Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: The Renegades (1983)

The Renegades

Debut: March 4, 1983
Created by Steven E. de Souza, Rick Husky
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Randy Brooks, Paul Mones, Tracy Scoggins, Robert Thaler, Brian Tochi, Fausto Bara, Kurtwood Smith, James Luisi
Synopsis: An urban street gang operates as undercover agents for the police.

Trey: The Renegades was an attempt to cash in on the success of The Warriors by bringing the youth gang concept to TV--with the confines of the well-established TV genre of the cop show. The creators looked to Patrick Swayze as the star who had established is credibility in show rolls with another failed TV effort  Return of the Rebels and the film The Outsiders. ABC picked it up and the pilot movie aired on August 11, 1982, with the series to follow in March of 1983. Due to low ratings, ABC pulled the plug after 6 episodes. He watched the last one on YouTube. It's a VHS rip (complete with commercials!), presumably from the broadcast on April 8, 1983. The episode is titled "Target: Marciano" and involves an escaped murder (former drug dealer and record producer) who is out for revenge against the cop that sent him away: Lt. Marciano, who's in charge of the Renegades, It involves part of the team going undercover and taking part in a battle of the bands!

So, to start with, I'm going to say the opening of this show must be seen (it's also on Youtube) for a jolt of pure 80s directly to the brain. If you feel the urge to wear parachute pants, don't blame this blog!

Jason: A jolt is putting it mildly! It grabs you by the lapels and rubs your face in a distillation of 80s tropes so potent you'll come away reeking of its heavily applied Drakkar Noir. It could alm6st pass for a SNL parody. But it is all too real! 

Trey: I know Swayze was meant to be the draw here, and he and Scoggins are the standouts among the Renegades, but they are really just a brighter shade of unmemorable. Their parts are sort of thin. 

The real "stars" of this episode to me are the supporting cast and the guest stars. Kurtwood Smith plays a pretty similar character in everything but he was born a hardass police captain. He embodies this role fully. Likewise, James Luisi as Marciano, who has played cops on other shows,  is like the apotheosis of vaguely ethnic veteran police detectives. 

Jason: The Renegades are semi-reformed street gangsters of the fantasyland Warriors variety composed of one-dimensional stereotypes (80's token diversity in full effect) with names like Bandit, Eagle, Dancer, Dragon, and.... Tracy. Their hair is always perfect. Only the lack of masks and capes separates this crew from D-list superhero characters. 

If this episode show could be saved, Smith and Luisi would be its saving grace(s)! Smith's police captain is perpetually unimpressed with Marciano's experimental team. He quickly became my personal viewpoint character. 

Trey: You make a good point regarding superheroes. I've often thought the cheesy dialogue and thin, but distinct characterization of 80s action shows is very much like 80s superhero comics. A lot getting to imagine whatever line delivery you need to make it work helps comics, though. That an an unlimited budget.

Anyway, I also want to note Thom Christopher as the villainous Tony Gunn. Christopher was the badass warrior alien, Hawk, in the second season of Buck Rogers--that season's only salvation, really. Here he plays Gunn, a character more Charlie Manson than Phil Spector, with an intensity that could make Pacino's Scarface say, "you know, this guy maybe should get psychiatric help?"

Jason: Christopher is indeed suitably creepy as the ludicrous psychopath record producer/rifle lover. His character is a hair's breadth away from being a D-list Batman villain. 

Trey: Like comics once again!

The band bits here really illustrate something I've long thought about the portrayal of rock/pop musicians in 80s movies and TV, namely: the production and creative staff just don't seem to get it. We're typically shown a band whose look is a mismatch of punk/New Wave, glam metal, and maybe a bit of disco, and then their songs are like bar rock or the most indistinct pop rock. The band here is no exception.

Jason: Agreed. This disconnect was quite palpable in The Renegades. I'll guess this particular show was made by people just old enough to be unaware of how out of touch they were . No actual New York City hipsters of the day were consulted. 

The climactic sequence was set in an abandoned roller derby arena the villain uses to stage a spectacular show trial/execution/musical performance. What could have been a zany Batman action set piece was instead a dire and bizarre sequence, seemingly intended to replicate the imagery of then-novel music videos (years before something similar would be attempted by the similarly ill-fated Cop Rock). It was an ambitious plan that failed aggressively. 

My verdict: There was potential in this show's premise, but it just didn't come together. Trey, I must admit I looked forward to the commercials. My wife, a confirmed Swayze supporter, passed out after 20 dreary minutes. Therefore it is my unpleasant duty to sentence this show to be swiftly returned to the obscurity from which it came. With the high pressure firehose of entertainment available 24/7 in today's modern world, don't waste a minute on this one. But watch that trailer! 

Trey: I'm not going to praise The Renegades. There are too many options in the modern TV landscape to think about "so bad it's good."  will, however, give it the benefit of contextualizing it for the modern reader, too young to remember the 80s, who might have a smartphone mishap and accidentally arrive at this blog. The network tv action show of 80s was built to deliver reliable and unchallenging entertainment to a lowest common denominator swathe of America. Compared with other shows of that kind, well, I don't think The Renegades fares too badly, though it would be far from top of the heap. Why was it so unsuccessful then even in its era? Well, I think its writing and characters (aside from some adult themes) place it more inline with more kid-appealing action shows like The A-Team. Unfortunately, it had a 9 pm timeslot, perhaps due to those adult themes, making kids unable to see it. If this episode is representative, it lacks some of the drama and more importantly sex appeal needed to succeed with the purely adult viewership.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails