“The Renegades” (1983)

I miss extended opening credit sequences. In most modern network shows, you get a cold open, followed by a title card, followed by the cast names running over the next scene. Though nothing would ever top the acid blotter for the eyes that was Lidsville‘s opening, credit sequences of the past were nearly two minutes long, introducing all the characters, and acting as a mini clips episode of sorts. Some, like Bosom Buddies and Knight Rider, even had voiceovers explaining the plot, for the benefit of anyone who would just decide to start watching the show somewhere in the middle of the third season.

One that far outlived the TV show it introduced was 1983’s The Renegades, a crime drama starring Patrick Swayze, in one of his first starring roles. It is glorious 80s cheese, more so when you realize that it was completely earnest. This was meant to be a hip new show made for the youth, competing with boring soap operas like Dallas and Falcon Crest. The generic synth rock, the dark, foggy alley, the simmering attitude of the young actors, all of it was meant to evoke the gritty, edgy look of a music video, which was probably more effort than required for a modern take on The Mod Squad, but goodness knows I appreciate it.

The credits open with several pairs of legs walking towards the camera, a shot which is recycled no less than nine times in two minutes. Then we’re introduced to the titular Renegades, all of whom have super cool nicknames. Patrick Swayze, the leader (because Patrick Swayze don’t follow nobody) is “Bandit,” and his friends include “Eagle,” “J.T.”, “Dancer,” and “Gaucho” (Tracy Scoggins is “Tracy,” because evidently girls don’t warrant cool nicknames). There’s also an Asian guy in the group, and I bet you can’t guess what his nickname is. No, seriously, you’ll never get this. In fact, I won’t embarrass you any further.

It’s “Dragon.” And is he introduced by doing a standing high kick? You bet your ass he is.

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After walking down what must be the longest alley imaginable, Bandit and the others engage in a staredown contest with sourpuss police captain Scanlon (Kurtwood Smith), and Lieutenant Marciano (James Luisi), who recruited the Renegades and regards them with a “Whaddaya gonna do?” shrug. The stern looking Renegades eventually smile in acceptance, and then after one more shot of disembodied legs walking, they all run into the camera.

Such a slam bang opening credits sequence will inevitably underdeliver, and, indeed, this does turn out to be a run of the mill cop show, with a twist that would be absurd, if it hadn’t already been done fifteen years earlier. The Renegades are all petty criminals who are given a choice between jail, or working as undercover cops. They’re repeatedly referred to as “kids,” even though none of them look like they’ve seen high school any time recently, and when they’re not working they’re hanging out in the basement of the police station, decorated for some reason to look like a daycare center, with cubbies and a rainbow painted on one wall. Evidently bereft of homes and families, these 30 year-old juvenile delinquents spend their time cracking wise and helping the pigs crack down on crime.

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In “Target: Marciano,” the final episode of an undistinguished six episode run, Marciano learns that Tony Gunn, a music producer/drug dealer who was committed to a psychiatric hospital after killing Marciano’s partner, has escaped, and is vowing revenge against Marciano for…well, it’s never really explained. Gunn sets about his plan with the help of a punk band he used to produce, and a wealthy benefactor who, inexplicably, is in love with him. None of these people are very good at laying low, what with pulling guns in public, Gunn showing up at clubs and shouting nonsense, and their having secret conversations about their plans with only a thin curtain separating them from outsiders. Nevertheless, Marciano is put in protective custody at Scanlon’s command, and the Renegades set about capturing Gunn…their way.

You might have noted that I mentioned Gunn is being helped by a punk band. That’s right, this is a good old fashioned “undercover in the scary punk rock scene” plot, a year after CHiPs and Quincy covered it. Bandit and Gaucho hit the clubs to rough up some weirdos, while Dragon gets himself hired as houseboy for Gunn’s benefactor. The rest of the gang pass themselves off as a “punk” band called Blank Distress, and the song they perform at a Battle of the Bands contest sounds suspiciously like Billy Squier’s “The Stroke.” Curiously, the lyrics seem to explain the plot of the episode (“In the name of the law a judge and jury tried him/in the name of the law they locked him in an asylum…now the Gunn is out and he wants some satisfaction”), but Gunn is so mesmerized by how much Tracy–what an astonishing coincidence!–looks like a dead singer he once loved that he doesn’t notice. Naturally, they’re a huge hit, and win the Battle of the Bands.

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Marciano eventually escapes protective custody and gives himself up to Gunn, who’s already shot at innocent people on the street. Gunn brings Marciano to a skating rink, where he will be put on “trial,” with musical accompaniment by Blank Distress, performing a song Gunn has evidently written especially for the occasion. This leads to a hilarious scene that has Marciano and Gunn yelling back and forth at each other over a faux rockabilly tune, while one of Gunn’s minions skates around the rink.

I should point out here that Gunn’s motives don’t make a lot of sense. I mean, he definitely killed a guy (a cop, at that), and was almost certainly responsible for selling a strain of smack that contributed to the deaths of several people. What exactly he blames Marciano for, other than having the audacity to arrest him for the murder of his partner, is rather murky. To be fair, Gunn is also a babbling loon, but it doesn’t explain his henchmen, let alone his benefactor/would-be lover putting their own lives on the line to help him seek revenge for being convicted of a crime he actually committed. Regardless, the Renegades save the day, and Gunn folds like a discount store beach chair. Grouchy Captain Scanlon, who might as well wear a Post-It note on his forehead with THE MAN written on it, grudgingly admits that “one or two” of them might make good cops. We’ll never find out, though, because the show was canceled.

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Even though it’s mentioned numerous times that the Renegades are tough thugs who really understand the streets, maaaaaaan, they stubbornly refuse to come off as anything other than a multicultural community theater production of West Side Story. Not so much as an ounce of charisma can be generated between the seven of them, which is understandable since they’re not given much to do except stand around while smirking and glaring at the cops. Patrick Swayze in particular is a disappointing void, contributing little else beyond good hair and rippling biceps. You’d think that a show that was probably sold to the network as “What would happen if The Warriors and the Sweathogs teamed up to solve mysteries?” would have a little pizzazz to it, but alas, Kurtwood Smith’s grim, unsmiling visage speaks for the audience. But then again, with an opening sequence like that, where else could it go, but down?

Original airdate: April 8, 1983

Watch it here (in six parts), or you can just watch the intro here

 

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