Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

"The heart isn't a wimp. It's a muscle. And it doesn't have time for love. It's too busy pumping blood."

1980s half-hour US comedy about an inept cop - the titular Inspector Sledge Hammer - who sees violence as the solution to everything.

His catchphrases include "Trust me - I know what I'm doing" and "Don't confuse me."

Basically each week he's assigned to a case which requires subtlety and tact, so it's disastrous slapstick all the way. In Haven't Gun, Will Travel, his gun gets kidnapped, which gives him him a personality-breakdown. Understandable really, he does talk to it a lot. Which is itself understandable given how often he hears it reply.

Thug: "Drop your gun and kick it over here."


Thug: "I said kick it over here."

Hammer: "Forget it, slimeball. I never kick a friend when he's down."

Sledge Hammer! used to air here in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in any timeslot at all, so long as it was after midnight. I'd love to lay-into ITV for this, but they were clearly just taking care to reflect how much it had slid around the schedules in the US. Consequently, in the UK the show developed a similarly devoted following of fans, determined to watch it despite the network's best efforts to out-manoeuvre them.

Much of the show's post-modern humour got lost over here, including references to what was airing on the other channel at the time of its original US broadcast. E.g. In the UK, when Hammer exclaimed "Between Dallas and Miami - what a terrible place to be!", sadly neither the BBC nor Channel 4 were diligent enough to be screening Dallas and/or Miami Vice at that moment.

We also got our commercial breaks stuck in at some crazy moments too, as I recall on occasion mid-scream, but that was nothing compared to how sliced to ribbons many of the episodes were. The Colour Of Hammer was practically just the long sequence in the pool hall. How refreshing to at last be able to watch the whole story on DVD.

Another curious mutation in the UK was the absence of the show's laugh-track. (in the 1970s M*A*S*H had benefited enormously from the same spin) This made Sledge Hammer! seem like less of a sitcom and more of a comedy-drama. It also killed some of the jokes, as the removal of an audience-chuckle often caused a funny line to be followed by an awkward pause.

As a result I always found the show to have quite a raw feeling to it, as though it had been written and shot in such a hurry that it was still quite rough around the edges.

Well, I could hardly keep that attitude when viewing the obligatory DVD documentary about what a finely-honed comedy masterpiece Sledge Hammer! was. In fact, having just enjoyed both series again, I find I have to agree with them, to a point.

Some of it does require a bit of polish, particularly lines that are delivered for realism instead of for the gag, but I can't help thinking that might make it too sharp, and spoil some of its friendliness.

All 41 episodes are reliably funny throughout, and despite the '12' certificate, I found it all to be family viewing. There's no swearing, no sex, no drug abuse, and the violence is always cartoon.

My favourite character is the long-suffering Captain Trunk. You'd expect the guy's stress-levels to gradually build over the course of the series. Instead actor Harrison Page starts the first episode at the top of his full-blown anger, and somehow, incredibly, maintains it throughout the entire two-year run.

The show is not just about a violent cop either. The writers are smart enough to put Hammer into situation after situation in which he is simply completely incompetent. It's a huge showcase for actor David Rasche's wide comedy range, as his undercover cases require him to impersonate everyone from a champion Elvis impersonator to a British hairdresser.

Brit: "Cheerio."

Hammer: (confused)"Rice Krispie."

Not forgetting those perfect moments when everything comes together beautifully…

Doc: "Hammer? I have the lab report."

Hammer: "What is it Doc? I can take it."

Doc: "There's no euphemistic way for me to say what I have to say. I'm sorry, but you're going to die."


Hammer: "You're sure?"

Doc: "Yes. You have somehow ingested the venom from some exotic species of cobra. It's usually fatal within five days."

Doreau: "Isn't there an antidote?"

Doc: "Yes! Actually there's a group of Trappist monks who maintain a monastery in the apex of the Andes mountains who've developed a serum that's used as the antidote."

Doreau: "Well call them!"

Doc: "Unfortunately they've taken a vow of silence."

Hammer: "You got five days - isn't that enough time Doc?"

Doc: "Sure. But you've been unconscious for the last four and a half days."

Hammer: "So I got twelve hours left."

Captain: "No, eleven hours. Last night daylight savings time started."

Hammer: "Alright, eleven Doctor."

Doc: "But… you've been sleeping on the couch for the last two-and-a-half hours, so that means you have eight-and-a-half hours left."

Hammer: "No, YOU have eight-and-a-half hours left! You find that antidote!"

Doreau: "Doctor I hope you don't take this personally. Don't you think we should get a second opinion?"

Doc: "Mine is the ninth. Eight of us are in agreement."

Hammer: "Then let's talk to the other guy!"

Doc: "Okay, but he thinks you should be dead already."


Hammer: "Listen you quack! You don't know me! I don't take this kind of stuff lying down!"


In They Shoot Hammers, Don't They?, Hammer phones snitch Shy Eddie for information, and you can tell from the master shot that every one of those phones between them is going to get used over the course of the sketch.

This sequence is so well-executed as to be truly worthy of the Marx Brothers.

With season two, the show slides into ever more surreal storylines, with Hammer's character becoming a parody of everyone from Robocop to Max Headroom.

But it's the cliffhanger ending to season one that still has me laughing 20 years on. Thank God that London Weekend Television actually managed to run this, and its resolution at the start of season two, in the correct order. There has never been a cliffhanger and resolution so brilliant in the history of TV.

Both seasons' DVD releases are lovingly put together, including little-known in-character TV spots and absolutely fascinating commentaries from creator Alan Spencer that make me wonder why he's not a performer himself.

There's no doubt about it - Sledge Hammer! is one of those very rare series where everyone knew what they were doing.


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