My parents were true believers in babysitting by TV. I was the only kid in my neighborhood to have a TV in my room; heck we were the only family to have two TV’s. As a result I spent decades watching television, and nothing has changed much since then. I’m a passionate watcher. I find human truth in TV shows. Much of it is the viewpoint of the writer/director of what they believe the audience wants to hear or see at that moment in time. For example, Dragnet was a police show intent on informing us of the demons of crime at the time of free love and hippies. If you smoked marijuana, Friday was going to get you. Or the second season of True Detective; all I saw was dark violence, a base attempt to appeal to our lesser selves.
I find that I am most attracted to the reluctant hero. They stand out to me not because of the shows depiction of crime and conflict, but because of the character of the man confronted. All of my favorites had several things in common. First, the dude was a hunk. Aren’t we all? Second, the hunk could be a tough guy. Don’t we all think we are? Third, the tough guy never wanted to fight. He wanted to talk his way out of it or even avoid it. Fourth, the man was empathetic. He cared about people and it was this concern for the wellbeing of others that was the hook that drug him into conflict. There are a lot of examples of these, but I have a few that especially stand out to me.
Maverick, filmed between 1957 and 1962, it is a black and white series about a gambler, Bret Maverick (there were other Mavericks but they were faded shadows of Bret), played by James Garner. “Who is the tall dark stranger there, Maverick is the name.” That’s right, I still know the words to the theme song. Bret wasn’t a detective. He was a gambler who traveled from town to town, making a living playing cards. Basically a loner, in each episode he became reluctantly (there’s that word) entwined in a weaker soul’s conflict. His empathy forced him to abandon his self-interest in order to do battle for the weaker person. He’s witty and charming. Women love him, but can’t corral him. He’s a tumbleweed blowing in the wind (this sentence will never make one of my books).
Next up, The Rockford Files, airing from 1974 to 1980. Starring James Garner (yeah I know, I’m a Garner groupie) as Jim Rockford, it was essentially Bret maverick driving a gold Pontiac Firebird instead of riding a horse. There are two significant differences between Rockford and Maverick. First, Rockford was anchored. He lived in a trailer home on the beach instead of drifting from town to town. Second, he had a team. A very quirky, difficult to manage team, primarily his dad Rocky, and Angel, who always had a con going. Doesn’t seem like much, but it was impressive to me. The second line of the Maverick theme song is “Ridin’ the trail to who knows where…” makes Maverick seem sad. Rockford didn’t seem sad. He seemed happy in a dysfunctional way.
In the early to late 80’s there were two shows that hit my imagination, Magnum P.I. and Hill Street Blues. Both of these shows had great ensemble casts that all took their turn being tough, serious and funny. They mixed humor with anger, compassion, and passion. It was the unity of tough guys, and gals, banding together to complete difficult tasks. They fought with each other, but in the end, they were family and worked as a team.
In the mid-eighties, one of my favorite shows of all times (for the first three-ish seasons) aired, Moonlighting. Starring Bruce Willis as David Addison, and Cybil Shepherd as Maddie Hayes, it was hilarious. It was Bruce Willis at his best. It was romance, as David and Maddie went from thoroughly disliking each other to hubba-hubba. And it didn’t happen overnight. They took their time over several seasons before they, well you know. Unfortunately the amazing chemistry with them bickering while harboring secret desires, couldn’t survive the realization of those desires.
Anyway, Jake is bits and pieces of these characters. I see him as a reluctant hero and lover. He’s careful and caring. He sees the humor in everything around him and can’t keep it locked inside. He wants to settled down but can’t find his soul mate. He likes his clients less because they pay him and more because they value him. He laments missed opportunities but doesn’t let them drag him down. He’s a professional who appreciates the strength of a team.
Anyway, in my mind it all plays out like that.