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CPO Sharkey may not have been punk, but Don Rickles was

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In honor of Netflix’s Special Correspondents, we’re honoring our favorite military-themed comedies.

CPO Sharkey, “Punk Rock Sharkey” (season two, episode 17; originally aired 3/24/78)

For such a legendary stand-up comedian, Don Rickles has a terrible track record as a sitcom star. The only exception to the rule: CPO Sharkey, which ran on NBC for two seasons and 37 episodes, an epic run compared to Rickles’ other series.

CPO Sharkey tended to be far more successful as an outlet for Rickles’ famed insult comedy than as a recruitment tool for the U.S. Navy. Still, the series wasn’t afraid to throw in the occasional plotline where serving one’s country was painted as the cure for all of society’s ills. But the season-two episode “Punk Rock Sharkey” has emerged as the series’ most famous installment not because of its military message, but because of how it put one of L.A.’s most rollicking punk bands—The Dickies—in prime time.

The punk element of the episode is set in place immediately: Recruits Skolnick and Kowalski return to the barracks and get dressed down by Sharkey for going to a punk rock club called The Pits and getting into a fight with the boyfriend of a girl they’d been talking to. Unsurprisingly, Sharkey is completely ignorant of the punk movement, and despite Skolnick helpfully identifying such bands as The Fingers and The Skulls, he only has one order for his men: “Stay out of those joints!”


But it’s too late: Skolnick’s fascination with the “violence, decadence, and brutality” of punk makes him a soft touch when the majority of the other recruits decide that they want to visit The Pits and experience punk for themselves. Or, to use their specific parlance, “We should go, have fun, and check out the freaks!” Pruitt is the only one who balks at the plan, which puts him in prime position to play the narc.

Sharkey immediately makes his way to the club, arriving in time to catch the the tail end of the Dickies’ performance and, luckily, to save his men from getting their asses handed to them. As square as Sharkey’s actions might be, his attitude nonetheless impresses a punk rock girl named Quinine, who likes his style and wants to know more about him. Naturally, he’s completely dismissive of her: When she asks if he got all of his colorful ribbons in the Navy, he snaps back, “No, they’re from Baskin-Robbins. 31 flavors!” But after he’s involved in a scuffle with some of the punks (off-camera, alas) and loses his wallet, Quinine returns it to him at the base. With Quinine now in Sharkey’s world, the plot finally begins to shift back in a more military-oriented direction, but before the credits roll, viewers do get to witness Don Rickles trying his hand at pogoing, a candidate for the least punk-rock thing ever filmed.

Some might argue that CPO Sharkey doesn’t paint the military experience any more realistically than it does the L.A. punk scene, and there’s certainly some merit to that. Between the barbs, however, Rickles managed to paint Otto Sharkey as a career Navy man who appreciates the structure of the military and doesn’t really understand life outside of the service. He wishes everyone around him would just shut up, appreciate how good they’ve got it, and do their damned jobs. You don’t have to enlist to appreciate a sentiment like that.

Availability: “Punk Rock Sharkey,” along with CPO Sharkey’s other episodes, is available on DVD.