My favourite-ever comedy series is 30 years old this year. Buried away late at night on ITV when it aired in the UK, Sledge Hammer was a hugely underrated cop show that ran for two series in the 1980s. With the title character played by the charismatic and hilarious David Rasche, it sent up Dirty Harry and featured a variety of huge names ranging from Davy Jones from the Monkees to Brion James and Adam Ant.
Hammer’s nihilistic nature was counterbalanced by his high-kicking partner Dori Doreau and his highly-stressed boss Captain Trunk. Each episode of Sledge Hammer sent up a different film, ranging from The Colour of Money, to Robocop, to Casablanca, to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
Unbelievably, it was devised and written by a 16-year-old and a team of writers, many of whom went onto write for the Simpsons, explaining the high joke count. The first season ends when Sledge Hammer accidentally blows up the city with a nuclear bomb: “this is shaping up to be a really bad day”, when writers were unsure that a second series would be commissioned. It was eventually, and was pitched as taking place five years before – even though there were hundreds of deliberate continuity errors which meant that wasn’t possible. (Including Hammer and Doreau meeting for the first time in the first series.)
Here’s a list of my favourite Sledge Hammer episodes, so that 30 (THIRTY!) years later, you can enjoy it as much as I do. It was hard to narrow it down, but “Trust me, I know what I’m doing”.
- Under the hammer (pilot)We’re first introduced to Sledge when the mayor’s daughter has been kidnapped (or according to the news bulletin ‘could be really good at hiding’) and he needs the right man to find her. The mayor turns on the TV and sees this interview take place after a robbery:“I was in the grocery store when two thugs entered and threatened the owner with shotguns. I drew my Magnum and killed them both. Then I bought some eggs, some milk and some of those little cocktail weenies.”Interviewer: “Inspector Hammer, was what you did in the store absolutely necessary?”
“Oh yes, I had no groceries at all”.
And that’s just two minutes into the first episode! It’s followed by Hammer dealing with a sniper by bazookaing an entire building, an interrogation scene where Sledge draws out information in a blindfolded knife-throwing scenario (other techniques include playing the saxophone at an informant and the use of a Voodoo doll), as well as a genius scene where Hammer makes a suspect beat himself up to avoid any accusations of police brutality.
2.Dori Day afternoon” (season 1, episode 5) Not two minutes into the episode, Hammer beeps his horn aggressively and Doreau suggests meditation might help with his violent issues. Then, a man threatens to jump from a 10th storey window ledge but Hammer shoots at his feet, forcing him to fall back into the building. Problem solved, but only one bullet left. Unfortunately, Hammer and Doreau then end up in the middle of a TWO-man bank heist while Captain Trunk’s sympathies lie with the robbers. It turns out the motivation for the robbery is to get enough funds for an operation for the robber’s 16-year-old sister.
Hammer: “That’s too bad about your sister”
Robber: “I know. I didn’t think her nose was that big”.
3. All Shook Up (season 1, episode 7) One of my favourite episodes ever. Fifteen Elvis impersonators have been murdered leading Sledge no alternative but to enter the contest himself. There’s a brilliant scene where Sledge eats his lunch in the morgue and just check out this chalk outline of the one of the murder victims…
- Hammer: “In all my years of being a cop, I will never understand how people time and time again can do something like this.”
Doreau: “It’s true. The taking of a human life is just deplorable.”
Hammer: “Not that. Drawing the chalk outlines around the bodies. It’s a RIDICULOUS way to make a living.”
Sledge Hammer: “Where am I in this line-up?”
Dori: “You follow a guy from Dallas and precede somebody from Miami.”
Sledge Hammer: Between Dallas and Miami… what a terrible place for me to be!
4. Magnum Farce (season 1, episode 9)
As much fun as Sledge Hammer is to watch, it must have been an absolute has to be involved in the filming. In this episode, the three main characters are given the opportunity to accuse each other of “bad acting” as they must lead the vigilantes to believe that Sledge wants to join them.
With it being the 1980s, there is the chance to make some original “Ms” jokes, plus a charades scene in a sauna that comes to mind every time I visit one.
Vigilante: “What do you think about the death penalty?”
Sledge: “It’s too lenient”
Vigilante: “The reason we’re here is to invite you to join a clandestine group whose members share the singular purpose of righting wrongs through force and aggression.”
Sledge: “Oh, I’m already a registered Republican”
Hammer: “Captain Trunk, can you please tell Ms Swimsuit here just exactly how you managed to untangle the web of assorted clues that led you to this house?”
Trunk: “I live next door. I heard all the shooting and I ran over here to see what was going on.”
5. Miss of the Spider Woman (season 1, episode 11)
A myopic assassin accidentally poisons Hammer with snake venom, giving rise to lots of jokes about lifetime guarantees and a fight scene with a snake.
Doreau: “Hammer, the poison wasn’t for you!”
Hammer: “Oh this is great. Now when I die, my neighbour’s life will flash in front of my eyes.”
Hammer (on being presented with the antidote): “How can I ever thank you?”
Trunk: “Don’t drink it”
Doctor: “I’m sorry but you are going to die.”
Hammer smashes up the office, stopping only to salute the flag. Then sits down: “are you sure”?
6. Comrade Hammer (season 1, episode 20)
North by North West meets From Russia with Love in this tribute to Alfred Hitchcock which sees Hammer and Doreau accompany a Russian defector on a cross-country train journey. There are some fantastically-executed set pieces such as Hammer and the Russian professor trying to eat and sleep while handcuffed together and some great visual jokes about the fellow passengers on their way to a twins convention.
The two Russians practise pretending to be waiters:
“How many in your party?”
“There are 30 million in Communist party!”
Sledge ruins a game of chess by playing draughts with the pieces and suggests that the pair do target practice instead
Professor: “If you don’t mind, Inspector, I’m too nervous to play”
Hammer: “Red Square!”
“It’s too stuffy in here, I must get some air.” Stands up and knocks his head on the bunk bed, making it collapse with Hammer inside it.
Muffled voice: “You’re right, it is stuffy in here.”
7. Jagged Sledge (season 1, episode 21)
Inevitably perhaps, Sledge finds himself in court for murder. What could be 30 minutes of courtroom clichés is a hilarious mash up of misbehaving jurors, indoor golf and Hammer interviewing himself thanks to a tape recorder, plus the victim’s son giving his job title as: “surviving son and professional playboy.”
TV journalist: “Do you think Inspector Hammer is guilty?”
Man: “Yes, I do!”
Doreau: “Who was that?”
Trunk: “Hammer’s attorney”
8. Big Nazi on campus (season 2, episode 2)
There’s a murder at “Generic University- where education is a bargain” – a precursor to the writers’ trademark use of signs outside educational establishments in The Simpsons. Hammer automatically suspects the victim’s boyfriend because he is a footballer, but Doreau uses actual police tactics and solves the case.
Hammer: “You’re under arrest for murder”
Teddy: “Oh yeah, who did I kill?”
Hammer: “Janet Parker”
Teddy: “Oh my God, Janet’s dead?”
Hammer: “Well if you murdered her, of course she’s dead.”
Sledge Hammer: “Every breath you take, every move you make… I’ll be watching you. That’s police talk.”
Trunk: “Tell me the status of the co-ed murder case.”
Hammer: “Well, the victim is still dead”
9. If I had a little hammer (season 1, episode 10)
Twelve newborns have disappeared from the maternity hospital leading Trunk to suspect a baby-stealing ring. He wants Hammer well away from this case but Hammer is full of empathy. “I too have suffered a sense of loss like everyone else. I lost my luggage once and I was cut up about it for weeks.” The trail leads Hammer and Doreau through a car wash with informant Shy Eddie (who also stars in a brilliant of-its-time scene in “They shoot hammers, don’t they” where he passes information to Sledge via a bank of telephones in a hotel lobby) to pose as a wealthy childless couple.
Hammer: “I’m in homicide. I deal with scumsuckers, not thumbsuckers!”
Hammer “What was the baby’s name?
Parent: “We hadn’t actually chosen a name before he was stolen.”
Hammer: “How about Rob?”
Hammer: “Any distinguishing scars or tattoos? Did your baby have any enemies?”
Adoption agency owner: “I wouldn’t leave Lizzy Borden with you two!”
Hammer: “Good! I ordered a boy!”
10. Colour of Hammer (season 1, episode 16)
Yes, I inserted the “u” back into “colour”. Hammer’s hero, a hardline judge uncharacteristically lets a criminal go free before being murdered himself. The trail leads Hammer to a game of pool with a hustler set to a great 80s soundtrack before the obligatory fight scene.
Hustler: “I’ll cool my shots! I’ll take your arm off next!”
Hammer: “You do and you’ll pay for the jacket!”
Interviewer Brianne Brian: “Where do you stand on the electric chair?”
Judge Jackson: “Right next to the switch.”
There were many that didn’t quite make the list; the scene in ‘Icebreaker’ where Hammer tries to save the Bishop of Costa Pobre from an assassin, but it turns into a WWF scene; the scene in ‘Over my dead bodyguard’ where a woozy Hammer tries to save Trunk for the fourth time from a drugs gang in the hospital; and ‘Witless’ (no prizes for guessing which film this is meant to be) where Hammer hilariously escapes various assassination attempts and ends up hiding with a “Many note” father and daughter. There’s a shower scene that makes me roar with laughter every time I see it, a scene where Sledge Hammer sends up the movie cliche where a woman cleans a man’s wound. There’s also Sledge Hammer doing sarcasm:
Trunk: “I understand you’re a marked man. Word on the street is there’s already been an attempt on your life.”
Hammer: “Ooh, colour me frightened. Did they succeed?”
So happy birthday Sledge Hammer! Whether you were a fan or have never heard of this series, have a look and please let me know what you think!