ABC

The Fat Lady Sings On Cop Rock…Literally

Which, per Sarah D. Bunting and Adam Grosswirth, is the show and all its problems in a nutshell. Er, 'on a swing.'

Our Players

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

The Talk

I said last week that Cop Rock seemed to be getting marginally better as it went along, or at least learning how musical storytelling works, and I stand by that after these final episodes. But they didn't learn quickly enough, and didn't get better enough to balance all the terrible. Most of my notes this week start with "oh god no," starting with the deeply sincere but ghastly terrible song at some sort of Medal of Honor ceremony that kicks off these episodes, and which looks like one of the more dour performance scenes from Glee.

It's another example of how the inept writing and staging of the songs hampers the storytelling, when the whole point of songs in a musical is to enhance it. "If one of us is a hero, then we're heroes all." Well, yes, you're all getting medals, that's the point. I assume they mean ALL the cops who AREN'T getting medals, but we don't see them, and the lyric is clunky, so it seems like they're just singing about themselves. And "Over my heart / I wear a badge that says I'll do my part. / It's all that I did / when I took him down and I saved that kid. / Kinda makes me feel like crying." I mean, the change in scansion on the end is a decent attempt at technique but also...what? And why are Vicki and Andy getting medals?? For being...very bad cops?

On the bright side, we could kind of only go uphill from here.

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You'd think? And I was almost too distracted by the presence of Zachary "Howard The Station Manager On 90210" Throne as Vicki's sexist new partner to notice the songsmithery. Well, except for the media song, which required some poor sap to oversing the phrase "racial overto-o-o-o-nes!!!" while Peter Onorati made his single fart-face expression.

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And I thought that would probably be the worst of it, until Diane Delano got stuck with that "takedowns turn me on" song, after which a scene about shift-change paperwork that lasted seventeen hours actually felt like a relief. That's what continues to baffle me about Cop Rock: Bochco may not be the most nuanced creator in the world but he would have some idea of how an hourlong story is paced. Here: no. Maybe it's the songs throwing it off, but then get your songwriting team to help you reorganize the beats.

Actually, scratch that. I'm not sure I'd let them reorganize my sock drawer after that "quit yer bitching" break.

The media song, awful lyrics aside, was one of the only songs that worked for me dramatically. Even though it's another case of "and we never see them again" background players singing (and bouncing, oh the bouncing), having them sing in LaRusso and company's faces increased the tension of the scene, especially when they had to talk between verses. The rhythm propelled the scene like a song in a musical is supposed to. Plus I love CCH Pounder so much that I simply appreciated any scene she was anywhere near. And she didn't have to sing so she got to retain her dignity.

Speaking of dignity: Loretta Devine! I think her face here speaks for us all.

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I was glad Devine got a song, but of course it's the same by-numbers torchy garbage everyone else gets, and tonally it didn't match the topic. Credit to the no-name whose delivery of "what about the haaaaaaandcuffs" cracked me up for 10 minutes, but as usual, I don't think that's what the song's going for.

Certainly I don't think the student-film interrogation scene probably wasn't supposed to suffuse me with pity for Vondie Curtis-Hall, but his character's entire storyline is pretty gross.

Yeah I was actually upset about that song. I'd seen her name on IMDb when we first embarked upon this foolish project and I'd been looking forward to her arrival, and then they gave her THAT? It's one of those "so close" moments for me, because the scene is interesting, and I appreciate the character and her point of view, but it's just destroyed by the terrible writing. At least she can act and sing at the same time.

I wonder in general why they didn't cast more people like her, McCrane, and Carl Anderson. It's not like there's a shortage of musical theatre actors in the world and most of these guys weren't names audiences were going to tune in for. I guess the Broadway/TV crossover thing wasn't as big as it was now. If I went down the dream-casting road we'd be here all day, but it would be so easy to do now. Two words: Mayor Baranski.

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...God, Mayor Baranski. Now I'm just mad that that isn't a thing.

There is something to be said for "amateurs" singing; I don't care for Anne Bobby here -- her hair alone is rage-making; I know it was 1990 but that crazy ziggurat is not appropriate for police work, lady! -- and part of it is the try-hard delivery she's using, so I can see how casting pressed for actors who were principally actors and might have been merely capable as singers. But they didn't get very good actors, they didn't get very good SINGERS, the writing doesn't service either side of that equation -- and I don't believe this show thought things through that far. I think they thought the concept would paper over the cracks.

I've tried to allow for the fact that they were singing live, which isn't usually done on film/TV (tell us again, Hugh Jackman), but my god Anne Bobby is SO off-key in that number! USE A DIFFERENT TAKE! I don't mind a little pitchiness if it's conveying the emotion of the scene, and I know this is before auto-tune, but dub it later or something. Yikes. Also this storyline...WHO CARES? The husband ends up totally unlikeable ("You're telling me it's okay to WANT to sleep with someone just because you haven't yet?" Uh, yes? She's a human being with feelings?) and they clearly hate each other so quit your ballading and "go bumpty bumpty" with your cute partner.

I'm pretty sure we're supposed to feel sorry for Ralph, too. She was a way-younger-than-you cop with dude partners when you got together, wasn't she? Fucking get over it! Also, stop dyeing your hair, you're not fooling anyone. In fact, please rinse the dye out on-camera so I can watch that, or paint drying, instead of this scene with poor Potts that is blocked and edited by...continental drift, apparently. Potts and his dilemma are actually compelling and the guy is charismatic, so of course he's crammed in around the edges while the mayor and the Laurance twins get a song about her campaizzzzzzzz.

We'll get to the slappable final six minutes in a moment, but I'll say generally about this last set of eps that, while the concept in theory of a cop-show musical may have been workable in some universe, it doesn't look like anyone genuinely understood how tough it was going to be to get five songs a WEEK (which was contractually required) out of this material, and Episode 9 is where you really start to smell the flop sweat in that regard. Like, never mind cancelling it because it sucked; I'm not sure they had enough material left to keep going without a "Rhubarb/Peas And Carrots" song by the extras.

Yeah, there's a lot of shoe-horning. The undercover hooker number in Episode 10 is kind of a fun late-'80s pop song, but it's also exactly the kind of thing people who don't like musicals complain about. Clunky cue line, flimsy excuse for existing, flimsier excuse for scantily clad dancing girls. And as you keep pointing out, the zombie extras who have no idea what to do. Only McCrane's reaction shots salvage it. Pretty sure reenacting the "Love Is A Battlefield" video while undercover is entrapment, though.

And even non-musically, we get a "story" about LaRusso wanting to impregnate his attorney so he'll have something to live for in prison? Huh?

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My notes on LaRusso wanting a LaBaby with LaMonotone, verbatim: "'I wanna get you pregnant' [throws up hands]." I was paying bills during most of his scenes because Onorati's facial expression literally never varies, neither does Teri Austin's (I keep almost calling her "Tracy Austin"; VERY different show), and I just can't care. I tried to care about Sheryl Crow's lyric about squirrels or whatever in that number with the undercovers going after "The Campus Rapist" -- nice naming convention; maybe make ANY effort? -- but mostly I was concerned that I was watching the previous episode again by mistake, because we'd JUST HAD a song with undercovers, the one you just mentioned. And the songwriting doesn't really allow me to distinguish between them.

Seriously! But let's not let the squirrel line -- or any of it -- off the hook so easily. Because unlike the undercover sex workers, who we never see again, the rapist is a full arc. It's kind of a great setup: The female cops are getting ready to go undercover to catch this guy, and they're really fired up about it. They're mad. It's a surprisingly feminist moment from this show, all things considered. And then poor Sheryl Crow sings, "He's just a squirrel / waiting for a pretty girl." He...what? That's not a thing! I assume they meant "rat" but couldn't think of a good rhyme and figured any old rodent would do, but (a) no and (b) how Stockholm Syndromed am I that I'm making excuses for them now?

And then, to top it all off, a fucking man catches the rapist, more or less by accident.

The unsung (as it were) parts of that arc are absurd; no understanding of procedure, at all, even on an "I've watched a lot of these shows" level. Like, sure, an ID from a survivor will fix the whole case after Officer Howard cowboyed the search. Add to that a tonally awkward cut from an ad break to extras in the mayor's commercial singing about the drug epidemic and I have no choice but to conclude that the writers on both sides of the genre aisle were so burnt that they didn't second-guess any scene or song they'd completed, just shoved it out of the plane. And I get it, because I was so burnt myself by midway through Episode 11 that I just wanted them to get to their self-regarding meta sing-along and end it already.

The mayor's commercial was almost bad on purpose. It sounded like a bad PSA because it WAS a bad PSA. It could have been a self-aware joke if half the songs hadn't also sounded like that in other contexts.

Speaking of self-aware jokes, you clearly want to get to it, and I don't blame you. I'm sure I've read about the ending of Cop Rock before but I'd forgotten it was coming, or I didn't realize it was so literal. The actual show stopped SO abruptly. It didn't even feel like the scene was over. I kind of appreciated the joke, and that the whole cast got to sing one last song together, but I would have liked a little more respect for even this story.

Plus, in the "we're cancelled" scene, Cox says, "I loved my character." WHY?

God, seriously. I mean, sure, it's a thorny character on paper and would be a challenge for an actor, but...on THIS paper he was just a bigoted cartoon, so you need some clarification there. And I was struck, again, by the leaden editing of the discussion between him and Curtis-Hall. This isn't Debate Club, gents. Jump each other's lines before we're all as old as Ruskin.

But as usual, that was the calm before yet another storm of preening self-pity and "jokes" that aren't. An...actual fat lady, on a swing. That isn't funny or clever, people! It's not even offensive; it's just weird! And then everyone's singing in these Bobby Blue Bland growly voices that aren't pleasant to listen to, except McCrane, who gets one line to everyone else's four, OF COURSE. I wanted to walk down that line of mics and fucking slap every single person.

I guess we should be grateful they didn't make Barbara Bosson the fat lady?

Bad enough they tried to sell her as "too sexy now" for voters. With gentle respect: no.

Well, we know Mel Silver has poor judgment.

There's a world in which this could work, and that world involves people who actually know how to write musicals. Which these days includes quite an impressive roster of pop stars and writers too, if someone really wanted Cop Rock to rock (which, P.S., it didn't). I shouldn't even put this out into the world but I sort of want to see a semi-ironic reboot on FX, run by Ryan Murphy and Shawn Ryan. Guys, call me; I have a long list of songwriters and actors for you who could pull this off...or at least not suck as much as the original did.

Yeah, you know, I don't gravitate towards musicals ("she says, jockeying for Understatement Of The Year") but I still don't particularly enjoy piling on Cop Rock, because I do respect that Bochco & Co. tried to do something different and ambitious. And it's still an interesting work overall, to me, because the reasons that it fails aren't necessarily that the two genres don't belong together. But it does seem like perhaps defensiveness about, or an undue focus on the idea of, a police procedural and singing not "going together" meant that the real issues with the writing, musical and not, weren't addressed with any clarity.

Agreed! You can take the songs out and it's still a bad cop show. You can take the cop show out and they're still bad songs. I said in our very first conversation that I had no problem with the concept, and I stand by that. There were even a few moments, though they were very few and far between, where I saw glimmers of how it might work. But it didn't work here. Still, I'm glad to have finally seen it. It certainly lived up to the legend.

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