It’s my understanding that roller skating at Venice Beach in a swimsuit with no sort of built in bra and short shorts that tended to gap away from your body in perilous places was exactly the funnest and coolest thing a person could possibly do in 1980 (or maybe ever). I was only three at that time, so I can’t back this up from personal experience, but from what I’ve seen in movies and on TV, this was A Thing. CHiPs Season 3 wholeheartedly supports this theory as it kicks off with a two part episode focusing variously on a Hollywood roller disco benefit gala, Leif Garret’s personal problems, and petty theft at Venice Beach.
See what they did there? They laid the groundwork to feature as much skimpy clothing, roller skating, and star gazing as humanly possible. And the gala ties it all together, ’cause maybe some of those ladies from the beach could participate, and maybe Ponch (Erik Estrada) could help find an emcee while on the beat in Beverly Hills. Someone like, say….Ed McMahon?! Meanwhile, as Leif Garret (playing Jimmy Tyler) gets into a car accident and squabbles with his manager, the stage is being set for him to PERFORM at the gala. So seamless. So perfect. And when the night of the big gala finally arrives, who do you think is there? Melissa Sue Effing Anderson. Victor French. Grizzly Adams. Ruth Buzzi. Joanne Whorley. Honestly, it’s really random. And this is the beauty of CHiPs.
You would think that two hunky highway patrolmen pulling people from burning cars, stopping insurance scams, and generally laying down the law would be enough for one show, but CHiPs knows how to layer a plot. If that nice lady from the Tic Tac commercials (Kelly Harmon) finds a little lost girl (Tracey Gold), you can also bet that there’s a little romantic tension between her and Ponch (Erik Estrada) and that she totally happens to race cars on the side. Have I mentioned that racing anything with wheels also must have been really hot in 1980? Cause there are a LOT of episodes featuring some form of racing, whether it’s on skates, bikes, or in a car.
Part of what makes CHiPs so charming (apart from Erik Estrada) is its unapologetic willingness to be entertaining. People like to see hot guys like Ponch in hospital beds, and it’s funny when Anne Ramsey (of Throw Momma From the Train and Goonies fame) toddles along to give that guy a sponge bath. The show successfully blends action, comedy, romance, and drama, cleverly tapping into a full range of audience emotions while providing good clean fun.