After watching Season 2 of CHiPs in its entirety, I think I’ve found my calling. Seeing all those chases and rescues inspired something in me, something that made me watch four hour-long episodes in a row, even when it was getting to be 2:00 a.m. and I knew I needed to get up for work the next day. It could have been Erik Estrada’s perfect teeth. It could have been the motorcycles zipping through traffic to catch bad guys, but suddenly I felt like I knew what I was meant to do with my life. I was born to watch CHiPs.
Had you asked me if I liked CHiPs before the Season 2 DVD came into my life, I would have said, “Sure, that was a great show!” If you had asked me to tell you what went on on that show, I would have shuffled my feet, looked at the ground, and said, “Um, Erik Estrada and this other guy ride around on motorcycles and write a lot of speeding tickets?” I was only six when it went off the air, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would hold up. I can’t tell you how happy I was to find that it’s even better than I remembered, and there’s so much more to it than speeding tickets.
For anyone not in the know, CHiPs chronicles the adventures of two California Highway Patrol officers, Frank Poncherello (Erik Estrada) and Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox). In addition to surly reckless drives, speeders, car thieves, and joy riders (can you say Danny Bonaduce and Christopher Knight?!), our intrepid patrolmen deal with accidents, injuries, wild animals, crime rings, and much much more. They solve mysteries, mentor children, play matchmaker, go on special assignment, and put up with a whole lot of crap from the public. I can only think that the show must have done wonders for the image of the California Highway Patrol, as it casts the officers in such a flattering light. Not only do they keep order with the least possible amount of force, they serve as friendly members of the community who are willing to lend a hand whenever and wherever it’s needed.
Though the show smacks of the late 70s, it’s still remarkably fresh and relevant. Apparently the highways were just as full of bad drivers back then as they are now! Funnily, so many of the things that work for Ponch and Jon would be considered inappropriate by today’s standards. Accident victims often fall into Ponch’s arms as though he’s their knight in shining armor, and the sergeant (Robert Pine) even makes light of this fact in the movie-length episode. Ponch is a flirty fellow, and it’s not always realistic the way girls fall all over him, but how can you look at him and have a problem with this? He’s so charming and beautiful that you sort of feel like throwing yourself under a car just so Ponch can scrape you up. Best of all, there’s never any indication that he would take advantage of his position, so even the questionable stuff comes across as squeaky clean.
It’s also hilarious how often Ponch and Jon befriend kids on their off-time. By now we’re all so jaded that the situation screams “stranger danger!” and “pervert!”, but in the context of the show, there’s nothing objectionable about these young officers skateboarding with little boys, bringing a birthday cake to a thirteen year old girl in an iron lung, or allowing a fifteen year old girl unlimited access to one of their apartments. Ahem. Okay, that last one seems a little dodgy even for 1977, but that was all Jon. You didn’t see any underage girls letting themselves in and out of Ponch’s place! The funny thing about Jon is that even though Larry Wilcox received top billing and is absolutely integral to the show, he’s never more than The Other Guy, or as one of my friends called him, Not Ponch. I’d find myself looking at him and not being able to remember his name from one scene to the next. He’s like the Amazing Invisible Boy or something.
There’s certainly no problem remembering Ponch’s name from one scene to the next, and Estrada’s portrayal of a Latino law enforcement officer was apparently as groundbreaking as his hotness. Brianne Leary also shakes things up as Sindy, the only female officer on the force. She’s always right in there with the boys, pulling her weight, and trying not to need special consideration. The sergeant insists that her failures will be scrutinized more harshly because she’s a woman, but her fellow officers are always watching out for her and trying to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Part of me finds this a bit backward, as though they shouldn’t always be compensating for her, but the other part of me admires the loyalty and respect these men show her. They’re not about to let her take a fall for something that would go unnoticed in a male officer. I suspect the treatment of her character was true to the times, and the fact that she’s there at all can be considered progress.
Big picture issues aside, CHiPs is easily one of the most entertaining, action-packed shows ever to grace the airwaves. Though Ponch and Jon encounter plenty of hairy situations, the tone is never bleak or gritty in the way television is nowadays. Each episode ends with a smile, and even though it should be cheesy, somehow it makes you want to smile right back and tune in for the next adventure. A two hour movie-length episode recaps the greatest moments of seasons 1 and 2, and when you run out of vintage CHiPs, you can catch up with Erik Estrada in a brand new featurette on the real California Highway Patrol. Since he was the only thing standing between me and the end of the disc, I kind of wished I could give him a big old hug. Alas, I’ve now reached the end of the road, and there’s nothing to do but count the moments until the release of Season 3. It’s my calling, after all.