I think the problem was that the world was just not ready for Cop Rock in 1990. A gritty police drama, produced by Steven Bochco, where the cops and politicians and judges and jurors and crack dealers suddenly burst into song? The reviews were terrible. The audience never happened. It is on some lists of the worst TV series of all time. I feel pretty strongly that if it had aired at any time in the last five years, maybe even the last decade, it would have fared far better. We have seen many series in this new Golden Age of TV that were as weird as this one was, and some even weirder. In 1990 we had not seen Glee, to name just one.
It wasn’t on such a list at my house. Every Wednesday night a lot of my friends would gather and we would all sit down to watch it. We loved it! We were devastated when we heard it was being cancelled after only eleven episodes. Since then I understand that it has been shown in reruns on VH1 and A&E, but I never saw it. But finally, finally it is available on DVD and I can see it all over again.
It is as good as I remembered. Even better, in some ways. The actors are all very good, and can sing respectably. There were about nine different songwriters involved, and their music is good. I tend to prefer the bigger ensemble pieces to the one-person, more emotional ballads, but that’s just me. I love it when the show goes surreal, with an ordinary setting transforming into some fantasyland. This show manages to combine horrific plot elements, such as the drive-by shooting of a four-year-old, with hilarious satire and over-the-top comic relief. Barbara Bosson (Steven Boccho’s wife at the time) as Madame Mayor and Ronnie Cox as the wannabe cowboy Chief of Police, are a great pair. Anne Bobby is wonderful as a beat cop married to an older man, a forensics specialist who gets more and more paranoid every day she is partnered with a handsome, much younger man.
There are several story arcs in play, but the main one is set up in the first episode, when Vincent LaRusso, a cop played by Peter Onorati, flat-out executes a piece-of-shit black cop killer right in front of his black partner. The captain (Peter Joshua) knows he did it, and vows to take him down. Most of the rest of the series deals with the consequences of that murder.
Onorati later co-starred with Mariel Hemingway in Civil Wars, another Bochco show about a firm of divorce lawyers. So I’ve seen him play a good guy. But he is so horrifyingly mean in this show that it’s hard to remember him being anything else but bad. And the awful thing about the character of LaRusso is that he sincerely believes he is a good cop … and in one way (and only one way), he actually is. All he wants to do is bring down the bad guys, and they are demonstrably bad, horrible. But it is his methods that will leave you in no doubt that he is the worst cop on the force. He never understands the terrible disrespect that he showed his partner, Donnie, by doing his executing right in front of him. It put the man in an untenable situation. I have no doubt that Vincent would have “stood up” for Donnie if the situation were reversed, and he can’t understand why Donnie finally decides to testify against him. The thing is, the situation never would be reversed. Donnie would not do that, ever.
To this day Steven Bochco states that of all the shows he was involved in, he is proudest of this one. And that is really something, coming from the man who created Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.