December 10, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 5: "Dog Eat Dog"

At Rachel's insisting, Jesse heads down to a studio to meet with pop sensation Deborah Shain (Daphne Ashbrook) and ask if she's willing to appear in a promotional ad for the department's anti-drug campaign. Deborah, unfortunately, has a nasty history with cops who she deeply distrusts for interfering every time she tried to run away from her abusive father, so she turns Jesse down. Jesse persists, but Deborah is dragged away by her manager/boyfriend Virgil (rocker Lee Ving). Virgil is currently in the middle of using a video tape to blackmail record producer Neil Jacobs (James Whitmore Jr.). Neil rounds up a couple thugs to retrieve it.

Jesse hits the road for some new Street Hawk tests, but diverts to the home of Virgil and Deborah to check up on her. He arrives just as Neil's goons kill Virgil and Deborah takes off with the tape. Street Hawk stops one of the goons for the police to catch, but the other gets away and Altobelli is fuming because, with Deborah missing, they have nothing to connect the goon they have to the crime.

Neil hires a European assassin in a suit named Bingham (Kai Wulff) to kill Deborah and retrieve the tape. Jesse and Norman sort through articles detailing Deborah's past, learning of her connection to retired blues pianist Artie Shank (Charles Lampkin), the man who rescued her from a juvenile detention center and gave the girl her first break in the industry. Our heroes and Bingham simultaneously converge on Artie's studio, and when Jesse and Norman set up a meeting with Deborah, Bingham shows up and kidnaps Artie.

Bringing a reluctant Deborah down to the station, Jesse reviews the tape, which reveals one shadowy figure murdering another. Altobelli is still in a huff because the indistinct faces make the evidence worthless, but Deborah recognizes a watch on the killer. She slips away and calls Neil, offering to exchange the tape for Artie. They arrange a meeting on the studio lot.

Jesse is fuming that Deborah slipped away from him, so he brings the tape to the Command Center. Norman enhances it enough to see that Neil was the killer, and they deduce that the victim was the previous owner of the record company, who Neil replaced. Jesse breaks out Street Hawk and uses it to learn of the arranged exchange from Neil himself, who Jesse leaves for the police to find.

Deborah meets with Bingham for the exchange, but he's been ordered to kill both her and Artie. What he didn't expect was for Deborah to bring a gun of her own. She and Artie are soon on the run through the studio lot, being chased by Bingham and the remaining goon from earlier. Street Hawk shows up and saves the day.

Later that week, both Deborah and Artie film the ad for the police department and Deborah accepts Jesse's request for a date.


Before Tony wonders how I'm going to defend the series yet again in the face of his complaints, let me open this up by saying this is not a good episode. I've liked the crime angle up until now, for its sharp writing, memorable characters, and surprisingly dark edge, but this specific story completely fails to match their success. There's no stakes, no greater threat to elevate this little blackmail melodrama to a level where Street Hawk is a necessary element to take it down. Any cop could have roughed up Neil for the info, then raced to the studio to take out the thugs. There's no escalation, no crime crescendo to amp things up to a point where only this marvelous motorcycle can make a difference in things. As Tony said last week, "it's like using a sledgehammer to swat flies." Even then, with a motorcycle that can zap lasers, fire rockets, and vaporize a car engine with a quick burst of machine gun fire, Street Hawk spends a surprising amount of time just sitting there looking ineffectual as situations unfold around him. It's like the writers couldn't come up with a way to keep Street Hawk from being too effective to keep the plot moving, so they just have him stand around with his thumb up his ass before finally moving in.

Daphne Ashbrook makes for a decent guest lead, and I do enjoy the depth to Deborah Shain, both through her hatred of cops and instincts for survival, but too much of the story is her being tossed around between a bunch of goons. Neil was boring and not enough was made of the ruthless tactics through which he stole a recording empire. Virgil was ridiculous and they never explored why Deborah would fall in with his type given the lengths she went to to escape the similar abusive presence of her father. And Bingham. What the hell was up with Bingham? It's like somebody on staff caught The Day of the Jackall on tv and decided to swipe the stiff, unassuming assassin for the the show, but instead of giving him a plot worthy of such a faceless ghost of a gunman who's toppled governments with a bullet, they just make him a goon running around after a pop star. It's awful. The one bright light, aside from Daphne, is Charles Lampkin as Artie Shank, who gives a nice warmth to the story as the faded celebrity who now finds and mentors the stars of tomorrow. But even then, he spends most the story tossed around between goons.

Stray thoughts:
  • They really have left behind the idea of Street Hawk operating in the shadows of the night as he's once again in the clear light of day. I agree with Tony that it lessens his mystique. I'll bet, in much the same way Automan abandoned the night angle, it has to do with the cost of night shoots.
  • Hey, Rachel actually serves a purpose in the narrative! A tiny purpose that still doesn't make her character relevant beyond a few quips and a cashed check, but it's a purpose!
  • The opening music video is surprisingly well shot, but they didn't have to drag it on sooooooo long. It's especially annoying since it sounds like it was backed by a full song that, yet again, has been replaced with an instrumental for the DVD.
  • Why is my Grandma wearing a bikini top in that dance sequence on the lot?
This episode is lousy. The plot is boring. Half the guest cast is forgettable. There's little action and what's there is clumsily executed and shoehorned into a story where it's not a natural fit. After a string of surprisingly well executed episodes that won a lot of respect from me for a series I didn't expect to enjoy, this one comes along and feels like the type of cheese I was dreading when we first picked this title as a Showcase. I have my fingers crossed that this is merely an anomaly instead of the first signs of the new status quo.


Noel, after several seconds of deep reflection about our debate from last week, I decided to stop condemning Street Hawk for what it isn’t and start enjoying it for what it is. And it’s a good thing, too, because this week’s episode takes all of my previous complaints and exaggerates them like the features of a caricature.

As Noel mentioned, the use of Street Hawk in this situation feels like overkill. The backdrop of the 80s music scene should have at least provided some energy and color but, sadly, after the Staying Alive inspired music video opening, we get none of that here. All of the outrageous fashion and excess one associates with there era is missing, and what should’ve been bright neon is flat watercolor. Heck, not even the slick MTV-influenced visuals we got from the pilot are evident. An actual taste of 80s pop certainly would’ve helped liven things up a bit, and we may never know what, if any, actual contemporary pop was included in the original episode (more on the music later), with the music used for the opening video on the DVD sounding like it was lifted from one of those “looking back” clip episodes of Saved by the Bell. And Daphne Ashbrook is certainly attractive, but she lacks the charisma of a true pop star. Smith does his best to sell the romance between Jesse and Deborah, playing their early scenes together with a mix of his usual easy charm and a giddy schoolboy crush, but Ashbrook is a total flatline.

My hopes did briefly rise when the character of Bingham was introduced. I thought “Ah-ha! Here’s our match for Jesse and Street Hawk. A cool, calculating, cold-blooded bounty hunter/assassin. Ex-KGB maybe?”, but it quickly became apparent that he was simply another generic goon. Honestly, if they’d made better use of his character, fleshed out his skills and back story and gave him a few memorable confrontations with Street Hawk, it would’ve done wonders for this episode. As it stands, the final showdown on the studio back lot is terrible. It’s really the first time the series has let me down in that regard. If nothing else, the stunts and action have always been top-notch.

I’m Casey Kasem in New York, and now on with the countdown!
  • As I was watching “Dog Eat Dog”, I couldn’t help but think that we'd seen it before. Sure, there are plot differences, but the basic premise is close enough for comparison. What strikes me most isn't that “Murder MTV” is so much better written than “Dog Eat Dog”, it’s not, but there’s more fizz in the former thanks to having an actual pop star play the guest lead. And, perhaps most important of all, the inclusion of (her) actual pop music. In fairness, maybe there was real pop music in the original broadcast of “Dog Eat Dog”, but I can only judge what I have to go on and, either way, its absence is definitely felt.
  • Well, there is one bit of recognizable music in the episode. When Deborah arrives at the back lot, you can barely hear a generic version of the Men Without Hats song “The Safety Dance”.
  • Noel, I think you’re spot-on. The whole concept of the bike being black seems to indicate it was meant to be a mostly nighttime operation, with the shift to daylight oriented action seemingly driven by cost. Besides, wouldn’t so many daytime missions conflict with Jesse’s day job at the force?
  • Speaking of which, I’m still a little confused by Jesse’s role with the police force. In the pilot, he becomes a public relations officer. After that, they changed it to a “Police troubleshooter”, which allowed him to get out in the field. Here, he seems to be back at the PR gig.
  • Norman Tuttle, inventor of the internet? “I don’t know why these magazines don’t program their stories into a computer. Then all we’d have to do is punch in ‘Deborah Shain’ and everything that was written about her would pop right up on the screen.” It would also be great for looking up porn!...... Not that I’d know, of course. Ahem.
Even through the rose colored glasses of my new criteria, I still found very little to enjoy here. not every spin of the wheel is a winner and maybe next week’s episode will deal us a better hand.

Sorry, I had a few bad Vegas puns leftover from last week.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "Fire on the Wing".

If you'd like to watch along with us, the entire series is available in a DVD set which can be purchased through Amazon US, Amazon CA, or Amazon UK.

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