Written by: Alan Spencer
Starring: David Rasche, Anne-Marie Martin, Harrison Page
- All twenty-two first season episodes
- Running audio commentaries with series creator Spencer on four episodes
- Behind the scenes featurette: “Go Ahead, Make Me Laugh”
- Unaired pilot episode
- TV Spots
- Electronic Press Kit
- Original TV Bumper
- Alan Spencer’s Message to Critics
- Still & Memorabilia Gallery
- Pilot Scripts for HBO and ABC
- Booklet: “Sledge Files”
Released by: Anchor Bay.
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect
My Advice: Rent it.
[ad#longpost]In San Francisco, Inspector Sledge Hammer (Rasche) is the first and last name in law enforcement. He’s a cop who shoots first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth, then maybe might ask some questions if he has time. Armed with his trusty .44 Magnum, Hammer is ready to blow some holes in criminal scum, the Bill of Rights, and any non-cooperating soda machine. His partner Dori Doreau (Martin), while no stranger to a well-placed high kick, has a hard time reigning in Hammer’s nihilism. She can see a halfway decent guy and cop under the gunplay and suspect intimidation. Their boss, Captain Trunk (Page), certainly doesn’t see this and is constantly expressing his rather dim opinion of Hammer. Extremely loudly. But Sledge soldiers on in the War On Crime and because of his policing, or despite them depending on your opinion, the citizens are a little safer thanks to Sledge Hammer!
As you can tell, this series is a send-up of the uber-cop genre typified by Dirty Harry and Lethal Weapon. But where Harry Callahan would sweat a confession out of a suspect, Hammer shoots balloons around his suspect to get him to talk. Hammer doesn’t confront a sniper on the roof for a mano a mano battle, he simply takes out the building with a rocket launcher. Creator Spencer must have had fun taking every macho cop cliche and cranking them to eleven. But this wasn’t the only unusual aspect of the series.
What he did for Hammer’s partner is interesting since Dori Doreau is atypical, especially for 80s television. She’s smart and can kick butt just as well as Hammer. Her high kicks are even more impressive when you see that it’s the actual actress delivering the blows and not a stunt double. Both actors exhibit that difficult to achieve chemistry that any duo on screen must have, especially when they’re playing partners in blue. But it is Rasche who makes the show. He always plays Sledge as a real character making some of his more off the wall comments even funnier. It’s his sincerity that gives his tagline ‘Trust me, I know what I’m doing’ such punch. And while Sledge may lose touch with reality, he always comes back for a while. Sledge may talk to his beloved gun, but he does realize that some people might find this odd. Rasche, along with the writers, make sure that Sledge never comes off as a complete buffoon or a complete psycho, but an amusing mix of the two.
Not being the traditional sitcom was considered one of the strengths of this series. Indeed it generated controversy for portraying violence as comedic material. It even made fun of its competition at one point starting a feud with Mr. Belvedere. However, it’s this cutting edge aspect that was also its greatest weakness. Back in the 80s, The Big Three (ABC, CBS, and NBC) didn’t have to contend with cable and other networks. So there wasn’t a big push to really push the envelope. So back in the day, the show did deserve some of its groundbreaking reputation. But that was then, this is now.
Unfortunately, the series does show its age. After such shows as Roseanne, South Park, Malcolm in the Middle, and The Simpsons, the humor doesn’t seem as outrageous or as riotously funny. The show is funny, don’t get me wrong, but I think the series relied too much on being on the cutting edge without establishing a solid foundation first. The show may have been important at one time, but its time has come and gone.
This DVD set has so many extras, I’m surprised the discs didn’t burst. They even included a booklet with information about the series and its stars in the box. While the booklet, made to resemble a police flip notebook, is a nice touch; it does make the behind the scenes featurette redundant. The featurette does have interviews with the stars and the show’s creator reflecting on the comedy, but I wish they thought more about what should have been in what extra. There are also the obligatory photo galleries, production stills, commercials, and other promotional materials. There is also the original pilot before the network tuned it down. Except for a few bits, it seems just like the aired version. You can also compare and contrast the pilot scripts Spencer wrote for HBO and ABC.
Spencer does commentary for four episodes. The one for the premiere episode also goes over the information given in the featurette and Spencer also suffers from ‘commentary for the blind’, the tendency for commentary participants to simply tell what’s going on the screen instead of why its on the screen. His style does calm down a little for the second and third, they even get a little maudlin when Spencer sees someone on screen who has passed on. While not as informative as I’d like, the time limit of the episode, about twenty minutes, does constrain what Spencer can say.
The fourth commentary for the season finale is strange. It sounds like during the recording session, a not insignificant earthquake starts up. Spencer and the recording staff talk about seeing the building moving and maybe going to the lobby. Now this is played completely straight. However, putting this on the commentary track is odd. And since the last track talked about Andy Kaufman and his offbeat sense of humor, you wonder if it is actually real.
If I were you, I’d get this as a rental. This somewhat creaky comedy has its moments, but Sledge Hammer! doesn’t hold up enough to warrant a purchase.