ABC

In Which Cop Rock, Alas, Does Not

Adam Grosswirth and Sarah D. Bunting begin a rewatch of the notoriously misbegotten musical cop show.

Our Players

Hello, I'm East Coast Editor Sarah D. Bunting.
Hello, I'm Previously.TV contributor Adam Grosswirth.

The Talk

When we decided -- over cocktails, it's probably relevant to mention -- to revisit Cop Rock together, or really to visit it for the first time, I expected a lot of things. Legendary awfulness. The worst of musical theater married with amateurish sound editing. James McDaniel, marooned as he often is on an island in a sea of D-plus. But to my surprise, it doesn't even sink to that level. Mostly, Cop Rock is boring. It's not even awful enough to be fascinating.

This was my response exactly. It's not so-bad-it's-good, or even so-bad-it's-bad (well, parts of it are, but we'll get to those), it's mostly just there. One of the reasons I was excited to do this with you, apart from the fact that I'd only seen bits of this before, is combining our Wonder Twin powers: I've sort of become PTV's de facto musical theatre correspondent, and you're on the police/true crime beat. So i'm curious to hear how the show worked for you just as a cop show, minus the rock. Sounds like not very well?

No, not very well at all. Creator Steven Bochco also made Hill Street Blues, which while not a perfect property is a classic in the genre; he does know how to do this. But it's just one police-procedural cliché after another: guy has trouble adjusting to new partner! Internal Affairs recycling lines like "this isn't gonna go away"! loose cannons vs. suits on the front lines of justice! All assayed by one of the less charismatic casts in the history of scripted narrative, and I am not nearly the expert in musical theater that you are -- since I am notoriously allergic to the medium -- but am I correct in assessing the songs as by-numbers pablum?

Yes. They are also -- let's not beat around the bush on this -- bad. There's an old adage that songs in musicals come out of the deepest emotion. When a character simply can't speak anymore, he sings, and when he's too overcome to sing, he dances. And I'm generally of the opinion that any subject can be a musical, if handled correctly. So the idea of a guy breaking into song as he's being arrested and a near-riot breaks out among his neighbors makes sense on paper, but even if you know you're watching Cop Rock it (this is the first number in the series) comes completely out of nowhere. And also you know who should not be allowed to write rap? Randy Newman.

My first note was on that first "chump / CHUMP!" call and response. Actually it was just...that. I had no words for how insincere and unfortunate it was.

Mine is "Oh god, the rapping" and two or three more are "Shut up, Randy Newman." I should stipulate that I am not a fan, and maybe if I liked the songs better they would work better for me. I can imagine a world in which a bunch of modern musical-theatre composers were commissioned to write songs throughout the season (like Season 2 of Smash! -- sorry, you know it was coming) and this might work, but Newman is wrong in every conceivable way. Starting with the theme song.

For which he WON AN EMMY, but let's talk about the credits generally. More specifically, let's see if between us we can figure what the crispy fuck is going on, because I feel like this was supposed to be kind of a video, and kind of a cutting-edge peek at what credits would look like when the cop-musical Frankenstein had lumbered into the hearts of the culture and spawned other shows like this one. But at the same time, I don't get it. What's with all the self-congratulatory chuckling? Nobody's doing anything except Newman! (And Law & Order composer Mike Post, who evidently is in the shot somewhere.)

It's so weird! Have a look behind the scenes...okay? Why? This leads to a general question I had of tone. As bad as the rap number was, I understood what they were going for. Ditto the sweet, sad (still terrible) love ballad. But then there's a number about bribing the mayor (Barbara Bosson, who is very game but not a good singer) that can't be anything other than a joke. And the "He's Guilty" gospel number you probably remember from the commercials if you were watching TV at all around this time (with the judge played, notably, by Jesus Christ Superstar's Carl Anderson). It even extends to the non-song parts, like the police chief who has a seemingly magical shooting gallery in his office. Huh?

My issue there is that, while I can think of many parts of or moments in cop shows that might lend themselves to the more upbeat numbers, and create some contrast with the ballads and/or heavier content, like McDaniel's eulogy for his partner (which I would feel worse about writing rude alternate lyrics for if the saxophone hadn't ruined the song immediately and irretrievably already). But Cop Rock doesn't use those opportunities correctly. Take the lineup song (please!), which is trying to be commentary on anti-Latino profiling but uses the same racist music cues you'd hear in a 90210 episode where Brandon solves immigration.

Again, shut up, Randy Newman.

And shut up, writers. I know Kathleen Wilhoite is a Hey, It's That Junkie Overmatched New Mom! and everything but...$200 cash for a baby? In a...park?

AFTER SHE HAGGLED ABOUT HOW MUCH SHE WAS GETTING PAID FOR A POLICE TIP! That seemed awfully low. And the lullaby she sings to the baby before selling it really sounded to me like she was about to kill it. (My note: "Everything is just so Randy Newman-y.")

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought she was going to smother poor little Crystal. Or drive her mad with a song that seemed to go on for a week. But I guess we should try to find some positives if we're not going to go mad during this rewatch, so: anything you liked? Besides shitting on Randy Newman. (Note: not criticizing that choice.)

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Um...I mean, I'm always happy to see Ann Gillespie, but I think she's only in the one episode. There's some interesting casting beyond that. Like I said, Bosson is game (I watched Hill Street Blues with my mom when I was much too young for it and always liked her), and in addition to Anderson, the original Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, Lee Wilkoff, is recurring. Looking at IMDb we have a fascinating mix of Bochco regulars and musical people to look forward to.

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Damn, you took mine. ...jk, I was glad to see Vondie Curtis-Hall, as I always am; I enjoyed clocking the '90s references, as I always do ("a VCR for you and me!"); and I can't think of a lot of shows that look at a relationship with a significant age difference in any real way. Cop Rock is going to bungle it like it has everything else so far, but it's pretty much the one thing the show is trying to do that either hasn't been done a jillion times before or doesn't feel like it belongs in a different property.

I'm sure we'll revisit this point as we get further in but I just don't understand why. As you say, there's nothing new here, despite the fact that it's a TV series cop-show musical. That's a weirdly impressive feat.

Well, that's the problem. They had the how of telling the story, and...no story. But they just kept telling it for 11 episodes.

I feel like we've said all there is to say about these two episodes. Let me leave you with my favorite note I took: "Oh please let there be a song about his prostatitis!" There wasn't.

Mine was "put down the hot rollers, Costas-looking motherfucker," so I'd say you win.

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