If ever there was a perfect mascot for the Un-Weeded Garden, it is
Netflix. I’ve genuinely lost track of how much time have I’ve spent
weeding through questionable anime, b-grade slashers and a surprising number of Korean soap operas to find those wonderful, hidden perennials. We’ve decided to chronicle our Netflixian efforts in order to hopefully save a few people some minutes in their day.
Yup. This is how we’ve decided to contribute to the greater sum of
humanity. So…you’re welcome, I guess.
Ladies. Gentlemen. Please let me reacquaint you with Jim Rockford.
Jim lives in his beach side trailer in Malibu (more than a decade before Lethal Weapon’s Marty Riggs woke up in his beach-side AirStream, for the record) and spends most of his time privately investigating crimes for the poor “hot ladies” of Los Angeles County. He wears suits off-the-rack, strives to make time for fishing with his pops and drives a boss golden Firebird. Magnum used his red Ferrari to showcase Honolulu. Jim Rockford shows us Los Angeles in its 70s heyday through the moon roof of his Pontiac Firebird Esprit.
Jim is an everyman detective who drinks canned beer alone and eats tacos for breakfast. He stands in stark contrast to today’s current line-up of “mystical detectives”. One thing all mystical detectives have in common is some version of the gift. Usually the gift is some human-lie-detector schtick, coupled with a personal need to right the wrongs. I’m looking at you Patrick Jane from The Mentalist, Dr. Lightman from Lie to Me, and Mr. The Finder.
Simon Baker is reading your lies as Patrick Jane in the CBS drama “The Mentalist.”
There are plenty of variations within this world of procedural crime. One of the more common incarnations is the mystical-forensic-detective. You find these guys in all glass labs with open floor plans and night club lighting (see any of the CSI labs, Numbers, Bones, etc). This nerd-mystic uses the power of computers and science to create animated movies, often derived from the carpet fiber of a rental car’s trunk. Justice prevails, thanks to their “reconstruct-the-entire-victim-from-a-tooth-imprint” mobile app. Usually the supporting character who built this tool is a reformed black-hat hacker or ex-stripper.
Another variation (for which I have particular affinity) is the damaged-mystical-detective. Their gift stems from a lifetime of trauma and an overabundance of empathy. Their checkered past allows them to emotionally visualize the crime after the fact and backtrack to the monster who spawned it. I find myself equally entertained by this clairvoyance and exhausted by the melodrama required to sustain it. Hannibal, Dexter- I love you and you entertained the shite out of me, but I can only sit through so many slow-mo “blood shower” montages before I just have to call it a day and have a bowl of soup.
Jim’s dad, Joseph “Rocky” Rockford: all American, retired teamster and outspoken supporter of union rights*. After escaping a Norman Rockwell painting, he is completely unprepared for the Kansas City Mobsters who apparently loiter in liquor stores and motor-bike dealerships all over LA.
Let’s compare the mystic model to Mr. Jim Rockford. Does he have an innate ability to discern lies from micro-vocal-fluctuations? Does he have a lab full of ex-strippers writing software for him? His secret weapons are a golden muscle car and a business card printing press. Yup, a printing press.
In the world of heroes, there are some pretty great “man and tool” couplings.
Thor has his divine blacksmith’s hammer, Mjolnir.
Jean Michael Vincent has his trusty militarized helicopter, Airwolf.
Jim Rockford has a cast-iron printing press for making business cards. He keeps it inked up and at the ready in the backseat. Every time he needs to interview a Senator or sneak a peek at the hotel ledger, he turns to his well oiled seventy pounds of iron and cranks out some undeniable proof that he is there to conduct an audit for the IRS. If nothing else, this series proves that identity theft in the 1970s was as uncomplicated as memorizing a new name and wearing lensless glasses.
A standard episode will play out something like this:
Jim Rockford and father Rocky are about to join Sgt Becker, a friend on the LAPD, for a day out on his new boat, the “Seaphoam Phantasy”. After some gentle ribbing about how Becker is probably gay*, they head off towards the marina. They pop into a liquor store to pick up an healthy amount of beer on the way. Oh Mad Men fans, if you like depictions of people drinking on the job, you are in for a flat, warm treat. While at the liquor store, Rocky chats with the elderly owner who’s being pressured to sell his store to make room for a copper mine or Mafia backed housing development. At the behest of his father, Jim uses his printing press and one of two accents to go undercover. After the metamorphosis, he’ll usually spend time rifling through some files in a darkened office and then confront several corrupt executive types at a fashion show. If the plot does involve the Mafia, which is about 70% of the time, there will also be an attempted abduction in a parking lot and somebody, usually Jim, will be pistol whipped into a brief nap.
Need more colorful supporting characters? Meet Angel, a buddy from the joint, unapologetic coward and petty conman. I love him like family.
How about a lovely prostitute pal who always seems to be in trouble? Well, here’s street-smart Rita Capkovic and her street-walking heart of gold. She’s going to night school!
One episode called “Just Another Polish Wedding” was originally intended as a spinoff vehicle for Louis Gossett Jr and Isaac Hayes playing odd couple “Gabby and Gandy”. This episode features the two of them briefly taking hostages at a Nazi-themed bar in Hollywood*. The show wasn’t picked up.
One of Rockford’s endearing qualities is his unabashed honesty about not wanting to get hit in the face. Keep in mind that he is a 6’4″ behemoth in a checked suit. Oddly, I think most of the damage is usually dealt out with his car. He does get shot in the head once. Goes to the hospital, coma, head bandage, the whole nine. I won’t ruin it for you.
Truthfully, I’ve got nothing against mystic detectives. There’s place enough for all on God’s blue tube. Judging by the numbers, I know that I’m not alone in my enjoyment of the procedural detective genre. I mean, who doesn’t love a socially retarded genius in a bespoke suit chasing villains as a private contractor for the State’s Bureau of Investigative Agents? In the case that you are looking for a procedural-crime palate cleanser however, maybe flip through the files of Jim Rockford. Thank you and good night.
*Ah, the 1970s.