Sunday, March 2, 2014

Arresting Behavior/Bakersfield PD (TV)

(1992, 1993)
Created by
Larry Levin
Arresting Behavior starred Leo Burmester, Ron Eldard, Chris Mulkey, Lee Garlington, Amy Hathaway, Eric Balfour, Joey Simmrin
Bakersfield PD starred Ron Eldard, Giancarlo Esposito, Chris Mulkey, Tonyy Plana, Brian Doyle-Murray, Jack Hallett
Arresting Behavior IMDB Entry
Bakersfield PD IMDB Entry

Cops came on the air in 1989, and was a sensation.  I suppose it was inevitable that it spawned parodies.  I was going back and forth which of these two shows I’d write about; they always struck me as quite similar, even considering their origin, but when I realized that the same person created both, my decision was made.

Arresting BehaviorArresting Behavior was the first.  At the time, the networks were experimenting with short-run series that ran in August as a tryout.  Seinfeld was the most successful of these, and Arresting Behavior was another experiment with the idea.

It was a direct parody of Cops.  Bill Ruskin (Leo Buhrmaster) and Pete Walsh (Ron Eldard) were two policemen in Vista Valley, CA, who were the subjects of a Cops-like show as a TV crew followed them around.*  Everything was played straight and without a laugh track, as they ran into comic situations in the stationhouse and on the job.  Pete’s brother Donny (Chris Mulkey) was also on the job, and was dealing with his messy divorce, and a restraining order that kept him 500 feet away from his kids at all times. 

One of the most memorable scenes was when Donny had the restraining order amended so he could get within 100 feet of his kids, so he meets them on a baseball diamond and hits fungoes.  By the end of the scene, he browbeats the kids so badly that it’s back to 500 feet by the time the show ends.

The humor is the type I love:  subtle jokes that sneak up on you.  And the point of view allowed for some other memorable moments:  you could see, for instance, that Ruskin’s wife was sleeping with the cameraman, though Bill never caught on.

The series got some critical notice and ran for the seven weeks it was planned for, but ABC declined to pick it up.

Bakersfield PDThe next year, creator Larry Levin managed to pitch essentially the same concept to Fox with Bakersfield PD.  It was the same situation:  a comedy about the life in a mundane police department.  Detective Paul Gigante (Giancarlo Esposito), who was half Italian and half Black,** had been transferred from the FBI to the more rural Bakersfield, and was teamed up with Wade Preston (Ron Eldard again).  Chris Mulkey was there, too, as a less psychotic officer, and Brian Doyle-Murray*** played the grizzled old desk sergeant.

The show played up Gigante’s professionalism and sophistication against the more laid back approach of the Bakersfield PD.****

The show ran a full season, but once again the humor didn’t catch on and the show was cancelled.  Levin produced some other shows, but nothing of note.  Mulkey, who had come to prominence in Twin Peaks, has had a very successful career in TV, usually in drama, while Eldard has been a dependable, if less prominent, TV and movie face.

And, of course, a few years later, Reno 911 took the concept and made it a hit, but used far broader humor for its success.

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*This is a very common conceit these days, but it still was new back in 1992. 

**Shades of Al Giadello of Homicide:  Life on the Street, which premiered earlier that year.  As a further connection, Esposito joined Homicide toward the end of its run.

***Brother of Bill.  He added “Doyle-” to avoid confusion with another Brian Murray.

****Much like the tension in Hot Fuzz (though not as good).

1 comment:

Nanto said...

I just happened to be digitizing my old VHS recordings of Arresting Behavior and Bakersfield P.D., and I came across your article via a Google search. Nice work!

One minor correction: seven episodes of Arresting Behavior were produced, but only four of them actually aired on ABC. The fifth episode was scheduled to air on September 9, 1992 (it was even listed in that week's issue of TV Guide) but ABC replaced it with another show and the final three episodes never aired (at least in the US).