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DVD Review: “CHiPs” – The Complete First Season

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When I was in elementary school, there were only four prime time TV series that mattered: The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, The A-Team and "CHiPs," the 1977-1983 NBC series starring Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox as motorcycle cops with the California Highway Patrol (CHP, hence the title, which also included the quotation marks). How well does the series hold up in 2007?

Not too badly, it turns out.  More specifically, it's quite dated, but that's part of its charm.  The acting (especially from Estrada) is hammy, the gags are corny, and the action scenes and car chases are pedestrian at best. On the other hand, even a show packed with mediocre car chases is still better than a show with no car chases at all.  For car geeks like myself, "CHiPs" is a perfectly preserved time capsule of late-seventies California car culture, featuring highways packed with customized vans and AMCs.

Larry Wilcox (the Garfunkel of this series) actually had top billing, but Erik Estrada was the real star of "CHiPs," and this is reflected in the season one DVD set. There's a short documentary called "The Long Ride Out of Spanish Harlem" in which Estrada reminisces about the string of street-tough guest-starring roles he got before "CHiPs" came along, and he presents short introductions to selected episodes. (A technical goof: Estrada's segments, called "Ponch's Police Tips," must be watched separately from the episodes themselves.) Estrada's character was the wisecracking, reckless heartthrob of the series, while Wilcox played an officer so straight-laced he tried to give H.R. Pufnstuf a traffic ticket in one episode. (Ah, the seventies.)

Compared with the police procedurals on network television today, "CHiPs" seems hopelessly square and unrealistic. But it's always entertaining, and it's nice to be able to relive my childhood on DVD.

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