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A promotional photo for the TV series "Sledge Hammer"
A promotional photo for the TV series "Sledge Hammer"

Warren Clements

Hammer nails the laughs in a cop spoof played straight Add to ...

Sledge Hammer, the trigger-happy police officer played by David Rasche in the 1986-88 series of that name, wears his influences on his sleeve.

He was born, courtesy of creator Alan Spencer, as a parody of Dirty Harry and all the macho heroes played by Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone, though his lineage extends back to reckless cop Fearless Fosdick in the comic strip L’il Abner.

His very name echoes that of brutal private eye Mike Hammer in the novels of Mickey Spillane. Sledge Hammer stands for the proposition that it’s better to blow up a 20-storey building than run the risk that the sniper on the roof will escape.

It is also clear from the 17 hours of episodes on this week’s DVD set Sledge Hammer! The Complete Series that Spencer grew up absorbing the 1960s TV series Get Smart. On that show, bumbling spy Maxwell Smart would create havoc while infuriating his boss and exasperating his loyal, winsome partner.

Sledge Hammer’s reputation for firing his beloved gun on the flimsiest pretext means that cops and criminals alike duck behind desks when he enters a room. He leaves his frustrated boss, Captain Truck (Harrison Page), to explain to the mayor why chasing a shoplifter resulted in the destruction of eight city blocks. In the opening episode, he is assigned a female partner, Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin), and responds with predictably sexist remarks until it becomes clear she can be as tough as he is and has his back.

The danger in such a show is that its one-note premise – cop runs amok, usually succeeds despite himself – would grow stale. Fortunately, the writing is funny enough, the plots are varied enough (a poke at the film Witness, a nod to Dog Day Afternoon) and the performances are deft enough – played straight, seldom winking – that it’s a pleasure to see what lunacy Hammer can unleash next.

The ultimate goof comes at the end of the first season, in the episode The Spa Who Loved Me. Unsure whether the show would be renewed, the writers had Hammer accidentally detonate a nuclear device, though its powers of destruction weren’t enough to drown out the plaintive, angry reaction of Captain Truck: “Ha-a-ammer!”

The second season begins with a message from celebrity presenter Robin Leach ( Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous) that, since the world blew up in Season 1, Season 2 will take place five years earlier. Nothing is different, except Doreau now has big hair.

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