Saturday, June 17, 2006

Grudge Matches I'd Like to See: Rockford vs. Magnum

Jim Rockford (James Garner, "The Rockford Files"), a popular TV private detective who drives a cool car and has a great Mike Post/Pete Carpenter theme song, vs. Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck, "Magnum P.I."), a popular TV private detective who drives a cool car and has a great Mike Post/Pete Carpenter theme song.

Who wins: Rockford, the '70s P.I. who lives a frugal hand-to-mouth lifestyle, or Magnum, the '80s P.I. who lives a life of decadent luxury? Please post your thoughts in Ye Olde Commente Sectionne.

You could say, by the way, that the difference between '70s and '80s pop culture is pretty much summed up by the difference between these two TV detectives. Rockford lived in a trailer, struggled to get paid, and his best buddy was a fellow ex-con; Magnum lived in a tropical paradise, riding high on the largesse of Higgins Robin Masters, and had buddies who would help him do guy stuff. Magnum was the P.I. for the Robin Leach era.

Also by the way, the DVD set of the second season of "Rockford" is a big improvement over the first: single-sided discs instead of double-sided; the complete series pilot, with Not-Noah-Beery playing Rockford's dad, is included (and looks terrific), and the episodes are all uncut and look very good, once you adjust for the fact that these early '70s Universal shows don't have the most stunning production values. Whereas other studios had a certain gloss and glamour in their TV work -- Fox and Paramount liked to make things look as pretty as possible -- Universal tended to go for a grittier look, with lots of real but unspectacular-looking L.A. locations and sort of harsh sound recording. But adjusting for that, the prints used for this set are quite good, much better than I've seen in syndication.

The bonus feature is a nine-minute interview with Stephen J. Cannell about the origins of the series. I'm not sure how much of his stories are true -- he seems to downplay the fact that the show was conceived as a spinoff of "Toma," ignores the rumour that other people were offered the part of Rockford before Garner got involved, and doesn't address how much the finished product was influenced by Garner's movie Marlowe. (This was an updated version of Chandler's The Little Sister that lent a lot of its style to "Rockford"; an early episode of "Rockford" even lifted a line, "Does your mother know what you do for a living?", from Marlowe.) But he's a fun talker and has a lot of fun things to say about the show, the style of it, how hard it was to come up with answering machine messages, and other such matters.

Assuming season 3 gets released soon, that will be the start of the golden "Rockford" period, because season 3 is when David Chase joined the writing staff -- few shows have ever had three writers as good as the "Rockford" trio of Cannell, Juanita Bartlett, and Chase.


Anonymous said...

Grudge about what? Your question makes no sense in the context of the two chosen opponents. Both are decent good guys, who are reluctant heroes in the lives of their clients. Neither would throw a punch without good cause, preferring to talk it out. So, Jamie, there would be no winner. Or, more accurately, there would be no loser.

Now, all that said, if somehow you could convince these guys to fight -- perhaps for the love of a woman, though I don't think even that would one to hit the other, they're just to darn understanding -- I would suspect that Magnum is in better shape than Rockford and is better trained. (Of course, Jim would not be above fighting dirty if required in a pinch.)

Now, as for Rocky and Higgins, well, I think Rocky would win.

npetrikov said...

I disagree that Rockford is a nice guy. After watching the first season, I was surprised that he was not nearly as nice as I'd remembered him. A patina of Garner charm had encrusted my memory of the character, which is actually a bit greedy, cynical, passive-aggressive, self-important and ungallant. I hadn't realized what a subtle actor Garner was.

So, in a grudge match, if acting ability is good for points, I'd say Rockford wins.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the James Garner-Tom Sellick episodes of the final two seasons, which went to near sitcom lengths to highlight the abuse Rockford went through while Selleck's Lance White pretty much had everything just fall into his lap without effort (part of the joke was Rockford wanted to punch Lance's lights out because he was so handsome, rich and successful, but he was also so darned nice and unpretentious he never could bring himself to do it).

Anonymous said...

One more nitpick -- at least in the early seasons, Magnum is always broke despite his luxurious surroundings -- he's constantly borrowing money and favours from Rick, TC, and especially Higgins. There's this interesting sort of irony that this guy drives a Ferrari but can't scrounge up money for parking.