"Rockford" showed up on the small screen nearly 35 years ago. That's a long time, and the world has changed a lot since then. This makes it even more satisfying to see how well the show has held up over the years. While the cars, hairstyles, and clothing are noticeably dated, the endearing characters, intelligent writing, and clever story lines aren't.
Jim Rockford is an atypical TV hero, especially for the 1970s. He is often cranky and impatient, and he usually wants nothing to do with a case unless it's going to put his usual $200/day plus expenses in his pocket. However, after being talked into reluctant participation into many of his capers, Rockford displays an unusual sense of morality. Once he finds someone getting the short end of the stick, he can't turn his back on them until he puts things right -- even at his own life's peril.
The supporting cast really makes this show. All have a complex, sometimes unexplained relationship with Rockford that is often unconventional. Angel Martin is an extremely shady ex-con who constantly lies to Rockford and gets him into trouble, yet the viewer comes to eventually understand their strange friendship, as Jim begrudgingly takes the good with the bad. Beth Davenport's relationship with Rockford is never clarified. It's implied they had or have some sort of romantic involvement, but the relationship seems open, and at times, just a friendship. However, the viewer gets the sense that the two care about one another very much, and the strong, educated Ms. Davenport is a refreshing departure from damsel-in-distress characters of the time. Sgt. Dennis Becker is Jim's friend, but he isn't shy to share his suspicions that Rockford is often using him for information and police protection, nor is he reluctant to complain that Jim's ever-presence is preventing his advancement within the LAPD. Even Rockford's own father has an unconventional relationship with him, as Jim refers to him as "Rocky" and treats him as more of a best friend than a father. Rocky is more trusting and happy-go-lucky than his cranky, cynical son, but the two of them have an excellent chemistry that is even touching at times. It helped that Noah Beery and James Garner had a physical resemblance, as well.
The show had a few mainstays that were present in nearly every episode. It always had its share of humor, though often subtle. There were always a few exciting car chase scenes, however improbable that they could take place on L.A. streets without ever running into traffic. Someone always seemed to find a way to break into Rockford's trailer and either tear the place up, attack him, or both. Apparently he never learned his lesson about investing in some better locks. Regardless of these patterns, however, the show remained fresh and interesting throughout its entire run, especially with the creative writers they were fortunate enough to employ.
The Rockford Files was one of the most expensive shows to produce at the time, given its extensive use of on-location shooting throughout Los Angeles and its surrounding cities. While I'm sure this made things tougher on the staff, it especially enhances the show now, as one now has an excellent look at 1970s Los Angeles. It's especially invigorating for me to see this, as memories of my childhood there come rushing back with every scene change.
I did not start watching this series until 2007. It has been a pleasant surprise, and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for some great TV from 3 decades ago.
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