Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Sledge Hammer #2

Tie-Ins and Strange Team-Ups
Sledge Hammer #2

Put your mind at rest…I’m gonna review Sledge Hammer!

"Illegal Weapons”
Writer – Jim Salicrupt
Penciller – Alex Saviuk
Inker – Sam DeLarosa
Letterer – Rick Parker
Colorist – Evelyn Stein
Editor – Don Daley
Editor-in-Chief – Tom Defalco
March 1986

My assumption about where the 30-minute police comedy sitcom Sledge Hammer! originated was dead wrong. I had assumed it spun out of the Police Squad / Naked Gun craze of the late 1980’s. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Police Squad!, the David Zucker/Jim Abrahams/Jerry Zucker sitcom came out in 1982, a full four years before Sledge Hammer! And Police Squad’s humor was a bit more screwball comedy that threw in gags from all over, similar to the Zucker Bros/Abraham’s movie Airplane. Sadly, it didn’t win its ratings spot and was canceled by ABC after just six short episodes. It became a cult classic through repeat broadcasts and the development of a big screen adaption called The Naked Gun: from the files of Police Squad! The movie was a huge success and cemented Leslie Nielsen as a comedic lead in features for the next decade.

But Sledge Hammer! fell right in between these two events. It originally aired on ABC on September 23, 1986. True, it had certain elements in common with Police Squad. Both were half-hour sitcoms, both used exaggerated comedy bits, and both were based around an inept police detective. However, David Rasche’s Hammer character was inspired more from Clint Eastwood’s gritty, no-nonsense Dirty Harry franchise more than anything from Police Squad. He was a gun-loving, trigger-happy troublemaker as WELL as a bumbling idiot.

Also, the humor was slower, and the jokes weren’t as funny on Hammer!. Police Squad! threw everything it had at the wall with the thinking that even if half the bits failed, the audience would still be entertained enough to keep watching. For every groaner there was something that would make you smile, and the speed at which these pieces would occur meant you were under a barrage of silly bits and jokes for the entire running time.

Hammer! was more subdued humor, with bits that took a long time to wind up, often without a decent pay off. The show was not a favorite of young adult SoC, offering neither the charisma of Nielsen’s lead nor the silly sensibility of Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker’s comedic timing. So of course, Sledge Hammer! lasted two season and 41 episodes while my much beloved Police Squad got only six episodes (and three movies! Can’t forget those, but they came much later.)

There is something about Rasche’s sense of timing and delivery that doesn’t excite me. He looks like an actor waiting to say a line. He doesn’t inhabit his crazy, gun-loving, out-of-control police detective character so much as just show up on set wearing his clothes. The humor drags, and these same jokes weren’t funny when Gilligan pulled them off back in the 1960’s. HERE’s an example of a bit where the only comedy you’ll find are the extremely bad 1980’s cover versions of popular songs.
No matter my feelings, at least the cast has a good time and earned paychecks. For people who have fond memories of Sledge Hammer! I came across a retrospective with cast interviews and clips. Much of the clips point to many of the issues being cast improvisation and lack of clear directorial oversight. The calculated, measured approach to shooting comedic action gave way to winging it to fill time.
As further proof that the universe had a perverse sense of justice, Marvel released a Sledge Hammer! comic book series. However, sales of issue one was so poor that the writers quickly added a Spider-Man impersonator to the story and cover of number two to boost sales. The ploy failed, and the book was cancelled after issue two.

And while two issues doesn’t seem like much, there’s never been a Police Squad/Naked Gun comic book. Not even one issue.

But here we are with a Sledge Hammer! book and I suppose we have nothing left to do but review. Let’s put the hammer down and get to it.

Our story sputters to life, with the deft hand of Jim Salicrup at the wheel. Sadly, the road that Sledge Hammer! is on winds back on itself like a Möbius loop inserted in a taffy machine. Given this is still the first season of the show, the writers apparently weren’t given a lot to go off of. Not to mention the book was facing cancellation, perhaps to the point of being dumped before it even went to press. What I’m stating, gentle readers, is be prepared for anything. 
And by anything, I mean stuff like this false opening…

…that I have to admit is silly enough to wrench a smile from my face, even at the expense of it breaking the smooth flow of starting our narrative. Because our ACTUAL tale starts one floor down, just under Miss Hart Stopper’s apartment. 

It is in this flat that a young woman is about to have a very unexpected visitor.

And that visitor is a very UN-friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

However, he’s not able to take down the occupant, who I’m tempted to label “Mudface” on account of that peel she’s got going. 

But she is able to take herself down…literally.

Mudface plummets to her death amid some random jokes.

We find that Lucy came to rest on none other than Inspector Sledge Hammer’s car. 

And while this makes a great opening, the books going to cover a LOT of ground before we get back to this plot. It’s like writer Salicrup took a two-hour movie and shoved it into a 30-minute TV spot. After a Hammer covers up the body with his jacket a passerby mentions how disgusting it is. Hammer asks if they never saw a dead body before, to which they clarify they meant Hammer’s jacket is disgusting. The book is full of this humor.

Meanwhile, in pushing the plot along terms, Hammer goes in to find the identity of the victim and lets the killer in the Spider-Man costume go (after a joke I begrudgingly admit to smiling at).

Flash-forward to the next morning where Hammer, Captain Trunk, and Hammer’s sometime partner Inspector Doreau are checking out Lucy Warden’s apartment. Hammer lets it slip about the Spidey suspect, which gets Trunk upset at his ineptitude. 

The trio discover more trouble when they find that the Captain’s car has been stolen, forcing him to ride to the station together. And when they get there, Hammer’s keen senses detect something amiss with he Captain’s office.

And as bad as the temporary field assignment with Hammer might be to Captain Trunk, there is a hell of another kind awaiting Hammer.

Luckily, the only causality is the floor and Hammer’s ego. He relinquishes his oversized hand cannon.

And we get more things happening that get in the way of the plot. On the way to talk to Warden Warden, Hammer and Trunk get involved in a suicide attempt.

Which…this happened after the release of the first Lethal Weapon movie so how is this unique or new?

Oh, they didn’t have a net ready to catch them. Ouch!

They reach the prison where Lucy Warden’s father works as the Warden. Yes, that’s just a silly name thing. Just like this door they have to use to get in that becomes a parody of The Wizard of Oz.

Salicrup has Hammer use a joke that is so old that it predates television, I believe. While our main character is distracted, Warden Warden shows Trunk how upset he is about the loss of his daughter…

…and how to handle the perpetrators while unveiling the rest of the plot.

That page count of eleven at the bottom means we are at the halfway point here, boys and girls. Anyone need an intermission?

I feel like I do. The book is crammed so full of goofy one-offs and bits-that-only-show-up-for-two-panels that I’m left bewildered. There is a plot here, although a dumb one. However, the book is running at a far faster pace than the show, almost at the breakneck speed of Police Squad! I like the book better than any single episode of Sledge Hammer! the show and I think the book does a good job of capturing the characters. It just revs up the speed of things a bit.

And speaking of speeding things along, the big-bad is the crooked police commissioner named Schmissioner. He has some insane scam going where Warden released prisioners early who would then sell weapons the police had confiscated, leading the police to arrest and confiscate the same guns over and over again, while Schmissioner kept all the gun sale profits. He’s got everyone on the payroll and there is no one to call…

…especially not Spider-Uzi-Man, who tries to kill the three of them.

But the Warden sneaks the three of them out via a secret tunnel in his office as the unofficial wall-crawler makes his escape.

I’m including their dismount for the joke here that only comics readers will understand.

And yes, that is as close to an Eisner as this book will ever make it. We turn back to Doreau and the “something doesn’t smell right” Anti-Corruption Investigator Naught. He was brought in by Schmissioner, recall?

And by page 15, we are trying to aim this mess at some sort of conclusion. Namely by notifying the bad guys about Hammer and Co. still being alive. Then having the criminals planning to kidnap Doreau, which is sort of a sexist move.

But first a bunch more silliness with the crimelord and his henchpeople…

…and then the usual idiocy with Hammer…

They decide to have Hammer impersonate the Warden and then realize they are one page shy of hitting their page count…so they have Hammer stop on his way home to counter these three “stoogies” who are mugging an old lady at gunpoint.

…which ends predictably, giving Hammer time to miss his gun. Hammer loving his gun was a well the series would return to again and again.

Cut to the next day, with Hammer in disguise and in the middle of the hot sandy desert.

You know, the more I think about this…Jim Salicrup is just recycling the plot of Lethal Weapon. This is the part where Riggs and Murtaugh get captured…

…and damn if it doesn’t happen to Hammer and Trunk! Okay the Lucy Warden turning up alive thing is kind of a shocker. None of the prostitutes in Lethal Weapon came back from being blown up…but still!

Let’s see? What came next in LW? Oh, the part where they torture Riggs…

Yeah, yeah…uh,huh…and then he and Murtaugh escape…

And kill all the bad guys. Guess the book isn’t going that dark. 

Also, don’t remember a Spider-Man foot chase…

…but there are some definite similarities in plot in this last half of the book. Of course, it wouldn’t count as a Sledge Hammer! episode if the Captain didn’t get the brunt of the joke in the end.

And that The End box is the final of this series.

Hammer wrapped up in 1988 and although the show went off the air, there is still an active fanbase. At least one would assume that from the official website listed online, which features convention info and a store front.

It wasn’t for me, but I’m a bit more selective in my comedy tastes. It takes more than one blunt instrument to get me to laugh, I suppose.


  1. I've been researching a story on TV comics. Sledge Hammer was, and is, a sharp satire on American jingoism that was frequently likened to another satirical classic Get Smart which you didn’t even mention. Many have written how prescient Sledge Hammer has proven in regards to today’s America. The Naked Gun films imitated more of Sledge Hammer and Get Smart than the moribund Police Squad series which was a parody of 1950’s cop shows. Gilligan, really? A primetime sitcom that depicts its hero blowing up an entire building to nail one sniper was daring, especially since writers for the Simpsons started on this show.

  2. When people review STAR WARS they don’t compare it to STAR TREK so why is SLEDGE HAMMER being compared to POLICE SQUAD? Like Peter Sellers, Don Adams or Mike Myers – David Rasche was acting versus Leslie Nielsen who was merely deadpanning dumb jokes. POLICE SQUAD was a rapid fire gag machine, a plotless sketch that couldn’t sustain itself and THE NAKED GUN movies wound up imitating some of the more traditional SLEDGE HAMMER approach. The attempt to capitalize on Leslie Nielsen’s initial success lead to an oeuvre of horrible films like SPY HARD, REPOSSESSED, SCARY MOVIE sequels, DRACULA DEAD AND LOVING IT and STAN HELSING. SLEDGE HAMMER was a smart political satire that is considered influential. The surreal apocalyptic cliffhanger is still referenced to this day. The fact you could care about the characters and root for them is why it’s achieved classic status alongside GET SMART which it aired alongside on ME TV.

  3. A strange, almost misguided critique (and this author's appraisal of 2001 on another page is also cringe worthy). Jamie Weinman wrote an insightful piece about how redundant Police Squad was, but this blogger also recently got it right: https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2018/12/27/thoughts-on-police-squad-and-naked-gun/ Showing some occasional slapstick from Sledge Hammer that also featured insightful political humor seemed like sandbagging. There were plenty of pool balls hitting heads in the second Naked Gun which was not at all like Police Squad.

  4. It's well known Sledge Hammer was originally a screenplay written in the seventies that never got made, then was developed as an HBO series. That would have been interesting to see since the HBO version was supposedly super violent before Tarantino was a thing, then it went to the ABC Network. This blog is wrong about a few things since the comic books came out during the second season, not the first. Angie Tribeca had the same tone as Police Squad, nonstop jokes and no story, and it also wasn't a success.


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