Hammer: Don't confess! Let me beat it out of you.
One of the few truly great sitcoms of the 80's, Sledge Hammer, returns to DVD this month with the release of the last nineteen episodes that comprise the second season . Though the video quality is inferior to the first season due to the fact that they filmed it on 16 mm film rather than 35mm, the jokes are just as funny, and Hammer still revels in violence and excess. A show too good for network TV, this hilarious satire is a great addition to any DVD collection.
When the first season of Sledge Hammer was drawing to a close it was at the bottom of the ratings. Creator Alan Spenser was sure the show would be cancelled, so he ended the first season with the entire cast being blown up by a nuclear weapon. As the story goes, Spenser let it be known that he had a way to continue the series, and that he'd only reveal it if the show was renewed. Well the gamble worked, and the series was renewed. (The fact that the final episode pulled good numbers didn't hurt either.)
Hammer: [I'll] put that scum-sucking leach into the slammer for so long, by the time he gets out, he'll be dead.
True to his word, Spencer came up with a realistic way to continue the series without making the whole first season be a dream. (Something that they actually pulled on Dallas.) There was a slight bump in continuity, but that doesn't really matter. (And no, I'm not going to tell you how they survived the nuclear blast. You'll have to buy the DVDs for that.)
Sledge Hammer is an outrageous satire that pokes fun at many pop culture icons of the 80's. Concerning the over-the-top exploits of a cop with the unlikely moniker of Sledge Hammer (David Rasche), his competent and attractive partner Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin) and their long suffering boss, Captain Trunk (Harrison Page). Sledge has a 'shot first, don't bother to ask questions' attitude and considers his gun to be his best friend. Reveling in violence and gunplay, Sledge is often suspended but always manages to get the villain in the end. (If you want more background to the show, check out my review of the Sledge Hammer Season One.)
TV Exec: You tell me: what's wrong with an alien puppet living with a suburban family? Okay, it's stupid, but what's wrong with it?
The great thing about this show is how it enjoys poking fun at TV, movies and even pop stars. (Who often threatened to sue according to one of the commentaries.) Often TV satires come across as lame and idiotic because they don't have any bite too them, the networks often removing any jokes that might offend anyone. Not so with Sledge Hammer. This show has some teeth and was willing to poke fun at popular icons be it Alf, Michael Jackson or Clint Eastwood. Consequently, Sledge is an outrageously funny show that is filled with laugh-out-loud moments (as well as groan inducing puns.)
Hammer (on Michael Jackson): Any guy who wears one glove and walks backwards is not to be trusted.
There were several standout episodes in this season, starting with the first one, A Clockwork Hammer. This send up of network TV has a mob boss trying to brainwash Sledge so he can't testify against him. It really gets the season started on the right foot, and contains great parodies of Brandon Tartikoff and Max Headroom as well as TV in general.
Hammeroid is a great send-up of RoboCop, and one of my favorite episodes. After being severly injured, Hammer encases himself in an armor shell to go after a crazed android. This show was able to create an effective parody of RoboCop and let Hammer's personality shine through at the same time. A wonderful episode.
Hammer: Susan Hilton. She was the most miserable,
self-centered, nagging, killer witch in the whole school.
The show ended on a high note with the final episode being one of the best. In a show that has a touch of seriousness to it, as Hammer finds out that an old friend is going to marry his ex-wife. Some great background on Sledge, and a touching last scene.
This season was hampered by having a smaller budget. They had to make the shows for 1/3 less than the first season programs, so there are less action sequences and location shots this time around. The producers were able to handle the tighter budgets well though, and had a couple of shows take place mainly on sets so that they could spend some money on other episodes.
Hammer: I'm an American! I don't negotiate with terrorists. If we hang tough, we'll survive. (softly) At least most of us.
Even with less money to work with, the second season of Sledge Hammer is just plain great. There are a lot of little touches that make the show fun to watch again and again. Small details like Sledge washing TV dinner plates or a bar having a neon sign says "Spud on tap" make the show so enjoyable. (Referring to Spuds McKenzie a dog that used to advertise beer on TV. The commercials were even more inane than they sound.) These small jokes that go by rather quickly and give the show a lot of replay value. You spot something new almost every time.
This four disc set is presented in a sturdy book style case that matches the first season set. The book 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 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.
Alan Spenser introduces the show by stating that the second season was filmed on 16 mm film rather than 35 mm like the first season. This was a shame because there was a big difference in the quality between the two seasons. While I was generally pleased with the first season's look, the picture of this season leaves a lot to be desired. The image was very soft, and there was a good amount of grain, and there was a bit of aliasing too.
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.
Like the first season, this set is crammed full of extras. Alan Spenser returns for four more commentaries; Wild About Hammer, The Last of the Red Hot Vampires, Icebreaker, and Here's to You, Mrs.Hammer. He is joined by Anne-Marie Martin on Icebreaker. These commentaries are just as funny and enjoyable as the ones for to the first season. Spenser talks throughout all of the shows with few pauses and fills the time with jokes and great information. Both informative and entertaining, these are some of the best commentaries I've heard on a TV show.
The rest of the extras are on disc four. It starts off with Gun Crazy: Memorable Moments with the Cast of Sledge Hammer. This nearly 15 minute featurette has the three main cast members picking their favorite shows and talking about why they liked them so much. It was nice seeing what the cast looks like new, and their choices are reasons were intersting.
Next is a tribute to the late Bill Bixby, who directed a number of the shows in the second season as well as appearing in one episode. Alan Spenser and the rest of the cast discuss why they enjoyed working with the talented actor/director.
My favorite extra was Top 10 Questions about Sledge Hammer. Alan Spenser answers the questions he gets asked the most like "What does Clint Eastwood think of the show?" (Alan's not sure) and "Could Sledge Hammer get on TV today?" (Nope.)
There is also a five minute syndication reel used to sell the show to TV stations, an answering machine message that ABC put on their machine to answer complaints about the show Wild about Hammer TV spots, a trivia game (play it, the prize at the end is worth it!), and some production stills.
And if that wasn't enough, they have included the teleplays for the episodes Wild About Hammer and Last of the Red Hot Vampires in .pdf format that are accessible with a computer equipped with a DVD-ROM drive.
Sledge Hammer is an uproariously funny show. A brilliant series that was treated harshly by the network. If they had given it a decent time slot (instead of moving it around and finally placing it against The Cosby Show) it would have garnered much higher ratings and gained a larger fan base. Luckily the complete series is now available on DVD for fans to enjoy over and over again. Well worth the purchase price. Highly Recommended.