When Peter Falk (aka Columbo ) passed away last week, I took it to heart. As a fellow non-iron user who gets a thrill out of goading people and exposing their stupidity, my operation owes a lot to Lt. Columbo. Additionally, the man reached his peak when prime time television was arguably at its best, particularly from a cop show standpoint. As part of the NBC Mystery Movie rotation, the disheveled lieutenant had no choice but to be in top form. His rotating competition came in the form of other sleuths with their own unique modus operandi: McCloud , McMillan & Wife , and Banacek . On other channels and time slots, he had to contend with Mannix , Quincy , Kojak , The Mod Squad , Harry-O , Cannon , Barnaby Jones , Dan August , Ironside , Hawaii Five-O , The Streets of San Francisco , The Rockford Files , and countless others. Columbo outlasted them all, and his penchant for tossing rich white broads into the slammer was flourishing long before Martha Stewart got busted.
TV sleuths and cops got a bit more savvy in the '80s, adding floral print shorts, taco meat chests, and the donning of all-white outfits well after Labor Day to the mix. Albeit less rumpled, more GQ, and with better suntans, the '80s crime-stoppers still carried the torches of unaided brain power and excessive violence lit by their '60s and '70s predecessors... somewhat.
The death America's hardest sleuth inspired me to go VHS tape diggin'. As a hoarder of all things defunct, my ripped-from-TV collection of cop show videotapes was revisited this weekend. My Queens Library card and YouTube aided me in tracking down shit I didn't have. After about 72 hours of Technicolor, drawn out hand-to-hand combat, tailored suits, asbestos-laden show sets, highly sample-able music scores, and 20-minute chase scenes, I came to one conclusion – TV cop shows in 2011 suck.
Yeah, there's NCIS , Law & Order , CSI , etc. But today's hour-long cop show is missing one element that cannot be omitted from the cop show recipe: Grime. Grime comes in many forms: Elaborate violence, diet, approach, wardrobe, attitude, etc. Let's examine some elements of '70s cop show grime and comb over why they're so elusive in the world as we know it today.
Health / Diet:
Both TV cops and villains are looking mighty fit these days; they're also looking mighty soft. For argument's sake, we'll compare NCIS' Tony DiNozzo to Cannon's Frank Cannon and 90210 's Mr. Cannon to Hawaii Five-O's Wo Fat.
DiNozzo is a womanizer, but the grime ends there. I'm sure he does Yoga, watches his cholesterol, and has some type of stylist, thus giving him a look more suitable for Full House or Friends . I know if I was doing crime, I wouldn't be scared of that milquetoast L.L. Bean catalog model. On the streets of any major city circa 1975, DiNozzo would've been beaten to a fucking pulp and placed on a ho stroll clad in lace.
Conversely, we have Cannon. At 300 pounds, Cannon was in no way a carbohydrate-conscious, heartthrob cop. He was far from fit and thoroughly unconcerned about detriments to health caused by saturated fat. That artery-clogged ball of Crisco couldn't run, but when you saw that big black Lincoln Continental rolling at your soft ass, you knew you were due for a down-home thrashing.
Even the villains have taken a fall and look higher in fructose than ever. According to buzzsugar.com , Mr. Cannon (surely not to be confused with the aforementioned Frank Cannon) from 90210 is a worthy nominee for 2010's best TV villain. Given, 90210 isn't a cop show, but come on. This Jamba Juice-drinking Calvin Klein model is supposed to be a villain? If he's a bad guy, what the fuck does that make Wo Fat?
90210's "villain", Mr. Cannon (left), reads Men's Health Magazine. Hawaii Five-O's Wo Fat (right) would have done no such thing.
As a proponent for world destruction and death (who had his own “Wo Fat Building” in downtown Honolulu), I'm thoroughly “flabbergasted” (copyright, T.I.) that media outlets would dare rank TV villains in 2011. That's like ranking the top 20 beat boxers in hip-hop today. Picture a man named Wo Fat going “no fat”, which I'm sure 90210's “villain” does. This is disgusting. Real TV villains eat snack packs of Trans fat and shit out bullets. Network execs are telling me some pretty boy with a Fresca in his hand is the villain? Right.
Anyone can point a fuckin' pistol or put a man in a choke-hold until the task force comes. That's sissy shit. How many TV cops in 2011 will chase you in a raggedy Pontiac Firebird for 20 minutes, before getting out of the car and giving you a 1978-style drubbing until you either lost consciousness or the police chief came to the scene to say, “that's enough”. Let's compare Law & Order: SVU's Elliot Stabler and '70s P.I., Jim Rockford. With the exception of the quick jab to the nose to sedate a perpetrator, Stabler really ain't built to funnel a can of whoop ass. (Furthermore, a '70s cop show detective would've put some pipe on Olivia Benson by now.) Conversely, 70% of an episode of The Rockford Files featured the OG P.I. hunting people down and pounding them non-stop. Just when you thought the perpetrator couldn't get up, Rockford would grab the guy by the collar, seemingly jolting him back to alertness, then finish him off with brute force by punching his nose within inches of his brain. The villain usually just lay out cold until the camera flashed somewhere else. Hand-to-hand combat and drawn-out gun battles are the meat and potatoes of any cop show. Without them, you have rice cakes.
Approach, Style, and Brain Power
Even the law enforcers that didn't beat you to smithereens had some sort of brain power; there was no cheating. McCloud pursued villains down Fifth Avenue on a horse, for fuck's sake. Furthermore, I don't recall peaceful sleuths like the milk-drinking septuagenarian, Barnaby Jones, ever using an IP address to find someone. I'm sick of criminals on TV being caught via their Facebook activity, cell phone usage, and come stains on the seat of a Ford Explorer. Columbo, Stewart McMillan, and Jessica Fletcher actually had to out think the villains sans the best in technology, but I guess that's the world we live in.
Then, there are other intangibles. Mannix had a (foxy) black secretary in 1967. Composers like Lalo Schifrin and Quincy Jones scored and directed the music to fit every ass-whuppin', funeral, and car chase. Columbo made rumpled attire an art form. Ironside could maim you with a broom handle from his wheelchair. I don't see much in the way of personality from today's TV cops or true trifle from today's villains, at least not when compared to those from year's past and damn sure not on regular television. I'll end it on this note: If it's possible to create a cop show worse than Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Rebecca Black will eventually be inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame.
R.I.P Peter Falk (aka Columbo), Dennis Weaver (McCloud), George Peppard (Banacek, Hannibal Smith), Raymond Burr (Ironside, Perry Mason), David Janssen (Harry-O), Buddy Ebsen (Barnaby Jones), and all other fallen hard rock TV sleuths that inspired me to out think people and beat the shit out of my living room couch pillows for three hours every night.
Shouts to Skeme Richards and Vanderslice.