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The Good Guys: "Common Enemies"

Illustration for article titled iThe Good Guys/i: Common Enemies
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At some base level, TV comedy is a deeply conservative genre. Most TV comedies are about a frantic attempt to regain the status quo, to keep things from changing. There's a real sense in many sitcoms that the best days are behind us, and if we would just work hard enough, we could get back to those days. Obviously, there are many great comedies that take a liberal political point of view (All in the Family, after all, was originally intended as a show about liberals getting one up over the crusty old conservatives), but the form itself encourages a kind of conservative philosophy. Likewise, TV drama, which is all about the status quo endlessly changing, encourages a kind of liberal philosophy, no matter the show's actual politics. Because these two terms have come to be so thoroughly associated with politics, it's hard to say something like this without being thoroughly misinterpreted (I can hear Daily Show fans readying up their keyboards), but both genres on TV are defined by their relationship to change. Comedies fight against change. Dramas embrace it.

The Good Guys is at its funniest and at its best when it's telling stories about how wussy new-fangled cop techniques are not as good as the kind of policing Dan Stark did back when he worked with Frank. The policing of the '80s was wilder and woolier and probably less thoughtful of suspects' rights than the policing of the present-day world, but, Dan would argue, it got things DONE. One of the things that makes this so funny is that it takes a genre that is philosophically conservative - comedy, where all change should be run away from - and weds it to a genre that is very often politically conservative - the classic cop show, where bleeding heart liberals have made it harder to keep the streets safe. The Good Guys doesn't have a political bone in its body, but the shows it's aping did, and that gives it a sort of contact high conservatism that can be very, very funny.


Take tonight's main plot, for instance: Dan and Jack are after someone known as the "Tech Bandit," a man who breaks into heavily guarded tech firms and rips off their technology, then sells it to the highest bidder. He's a mysterious force, lurking on the edges of society, and no one knows anything about him. Now, the two guys are tossed on the case by the Lieutenant, but not because their brand of police work is exactly what's needed to bring down the tech bandit. No, they've been asked to help out Alfonse Laviolette, a forensic investigator who's been brought in to look into the latest Tech Bandit robbery. Alfonse is the traditional TV intellectual egghead, relying on his scientific research and high-tech machines to get results, thereby continually delaying the investigation while he waits to get the information from the latest evidence. Needless to say, this style does not appeal to Dan. And even though Jack admires Alfonse quite a bit, it ends up not appealing to Jack either.

Because The Good Guys' heart is ultimately with the way things were, Dan and Jack prove more successful in catching up to the Tech Bandit, but only just. Their methods don't involve high-tech, hands-off police work. They involve Dan sucking on a rock to determine that the Tech Bandit enjoyed barbecue before performing his latest heist and taking a shot in the dark on said bandit being a food blogger when they can see him tapping away on his computer in footage from the barbecue joint. Alfonse comes to many of the same conclusions as the guys do, but he doesn't get there as quickly, and his methods end up nearly letting the robber escape, while Dan and Jack end up apprehending the guy after a lengthy car chase. Now, the show is on the side of Dan and Jack because they're the main characters, yet it's fair enough to Alfonse that he catches up to the guys at the hotel. This is not to mention that, in the end, Dan and Jack end up losing the Tech Bandit after having him behind bars, simply because they take a stupid chance (in the other storyline, which we'll get to in a minute). But the bulk of the plot here features some of the funniest stuff the show has done, and just watching Bradley Whitford take on guest star Ethan Phillips is great fun.


Unfortunately, the episode ends up being somewhat ungainly. After the Tech Bandit is in jail, something like 20 minutes of screentime are still left in the episode, and it abruptly shifts from a good-natured cop comedy to a cop drama with occasional laughs. All throughout the episode, Liz and the Lieutenant have been trying to capture a state senator (played by the always fun Ray Wise) into soliciting a prostitute, so they can bring him in on charges of the same. Eventually, Liz has to go in to get the senator to solicit her (and it's easy to see why he would), but the whole thing goes south, and she and the lieutenant end up the senator's hostages. Dan and Jack utilize the help of the Tech Bandit to break in to rescue the ladies (and Jack learns Dan slept with the lieutenant), but it's hard not to feel like the last third of this episode slowly leaks air. There aren't as many laughs, the action is not as well-executed, and the storyline goes from something we've been invested in to something that just seemed to be playing out in the background. Jenny Wade gets a few chances to be funny, but this plot seems to be more an attempt to get the girls in peril so Dan can prove his worth as a man to Liz yet again. Frankly, this part is just not as FUN as the opening plot.

And this is where all of that blather about the show's central philosophy comes in to play. The capture of the Tech Bandit is the show at its essentially conservative best, as Dan and Jack battle the forces of modernism to save the day (only, y'know, with jokes). The rescue of the girls is out of a more liberally oriented show, where bad things can happen and change is welcome and the relationships between the characters are more important than the laughs and the action. But The Good Guys isn't that kind of show. The only important relationship is between Jack and Dan, and that's one that has already gone through its natural evolution from "these two are mismatched" to "these two work together perfectly." For better or worse, The Good Guys has played out its arc, and all attempts to force a new one on it will probably feel a little strained. This is too bad, because "Common Enemies" was one of the best episodes the show had done until the plot abruptly shifted and it became one of the series' worst.


Stray observations:

  • Just a thought: There probably could have been more comic mileage out of Jack trying to get along with Alfonse and finding him an insufferable prig. As it was, it seemed like he shifted from respecting Alfonse to being on Dan's side awfully quickly.
  • I'm not sure what, if anything, the cameraman added to the episode. There were some funny jokes, and I like the self-mocking comment about how he'd found his act break, but it felt like maybe one element too many.
  • The rapid flashbacks are back, but the show seems to be using them a little less than it has in the past. I hope they keep experimenting with the device.
  • I'll probably keep doing these for a while. It seems like you guys like to read them (or comment on them, at least), and the ratings last week were so bad that I don't imagine it will be long for this world anyway.
  • "If I could shimmy, I would not be stuck."
  • "I may fail you. It's too early to tell."
  • "Dan Stark takes dictation from no one!"
  • "Where does fur come from? How does a can opener work?"
  • "And the vagaries of good barbecue in the Dallas metroplex."
  • "You never sit in another man's desk! That's like wrasslin' with another man's dog!"
  • "I just licked a stone, and I got the guy's picture!"
  • "We would haul his sorry ass downtown, and then we'd figure out what the facts were."
  • "I have to wash my hair. It smells like police."
  • "I think you need to worry about herpes being forever."
  • "Yes, Dan, I listened to the Foghat record you gave me. It just wasn't my thing."
  • "I don't know what the hell you're talking about, but I agree. Foghat rocks."
  • "Actually, I became a cat burglar to support my blog."
  • "Back in my day, the rule was, if you slept with a hostage, you had to save them yourself."

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