Have you ever watched an episode of "Cops"
and marveled at the crime-stopping sixth sense of the officer who just
pulled over a pick-up truck for a broken tail-light and wound up
finding a cajillion kilos of coke? Ever been amazed at how the
whorehouse raid shown on a "Hard Copy" goes off with the good guys "on
top" and those evil prostitutes and johns are escorted ceremoniously
to jail with happy sheriff's deputies looking on? Ever been awe-struck
at the heroism displayed by Officer Kruptke on "True Stories of the
Highway Patrol" as he noticed the bulge in a criminal's overcoat and
brought him down in a flying tackle before he could rob the 7-11?
On the other hand, have you ever stopped
to wonder why we never see the traffic stop that results in a bungled
search that results in a half million dollar invasion of privacy suit
against the city of Tulsa? Or we don't see officers negotiating deals
of cash and favors with suburban husbands found in a room with
fourteen-year-old prostitutes? Or a vivid re-creation of a Sheriff
tackling a man he thought was robber but turned out to be a
57-year-old green grocer who was paralyzed in a struggle because the
sheriff arrived at the wrong 7-11?
Then perhaps you need to catch a few
episodes of the new USA network series, "The Man," a shrill retort to
shows like "Cops" and "Highway Patrol" in which convicts and ordinary
citizens are given their own chance to tell tales of police
incompetence and narrate re-creations of events in which the cops do
not look into the camera to assure the audience of their devotion to
protecting and serving.
The brainchild of Charlie Cohen and Adam
Ran, two recent graduates of NYU's film and television program, "The
Man" uses a format which meshes "Highway Patrol" and "Cops" (two of
the most popular series in syndication) to introduce an ordinary Joe
or Jane and what nearly all of them believed would be an "ordinary
day" like any other.
With dramatic music, camera angles, and
distorted video used so effectively by other real-crime series, Cohen
and Ran stage re-creations in which police officers and sheriffs abuse
power, accept bribes, and, in many cases, appear ridiculously stupid,
cavalier and power-hungry.
One instance in the series' pilot episode
features an actor portraying Officer John Tretowski (who pulled over
Juan Banadiez in 1994 and then proceeded to tear his pick-up truck
apart and strip-search him on the shoulder of a busy Tulsa street) as
a muscle-bound redneck who sneers, rants and yells "Ya-hoo" when his
partner discovers a pile of a "grean leafy substance" beneath
Banadiez's driver's seat.
Banadiez, it turns out, was coming home
from a particularly hard day on the job as a greenskeeper at a nearby
golf course (which the officers did not believe nor make any effort
confirm as the search proceeded).
All of the segments proceed along this
basic pattern until each ends with Cohen and Ran leading a camera crew
to each officer's precinct in an effort to get their version of
events. Naturally, the cops are adamantly determined to avoid being
interviewed or taped leading to numerous scuffles and strings of
curses (which explains the series' presence on the USA schedule).
Although occasionally it comes off like an
infomercial assembled by the ACLU, "The Man" can not be classified as
"liberal" counter-programming or propaganda in response to pro-police
shows like "Cops" and "Highway Patrol." Cohen and Ran are strictly in
it for the laughs.
Sometimes the actions of police themselves
provide undeniable physical comedy. One recreation has a cop storm
into a bathroom to find a half-naked man hurriedly flushing a
toilet. The cop throws him out of the way and desparately fishes
around the swirling water, presumably looking for drugs, only to come
up with two soiled condoms, goopy semen dripping down his hand and
wrist. In another segment, two cops are chasing a burglary suspect
(really an eleven year old girl who's run away from home) around a
house. Coming from opposite directions, they both round the same
corner at full speed, bumping off each other like cartoons. Both draw
their guns and for a moment grimly aim at each other like some sort of
Tarantino-penned Mexican standoff. But the slapstick award has to go
to Officer Fred Schneider: while chasing a suspect through a backyard
garden party, he knocks three people into a pool before tripping over
a charcoal grill. He stands up and looks around as the coals covering
his body set his pants and jacket on fire; he searches for the subject
for a good twenty seconds before realizing that his clothes were on
fire. He then panics, stripping off his pants and jacket. He notices
his hair is now on fire, and runs to the pool and jumps
in. Unfortunately, his vigorous dive strips off his boxer shorts, and
when he gets out of the pool he finds himself wearing only shoes,
socks, and a T-shirt, started at by 50+ well-to-do suburbanites. The
produces claim that all recreations are based strictly on actual
police reports and multiple eye-witness testimony. It's pretty obvious
that the recreations ham things up a bit; some of the expressions of
rightous indignations on the part of cops look a little too well
The show also depends heavilty on "victim"
interviews, usually conducted in a public place like a restaraunt or
bar. Subjects are free to invite friends and relatives who usually
chime in with priceless side-comments or thoughts on the situation or
law enforcement in general (the paralyzed green grocer's mother links
the desire to become a law enforcement official with the relative size
of one's phallus).
The comic climax is, of course, the host's
efforts to interview the cops themselves. Unlike the smiling,
self-important characters seen on the Fox series, these cops are, for
the most part, humorless assholes with violent tempers at worst or
slimy weasels at best. If one can imagine Morley Saeffer on his worst
day at "60 Minutes," drunk on Jim Beam and with a serious ax to grind,
one has a fairly accurate picture of the tenacity Cohen and Ran
demonstrate in their interviews of the officers.
Jonathan Lane, an account executive whose
wife divorced him following the brothel bust, happily accompanies
Cohen and Ran and can be heard taunting a Los Angeles detective to
tell them about his attempts to shake Lane down for money to keep him
out of jail as the officer stares at him off-camera with cold hatred.
Although it may be difficult to imagine
where the humor lies in an innocent man becoming paralyzed because of
gung-ho Sheriff's stupidity, Cohen and Ran are able to make their
audience and subjects laugh in simple disbelief at the absurdity of it
all almost effortlessly.
Well, unless you're a cop.
The police union in Tulsa attempted to
file an injuction to prevent the show's pilot from airing (using the
argument it was slander and libelous) and were denied. The USA network
fears further legal retribution and is currently weighing their
options as to the future of the three completed episodes and future
production of the series.
If given the chance, "The Man" should have
no trouble finding an audience in the "Up-All-Night" crowd who are
usually telling stories of police harassement and unwarranted speeding
tickets they received on the way to the bar that night while the
network runs on in the background.
"The Man" stands on the brink of joining
"TV Nation" as a delicous and all too rare example of the potential
for humor in subversive television.
-- Floyd Rosenblaum