"A gun is a dangerous weapon, and if used properly can be a wonderful source of entertainment." - Inspector Sledge Hammer.
Creator Alan Spenser took that sentiment and ran with it when he created the 1986 television comedy Sledge Hammer. Filled with slapstick humor and a lot of over-the-top violence, this show is unlike all the other situation comedies that have aired. It isn't set around somebody's family, and it doesn't have a bunch of wise cracking kids. It is a police show that also pokes satirical fun at Rambo, Dirty Harry, and all of the violent cop movies that have been made. This is a sitcom for people who hate sitcoms. Oh yeah, and it is funny; very, very funny.
Sledge Hammer (David Rasche) is a cop who is on suspension. Always. His long suffering Captain (Harrison Page) would like to fire him, but he can't since he gets the job done. On paper Hammer looks exemplary, with a fantastic arrest record. It's just the way he gets the job done that causes problems. Sledge doesn't have any problem with using excessive force and violence, in fact he prefers it. In one show he comes across a person on the side of a building who's going to jump. Instead of trying to talk the man down, Sledge takes out his gun and starts shooting at the guy, who quickly climbs back through the window.
To try to take the edge off of the department's most violent cop, Hammer is partnered with Officer Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin) an attractive yet competent officer who likes to do things by the book. Though Hammer chaffs at her insistence that he not beat up a criminal in front of city hall, for example, she's not above kicking some creep in the face when the situation demands it.
"What could a killer's motive be to murder fifteen
Elvis impersonators?" -Dori Doreau
One of the best episodes is "All Shook Up" which Alan Spenser wrote as a tribute to his friend the late Andy Kaufman. There has been a rash of murders in the city. Fifteen Elvis impersonators have been killed. What's worse is that nobody can identify the bodies because they all look alike. Sledge decides to go undercover to catch the slime ball whose snuffing imitations of the King. First he goes to "The Famous School of Elvis Impersonators" to get some training, then enters an Elvis impersonator contest. This is a wildly funny show with only one pitfall: Unfortunately they were not able to obtain the rights to any of Elvis' songs.
The great thing about Sledge Hammer is that he is so over the top. He overreacts in every situation. Why talk to somebody when you could shoot, and why shoot a gun when you can fire a bazooka? This broad comedy is both funny and aptly suited to parody the movies of the time. Once you see Sledge Hammer, you'll never be able to watch a Clint Eastwood movie the same way again.
"A gun can't solve the world's problems, but give it a shot anyway." -Sledge Hammer
The one actor who really makes the show is David Rasche. He plays Sledge as a straight character, similar to the way Leslie Nielsen played his roles in Airplane and the Naked Gun movies. Rasche doesn't play the character for laughs, which makes it that much funnier. He's very serious, and even squints and sneers like Eastwood does in the Dirty Harry movies. When the show was originally optioned by HBO, they wanted to have a comedian like Dom DeLuise play the title role. That would have ruined the show, since Sledge himself isn't funny, it's the way he goes way too far in almost every situation. Rasche realized this and was able make this show a gem.
"Between Miami and Dallas? What a terrible place to be." -Sledge Hammer
If this show is so laugh out loud funny, why did it get cancelled, and how come more people haven't heard of it? Well, it all has to do with scheduling. During it's first season Sledge Hammer was opposite both Dallas and Miami Vice, two incredibly popular shows. It habitually rated 60 out of the 61 shows in prime time that season. The creator was sure that the show would not be renewed, so he decided to end the first season with a huge bang, and a cliffhanger. As luck would have it, the network did renew it for another season, and they even moved the show to another time. Right opposite The Cosby Show, a juggernaut in the ratings at the time.
The last thing that I want to mention about this DVD is the laugh track. Alan Spencer had it written into his contract that there would be no laugh track on this show. The screen the pilot to a test audience both with and without canned laughter. The laugh track version scored much higher, and Alan had to compromise and let a laughter be added in order to get the show on the air.
For this DVD set, Anchor Bay has removed the laugh track! The show plays much better without it. It actually lets the viewers decide what's funny instead of telling them. There are some clips of the show as it originally aired included in the extras, and the version presented on these DVDs is vastly superior. Since this is the way the creator originally intended the show to be seen, I do not consider this to be a alteration to the show.
This four disc set is presented in a sturdy book style case that opens to four plastic pages that contain the DVDs. I like this style of packaging. It is more compact than four regular sized cases, and you don't need several feet of shelf space to lay the set up like the folded up sets (Buffy, West Wing etc.)
The first disc opens with a short intro by Alan Spenser which sets the tone for the show. A nice feature.
The stereo soundtrack sounds nice and clear. There wasn't any noticeable hiss at ordinary listening levels and the dialog was easy to discern. There are not any subtitles or close captioning for the show though, which is a negative if you know someone who is hearing impaired.
The full frame video quality was pretty good over all. There was some cross coloration, where an artificial rainbow effect is generated, and there is aliasing. Fine parallel lines in the background such as Venetian blinds tend to shimmer when the camera moves over them also. Some of the background images looked just a little blurry, but this was most probably a problem with the original tapes. These were rather minor critiques, and the image was generally fine.
There are no chapter stops in the episodes. You can't skip over the opening credits if you want, and it makes it harder to find a certain scene you might want to locate.
This season set includes a good number of extras. First off there are commentary tracks on four episodes, including the pilot, by creator and executive producer Alan Spencer. These were pretty interesting with a lot of background on the actors and analysis of the scenes. He talks about what scenes wouldn't be allowed to air in post 9/11 America too. One of the things that I liked about the commentaries was that Alan threw out a lot of dry jokes over the course of the episodes. He doesn't give a wild-and-wacky joke-a-minute stand up routine, but he includes a lot of jokes that are delivered in the same tone as the rest of the commentaries. This makes the track even more amusing since you never know when Alan is in the middle of joke.
The biggest extra is a 32 minute featurette: Sledge Hammer: Go Ahead,
Make Me Laugh. This is a great look at the show. There
are current interviews with the cast as well as creator Alan Spencer.
They discuss how the show every got on the air, and how the various actors
were cast in their rolls. The cast reminisces about the show and
tells interesting anecdote about the filming. This is a great look
at this funny show.
The six minute electronic press kit from 1986, that was sent out to the TV critics of the nation
There are five TV commercials advertizing the show. All of these are original spots, not just a series of clips with a voice over. Most of them are pretty funny too.
After Sledge Hammer's pilot aired to critical acclaim, Alan Spencer
sent a plea to the nation's TV critics begging for viewership. The
two minute audio tape is reproduced on this set.
Lastly, there is a gallery of stills, production photos and memorabilia, and the TV bumper from when the show aired.
Included inside the packaging is a miniature report file on Sledge from Internal Affairs. This 16 page dossier has promotional ads and photos, trivia, jokes about the show, and profiles on the actors. This was a really cool extra, and I'm glad Anchor Bay went to the expense to include it.
Cult shows often don't age that well. Something that was edgy and creative 20 years ago often look hackneyed and trite when viewed today. Parodies fare exceptionally poorly, so I was expecting Sledge to fall into this category. Surprisingly, it doesn't. This show is still as funny as when it originally aired. The true test of any comedy is how much you laugh, and I found myself cackling at this show. The unapologetic over-the-top attitude that this show has still entertains today. The set is packed with extras, and has good sound and video quality. Just what you want in a season set. Highly Recommended.