The other day, in the midst of a holiday season hangover, I happened upon a midday re-run of Nash Bridges – that mid-90’s, buddy-cop, dramedy series featuring Don Johnson in blazers without the sleeves scrunched up. Now, I’ll admit most of my interest in the show came sometime after a family trip to San Francisco (because of how I am infinitely obsessed with seeing places I’ve been on TV) and after Yasmine Bleeth was added to the cast in 1998 (because of how I was in ninth grade at the time).

Anyhow, this moment on my couch led to a bold new sort of New Year’s Resolution: I would subject myself to the first season of Nash Bridges on DVD because that seemed like a great idea at the time and the SF Public Library website told me both discs were available at my local branch. (Socialism: 1, Netflix: 0)

I’m sure down the road I’ll realize this is all just a misguided attempt to connect with my adopted city, but for now I’m diving headfirst into Don Johnson’s San Francisco where it’s always the holiday season at Embarcadero Center, and there’s already something fishy going in with the city’s skyline:

OK, you almost got me, Director Peter Werner. I was so blinded by the pretty lights, I almost didn’t notice that you reversed the entire skyline. Good luck getting a job in 2010 where even my cheapass Vizio gets a picture of the Ferry Building so clear I can smell the organic goat cheese chevre. I suppose I should just be glad they didn’t blow their entire special effects budget on a mid-air helicopter collision in the first episode.

Moving right along, we find our hero beneath the warm red glow of the Port of San Francisco sign, in the middle of a sting operation purchasing some black market computer chips. Now, I never did quite make it through Pirates of Silicon Valley but I’m pretty sure this is how Jobs and Wozniak got Apple off the ground. By purchasing computer parts wholesale on the black market. Black market computer chips have always been a really huge problem in the city, is what I’m saying.

More importantly though, this scene also teaches us that even though the rest of the force doesn’t always agree with his methodology, Nash is such a great cop because he TAUGHT HIMSELF MAGIC as a child. Ugh, fine – at least we’ve got some character traits to work with. But remember this was the age of TV Guide and not TVGuide.com, so you should probably go ahead and lay out the whole backstory in the credits in case we missed anything:

Yes, perfect! “Encyclopedia of Magic (and Sleight of Hand)”! That was clearly the second most important thing about the character (after his birth date), so I’m glad we got that out of the way. Also: “Is that a Hemi?”, ROOKIE COP, The Chronicle, Weddings, Divorces, More Weddings!, Lonely teenage daughters, PORT OF SAN FRANCISCO. Fuck that commie Eisenstein, the art of montage was clearly perfected in the mid-90’s.

Now that we’ve got the main character all cleared up, the show wastes no time highlighting just how WACKY San Francisco is:

And that’s just while the lead in credits are still rolling! In under 5 minutes of screentime, this show has surrounded Nash with enough lovable weirdos to start at least one LoveFest Dance Party, and suddenly the whole MAGIC thing seems pretty normal, actually. In fact, Nash doesn’t possess a single character flaw. Things that should be flaws MAGICALLY become endearing qualities. (See what I did there?) His daughter Cassidy pokes fun at him for being broke after his first divorce, and while signing the paperwork on his second, his soon-to-be-ex-wife can’t resist one last dance.

Now for most people two divorces and a city cop salary would mean he leads a horrible life at home and should probably throw himself into his job catching the Intel Bandits until he drives away all his loved ones and finally takes a lateral stroll off the Golden Gate Bridge.

But not for Nash! Instead, he’s got an incredible penthouse apartment with a rooftop jacuzzi that he got on the cheap because it should have been earthquake condemned. It also doesn’t seem to bother anybody that the apartment doesn’t so much have a door as it has a wrecking ball-sized hole in the cinderblocks near the door-area. Between Nash’s war-torn apartment and the “earthquake demo” headquarters of Nash’s Special Investigations Unit/SFPD Tenderloin Precinct, this show had a very post-Gulf War reading of “Baghdad by the Bay”.

As we move through the second act, it becomes increasingly apparent that things just sort of happen for Nash and nothing is actually a direct result of his super-sleuthing. The first break in the case comes from a name in Nash’s “pornographic memory”, as Cheech calls it. Of course we quickly forget about that rabbit he pulled out of his hat when it leads to a scuffle with 90’s femme fatale Lucy Liu. Later when Lucy Liu gives up a suspect’s name, Cheech and Nash go to check him out, only to find Nash’s first ex-wife Lisa is now the bad guy’s played by caterer?

Nailed it! This scene would be way more frustrating, if that weren’t such a real thing that real people say.

And it doesn’t really matter anyway, because now Wojack’s henchmen are shooting at Nash from rooftops and beating the crap out of him. This wouldn’t be very noteworthy either if it weren’t for the sympathy looks his banged-up face elicits from Lisa, who has called him over to fix some wiring in her house (after all, that’s what exes are for).

As Cheech and Nash stake out Wojack’s house the two men begin to appear increasingly impotent. Cheech has loads of fancy gadgets (like a fax machine) that neither one of them can work and instead the final break in the case comes from an Apple Newton (like an iPod Touch, but bigger and older) that Nash lifted from Wojack’s house, but that he can’t even figure out how to turn on.

Instead, Cortez – the young sidekick – has decoded some files and found the address of a place in Chinatown where the bad guys are hanging out having dim sum. In the chase that follows, Cheech is shot and Nash once again gives up pursuit to bring his old partner to the hospital.

As Nash realizes he won’t be able to make it to Cassidy’s High School play the whole tough-guy facade finally crashes down. It seems as though Nash has zero control over anything and in his last confrontation with Wojack’s henchman, Nash finds himself with a pistol pointed at his dangly bits under the table of some Fisherman’s Wharf tourist trap. He’s staring in the face of someone that could quite literally destroy his manhood. So how does he escape? MAGIC of course:

One throwaway scene in the middle of the episode poses a problem though. While Nash and Cortez are bringing young Lucy Liu in for question (in the backseat of his convertible, because that’s just good, honest police work) he responds to an unrelated call about a stolen taxi or something. This leads to an unnecessary shoot out on Nob Hill and a runaway taxi headed down a steep part of Mason street – Look out!

This scene seemed so unnecessary, like an excuse to throw in a car chase (and not even a very good one!), but then it hit me: the one thing Nash is ultimately in control of is the one thing all middle-age guys are in control of: their 1970 Hemi Cuda’s.

Next week: More magic, I hope.

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  • eltejano

    I thought Kelly Hu was in it, not Lucy Liu

  • eltejano

    nevermind… I should have read what you wrote more carefully… sorry, carry on

  • Andrew Dalton

    Yes, Kelly Hu apparently comes later. While Lucy Liu is a guest appearance as the snitch Joy Powell in the first episode.

    Fun fact, as part of his “pornographic memory” Nash recalls that she lives at 9202 Geary, which doesn’t exist (obviously) but in Nash’s world it’s a houseboat on the bay.

  • Eve Batey

    Andrew, is that Arnold Vosloo, of Mummy and Hard Target fame? Is everyone on earth in this fuckin show?

  • Andrew Dalton

    Why, yes it is. The character’s name is Alex, but since he was arrested I don’t think we’ll be seeing him in subsequent episodes. Then again, YOU NEVER KNOW.

    Also, speaking of “everyone on earth”, I didn’t have an easy way to work this in but here’s the clip of Hunter S. Thompson’s cameo as the Piano Player at Luigi’s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovQJDAKmYYo You’re welcome.

  • cedichou

    This post should be the cover insert for the next dvd release. Just saying.

  • peter matthews

    so in which season does Don move to south beach and start busting pimps and drug dealers? nice catch on the SF skyline too.

  • Eugene Gorbunoff

    New site about Nash Bridges — http://nashbridges.ru
    (Gallery, Links, ..)