9 October 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
'PBS Hollywood Presents' is the umbrella title for an infrequent anthology series of stage dramas restaged for the PBS television network in the USA. This posting refers specifically to 'Cop Shop', a two-part drama that was transmitted in the first week of October 2004.
MINOR SPOILERS COMING. The opening sequence features some weary jazz music that evokes a noir film. 'Cop Shop' consists of two separate police dramas in two different locations. The first one, 'Fear', begins with Richard Dreyfuss on the 'phone, standing in what's clearly a police squad room, yet telling the person down the 'phone line that he's at the dentist's office. In a stage play, this sort of thing is confusing, since a stage set can often represent two different places at once, whereas this device is seldom used in film and television. Eventually we figure out that Dreyfuss is lying about being at the dentist, but we don't (yet) know why.
A serial rapist is at large, and the precinct's community liaison officer is briefing the neighbourhood-watch members. I found this segment unrealistic and strident: the community members keep yelling at the cops for failing to catch the rapist, as if the police are just too lazy to find him. One actress, cast as a rape victim, does a long soliloquy describing her ordeal in slow detail ... almost in *loving* detail, and I'm intentionally using that inappropriate word. This entire soliloquy seemed to strike the wrong tone. The one realistic note came when the rape victim found herself wondering if perhaps the rape was her own fault because she'd worn a skirt instead of slacks. Sadly, in real life victims of sexual abuse often *do* blame themselves. In the central role, Blair Brown is quite bad as precinct captain Frances Harding. As Brown portrayed this character, I couldn't believe she'd graduated from the police academy, much less made a captain's grade.
The second half of the drama, 'Blind Date', is equally unrealistic but more entertaining. Rita Moreno is the madame of a local bordello, briefing her 'girls' before they begin the night's work. (It would have been interesting to contrast this with a sequence of the precinct sergeant briefing the cops at the beginning of their duty tour.) The most plausible line in this drama occurs when Moreno chastises her hookers for making personal calls on the company 'phone ... it turns out they've been calling sex lines! (I can believe this.) A couple of the actresses who play prostitutes in this sequence have incredibly sexy bodies, well displayed in skimpy fetish cozzies. Much as I enjoyed this, it actually weakened the drama: I couldn't believe that sex workers with such great bodies would be wasting their time in a little neighbourhood brothel. They could have made much more money as dominatrixes in a high-class fetish clinic.
Now, we finally find out what Dreyfuss's 'dentist' call was about. Dreyfuss plays precinct detective Leonard Manzo: a married man who sneaks off to see hookers ... intentionally choosing a site outside his own precinct. Dreyfuss shows up at Moreno's establishment just as it's being raided. The cops doing the raid are bent; they just want to shake down Moreno for 'protection' money. There's a painfully implausible scene in which Dreyfuss and the madame just sit about, speculating as to why men patronise hookers. For detective Manzo, this seems to be a legitimate question; he's buying an hour of a hooker's time, but he doesn't actually want sex: he just wants to talk to her. No kidding.
Annoyingly, the few raw words in the dialogue are bleeped out with a harsh electronic sound, so that we have to fill in the blankety-blanks when (for example) a hooker talks about giving one customer "a (bleep) job". And yet a word referring to urination is left unbleeped. If the network wouldn't approve the dialogue as originally written, I would rather they'd have bowdlerised it so as to avoid those annoying beeps. At one point, an isolated bleep is heard, with no connecting dialogue, and I needed a moment to figure out that one of the actors had shouted an obscenity.
'Cop Shop' ends with the whores, the madame, detective Dreyfuss and a couple of 'johns' all holding an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the middle of the brothel. There's some truth here -- a lot of people in the sex industry are substance-abusers -- yet it all rings hollow, with just occasional grace notes of truth. I respect Richard Dreyfuss for being a big-money movie actor who still retains ties to live theatre, but he didn't impress me here. 'Cop Shop' is an interesting misfire, but the most interesting part is the brief glimpse of shapely actresses in fetish gear. I'll rate 'Cop Shop' 5 out of 10, and I look forward to more offerings from 'PBS Hollywood Presents'.