Music and mayhem mix on flawed but exciting 'Cop Rock'


September 26, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Cop Rock" is great and it's terrible.

Overall, it's more great than terrible. And even when it's terrible, it's great to see mainstream network television trying to birth a new genre -- the video musical.

Call "Cop Rock" great-and-greatly-flawed. And make sure you see or tape it tonight at 10 on WJZ-TV (Channel 13). This is the kind of television people are going to be talking about tomorrow morning around the Mr. Coffee cart.

"Cop Rock" is the creation of Steven Bochco, who has helped create "L.A. Law," "Hill Street Blues" and "Doogie Howser, M.D." It is a drama about the Los Angeles Police Department and City Hall with five musical numbers interrupting the traditional narrative in a cop show. It is essentially "Hill Street Blues" done as a pop/rock musical.

What that means is that in the middle of a very violent drug bust -- which features the gritty-and-raw, hand-held look of local news and police-show drama -- the criminals and local residents start chanting and rapping-singing a song with the lyrics, "In these streets/we got the power." It comes right at the start of the hour, and it is a little disorienting.

But it is nothing compared to the production number that comes about midway through tonight's hour. That song features Los Angeles Mayor Louise Plank -- played by Barbara Bosson, Bochco's wife -- getting up on a desk and singing a song that explains why she takes bribes. Her city hall aides form a rhythm and blues chorus. As Plank, Bosson is made up to look like Margaret Thatcher. The overall effect is surreal (that is not a compliment).

On the other hand, there are a couple of great musical numbers. One features a homeless woman sitting on a bus-stop bench singing a lullaby -- written by Randy Newman -- to her baby. The woman is a drug addict. She is about to give her baby up for $200.

The words, the image of the lonely figure at the bus stop against a dusky L.A. sky, and the melancholy melody come together for a moment that's as close to art as prime-time commercial television has come this year. This moment redeems most of the sins of unevenness and excess that preceded it.

Overall, the pilot for "Cop Rock" has too many flaws to be called great television. But it is daring, exciting and innovative television -- with moments where music and drama meet to touch the heart in ways television all too rarely does.

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