As a single man with few responsibilities, Harry Hooperman is accustomed to living life on his own terms. He goes to work and plays his sax, but he can pop downstairs to his landlord’s apartment whenever he wants a hot meal and some motherly doting. This unencumbered existence comes to an abrupt end when his landlord is murdered and leaves the apartment building and her dog, Bijou, to Hooperman. Shocked, grieving, and eager to solve the murder, Hooperman struggles to adjust to his new circumstances. The building has always been a dump, but now all of the complaints are repairs are his responsibility. Bijou is temperamental and demanding, not to mention bitey and uncooperative. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to take care of it all.
In an attempt to alleviate his workload, Hooperman hires Susan Smith (Debrah Farentino) as building superintendent. She takes care of repairs and watches Bijou during the day, but creates a new complication: Harry finds her irresistible. Most of Season 1 focuses on the will-they-or-won’t-they nature of Susan and Harry’s relationship, but Susan is so difficult, so fickle that more pressing questions become “should they or shouldn’t they?” and “who cares?”. Susan (cut from the same character cloth as Maggie O’Connell on Northern Exposure) is an Independent Woman. As such, she never has to make up her mind, never commits to anything, and doesn’t seem to have any idea what she wants. This leaves poor Harry doggedly trying to get their relationship off the ground for a solid 22 episodes.
Suffice to say, it is a relief when Susan does not reappear for Season 2 of Hooperman, though the show (and Hooperman’s life) seems a little untethered without her. The focus shifts from relationship woes to workplace dramas, more casual hook ups, and existential crises. Hooperman is increasingly unhappy with the apartment, which is a total money pit, and he’s not even sure he’s cut out to be a cop. The daily dangers (at one point he winds up chained in the basement of a man who believes he’s the devil), stresses, and bureaucratic frustrations leave Hooperman wishing to walk away from it all and pursue a music career. There are inklings of the direction Hooperman’s life will take, but there is no Season 3 to explore what happens next.
Though Hooperman is somewhat uneven in tone (ranging from heavy drama to bizarre comedy), it is consistently entertaining. Each episode is only 30 minutes long, so there’s not much time to devote to any one story. Instead we get snapshots of Hooperman’s life and the opportunity to enjoy a more serious side of John Ritter. He has graduated from wacky tenant Jack Tripper on Three’s Company to beleaguered landlord, a point driven home by Norman Fell’s subtle guest appearance late in Season 2.