Thoughts on “Hunter”

So after taking some time off to rewatch shows, I dove into my stack of TV shows that I at least hadn’t watched in years and decided to try watching “Hunter”, a cop series starring Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer (yes, that’s the real spelling of her first name).  To me, this seemed to be a prime candidate for a show that was coloured by nostalgia, and so where I’d remember liking it far more than I’d like the rewatch.  So I was worried that it would turn out like its contemporary, “Remington Steele”, which is one reason why I was so hesitant to take the time to sit down and watch it.  And I can say that my fears were … pretty much baseless.

So why did this show turn out better than “Remington Steele” did?  My impression from watching it was that the show did, in fact, know what kind of show it wanted to be and wrote its episodes with that in mind, unlike “Remington Steele” which never really felt like it knew what it wanted to be.  This, of course, was a bit of a weird conclusion given that “Hunter” actually changed the show it was over the course of its seven seasons.  So despite reworking itself completely once and tweaking itself at least once or twice more, it still managed to feel like it knew what it wanted to be more than “Remington Steele” did.

The show essentially started off as a “Dirty Harry” parody/satire, with Fred Dryer’s Rick Hunter as the cowboy cop in the Harry Callahan vein, partnered up with a “Dirty Harriet” in Kramer’s Dee Dee McCall.  After Hunter’s latest partner ends up in the hospital like so many of his partners, his captain insists that he needs to have a partner despite his not wanting on.  So he goes to McCall who doesn’t have a partner either and also doesn’t want one, and works out a deal where they will be partners in name only but will be able to go their own way and do their own thing.  Of course, this leads to hijinks as the captain tries to catch on to their trick, but as the first season goes on they respect each other more and are willing to actually become partners.  At some point, the captain is also replaced with someone who is less hostile to Hunter and McCall and more simply exasperated by their actions, and the show continues on with a semi-serious parody of Dirty Harry.

What’s interesting about this is that the show “Sledge Hammer!” has more in common with “Hunter” than it does with “Dirty Harry”, so much so that it works better as being seen as a parody of “Hunter” than of “Dirty Harry”.  You have the physically capable but less cowboy female partner, the frustrated captain who nonetheless seems to respect their skills and abilities, and of course the over the top gunplay and use of guns, along with the beat up car that keeps getting destroyed.  At least some of these elements were in the “Dirty Harry” movies, of course, but “Sledge Hammer!” works better as an exaggeration of the “Hunter” elements than it does of the movies.

Anyway, in the second season the show starts to get a lot more serious.  And, often, far too serious.  Hunter and McCall are friendly and work together, and have great chemistry and great banter, but the plots get pretty dark, including one where a woman who plotted to murder her father, stepmother and the man who helped her do that — because he was blackmailing her into a sexual relationship — ends up being placed — by Hunter — into a position where she would either receive none of her inheritance and so would be poor or else she could get the money by confessing to the killing and thus solving the crime.  The final scene of the episode implies that she kills herself by overdosing on pills that she puts in yogurt, which as you might imagine is pretty depressing.  Yes, she was a killer, but she also had been portrayed somewhat sympathetically and so we didn’t really want to see that happen to her.  One of the issues with the change in tone is that they kept the banter and often the final scenes with a final punchline — think of the endings of many Star Trek TOS episodes — and it really clashed with the dark tone of the episodes at times.

In the third season and beyond, though, they managed to strike a better balance, and so the seriousness and the banter and humour were better balanced.  They also cycled through more competent and more sympathetic captains, ending with Devane who was for the most part on Hunter’s side.  So what you’d generally get were some dramas, some lighter episodes, and some decent action in every episode, highlighted by the chemistry between the leads.  So it worked really well and ended up just being, in general, entertaining.

At the end of season 6 and all through season 7, the show started adding in more and more separate plots, and splitting up the leads to pursue them.  This can work if the plots are all on the same theme, or if you have clear A and B plots.  However, here the show had multiple plots, and while some of them could be seen as being more serious the show itself didn’t focus on the more important plots more and use the other plots as secondary or as diversions.  In fact, they often had the same character doing two or more plots/investigations at a time, which didn’t make sense and often took time away from the more serious and/or interesting plots.  So the show came across as unfocused which hurt the entertainment value.  And it also went back to being excessively dark, while ending both seasons on lighter, joke plots that somewhat clashed with the tone of the rest of the season.

Stepfanie Kramer leaves at the end of season 6, and I think they botched her exit.  She leaves to marry a previously unknown beau, which is not a problem in and of itself.  However, he talks about giving up a prestigious position in London to stay with her in LA, and then when the position he wanted to get in LA doesn’t seem like it will work out this creates a dilemma for her.  This is also not an issue and works fairly well.  No, the problem is that when her life is placed in danger he ends up demanding that she leave the force, when she really didn’t want to.  This makes him look like a complete jerk.  And they didn’t need to have him be that forceful.  He was already established as someone who didn’t want to interfere with her career because he knew how important it was to her, and so since she knew that it was already established that his sacrificing for her was eating at her a bit.  All they needed to do was have him suffer and worry silently and at most express some doubts that he could ever get used to his wife being in that much danger all the time to get her thinking about whether giving up her career to marry him might be what’s best for her.  But as it is she gives up her career for someone that we can easily see as unreasonable, which is not at all desirable.

In season 7, Kramer is replaced by Darlanne Fluegel, who lasted half a season before wanting out after reportedly having creative differences with Dryer, who was the star and a producer at the time and so, well, we know who was going to win that one.  That being said, her character didn’t have all that much to do in the season so her complaints might have been valid, or that might merely have been a reflection of the fact that the actress didn’t want to do what they wanted her to do.  She’s replaced by Lauren Lane who was CC in “The Nanny”, and who does a better job in her role.  But season 7 was the last season, and it made sense as the show had started to spin its wheels a bit in the final season, especially since the wonderful chemistry between the leads was lost.

Still, ultimately, the show was generally entertaining, which is more than I can say for other shows that I’ve watched.  The plots and drama probably weren’t groundbreaking — maybe for the time — but worked well enough for what they were.  This series is going into the closet and not into the boxes because I will probably watch it again at some point.

Up next is “Relic Hunter”, as that’s the series in my stack that I’ve had the longest and not finished.

One Response to “Thoughts on “Hunter””

  1. Thoughts on “Knives Out” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] So much so that I thought in considering that that this entire plot would work really well … as an episode of “Hunter”.  There is a murder and they discover or have hints that it was done accidentally by someone, with […]

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