“Poochinski” (1990)

In the review of Laverne and Shirley in the Army, I discussed “high concept,” the fine art of encapsulating the plot of a movie or TV show in as few words as possible. I initially thought that LASITA, which explains the plot in its title, might have been the master of high concept. I now amend that to cartoons only–in terms of sitcoms it gets no more beautifully concise than the 1990 pilot for Poochinski, which can be fully, and accurately described in four words: “farting dog solves crimes.”

I probably could have added in one extra word: “talking.” The farting dog also talks. But I have the feeling that when this show was pitched to NBC, farting was deemed the more relevant detail. You’d think that, given that premise, this would be a show intended for children, and yet it also includes jokes about sexual harassment, and a scene in which a dog almost literally rapes a woman. The question here isn’t “How did this happen?” so much as “What did NBC turn down in favor of this?”

The show opens with Peter Boyle as police detective Stanley Poochinski, who is lazy, obnoxious, despised by his colleagues, and breaks wind constantly, yet somehow also the best cop on the force (this is told numerous times rather than shown), so he gets away with it. In keeping with Plot Contrivance Law Sec. 18-2(a)(2), Poochinski is partnered with uptight, by the books Detective McKay (George Newbern, fresh off another failed sitcom recently reviewed here). McKay looks upon everything that Poochinski does and says, even relatively innocuous things like singing, with abject disgust, which means of course, according to P.C.L. Sec. 22-4(e)(4), by the end of the show he will have developed a grudging affection for him.

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Poochinski shows his soft side when he rescues a stray bulldog from a pack of bullying kids (he waves his gun at them, which is probably incredibly against police regulations, but never mind because he’s the best cop in town goddammit), and treats it as his pet. Poochinski insists on bringing the dog everywhere with him, even on a stakeout, lugging it around like a sack of potatoes.  This ends up costing Poochinski his life, as while chasing a serial mugger, the dog runs into the middle of the street, forcing Poochinski to rescue it. He ends up getting hit by the mugger’s car and dies, but not before his soul enters the dog’s body.

How does this happen? Well, we don’t know. It’s never explained, nor does it take much to convince McKay (who, according to P.C.L. Sec. 78-6(h)(6), is immediately stuck taking care of Poochinski in canine form) that this is a thing that happens and he just needs to learn to deal with it, even if he’s evidently the only one who can hear Poochinski talk. “First I’m gonna try licking myself, and then I’m gonna catch my killer, and you’re gonna help!” Poochinski declares, and then proceeds to not catch his killer, not right away, at least. First, to establish that he is, indeed, a dog, he pees on a rival detective’s leg, and then attempts to sexually assault a female dispatcher (who, given her reaction, seems to think it’s adorable), all while a generic 80s bar band cover of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” twangs and scriddly-bops on the soundtrack.

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As if your sides aren’t splitting already, Poochinski also suddenly decides that it’s a matter of great importance that McKay hook up with his single mom neighbor (Amy Yasbeck), who eyes him like she’s already spending those sweet police pension dollars. Catching Poochinski’s killer doesn’t happen until, oh, the last two minutes or so, when, after cornering him in an alley, Poochinski bites him in the crotch. “Let me tell ya, I did not enjoy that!” Poochinski tells McKay, because why not end this rich, family friendly comedy on a gay panic joke?

One wonders what the pitch meeting for Poochinski must have looked like, as its three (three!!!!) writers tried to convince an NBC executive that it was bound to be a prime time hit. Presumably the executive heard nothing beyond “It’s like Turner and Hooch, except the dog talks” before dropping his face into a pile of cocaine and sending them away with a half-hearted thumbs up, otherwise some important questions would have been asked, such as “Who is the audience for this show?” “How do you intend on stretching this premise for more than two or three episodes?” “Is that the best bulldog puppet you could find?” “Does the dog do anything besides fart and hump things?” At the risk of repeating myself, as I do often here (and as I do often here), there are a lot of moments during the process of producing a TV show where someone, many people, really, can hold their hand up and say “Yeah, you know, I don’t think this is really working,” and call the whole thing off. Considering it was burned off in the middle of the summer, NBC knew it was DOA, and yet the fact that it even made it past the slush pile is a mystery in and of itself. It makes one wonder what was rejected–perhaps Home Sweet Hurl, a sitcom about a family who spends all their time projectile vomiting on each other, or Dr. Fingerman, a medical drama about a proctologist by day, and a crime fighter by night.

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“Grotesque” may seem to be a strong word to apply to a TV show about a talking dog that solves crimes. However, let me reiterate, there is a scene in which the dog forces himself on a woman, while panting and slobbering like an obscene phone caller. All three of Poochinski‘s writers went on to work predominantly in children’s programming, where a TV show about a talking dog that solves crimes would seem to be better fit, if only they didn’t need to make jokes about Poochinski dating a hooker. Instead, it ended up one of the great “how did this get made?” mysteries of the 90s, a bad TV legend leaving the stench of dog farts in its wake.

Original airdate: July 9, 1990

Watch it here

 

 

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