A Wonderful Tribute to ‘Barney Miller’

Posted on October 30, 2011 at 10:24 am

What a delight to see the New York Times pay tribute to one of my all-time favorite television series, “Barney Miller.”  I’ve talked to a couple of cops who told me that it was not just funny — it was the most authentic to their own experience of any television series about law enforcement.

The action on “Barney Miller” was as underplayed as its jokes. As the series was originally conceived, half of each episode would take place on the job, and half at Miller’s home. But the producers soon dropped that idea. Instead, detectives came and went, rushing out to make arrests and dragging in perps. Rarely did we see anything that was actually happening outside the squad room.

“It was a radio drama,” said Frank Dungan, who with his writing partner, Jeff Stein, contributed many episodes. “Wojo curling that paper into the typewriter was what police related to — the lack of action.”

It was funny, smart, heartfelt, and often surprisingly touching.  Characters like Luger and Dietrich and Harris were as complex and fully human as any ever shown on television.  It’s wonderful to be able to re-watch episodes of “Barney Miller” on Hulu.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfgNcwOi6WM
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Television

The Other Guys

Posted on December 14, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg make an inspired buddy cop pairing in “The Other Guys,” a rare comedy based on something other than snark or irony or insults or humiliation or high concept. This is that rarest of comedies — kept aloft by a delirious, surreal, irrepressibly sunny randomness, delivered with sincere conviction and all the funnier for it. In an early exchange destined to be memorized and repeated endlessly by fans, Detective Hoitz (Wahlberg), frustrated by being assigned to desk duty, tells off his new partner, Detective Gamble (Ferrell), who prefers the paperwork, using the metaphor of a lion devouring a tuna. Gamble comes back at him with a deliciously loopy monologue, taking the comment literally, and then, when Hoitz comes right back in on the same level, it reaches for the sublime.
Hoitz and Gamble work in a police precinct where two cops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) get all the excitement, all the glory, and all the girls. That’s fine with Gamble, recently transferred from forensic accounting. But Hoitz, who likes to describe himself as “a peacock who needs to FLY!” is smoldering, furiously playing solitaire at his desk while other cops go out on all the exciting assignments. At a support group for officers who fired their weapons on duty, we find out why he was reassigned. Let’s just say he shot the wrongest guy imaginable.
When the two hero cops are out of the picture, Hoitz and Gamble step in, despite the competition from another team (Rob Riggle playing the frat boy part he always plays and Damon Wayans, Jr. looking like his dad) and the directions from their Chief (Michael Keaton). Of course, as in any buddy cop movie, there are detours to resolve some problems with the ladies (“You’re not a cop until your woman has thrown you out,” says Hoitz). And of course they will discover that they have more in common than they thought, including some anger management issues and interest in Gamble’s wife (a luscious and also very funny Eva Mendes).
There are some dull patches and misfires, especially a backstory about Gamble’s college years. But the action scenes are surprisingly dynamic and a sleazy Wall Street billionaire is played by the always-welcome Steve Coogan. (A brief, unbilled appearance by Ann Heche as another Wall Street type suggests there may be some good extras on the DVD.) And any movie with a police chief who does not realize he is constantly quoting TLC, a trip to “Jersey Boys,” a succession of hot women including Brooke Shields finding Ferrell’s character irresistible, a CD playing “Reminiscing” by the Little River Band, narration by Ice-T, and Wahlberg doing pirouettes qualifies as the funniest movie of the summer.

(more…)

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Action/Adventure Comedy Crime

Interview: Michael Cudlitz of ‘Southland’

Posted on January 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm

john-cooper-photo.jpg

Actor Michael Cudlitz was in Washington today to talk about his television series about LA cops, “Southland,” now on TNT. He and I sat in the “America’s Most Wanted” studio at DC’s National Museum of Crime and Punishment and talked about acting, Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, and home-schooling.

You seem to get a lot of uniform roles — you’ve played a WWII soldier, a customs officer, and now an LA cop.

Interestingly enough, my more high-profile things are in uniform. But if you look at my full body of work there’s a lot of stuff that’s not in uniform. But I do a lot of stuff in the service and I think that’s just how I’m built physically. It just serves the roles. There’s an energy as well to it. And I’m fine with it.

I understand you have done a lot of research for this role. What was that like and what have you learned?

We did firearms training, we did cuffing techniques, we did these things called situation simulations, sit-sims, where they’ll basically put you in a situation with very little information, have you walk into that situation and try to find out what’s going on. We jump into that situation, we do what we think we would do as a police officer, and then we get critiqued on how many ways to Sunday we got ourselves killed, everything we did wrong. Having physically partaken in this event, you remember it way more viscerally than you ever would by reading about it. They say, “Make sure you know where someone’s hands are. You can never get that close.” There are these things you need to be aware of as an officer.

Everything sort of culminated in these ride-alongs. They were more important than anything else we did because we got to see all these different officers all doing the same job and all doing it differently. It’s all based on the same standards of technique in their training but each of them is different and we saw that there isn’t only one way to do something. It helps wash away stereotypes in your way of developing the characters. Once you get the training and know what you are supposed to do, you can sit back and rest on the training. It’s like when the boots come out of the academy. They have all this training that they want to handle. I deal with this in the pilot — you have to get him out of his head. It’s a very zen concept. You’re not going to do it by thinking about how to do it. Get him think about what he’s seeing in the present.

Your character is more than just a cop on the job. You have other things to deal with like some physical problems and other issues.

All of these Southland characters are so multi-dimensional. And Ann Biderman has it all in her head. She has done an amazing job of avoiding cliches. She has created a group of very strong individuals with weaknesses and nobody’s supercop or knows everything or has all the answers but they are good people trying to get through life like everybody.

Did you watch cop shows when you were growing up?

Of course! Everything. Starting from “The Blue Knight,” “Baretta,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Police Story,” “Police Woman,” “Rockford Files,” “NYPD Blue,” “Third Watch,” just love them. I’ve been watching a lot of TNT lately and been re-introduced to these old “Law and Order” shows. Jerry Orbach is just phenomenal. He is genius, so present.

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Actors Interview Television

Pride and Glory

Posted on January 27, 2009 at 8:00 am

A big-name cast and some big-time issues are not enough to make up for a small-time script that adds absolutely nothing new to the too-often-told tale of police corruption and family betrayal. It is as generic as its title.

Four police officers are killed in an ambush, devastating a family of cops. Francis Tierney, Sr. (John Voight) is a department official. His oldest son, Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) is the police chief and his son-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell) is a colleague of the men who were slain. Francis presses his other son, Ray (Edward Norton) to leave his desk job, where he’s been hiding out since a conflict, and take over the investigation, not knowing that it will lead him to his own family.

Norton and Farrell are excellent, as always, as are supporting performances from Rick Gonzalez as a drug dealer and Jennifer Ehle as Francis, Jr.’s sick wife. But it makes an enormous and ultimately exhausting effort to hide the lightweight and predictable nature of the script with (1) non-stop bad language, (2) a lot of very graphic violence, including a horrifying torture scene, police harassment, murder, and suicide, (3) ramped-up emotions based on having every one of the main characters related to each other. It is weighed down further with over-used clichés like a slow-motion funeral procession in the snow and over-used dialogue like “Don’t talk to me about the truth. You got no idea what it takes to do what we do” and “I was a good man once.” Now that’s a crime.

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Crime Drama
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