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Reviewed by Will Harris
f a show airs on Friday night, then there are really only four major demographics that the networks have any hope of reaching: kids, old folks, geeks and people who can’t get a date (but can afford a television set, so that they can at least live vicariously through the characters of their favorite TV series).
Sorry, but it’s the truth.
It hasn’t always been that way, obviously, what with series like “Miami Vice” and “Dallas” having swept the nation via their Friday night timeslots. But, seriously, take a look back at the shows that the networks have peddled to viewers since the Ewing family left the airwaves. “Step by Step?” “Diagnosis Murder?” “Sliders?” “Providence?” Surely you see where I’m coming from. Similarly, you can probably understand why I wrote off “Nash Bridges,” which sat in CBS’s 10 p.m. timeslot on Friday nights for all six of its seasons.
I mean, c’mon: Don Johnson and Cheech Marin playing a couple of cops? On the surface, it sounded like mainstream fare, and there never seemed to be any real reason to dig any deeper into it. As it turns out, however, there was a bit more to “Nash Bridges” than met the eye. Not that it’s by any means a groundbreaking series, but it’s definitely not just a rollicking buddy comedy, either, possibly because it was helmed by Carlton Cuse (“Lost,” “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.”) and featured writing from Shawn Ryan, creator of “The Shield.”
Nash Bridges (Johnson) is part of the San Francisco Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit, and he’s been around the town so long and been so successful at his job that he’s made just as many friends as he has enemies. It also resulted in an inability to maintain a marriage for an extended period of time, a fact to which his two ex-wives – Lisa (Annette O’Toole) and Kelly (Serena Scott-Thomas) – will readily testify. On the up side, though, at least his relationship with Lisa resulted in a more consistent love of his life: his daughter Cassidy (Jody Lyn O’Keefe). Also in the picture is Nash’s father, Nick (James Gammon), who’s living in a nursing home because of his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He manages to get kicked out on a semi-regular basis, though, ironically, it usually happens during his moments of lucidity. Even with the issues in his personal life, you can’t say Nash isn’t a hell of a cop. In addition to having a photographic memory, he’s got a light-hearted attitude toward life in general (he calls everybody “Bubba”), which goes a long way toward inspiring witnesses to talk.
At the office, Nash’s team serves as his surrogate family. First and foremost, there’s Harvey Leek (Jeff Perry), who, despite being a Deadhead of the highest order, is arguably the most dedicated of Nash’s cohorts. Evan Cortez (Jamie P. Gomez) is the young buck whose heart is in the right place, even if he doesn’t always have the experience to back it up, while Lt. A.J. Shimamura (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) watches over the group while occasionally trying – if not very hard – to reign Nash in. Serving as a regular annoyance, meanwhile, is Rick Bettina (Daniel Roebuck), who’s mostly just annoyed by Nash, and is forever attempting to show him up. But, wait, we didn’t mention Cheech yet! Marin plays Joe Dominguez, a longtime friend who left the department and is working as a private investigator while trying every opportunity to get rich quick. Of course, just about every one of Joe’s cases ends up dovetailing perfectly into one of Nash’s investigations, but, hey, that’s TV for you.
Although there’s a lot of great dialogue and intriguing character moments, one can’t help but feel that a certain amount of the series was (to use a word that hovered around Season One of “Jericho” a few years ago), “CBS-ed.” In these eight episodes, you’ve got some surprisingly hardcore themes going on, including a hunt for a heroin dealer and a home invasion gang that ties into the Chinese crime families of San Francisco. But they’re blended with comparatively light fare such as Nash’s ex-wife witnessing a murder and a low-level Mafia member swiping a rocket launcher from the military. Still, even the latter episode has an unlikely twist: the Mafia guy has a thing for transvestite hookers. (Cue the guest appearance by RuPaul!) It’s like there was an internal give-and-take going on between Cuse’s team and the boys at the network, where one wanted something relatively cutting edge and the other kept quoting the stats about the people who were home watching TV on Friday nights.
“Nash Bridges” isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t nearly as light as you might have believed it to be. In particular, the Alzheimer’s subplot with Nash’s father is handled with the appropriate amount of sadness that the topic requires, but the series does a consistently great job with showing how hard it is for a good cop to maintain a personal life. Johnson’s performance is reminiscent of James Garner in “The Rockford Files,” and his camaraderie with Marin feels natural from the word “go.” Fingers crossed that the DVD release of Season Two is just around the corner.
Special Features: The pilot episode features a loose and interesting commentary from Cuse and Marin, but, sadly, Johnson goes it solo for his commentary on “High Impact,” which is only rarely worth your time. It’s bad enough that it’s spattered with lengthy silences, but it’s obvious from the occasional drops in volume that the track was cobbled together from at two different sources. There are some junctures where Johnson is clearly commenting on the episode as he’s watching it, but it’s pretty apparent that he hadn’t pre-screened it beforehand, given such fascinating comments as, “Wow, that was some explosion, huh?” Fortunately, comments from a far livelier discussion about the show have been spliced in to fill out some of the space.
Johnson also provides a new on-camera interview where he discusses the origins of the series – would you believe the original idea came from Hunter S. Thompson? – but the most impressive feature is “Writers Roundtable: Season 1.” Cuse and Ryan sit down with John Wirth (executive producer of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”), Jed Seidel (producer on “Veronica Mars,” “Gilmore Girls,” and “Greek”), and Reed Steiner (consulting producer on “Invasion” and “NCIS”), and the five of them discuss their memories of the show, its stars, and the process of bringing the show to the screen. It’s a casual chat, but it’s full of great anecdotes and reminiscences. If you’re looking for a place to start your “Nash Bridges” experience, it’s a great jumping-off point.