DVDs in Review: #104 - Sledge Hammer! Season One

Category: , , , By Rev/Views

"Trust me, I know what I'm doing."

The 1980s brought us a host of iconic, memorable moments/shows/films (and in reflection a lot of terrifying and naff ones), many of which are emerging as remakes/relaunches in various levels of quality (BSG, V, The A-Team etc etc.) Now it's entirely debatable if Sledge Hammer! is one of those former shows - there's certainly no signs of anyone rushing to recreate the show at the moment (but given the current trend for leaning on remakes and reality TV instead of working on quality new material, who can tell?) - but it certainly is an iconic example of "an 80s show" in many ways.

Sledge Hammer! is named for it's titular character Detective Sledge Hammer, portrayed by David Rasche - Sledge is a comedic pastiche on Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry character; with all the dials turned up to 11. A counter-culture dressed nihilist with only two loves in his life, the law and his gun. Considered a stickler for the law he's also something of a contradiction, his version of the law involves exceptional rough justice meted out in an increasingly hypocritical fashion. While he's brutish, lacking in intelligence and generally a pretty poor police officer he does deliver results - mostly through a combination of dumb luck and various levels of brutality.

Sledge's "carefree nature" and enjoyment of the job is threatened when he's partnered up with Doris Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin ) - who's not only a woman, but she's also intelligent and a talented cop who does actually follow the rules. I think you can see where this odd couple pairing is going can't you? And yes, the show does play with the 'mismatched cop buddies' theme as a part of it's satire. It also allows Sledge to display his massive level of ignorant male chauvinism here. ("What, you think all women should be barefoot and pregnant?" - "No, I encourage women to wear shoes") Doris is indeed everything Sledge is not.

Finally there's their supervisor - in a show filled with stereotypes used for comedy you'd expect him to be the loud shouting, high blood pressure "GET IN MY OFFICE NOW!" type. Well, he is! Captain Trunk (Harrison Page) is the archetypal long suffering police captain with an insubordinate, troublesome (but effective) detective. A man, who if events in the last episode of the first season hadn't happened [mysterious hint], would end up dead from high blood pressure causing a stroke.

Sledge Hammer! itself was a sitcom which did well with the critics but struggled to gain it's audience thanks to being placed in the dreaded Friday 9pm slot. But the show did manage to secure a second season on the numbers who watched when it was shifted to a better time slot. (Honestly I don't know why the American networks don't just pick cult shows with low audience numbers and relatively low costs to run on Friday evenings instead of constantly sending shows to die there. Suck it up guys, just air some cheap tat as time filler!)

Sledge Hammer! is something of an odd show; I don't find it laugh out loud funny, clever or exceptionally brilliant in any regard - but I wouldn't call it a shitcom, no not at all. There's something quite hypnotic about the broad characters, cartoonish villains and ridiculous story lines used in the show - it's almost as if the irony and slightly naff nature of everything brings it together in some transcendent form of brilliance. It's not one of the 'so bad it's good' shows, it's more one of the 'so self aware and ironically in tune with it's ridiculousness that it's good' shows - OK I made that type of show up, but it's the only way I can explain just how magnetic Sledge Hammer! can be.

Also, this season coined the phrase "Hammer Time!" three years before MC Hammer would use it and at least one of Sledge's lines is (unintentionally?) ripped off and used by Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun. Two pretty reasonable impacts on pop culture for a rather obscure show - one of which is still going strong today.

Now the thing is, it's very hard to recommend Sledge Hammer! because it's appeal is difficult to define. It's not got exceptionally clever things to say, it's not cripplingly funny and the action in the show is pretty ropey at times. But it does feel like it's relevant and that it has a strong message of satire at it's core, as such it's for these reasons and a few other intangible ones I do own the first season of the show and enjoy watching it on occasion. Perhaps it's because Sledge reminds me of Stephen Colbert, I don't know.


2 comments so far.

  1. Lisa Rullsenberg 28 February 2010 at 15:16
    ha ha! oh my, we used to love watching Sledge hammer! here in this house. It was one of those weird things that cropped up on British TV and you didn't quite know why, and you knew they didn't quite know what to do with it either, but was rather chuckleworthy.
  2. Rev/Views 28 February 2010 at 17:40
    I'm ever so glad someone else remembers the show. I'm tired of saying "Remember Sledge Hammer?" and getting only blank faces in response.

    I absolutely adored the finale of the first season. :)

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