Thursday, November 06, 2014

Timing, the Retro Obsession + The Hat Squad

Sometimes an idea or an entertainer comes along too soon or too late. Move Sheena Easton's debut later, 1996, instead of 1980, and she would be a much bigger star. Have Paula Abdul start her career in any decade prior to the '80s, and she is a bigger star. This applies to shows and movies, too. One of the all time worst ideas in the history of televisions not on FOX was "The Hat Squad". It bombed. It bombed despite a network push and the familiar cop procedural format. The show could have been a huge success, if for only one switch. The show was set in contemporary times, which at that moment was early '90s LA. Just switch this show to a retro '40s or '50s setting, and it would be a hit.

The Hat Squad has one of the dumbest set ups you can read. A cop and his wife adopt three boys who were orphaned because of violence. You already know where this is going. Those boys all grow up to be cops and take down crime wearing hats. Let's set aside the orphaned trio for a moment. They are the hat squad and wear giant brimmed hats as they fight crime. Hats have not been in style since the early '60s. What were the geniuses in Hollywood thinking? The episodes have plots resembling the goofy cop dramas of earlier television. A millionaire heiress, a kidnapping gone bad, serial killers, and more over the top stories fill the 11 episodes they aired. It is terrible for a one season show. It was the '90s, America was well beyond the honest and decent cops with an attachment to their foster parents to the point where they do not have a social life. We had seen the LAPD on film beat Rodney King. We are not buying it.

Here is the fix: set the show in 1950 in sunny "Peak America" California. The hats make sense now. The good guy cops are more believable. You can watch a younger LA that you would want to live in, not modern LA. It did not cross CBS' mind, which is weird. CBS might have been hesitant because retro was not sellable in Hollywood at that point. ABC tried Homefront, set in post-WW2 Ohio, and CBS had Brooklyn Bridge, set in 1950s NYC. Both were "Mom Shows". Those shows both had short runs and were produced at the same time as Hat Squad. Period pieces are more expensive to produce, but period or retro productions are hip now; not for cheesy nostalgia mom show reasons. Mad Men has a far greater cultural effect than the ratings suggest. This was not an option in 1991 for the Hat Squad despite the obvious retro possibilities since the name derives from a specific unit in the LAPD in the '40s. America's infatuation with retro and vintage had not started.

The thing that changed though was us. Fashion ripping off or paying homage to prior looks is a constant ('80s fashion and the '40s). Twenty year nostalgia cycles seem to work in the US. Salvaging t-shirts from twenty years earlier is new. The idea of '80s parties is a new twist. The Bettie Page-Buddy Holly look I see on hipsters is a bizarre grafting of the past onto today's citizens. The weird 1890s old timey facial hair fad is a search for masculine flair landing on a retro style. In the sports world, the retro jersey trend is another symptom. Retro and vintage porn has a steady audience online and in sales because people might just want to see sex between what appears to be regular people.


People now are seeking the vintage and some of it is nostalgia. Some of it is simply seeking something comfortable and what we assume is simpler. The other part of it is a rejection of the culture around us. We internally know that new or modern is disgusting and alien for what we feel we should identify as "us".  How much of Mad Men's success is media approved nostalgia and longing for an 85% white America with fewer broken homes? With mass atomization, there is no coherent culture, so we look back, searching for something to identify with and express ourselves. The Hat Squad most likely would have failed either way due to terrible writing and actors no one has heard from since, but given a different setting and an audience longing for a simpler, more familiar LA, it could have been a hit.

12 comments:

PA said...

We GenXers remember the 80s as teenagers. America still seemed healthy and we all felt like we have a future. Early 90s felt like the elites turned on us.

What do you 1980-born folks have as memory of a normal country?

Son of Brock Landers said...

Im a late '79 birth. Things seemed normal until late '90s like '96/'97

Mike said...

The Hat Squad? Next thing I know you'll start talking about Parker Lewis can't lose! (FYI, wikipedia says THS was a CBS show)

"With mass atomization, there is no coherent culture"

Bingo. I think a big part of Millennial angst and awkwardness is a lack of cultural touchpoints that represent anything of substance. There is no Moon-landing type of moment or even coming-of-age scenarios everyone can relate too. Boomers certainly have that (movies like Stand by Me and American Graffiti come to mind) Any nostalgia on the part of millennials revolves around pop culture, nothing with any meaning.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Mike I did say THS was a CBS show. Atrocious show.

9/11 couldve been galvanizing but it wasnt cause we had no draft, couldn't annihilate our enemy and we had become a global community by then.

Pvt. Jaybird said...

I was born in '80 and I've had some sort of inkling that things were not as they should be since about 6th or 7th grade. But I was sitting here trying to think of when I realized things were truly FUBAR. It had to be the Monica Lewinsky scandal. That and the 2000 GOP convention where Bush did everything but bring out a pinata shattered any hope of returning to an idyllic America.

soonertroll said...

I remember a retro crime series from the mid 80's called Crime Story. It was set in late 50's and/or early 60's Chicago and Las Vegas.

nikcrit said...

How much of Mad Men's success is media approved nostalgia and longing for an 85% white America with fewer broken homes? With mass atomization, there is no coherent culture, so we look back, searching for something to identify with and express ourselves.

Further exemplar of the cultural leveling wreaked by internet technology ---- and to Nikcrit's other, earlier points about a meta-irony of the late-20th/early 21-st century: the erosion of white racial, ethnic and cultural ho homogeneity is a distinct result of white-western technological innovation and other brilliant breakthroughs: postmodern communication, transportation, etc.; next, of course, is genetic transcendence, with euro-technology mastering the nexus of life itself, making all the ethnic and racial elements manipuable and ever so malleable.... then, the linguists, of all backgrounds, go to work on re-defining the bounding ties and divides, i.e., the 'isms.'
European brilliance and domination is the primary reason for the lack of racial and cultural segregation worldwide.

nikcrit said...

There is no Moon-landing type of moment or even coming-of-age scenarios everyone can relate too. Boomers certainly have that (movies like Stand by Me and American Graffiti come to mind) Any nostalgia on the part of millennials revolves around pop culture, nothing with any meaning.

Well, you could argue that 9/11 was a bonding and generational coming-of-age event; a collective loss of innocence, perhaps?
Your point still stands overall, IMO; one could say that while there still are rare mass-shared events, there's now also infinitely more atomized and niche events that hide from one another.
I mean, you say Boomers had 'Stand' and "A.G.'; and there are still such generational comedies and dramas to this day ----- they just exist beside a million-and-one other distractions and distraction formats nowadays.

Mike said...

I did say THS was a CBS show.

Yeah you did. Mea culpa.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Mike, keep me on my toes though. I need to be kept honest.

nikcrit said...

Edit: " Nikcrit's other, earlier points' should be "SOBL's other, earlier points"

Toddy Cat said...

I was born in the late fifties. The way I perceived things, stuff was normal up until about 1968, went insane for about eight years, partially normalized in late '70's, eighties seemed like normal might triumph, things started to get weird again after Anita Hill (remember her?) in early nineties, picked up steam after 9/11, open war pretty much declared by elites on the rest of us after 2006 or so. Just my impressions.