In the barren wastes of 80's sitcoms, "Sledge Hammer!" never had a chance. Creator Alan Spencer sought to buck the trend of family sitcoms and mindless dreck, by creating a parody of the alpha-male cop, that was so deadpan, it's intent was lost on viewers who let it languish, although fortunately for those who could appreciate it's irreverence, wit, and laughs a plenty, "Sledge Hammer" managed to survive for two full seasons. Originally released by single seasons, "Sledge Hammer!" has seen the light of day before on DVD, with commentaries and bonus features for the devoted; however, long out of print, "Sledge Hammer!" returns to DVD in a no-frills package at a value rate, with only one honest to goodness point of derision.
To the modern viewer seeking out "Sledge Hammer!" for it's commitment to deadpan comedy and low-budget mockery, I would call "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace" (on a side-note, it's a crime this has never seen a Region One DVD release) as it's spiritual successor, despite the latter series lasting six episodes to this series' 41. Like Matthew Holness would do for Garth Marenghi, David Rasche does for the titular Inspector Sledge Hammer, a surface caricature of Eastwood's "48 Hours" which McRae parodied in early 90s spoofs "Last Action Hero" and "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1") and a partner, Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin), Hammer's polar opposite in every way.
It's likely impossible to encapsulate every nuance of "Sledge Hammer!" in words; the show is easily effective as a "brainless" sitcom, but the clever scripts and quality of acting support a more subversive slant. For the most part, every episode is a standalone story, but the show does attempt to establish a continuity, giving Hammer an Indiana Jones-esque catchphrase "Trust me, I know what I'm doing," a slow build of romantic tension between he and Doreau and one of my favorite gags, Hammer's disdain for cigarettes which is a clever jab at the alpha-male 70s and 80s action hero (i.e. John McClane) whose cigarette was still a major prop. A large part of what makes "Sledge Hammer!' worth revisiting is its knack for parody from the "punny" titles to plots that spoofed genre staples both past and present; a great episode; one of my favorite episodes is the homage to "The Andromeda Strain" in the episode "They Call Me Mr. Trunk;" the notion that an 80s sitcom would spoof a semi-obscure 70s science drama is another and 20+ years after airing seeing recognizing the clichés lambasted in the show still being used with a straight face in crime dramas of today fully cement "Sledge Hammer!" as a show ahead of its time.
While this DVD set doesn't have the courtesy to distinguish the break between season one and season two, you'll immediately know the episode that serves as the season one finale and ask yourself, "how can the series continue?" The answer is brilliant simplicity that eagle eyed viewers will see is later mocked as season two and the series as a whole comes to a close. Truth be told, the more familiar you are with sitcom and crime film clichés, the more depth "Sledge Hammer!" will provide, but provided you can acclimate yourself to it's straight-faced absurdity (mercifully all but the pilot episode are devoid of a laugh track and the pilot is tough to stomach with the overbearing canned laughs), due mostly to David Rasche's brilliant, consistent work on the series, "Sledge Hammer!" is guaranteed to provide as many laughs the first time as the second and third time.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer to put it kindly, is rougher than expected and at first glance, ugly. An obvious port from video, detail reaches for average levels at it's best, while compression artifacts are noticeable, but not wholly distracting. Color levels have a semi-natural look but are mostly a tad washed out. Overall, the show looks like a product of the 70s, not the 80s.
The Dolby Digital English Stereo soundtrack is entirely passable, with no noticeable distortion, but not a lot of life outside dialogue; effects and music fall a bit flat.
If you already own the prior releases, there's nothing new here; if you happen to be a "Sledge Hammer!" fanatic who doesn't own the prior releases, ask yourself if the bonus features mean enough to track down season one and two on the secondary market. As a whole, this re-release of the complete series has the episodes presented as technically competent as one could hope (save for the laugh track still slapped on the pilot) and at the end of the day, the series itself is what matters. "Sledge Hammer!" lives up to the hype and then some, proving to be even more relevant and insightful more than two decades after it went off the air. Recommended.