Written by / 5/11/2018 / No comments / , , , , , ,

ERIK ESTRADA GOES (FOR) BROKE IN THE FINAL 'CHIPS' SEASON

Tom Reilly gets the first Season 6 episode named for him 10/10/1982
No one wants to remember Tom Reilly on CHIPS. He was the blond-haired guy, looking straight out of central casting, who replaced the show's metronomic foundation, Larry Wilcox as Officer Jon Baker and yet, in the life of Reilly, CHIPS remains a pinnacle... at least when scrolling down his IMDb Book of Life. But it wasn't all his fault...

The role of Office Bobby 'Hot Dog' Nelson was probably more shameful to fans of the series than the man himself, who, for a year, financially benefited from Larry's exit (Jon split to work the family ranch, but actually, the show first Jumped The Shark in Season 5's Battle of the Bands), which left a sad empty space on the L.A. freeway next to Erik Estrada's Frank 'Ponch' Poncherello, who really didn't seem to notice there was a gap to fill at all...

Erik Estrada needed to take it off to covering his partner's departure
His macho Ponch got worse along in Season Six, and is really more to blame than his new wimpy partner...

Flipping the script, Hot Dog (who'd soon be joined by another blond rookie, Bruce Penhall, who was actually more likeable) was supposed to be what Ponch was in the first season: A devil-may-care rookie that experienced California Highway Patrolman Jon Baker had to take care of/keep an eye on...

No matter how hard Estrada, once a talented and legitimate character-actor in vehicles such as THE NEW CENTURIONS, tried to win over fans, male and females alike (and not in that order) from his mellow and patiently understanding, sandy-blond (and let's face it, completely lipless) mentor Baker, they remained an equal pair. In fact, Wilcox might be more beloved, in retrospect... Especially since he didn't try so hard to be famous-beyond-the-program concerned. And some girls, to this day, actually admit: "It was Jon we liked all along." Ponch simply tried too hard...

Richard Simmons on top of Erik Estrada
Yet, to be fair, Estrada is merely paint on the pop culture canvas: the writers are to blame for him becoming The Fonz of CHIPS: As BATTLESTAR GALACTICA actor Richard 'Apollo' Hatch said (paraphrased from a Cult Film Freak interview) of Dirk 'Starbuck' Benedict, the bad guys always get the best lines. Especially since the good guy is just Plain/Average Good while the Bad Boys are not really Bad since their Inner-Good relies on a sympathetic underdog quality that provides more dimension than otherwise. But when the final season of CHIPS came around, Estrada had no dimension at all... And we noticed, and cringed...

Camp Value: ***1/2
This final season's intro episode (a reverse Pilot) is titled MEET THE NEW GUY, and other than a few rebellious wheelies on his part, we hardly do at all. Not like there was anyone to meet other than a bland fleshful of mediocrity to give Ponch the sort of King-Takes-Pawn presence he'd always (seemed to) have wanted: Making more use of his Spanish Sex Symbol persona. Prime example...

After working-out in an aerobics class that just happens to be run by fatty-fitness guru Richard Simmons (surrounded by a melodramatic plot involving a desperate young mom played by Dominique Dunne), he winds up, while muscularly shirtless in short-shorts, taking off on his daylight motorcycle after the usual feathered-haired villains (the next episode he "reluctantly" winds up a billboard male supermodel)...

The episode should've been titled The Beginning of the End since we're witnessing an actor's career that didn't have a chance: Had CHIPS ended after Season Five, there could've been more mystery beyond the campy pinup "Mexploitation" that took over, possibly providing Estrada a career beyond straight-to-video action flicks or guest roles on random dramas, Mexican soap operas, or playing himself on sitcoms. But Amazon Prime members should start watching this awesomely embarrassing Sixth Season first, and then, after realizing how genuinely bad the show got, return to the rudimentary stages to discover: This famously bad series wasn't (isn't) bad at all.
It wasn't just Richard Simmons, The Dodger's manager Tommy Lasorda provides a vapid cameo as well
Richard Simmons giving his all, mirroring Brando in Streetcar, coaching Ponch against being too flirtatious... with girls
Blond cutie Andrea Evans plays Dominique Dunne's best friend, and preppie shirts looked great on girls at one time
CHIPS Richard Simmons CHIPS Tommy Lasorda CHIPS Andrea Evans CHIPS Dominique Dunne CHIPS
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