February 26, 2011

Automan, episode 6: "Flashes and Ashes"


"Walter, in a case such as this, where the investigators are investigated, who investigates the investigators?"

"What does that mean?"

"Well, I'm not sure, but it's rather poetic, don't you think?"

Hey, for once our bad guys are mostly not white dudes in suits! Well, one of them is, but two of our main baddies are corrupt cops Springer (James Emery) and Coe (Michael Horsley). They've been conducting midnight raids on the police armory for weapons they sell to crime lord Rollie Dumont (Hari Rhodes), a black guy in a suit who runs an L.A. nightclub and decorates his wall with a jeweled turtle shell. It's no more of a global threat than our heroes have been up against before, but it is an interesting new dynamic, especially when the episode opens with Springer & Coe killing and then pinning the crime on an honest cop, Frank Cooney (Ron Harvey), who was an old academy buddy of Walter's. In a solid twist, the two are believed and kept on the force, whereas Walter gets suspended and labelled a suspect in his quest to find the truth.

Most of this is the result of our contractually obligated white dude in a suit in the form of Malcom Whittaker (Jeff Pomerantz), who increases his threatening appearance with a puffy haircut and sinister 'stache. He's a lieutenant in the Internal Affairs division who's looking to run for District Attorney in the next election, and, in a big twist, is covering for the crimes of Springer & Coe because of some gambling debts owed to Dumont. While he's not a physical threat - especially in his tennis uniform of polo shirt, short shorts, and headband - he does have the power of the system on his side, which he throws at Walter every chance he gets. And the physical threat is made more than real through Springer & Coe, a pair of leather and denim thugs, who break into Walter's apartment at one point and beat the tar out of him as a warning to back off.

It really is a Walter-centric episode as he goes through hell to clear the name of a fallen friend, and while he's often totally outmatched and at the mercy of the goons, he never backs down. And he's mostly without support because Automan is often off on his own in the cover of Federal Agent Mann, who joins the case as a psychic consultant (which they take a lot of time to set up, but never fully pay off), and uses the stage of an aging medium to trick a confession out of the baddies. It's fun, but a little quaint to bring these guys down on a laugh, especially considering the brutal way they worked Walter over. I think the weakest part of an otherwise solid episode is that we didn't get to see Walter take them down himself.

A few other things to point out:
  • Before Springer & Coe beat him down, Walter puts up a surprisingly admirable fight. It's completely implausible, but surprisingly rousing.
  • One of the dirty cops owns a silver Corvette. According to Auto's statistics, this gives him a "macho hangup".
  • I love how they've added to the glow in Auto's sleeve and collar by giving him a glowing wristwatch that houses Cursor.
  • Why, Roxanne! Why turn on Walter and start dating the smarmy douche that Whittaker obviously is from the moment we first see him! Though I do love the moment where you shove Walter up against a wall and talk some sense into him.
  • Again, I love that Curtis is willing to lay his career on the line and help Walter out in a pinch. And the Captain's honest words of apology and thanks at the end were touching.
  • The tennis scene is amusing, but there's no way anyone would label Automan a winner with how Cursor is whipping the ball around at impossible angles.
  • I want to see someone make a commercial out of the scene where Auto impresses two hotties with his Autojeans.


Since it’s Black History Month, it’s only fitting that character actor Hari Rhodes makes some history of his own on this week’s episode as the first non-middle-aged white guy villain. In fact, he might be the first non-white actor on the show period. We’ve come so far. To paraphrase Dr. King, “I have a dream that we will one day live in a nation where we will not be judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character actor."

Quick, when I say “police corruption” and “illegal arms dealing”, what do you think of? Exactly. Magic shows and psychics. They even manage to squeeze some tennis in there. All that was missing was a hot dog eating contest and boxing kangaroos.

It’s been common practice so far for the show to shoehorn the plot into some totally unrelated backdrop, but this week really takes the cake. Must every villain own some sort of establishment that’s used as a front? Don’t get me wrong, they have some fun with it, but like my Uncle Paul after a few beers, it makes no sense.

This episode is filled with missed potential. Malcolm Whittaker is a sleazeball, but he could’ve been so much more fun had he been smarmier (think Walter Peck). And a plot where Walter’s would-be girlfriend, 80’s hot Roxanne Caldwell, falls for Whittaker, goes nowhere. Oh, and you know those stolen weapons I talked about? We never see them again. Not to mention Hari Rhodes’ character is totally unnecessary and is given nothing to do.

And then there’s the finale. How do I describe it. Silly? No, that’s not quite strong enough. Ridiculous? No. Absurd? No. Dumb as Hell? Yeah, that’s it. It’s the Automan equivalent of the classic Scooby Doo moment where old man Caruthers confesses his crimes before getting off with a “And I’d have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that computer expert and his hologram.”

In honor of the “psychic” angle of this week’s episode, I make three, THREE, predictions for the upcoming week. Let’s see how good I am.

  • There will be rioting in the Middle East.
  • Charlie Sheen will say something batshit crazy.
  • In an upset, True Grit beats The King's Speech to take home the Best Picture Oscar.

White Guys Conspiring Around a Pool Count: Holding at 4

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