I'm reading I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson. It's a "fish out of what used to be familiar water" story. Basically, he's moved back to the States with his family after living in England for twenty years and he's trying to readjust to American life. Every chapter is about something that has flustered, flummoxed or frustrated him to the point of near insanity, and it's all pretty amusing. The thing that got me going tonight was his chapter about television. It wasn't the fact that he noted there are more channels than anyone could ever need (a whole channel for the films of Tawny Kitaen does seem excessive), or that what's on is mostly repeats of shows that are no longer running (does anyone really love Raymond enough to watch him get verbally abused by his entire family until the end of time?). Bryson was expressing a longing for the simple shows of his youth, and I started thinking about the shows that would suck me in as a kid. I watched a lot of crap, who didn't? There was a lot of it on all the time. Don't tell you me you didn't watch Charles in Charge, because I'll know your lying. Here's the thing: I'm wondering what happened to all those detective shows.
You're saying "Are you kidding me?" I know you are, but give me a minute. Yes, there are more versions of Law & Order and CSI than I can count. And yes, no bunch of detectives was more deliciously flawed and occasionally nekkid than the gang on NYPD Blue. These are not the people I'm talking about. I'm talking about those renegade private investigators, people with no affiliation to the police whatsoever (as far as I could tell). They were all over the place, and honestly, a lot of them had no business snooping in anybody's bushes. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, but did any of these people have credentials? I mean aside from the ladies working for Charles Townsend, of course. Clearly, they had qualifications. Tanya Roberts and that gang of braless fashionistas aside, a lot of the private eyes on TV were eccentric, sometimes drunk, frequently bumbling, and generally underqualified to be anywhere near the scene of a crime. How could they become investigators? And why did I keep watching?
Still with me? Ok, let's talk for a moment about Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, their "manservant" Max and their dog Freeway. Nothing against these exuberant lovers, Hart to Hart was on the short list of shows I could stay up late and watch and I loved it. I know that it's escapism, but come on. A relatively young, attractive (RJ Wagner, very suave), fabulously wealthy couple can't find anything better to do than solve crimes that had nothing to do with them? Seriously? Hey, how about buying a private island and spending your days shagging while Max mixes up pitcher upon pitcher of Bahama Breezes, instead of saving it for the end of every episode. OH Jonathan!
Here's another favorite: Riptide. Yeah laugh, go ahead. A good looking blonde guy (Perry King is hot, with or without that mustache) with a boat, a good looking dark haired guy (Joe Penny of Jake and the Fatman fame) with a pink helicopter and a geeky guy with glasses known as Boz. Together, with the help of a robot, they solve mysteries. I may never figure out what these guys were up to, or why they were all living together on this tiny boat (how do you get any play with the Roboz in the next room?) but I found it all totally compelling. Then again, I was twelve and it was on after the A-Team.
McMillan and Wife (he was the police commissioner so he had reason to be at a crime scene, but his wife always wanted to help solve the mystery. Like I Love Lucy, without musical numbers), Simon and Simon, Scarecrow and Mrs King, did any of them really have a license to carry a gun? McMillan, yes, the Wife, not so much. Even Mrs Columbo had her own show before she went on to be Captain Janeway (geek check, right here). And then there's Magnum. Perfect formula. Hot guy (again, classic 80s mustache) + hot car + Hawaii=appointment television. Apparently Thomas Magnum was a former Naval Intelligence officer, but at the end of the day, wasn't he just Higgins' bitch? At least Jessica Fletcher and Ben Matlock had day jobs.