Brutal brothers of 'The Hat Squad' play to dangerous emotions

September 16, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

"The Hat Squad" is frightening.

It is a TV series that appeals to viewers' worst instincts. And, despite having one lousy time period and a completely crackpot mixed message of fascism and family values, it just might find an audience in these increasingly violent times.

"The Hat Squad" is a group of three adult foster brothers -- Rafael (Nestor Serrano), Matt (Billy Warlock) and Buddy (Don Michael Vincent) -- who are police officers. All three lost their biological parents to violent criminal acts and were adopted by a hardnosed police officer and his wife.

Dad and the brothers now form a self-styled vigilante squad -- a crew of Dirty Harrys going out of their way to find criminals to make their day. The brothers wear fedoras to show their solidarity and love for one another and to let criminals know they are in big trouble when they see the Hat Squad coming.

Tonight's pilot is full of dialogue like this:

Criminal: "Leave me alone, I know my rights."

Hat Squad: "We're temporarily suspending your rights, hemorrhoid. . . . Now let's go for a ride, you lump of gristle."

Media watchdog groups counting instances of violence, be warned. You had better put extra hands on monitoring this show. I lost count after 20 minutes: one man kicked in the face, two shotgun blasts, a machine gun chewing up a car, a knife fight, two bodies flying through plate glass windows and two car hijackings -- one of which took place in a parking garage and included a mother and her young son being locked in the trunk of one car after the thug hijacked theirs.

Viewers won't need someone like me to make the connection between the make-believe car-jackings in this TV show and the real ones they read about in newspapers and see on TV news. More importantly, for many viewers, this make-believe show is going to plug straight into the feelings of anger, fear, rage and frustration they feel about those real-life crimes that seem to be escalating every day.

The danger, of course, is in the simplistic answers and stereotype straw men that such a show directs those powerful emotions toward to provide its audience with a sense of satisfaction within the space of 60 minutes minus commercials.

At the end of the hour tonight, the worst criminal is laid low by Rafael. The knockout punch is delivered by Rafael while he swings upside down from a bungee cord attached to a bridge and the criminal rides underneath the bridge on a stolen motorcycle.

As the thug lay on his back in the street, Rafael, who has come down from the bungee cord, leans over him and says, "That was some bitchin' move, wasn't it, Chooch?" And then, he spits in the criminal's face.

This is a show that's easy to mock for its dialogue and bungee punches. But that scene of one man spitting in another man's bloody face is going to give some viewers a feeling of satisfaction -- that's its dramatic intent. And TV that traffics in those kinds of emotions is no laughing matter.

'The Hat Squad'

When: Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

Where: WBAL (Channel 11).

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