Seven Mary 3, Seven Mary 4

December 28, 2010

I couldn’t have seen CHiPs in its early run, because my stupid town didn’t have decent TV. So I’m guessing I saw it in syndicated in the late ’70s. I haven’t seen it since. This is rare for me; I have watched and re-watched most of the television of my childhood through various means for years. CHiPs is the one that got away. This is why, watching the Season 1 DVD box set, I am struck by a combination of nostalgia and WTFness. Some thoughts:

  • The theme music and score is the best example of ’70s TV soul-jazz-funk-rock-swing you will ever hear.

While Ponch (Erik Estrada) was marketed as the show’s star, and that’s how I remember him, it’s interesting now to see how the writers crafted the character of Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) as a decent man, a solid cop and a true friend. Baker is clearly the real leader, but he lets Ponch think he’s calling the shots. Speaking of shots: Neither ever drew a gun on the show, although Baker carried a long brown stick.

  • The one scene I have always remembered involved twin sisters changing places while driving; I saw that scene today.

Erik Estrada might actually be the best-looking man who has ever lived. I’m changing my pick for who plays me in the Starbase 66 movie to Erik Estrada. Sorry, Tony Danza.

One entire episode is built around spurious reasons for a temporary transfer to the Malibu station, which all leads to an extended 10-minute montage of Ponch and Jon roaring around on very early Kawasaki Jet Skis. “Boys, the sponsors have a request.” This is the beginning of product placement in modern television. Actually, the entire series is product placement, selling ’70s California.

  • The pop culture references are insane: The guys arrest H.R. Pufnstuf in one episode, and the same three Volkswagen Beetles flank them in every highway scene. This would continue into the reunion movie, CHiPs ’99, which featured Ponch and Jon on the Judge Judy show.

Grossman wasn’t as fat as I remember. That says more about what was considered fat in the ’70s than it does about attitudes today. But what’s weird is the jokes about his weight, jokes we couldn’t get away with now. For instance, this would be in really bad taste:

  • Sarge (Robert Pine) sometimes has a look on his face, something like “Wow, my kid is going to grow up to be Captain Kirk! So I can handle this Estrada punk.”

Erik Estrada went on to a career in Mexican TV, American soaps and reality shows, and has continued his philanthropic work since his glory days on CHiPs.

  • When we were kids, we played an elaborate game called CHiPs vs. Dukes that involved BMX bikes, slingshots, tight jeans and blow-dried hair.

Larry Wilcox is now some kind of stock-fraud schemer and is going to jail after pleading guilty. He probably won’t be invited to cameo in the new movie.

  • Oh, yeah, there’s a new movie (although it’s been in talks for years). Set for 2011, it will star Wilmer Valderrama (Fez) as Ponch, which is not as dumb an idea as you are thinking. I think Justin Bieber should play Jon. Okay, that’s as dumb an idea as you’re thinking.

Overall verdict: Formulaic, yes. Charming, yes. Well-acted, yes. Formulaic, yes. CHiPs holds up as a fun artifact of a simpler time, and also makes me want to buy polyester slacks.



  1. I don’t think I missed an episode of CHiPS as a kid, but I couldn’t tell you a single storyline. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Lot of cars getting bumped and exploding. It was even reference in the CHiPs ’99 movie how Jon didn’t have to worry about cars exploding all the time.

  3. Random highway emergency, opening credits, Sarge tells boys to be on the lookout, boys immediately spot suspect, suspect gets away, boys clown around, two more random highway encounters, spot suspect again, chase, arrest. End with more clowning around. That’s a single storyline … in fact, it’s the only storyline.

  4. Nice post. Larry’s sentence hasn’t been decided yet, so it’s not certain he’ll do time. Despite all the news reports, I can tell you that Larry is a good, kind man and not a criminal. He’s a very good friend of mine. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  5. Thanks for the update, Sue W. Very interesting.

    The only specific plotline I recall from CHiPS was one where a guy was backing up into cars on exit ramps to collect insurance on rear-end accidents. Ponch and Jon catch him when they notice his crash helmet in the back seat.

    Why that one has stuck with me? Impossible to say.

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