

Meanwhile, more 70s goodness is exuded from our TV screens with Leif Garrett playing a "rock star" (uh-huh) exhausted by the grueling schedule laid down by his manager, played by "The Bob Newhart Show" and "I Dream of Jeannie" vet Bill Daily. Leif seeks refuge from the world in Jon's apartment, which just doesn't work out for a number of reasons but allows him to do lots of great Leif Garrett acting and, well, just being Leif Garrett.

Not only that, but a giggling Larry Linville (Frank Burns of "M*A*S*H") and the great Larry Storch ("F Troop", "Ghost Busters") are getting revenge on tailgaters by riding around the freeway with a special back-mounted rig that spews sparks on anyone who gets too close and causes them to have spectacular slow-motion traffic accidents for our entertainment while Linville (in a neck brace) cackles maniacally. Who could ask for more?

But there's plenty more, because the grand finale of this epic two-parter is a celebrity-packed roller boogie party featuring not only Leif Garrett lip-synching one of his worst songs ("Give In"), but also a ton of familiar faces from 70s TV. This stellar roster includes such faves as Todd Bridges, Dana Plato, Earl Holliman, Lee Meriwether, Jo Ann Pflug, Melissa Sue Anderson, Michael Cole, Ruth Buzzi, Antonio Fargas, George Peppard, and several others. Talk about going for broke!

Subsequent episodes continue with the usual meat-and-potatoes production values, bland acting, and simple plotlines that are sometimes reminiscent of those "message" stories from the old "Shazam!" live-action series on Saturday mornings. The main cops never draw their guns, and most of the action comes from frequent chase scenes accompanied by the endless "thump-thump-thump" of generic disco music (by, of all people, future ace movie composer Alan Silvestri), with tons of stunt driving and metal-grinding car crashes (filmed mainly on not-yet-finished freeways) to satisfy our lust for destruction porn.

In "Valley Go Home!", a beach turf war between surfer dudes and Latinos from the valley ("Vals") is handled diplomatically by Ponch and Jon (at one point Ponch barks, "Can the feud jive, guys!") while the cops also try to solve a series of thefts in which CB radios and 8-track tape decks are being stolen out of parked cars, a delightfully dated reference. And even with all that, they manage to get romantically involved with some bikini babes who take them catamaran sailing.

"High Octane" features big-time gasoline thieves during the famous gas shortage of the 70s, while "Counterfeit" and "Hot Wheels" are self-explanatory. "Death Watch", one of the show's rare somber episodes, is about the death and funeral of a fallen cop. This is the show where Christopher Stone and Dee Wallace first met before becoming one of Hollywood's most enduring married couples.

"Return of the Super-Cycle" finds Jon going after a stunt-cycle-riding jewel thief on a specially-built cycle of his own. During filming on this one, Erik Estrada was injured and had to spend several episodes in a hospital bed while Jon rode with various other partners including their easygoing boss, Sgt. Getraer (Robert Pine).

Other semi-regular characters include Randi Oakes as Officer Bonnie Clark, Brodie Greer as Officer Barry Baricza, Paul Linke as Officer Arthur "Grossie" Grossman, Lou Wagner as nerdy, fastidious motorcycle mechanic Harlan Arliss, and future "Star Trek: The Next Generation" star Michael "Worf" Dorn as Officer Jebediah Turner. Most episodes end on a "funny" gag, often at the expense of Officer Ponch (even "Death Watch"), followed by the old laughing freeze-frame.

The show is rife with "spot the familiar face" guest stars such as Andy Robinson (DIRTY HARRY), Ralph Meeker, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Smith, Anne Lockhart, Andrew Duggan, Billy Barty, Mark Slade, Martin Kove, Anne Ramsey, Bruce Glover, Brion James (BLADE RUNNER), Leon Isaac Kennedy, Simon Oakland, Don Mitchell, Billy Green Bush, Angel Tompkins (LITTLE CIGARS), William Schallert, Ellen Geer, Timothy Carey, Jayne Kennedy, Edd Byrnes, Morgan Woodward, Ron Soble, Paul Nicholas (TOMMY), and Joan Freeman (PANIC IN YEAR ZERO, THE RELUCTANT ASTRONAUT).

Some of the series' directors include Don Weis (PAJAMA PARTY), Gordon Hessler (THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, THE OBLONG BOX), and even co-star Larry Wilcox, who helmed the episode "Tow-Truck Lady."

Here's the complete list of 24 one-hour episodes in the set:

Roller Disco, Part I
Roller Disco, Part II
Valley Go Home
High Octane
Death Watch
Return of the Supercycle
Hot Wheels
Drive Lady Drive - Part I
Drive Lady Drive - Part II
The Watch Commander
Destruction Derby
Second Chance
Christmas Watch
Jailbirds (in which Ponch and Jon end up behind bars themselves)
Off Road
Tow Truck Lady
The Strippers
Thrill Show
Dynamite Alley 

The 5-disc DVD set from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is in standard full-screen format as originally aired, with Dolby Digital soundtracks in English and Japanese and subtitles in English, Japanese, and French. No extras save for an episode guide inserted into the keepcase.

Genial buddy-cop fun, miles of mindless action and crunched cars, a little of the old "jiggle" here and there, really bad disco, and, occasionally, some actual realistic police work--CHiPs: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON has it all. Betcha can't watch just one!

Buy it at the




Kevin Rodgers said...

Greetings from Detroit. Great review. You nailed this show perfectly.

Porfle Popnecker said...