January 14, 2012

Street Hawk, episode 10: "Murder is a Novel Idea"

Street Hawk waits outside while a jewelry store heist is in progress. The crooks escape in a van and Street Hawk pursues. The thieves toss out an oxygen cylinder, which lands near a young boy and bursts into flames. Street Hawk stops to rescue the boy and loses the van.

At the Command Center, Norman gushes over Stefanie Craig (Belinda Montgomery), an author on television discussing her upcoming book in which she will reveal the identity of a killer in a twenty year old unsolved campus murder case. Jesse reveals that he knows her from her days on the police force. In an undisclosed office, two men watch the same program as Donald Jordan (John DiSanti), the campus police officer who found the body of the girl, is interviewed. They vow to find out what Stefanie knows. Back at the Command Center, Jesse and Norman argue over Norman hacking into Jesse's answering machine.

At Police HQ, Altobelli fields questions from the press about Stefanie’s accusations that the police department mishandled the old murder case. After the press conference, Jesse runs into Stefanie. An elevator door opens and a screaming young woman falls out, a knife stuck in her back. Everyone starts to react but she gets up and poses for photographers. It's just a publicity stunt for Stefanie's book. Furious, Altobelli has Jesse escort Stefanie from the building. The two talk and agree to meet for dinner.

Stefanie finds her home ransacked and briefly encounters the intruder, who flees. When she calls the police, Altobelli shows up and dismisses the break in as another stunt.

The intruder was one of the two mystery men. They look over the files and manuscripts stolen from Stefanie’s house, but the chapter revealing the identity of the killer is missing.

Jesse and Stefanie head out for dinner and run into Norman at the restaurant. During dinner, Stefanie assures them she’s not in danger from her murder suspect, because he's long dead. Jesse takes Stefanie home and she invites him in, but his beeper goes off. Jesse is angry at the timing, but Norman says the jewel thieves are about to strike.

Jesse waits all night outside the store but nothing happens. As he’s heading back, Norman calls Stefanie to check in on her. While they’re on the phone, someone crashes through Stefanie’s door and grabs her. She's thrown in the back of a car, but manages escape, and it flees when Street Hawk arrives. Street Hawk checks on Stefanie, then leaves as the police show up.

At the Command Center, Norman tells Jesse to go home and rest while he remote accesses Stefanie’s computer for leads. Stefanie shows up at Jesse’s apartment and reluctantly tells him that she pegged a former custodian at the university as the killer because he was convicted of another murder several years later before dying in prison. It's now obvious to Stefanie that she had the wrong person and that the real killer is after her.

Donald Jordan arrives at the office of the two mystery men. They ask him what he told Stefanie, and he assures them nothing. One of the men notes that they’re all in this together and that they have to stop the publication of Stefanie’s book.

The next morning, Jesse leaves, telling Stefanie to stay at his apartment. Stephanie remote dials her answering machine, receiving a message from Donald Jordan, who wants to meet her at the campus. At the command Center, Jesse and Norman discover Donald Jordan has been on the payroll of Howe construction since shortly after the murders and that Howe (Don Hood, one of our two mystery men) was a student of the university at that time. Jesse calls home, but there’s no answer. Norman hacks Stefanie’s phone messages, sending Street Hawk to the campus.

Stefanie arrives to talk to Jordan and is grabbed by Howe and his accomplice. Street Hawk arrives and confronts Jordan, who tells him where the men took Stefanie.

At a construction site, Howe decides to bury Stephanie under the foundation of the building he's working on. Street Hawk arrives and Howe chases him around the site on a bulldozer. Street Hawk destroys the dozer with a rocket, knocking Howe aside. The accomplice tries to flee in his car but Street Hawk's laser drops a huge girder in the vehicle's path.

At the Command Center, Jesse and Norman watch Stefanie giving an interview on the arrest of the Rose Hill killers. An alarm goes off. Another jewelry store robbery is in progress. Jesse suits up and rockets away just as Stefanie tells the reporter that her next book will reveal the identity of Street Hawk.


Q: What would you get if you zapped Idaho with a shrink ray?

A: Small potatoes.

How does the lame above joke tie in to this week's episode? Like our hypothetical miniature Idaho, "Murder is a Novel Idea" is cursed with small potatoes in its plot, stakes, and villains. It’s impossible to overstate just how bad of a fit this story is for Street Hawk. I’m convinced the real script for this episode was somehow swapped with one for Murder She Wrote, meaning there's probably an episode somewhere of Jessica Fletcher zipping around Cabot Cove on an armed motorcycle. I know I’ve harped on this a lot in the past, but when the final showdown is between Street Hawk and a doughy, unarmed guy on a bulldozer... Gah!

But the poor fit isn’t this episode’s only sin. Apart from a few moments of genuine wit, the script is downright awful. The idea that one of our two heroes (again) conveniently knows the weekly damsel in distress is starting to get irksome. The love story begins with promise before falling into the standard girl of the week territory, with plot threads like Rachel and Stefanie’s rivalry going nowhere, and you can spot the episode’s “twist” a few minutes after the opening credits are finished. And what about that whole jewelry store robbery plotline? It never ties into the main plot and the episode ends without it ever being resolved. If it were a set-up for a future episode, that would be one thing, but I’d lay money we never hear of it again. Sure, it’s realistic for Street Hawk to have an official background case going on while Jesse deals with this more personal one, but why not use this to stretch Jesse and Norman to their limits as they race to stop this larger threat (and, please, can’t we do better than jewel thieves?) while at the same time saving their friend. It’s also sloppily directed, with action scenes so clumsy and awkward as to remind me of my senior prom night.

The performances of our two leads also suffer this week. The usually reliable Smith and Regalbuto have a rare off-game, with Smith inexplicably lapsing into this whispery Mr. Sensitive voice whenever he and Montgomery are in a scene together, and Regalbuto going a bit over the top with his puppy dog crush antics. Montgomery is actually quite good as the sassy, self-promoting author, but this week’s villains are the worst yet. In fairness to the actors, there’s not much for them to grab on to, but you’d be hard pressed to find a blander and less threatening trio of men.

Murder, he wrote:
  • Well, so much for Norman’s hot new romance with Dr. Williams. Noel, I’ll let you take this one, but I’m sure I join you in being disappointed at how easily dismissed that whole storyline was.
  • Actress Belinda Montgomery is probably best known for playing Doogie’s Mom on Doogie Howser, M.D., but 80s fans will also recognize her as Crockett’s estranged wife, Caroline, on Miami Vice. She continues to act and is also an accomplished artist, working primarily with water colors.
  • And the award for the most awkward moment in Street Hawk history goes to... The scene where Stefanie discusses the brutal rape and murder of a young co-ed in a TV interview, while Jesse and Norman watch and yuk it up over Norman’s crush on her.
  • According to the establishing shots of the Command Center, it looks like Norman got a new station wagon... that looks exactly like his old one.
This easily gets my vote as the worst episode so far. Street Hawk jumps so often, I guess it was only a matter of time before there was a shark beneath it.


Tony, I've got a few points to challenge you on, but you'll definitely get no argument from me against this being one of the weaker episodes of Street Hawk. I'm gonna shake things up by opening with a list, detailing the things I like about this episode:
  • There's some more of the great classic banter between Norman and Jesse, and I love Norman's inability to recognize boundaries as he taps Jesse's answering machine and weasels his way into dinner with Stefanie.
  • Belinda Montgomery is wonderful, filling Stefanie with a charismatic energy that blows away the majority of the guest stars up to this point. Tony's right about Rex Smith falling a bit flat at times, but there are moments where the chemistry is genuine and the history felt.
  • I disagree with Tony about the direction being weak. There's some really sloppy moments, but I blame them more on weak writing that isn't being successfully overcome (i.e. the bulldozer) and Harvey Laidman did the best with them he could. And he makes up for it with a pair of marvelous hyperthrust sequences (one day, one night) and a great hand-held shot as, in a single take, Jesse and Norman argue their way around the Command Center, ending on the iconic credit sequence shot of Norman counting to six on his fingers.
  • Though it's never paid off, I love the brief "Bitch, please!" showdown between Rachel and Stefanie.
  • Love the twist that Stefanie really doesn't know who the killers are and that these goons would have been perfectly safe had they just hung back and let things be.
  • Altobelli gets a couple great scenes as we see the sense of personal betrayal Stefanie's career turn had on him when she painted her former co-workers as inept buffoons. The scene in her house, where Altobelli refuses to believe it's anything but yet another of her publicity stunts, is his best moment so far on the series.
  • It's a shame they didn't build him as more of a threat, because Don Hood has a freaky set of eyes and a great burning stare.
  • "It was an accident!" "You call rape and a knife in the back an accident?" Ballsy line.
  • Ending things on the revelation that Stefanie's next book will be dedicated to unmasking the identity of Street Hawk. I know it'll never come up again, you know it'll never come up again, and there's nothing in the episode to suggest she won't be as wrong as she is on her current theory, but it's still a nice moment.

Everything else? Wrong. So much of the plot hinges around the idea that Stefanie only has one physical copy of her book, a book that isn't even finished by the time she launches a major publicity campaign. No, I'm sorry, but especially back in the early 80s when self-publishing was practically non-existent, you wouldn't try to create a huge buzz around a book until a month or two, if even that long, before a book is released. And by then, your agent would have a copy, your publisher would have a copy, your editor would have a copy, hell, the presses would likely already be running with hundreds of copies being prepped to ship to warehouses, then distributed to stores. She wouldn't have a single galley (which, technically, is a word for analready corrected proof, meaning the manuscript has been completed, submitted, and revised) and a file on a computer. And it sure as hell won't be unfinished.

And why is the press even making a deal over a wild claim on a forgotten case from an author notorious for pulling elaborate publicity stunts to juice up her sales to the tabloid market? Seriously, she hires an actress to pretend to be murdered inside the police station itself. Who, in their right mind, would taking anything else she has to say as though it weren't coated in grains of salt? And how did that actress get that far into the police station with full makeup and a knife harnessed to her back? No. Just, no.

I give Don Hood a lot of credit for an intimidating look, but this really is an uninteresting pair of main villains. They're two frat boys who aged into mildly successful losers: a fat construction foreman and a gangly accountant. They don't have a clue what they're doing, but instead of playing their ineptitude for laughs and at the very least making this episode entertaining, they're played straight as thought they're some looming, threatening conspiracy, and it doesn't sell one bit. The climax where Hood bares down on Street Hawk with the bulldozer? Instead of a nonsensical chase where we're expected to believe a bulldozer can keep up with and out-maneuver a souped up wondercycle, just echo the scene between Indiana Jones and the swordsman from Raiders of the Lost Ark and have Jesse pop the bulldozer with a rocket the second it appears. If you can't make them scary, at least make them fun. Granted, that would require stripping out the rape angle, which, ultimately, wouldn't cost the episode anything as it's a ballsy concept that never really plays out. Even when Stefanie is attacked, you never get the sense sexual assault will come as a result of it.

As Tony pointed out, all of Norman's development over the last episode is gone. The old flame turned into a reignited love interest? Never happened. The beloved station wagon pancaked at the base of a cliff? Never happened. The air of confidence and dependability? Never happened. We need to be realistic and remember that this was the 80s, where status quo was the absolute status quo and, while characters might go through a change at the start of a new season, from episode to episode, they stay exactly the same and broader growth that's made won't be swept under the rug so much as we'll just plain never hear about it ever again. It is what it is. It sucks navel lint, but it's hard to hold it against the show when it's from a time before rich continuity and serialized arcs even existed on television outside of daytime soap operas. Also, episodes were often written, filmed, and released in completely different orders, which is the reason for the status quo to begin with as not even the creators had a clue what the final arrangement would be as the show finally aired. Because of this, I can't hold it against them that an episode of Norman going all nerdy horndog over a woman plays after the one where he reconnects with someone who's practically his soulmate. It's annoying to see the two back to back, but I doubt it was intentionally arranged that way. What I can blame them for is playing the "woman from my past" card three times over the course of just ten episodes. Save it for once or twice per season, folks.

This episode is a raspberry. It takes a solid guest star and completely wastes her on a misguided script that leaves even the lead cast feeling off as they struggle to find some form of footing in this confused, atonal, illogical confusion.

And what the hell, Jesse? Twice, in a single episode, your high speed motorcycle can't catch up with criminals who only have a 1-2 block lead on you? Seriously?

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "The Arabian".

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.


Tony Williams said...

Noel, if Street Hawk had blasted Howe Indy-style right at the start of the showdown, I'd have given this episode a 10/10. -- And speaking of Howe, doesn't that picture above say it all? He looks like the girl behind the counter at McDonald's just told him they've stopped serving breakfast for the day.

NoelCT said...

I laughed so hard at that shot of Howe that I just HAD to include it.