Spin-offs: Hill Street Blues and Beverly Hills Buntz.

We’re in the last full week of the month which means it’s time for another failed spin-off. For those of you new to the action, my friends over at the Longbox Heroes After Dark podcast take a monthly look at an attempt to spin off from a successful show. I invited myself to be a part of the proceedings. In a way, forcing a spin off myself. So far we’ve looked at attempts to double the success of Married with Children, the Nanny, Sanford and Son, and more. On this Friday’s episode the podcast will look at the last episode of Hill Street Blues and the pilot episode for this spin off.

If you would like to hear the Longbox Heroes – Todd and Joe – talk about this head over to their site this Friday and take a listen.

Hill Street Blues ran from 1981 to 1987 and unquestionably changed TV. While I was familiar with the show’s existence and I’m sure I was in the room while adults were watching it, I was not. This episode is the first time in my life I watched even a minute of the show. Nothing against it, just not one that ever gave me a reason to go back. AS the last episode of the series this hour featured many changes and resolutions. Scenes that would have weight for longtime viewers but meant nothing to me as a neophyte.

That being said, I was intrigued throughout the entire episode. The 1980’s saw police departments gutted followed by a rise and glorification of vigilante culture. While some shows and movies cast police as the villains, Hill Street Blues took a different path. Much like comics would later deconstruct super heroes to show they aren’t perfect, Hill Street did the same with the Law. They aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. Sometimes they break a few laws for the greater good. Even ones that could be great at their jobs are messes in their personal lives. It felt as real as scripted TV can get. Thanks to never naming the city where HSB takes place it also became universal.

Even watching this episode over 30 years later the truths still held. I’m not going to remember the names of the extensive cast but everyone had moments. Worries about family. Questions of honor. Detachment from work and reality. Trying to make the world a little bit better, even off the clock. There are a million current shows and movies I need to catch up on but this was so well done I felt like watching it would be mentally rewarding. A high calorie dessert for my brain.

Then there’s Beverly Hills Buntz.

Buntz, played by Dennis Franz, is a complicated officer on Hill Street Blues. Overall on the side of good, but willing to step a toe over certain lines to get results. In the last episode of HSB he is suspended pending investigation he stole cocaine from evidence. It’s tough to get everyone to believe you would never do anything of the sort when there’s a long list of doing similar acts with personal justification. He has the support of his commanding officer and even his informant, Sid the Snitch. A man with the support and respect from both sides of the spectrum may have just done something good along the way to earn that. It’s a serious and well acted role.

Which makes it all the more shocking to send this same character, along with his one sided best friend Sid the Snitch, all the way to Beverly Hills. Buntz opens up a private eye business and the two men discover that Los Angeles is not like Chi… Buff… Pitts… where ever Hill Street Blues took place.

The problem with the show is trying to serve too many masters. A half hour sitcom with some dramatic moments starring the violent hard nosed cop viewers have already seen for years. With only one hour behind me, I was still shocked by the 180 Buntz takes from the 5-0 to the 5. And that hurts the show.

Buntz isn’t a bad show. He and Sid having crazy adventures and taking down bad guys works. Psych was a successful comedy P.I. show that went on for years, so the formula can work. I enjoyed the episode, but the whole time here’s this guy that was literally just a hard boiled detective two minutes ago. Now he has makes too many mistakes to be Abbot but is also too serious to be Costello.

Also, I don’t know what I recognize Dana Wheeler-Nicholson from but her character, struggling actress and writer Rebecca Griswold was perfect. Female lead attractive but also with a girl next door look that is believable to inevitably be with Buntz by the end of the series.

Some of these spin offs failed because they were horrible. This one I think fails because it’s such a departure from an already established character. Even with some more time in between shows it may have been more successful.

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