"Partners" has to be a lot of things. It has to be a likely series finale for The Good Guys, since the show is highly unlikely to ever come back. The ratings are low, and Fox seems unlikely to either renew it or shop it to other networks. (The ones that Fox's production studio sells to don't tend to be the kinds of networks that would, theoretically, be interested in The Good Guys, like USA.) It has to be a season finale, summing up the show's first season and introducing some ideas for a prospective season two, no matter how unlikely. It has to bring in a bunch of plot elements from earlier in the season that the show wants to return to, including Frank Savage and the Savage and Stark movie. But most of all, it has to come up with a sort of thematic statement of purpose, a punctuation mark on the season, so the episode seems like an ending to something when the DVD box set comes out.
On the first three counts, "Partners" doesn't quite work, but on the last count, it more than succeeds. The final scene, with Dan Stark telling the partner he could barely comprehend at season's start all about what police work SHOULD be about, is as good a statement of the show's ideals as the series has ever come up with. Police work has gotten far too technical and far too grim, the show argues. Come along with these guys, and let's just have fun busting punks. That's always what the show has promised, and in the series' finest hours, that's what it's more or less delivered. There's little complexity here, but there IS driving a car over a ramp to jump some traffic barrier barrels just for the hell of it. And more often than not, that's enough.
At the same time, it's not hard to read a little anger on the part of the show and its fans in this final speech. Dan's talking about how he never wants to go back into the precinct's CSI lab, and while that's a thematic tie to the pilot, where he ranted against modern crime-solving techniques, it's also a shot across the bow of all of the cop shows that have become popular while The Good Guys has become fairly obscure. For better or worse, the cop show template that viewers still seem to want (for whatever reason, since it bores me to tears, too) is that of noble knights crusading against the darkness, solving crimes with pseudo-science and catching the bad guys every single time. The Good Guys aimed for something different, something far sillier and more action-packed. It was an '80s throwback, sure, but it was also self-consciously trying to be everything those other shows were not. And even when I had problems with the show, I would have rather been watching it than, say, Criminal Minds. But not so most of America, apparently.
There's stuff in "Partners" that doesn't really work. For starters, Chris Klein just isn't much of an actor and hasn't been since Election. He's trying really hard here, but it's not working, and his Texas accent veers from unremarkable to completely ridiculous. Furthermore, for a show that can be pretty predictable, this episode was REALLY predictable. Klein was so obviously playing a dirty cop from the word go that any attempt to keep this a surprise was completely undercut. What's more, the weird attempts to build some sort of love triangle between Jack and Liz and Samantha felt undercooked and tossed in at the last minute. It doesn't exactly rise to the level of a cliffhanger, but having the two kiss at gunpoint, then having Liz notice lipstick on Jack's lips (after Samantha seemed to send a text message saying the two were having an affair) felt like something out of a much soapier show than the one we've been watching. The Good Guys has never been very good at this sort of thing; its interest has always been more with the action scenes and the goofy plots that spiral out of control. Yet it keeps trying to do this sort of thing for whatever reason, and it doesn't seem capable of pulling it off.
But the rest of it was fine, and as the episode sped toward its conclusion, it became more and more of a eulogy the show was delivering for itself. In particular, I was struck by the scene where Dan and Frank go to see a screening of Savage & Stark at a film festival solely for '80s oddities (and that's a film festival I'd love to go to). The two are sitting, watching the film, reliving their moment of greatest triumph, and they slowly come to realize that everybody else in the theater is laughing at the onscreen exploits of the actors playing them. The ridiculous nature of the movie (and, by extension, the show itself) is laughed off the screen by the jaded filmgoers, and even when Dan and Frank try and stand up to shout down the others in the theater, they're unable to really do so. The kinds of people they believe themselves to be are jokes to the filmgoers, and there's nothing they can really do about that. It's a surprisingly heartfelt scene, and it almost entirely justifies the idea of bringing back Frank, a concept that feels like it's going nowhere for the episode's first half.
And yet as the two go in to rescue Jack and Samantha from George (Klein), they get to reenact the moments of their greatest triumph. And it's here that the show again sets up its basic idea: The job doesn't need to be about public recognition when it can be about just doing the work for the fun of it. Sure, you could do stuff by the book, but why would you do it that way when you could do it AWESOMELY? Dan and Frank COULD proceed cautiously into the hostage situation, but then Jack and Samantha might die, and a bad cop might get away with it. By barging forward into one situation after another, Dan and Jack are able to save the day, but they're able to do it in a way that is exciting and amusing, more often than not. And if that's not what America wants to see, well, whatever.
- I liked the way the dine and dash plotline tied into the main plot. I haven't always liked these, "small crimes become big!" plots that the show has done, but I thought this one worked well. Or maybe it's just me cutting the show some slack in its last episode.
- I'm sure that Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford will be fine after this, but I do hope that Jenny Wade and Angela Sarafyan continue to find work. Both were generally winning with material that wasn't always up to par, and Sarafyan almost made me buy Samantha's lengthy crush on Jack. Almost. (To be fair, the show seemed to be setting her up as an alternate love interest in her first couple of appearances, but it let that slide in recent episodes, and I think that was a better call than … whatever this was supposed to be.)
- I like RonReaco Lee, too, but, man, the writers just kept having him and Bradley Whitford play out the same scene week after week after week. Too bad.
- Apparently, there were still some classic rock staples left to mine, with both "Street Fightin' Man" and "For Those About to Rock" turning up tonight. Man, the music budget on this show must have been insane.
- And with that, farewell! Hope you guys have enjoyed the show and the coverage, and we here at TV Club are proud to have the most weirdly comprehensive Good Guys coverage on the Web, for all future DVD followers.