Dan Stark is a virus. He infects everyone who comes into contact with him with a love of fast cars, bitchin' mustaches, and crime-fighting techniques that come straight out of an '80s cop show. We've seen it happen to his current partner, Jack, who resists becoming a carbon copy of Dan but always eventually realizes that Dan is correct when the chips are down. And in this episode, we see it happen to Frank Savage, Dan's old partner, the guy who escaped his orbit and went on to build a new life for himself, though he didn't shave the 'stache. Just being in proximity to Dan starts to bring the old Frank out in the guy, and after a very short time in a car with him, he's taking long-ass potshots at bad guys in the Cotton Bowl. Viewed from one of the other characters' perspectives, The Good Guys could be a horror show. But viewed from Dan Stark's perspective, it's a triumph.
The Good Guys has a mythology, of sorts, in that there's a somewhat elaborate backstory about how at one time, Dan was the toast of the force before both his partner and the police department moved on to other things. A big part of that was thanks to the time he and his partner, Frank, saved the governor's son, Andy. They became something like folk heroes in the Dallas area, and a TV network even made a movie about the event, a movie that both Dan and Frank own on VHS. But Dan got trapped in this story, as surely as everyone else was able to move on. I posited at one time that the central conflict of the show is fiction vs. reality, but it's more subtle than that: This is a story about a man who came to believe in his own myth and let the world pass him by. Until he - and the world - came to realize that that myth was actually right.
All of this is a high-falutin' way to say that The Good Guys' left turn into its own mythology was a LOT of fun, feeling more like a season finale than anything else (and, yeah, this was likely to be the season finale back when the order was for just 13 episodes). To be sure, just having Bradley Whitford and Gary Cole on screen and cracking wise together was going to be at least somewhat fun, but I think the episode did a considerable amount both with the central idea of reuniting Frank and Dan and with the idea that Dan is something everybody else has to escape. Normally, the shrewish wife who keeps the guys from having fun is one of my least favorite character types, but I thought it worked here because a.) Rachael Harris is awesome and b.) it was clear that she was trying to help Frank keep up with standards FRANK had set.
What's more, after I've spent the last couple of weeks complaining about episodes where the stories don't completely hang together, I thought this one was just the right level of complex. Often, The Good Guys tries to cram in too much. Here, it crammed in just enough. Basically, the storyline needed to separate Jack and Dan for a nice amount of time, so that Dan could reunite with Frank and the two could bust punks like the old days. But it also needed to give Jack something to do. And, of course, it needed to drop in on the bad guys from time to time, here played by some guy and Jake Busey. I thought what made the episode click along was the fact that it separated Jack and Dan, but had both of them largely in pursuit of the same guys. Jack SAID he was in pursuit of Dan (who was suspected of re-kidnapping Andy), but he was actually after the real bad guys, keeping only a nonchalant eye on what Dan was up to.
This all became even more complicated once the re-kidnapped Andy escaped from the clutches of the kidnappers (drug dealers who wanted to get back at Dan Stark - and have you ever noticed how many characters refer to him with his full name - for busting them), but the show made all of the pieces fit together in a way that was rather elegant, while still leaving room for the elaborate shaggy dog scenes it likes to toss at us, like the one where Frank is enticed by Dan to sort of half put on that Hawaiian shirt again, feeling the weird luster of it as Dan's eyes pop out of his head. I don't mind when the show wants to take detours, but when the episode becomes all detours - as the show often can be - it feels like the writers don't care about telling a coherent story. Here, they had a certain confidence in their central narrative that allowed for the detours to feel like fun instead of time wasting.
A lot of this is due to having very good guest stars in all of these parts. Ethan Suplee hasn't done a lot since My Name Is Earl was canceled, but here, he proves again that he's the go-to man for overgrown man-children for a reason. He's very, very good at playing this kind of simpleton, and though he got surprisingly little screen-time, he was funny when he was around. The same goes for Rachael Harris, who was believable both as the woman Frank would give up his life with Dan for and as a woman who was terrified of what her husband's former partner would do to her husband's psyche. Then you have Jake Busey, who was just a lot of over-the-top, rage-filled fun. And, of course, there's Gary Cole, who can pretty much do no wrong and was the perfect choice for Frank (even if his mustache looked especially fake in HD).
I don't think the episode was perfect. There was a certain element of "When are we gonna get to the fireworks factory?!" in just how long the episode kept Frank off-screen (though most of this was spent in getting all of the plotline ducks in a row), and there perhaps wasn't as much humor as there was in some of the other episodes when Cole and Whitford weren't on screen. But there are lots and lots of good moments here, and the show's action climax - a shootout at the Cotton Bowl - is one of the first that doesn't have an elaborate car chase element. I get a lot of guff from you guys for attacking the clockwork plotting many weeks. And while I continue to think that the show often bites off more than it can chew, there's a reason it keeps doing so. When it works, it works very well, and this episode was a good example of the show doing this kind of storytelling with confidence and verve.
- Looks like we're on through November at least. I honestly figured Fox would yank this show, but here we are.
- "If facial hair could talk, I know you'd sing an opera."
- "That was my favorite finger."
- "Unstable. Bad taste in clothing. Stupid mustache. Says hurtful things."
- "VHS. The way it was made to be seen."
- "You mean the one where you congratulated me on being Frank's lucky 100?"
- "If you have moved on, how come you're still sportin' that bitchin' 'stache?"
- "Wow. You're gettin' husky."