Thursday, October 08, 2009

So, I've got this real bad habit of getting wrapped up in some album or TV Series or film, and then writing the better part of a post and shelving it. It's not that my interest in these things wanes, or that I move on to other stuff before I get a chance to finish. More often than not I just can't finish or won't. I've got half-finished, long-winded posts about The Sandbaggers, Underbelly, Eye of the Needle, Friends of Eddie Coyle, three character analyses from The West Wing, and a couple others. A personal favorite is my lengthy rant on why I'm pretty sure that Guy Ritchie has never read a Sherlock Holmes story, but I'm waiting for the film on that one.
Anyway, a lot of the time it's because I'm sure these are points you might have felt, or stories you don't feel like revisiting, or that my own take on it isn't all that astute. Right now, one of the 6-7 books on my coffee table is a book of George Orwell's essays, which are both comforting and embarrassing to read, when I consider the crap dredge that gets thrown up on this thing. Because while I don't post a lot of things out of fear of appearing a self-important literary windbag, George Orwell manages to write these things in such an approachable, hospitable way that it leaves me dumbstruck.
But this is neither here nor there. Because I'm not writing about anything today that's critically adored or obscure. I'm not even writing about something that's all that unpopular. I'm referring, of course, to The Rockford Files, which aired on NBC from 1974-80. It's a show I never really watched as a kid, probably because it was off the air when I was 2, and unlike Columbo, I don't remember all that many reruns peppering the airways.
Jim Rockford fits some of the noir-ish standards for a detective. He's almost always at odds with the cops, he has a shady past (including a stint in prison as an innocent man), and he's got a real smart mouth that gets him into trouble. He's poor, and his home is a dilapidated trailer outside of LA on the Pacific Coast highway. Oh, and he seems to end up banging half of his female clientele.
He's still not quite noir, though. He generally avoids a fight, and almost never carries a gun (he keeps it in his coffee pot to avoid rust form the salt air!). He's a lot more genuine in his concern for clients than Marlowe ever would've been, and he often will end up working for free or at a reduced rate if he has to. Oh, and his dad is around all the time. I really like this last part, because his dad is a cheap old drunk who wants him to get out of the private eye racket. Oh, and unlike a lot of the old stories, Rockford isn't wearing a fedora and trenchcoat. If anything, he dresses cheap and garishly, which is to say, normal for the Seventies.
So why do I like this stuff? Why is it that after a decade of reading detective fiction and watching all those old black and whites that I find myself enamored with this program? A couple things. One is James Garner. There's just something about him that you want to root for. Ever since I was a kid and saw him as Hendley the scrounger in The Great Escape, I've enjoyed that guy. I remember going through a Maverick phase at some point, too. There's also the time period. One of the reasons that the seventies work so well for crime/detective stories, is because it's the last really good time frame for this type of story. I guess the Eighties might work as well, but something about that decade I find hard to take seriously. Maybe it would have to be all about drugs, or funny hairstyles.
But anyone my age or younger will view this show as impossible. There's no way that someone could get away with some of the things that go on here. Part of it is technology, part of it is people wising up to giving personal information out, etc... To write a good detective story set in the last ten years is to write... I dunno, to write like Ed Burns and David Simon.
The bottom line is that I'm amazed how much I enjoy a network TV show that's older than I am and isn't hosted by Rod Serling. It's a testament to our pop culture. But the best part is that you can go watch this for free right now. There are at least 3 seasons up on Hulu, and the entire run of the series is up on Netflix. So go check it out if you're bored one night and watching some shitty celebrity dance show. Seriously, you can do better than that. If you don't watch TV, hey, more power to you. But I know most of you do, and watch some pretty appalling stuff. Just my 2 cents. This show has car chases! Non-Italian mob bosses! Pretty ladies! Awesome celebrity cameos (so far, Abe Vigoda, a young James Woods, Bill Mumy, Strother Martin, Ned Beatty, Lindsay Wagner, etc...), oh and one of the best theme songs EVER.

if you haven't seen it yet, go watch an episode. It's been making my week.

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