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TV REVIEW : 'The Hat Squad' Is Not a Good Fit

THE NEW SEASON: One in a series.

September 16, 1992|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

"The Hat Squad" is prime time's new propeller beanie, an example of just how comically infantile and moronic television can get.

The hoot of a premiere (lasting 90 minutes, as if executive producer Stephen J. Cannell's script were so complex that the usual hour wouldn't suffice) airs at 8 tonight on Channels 2 and 8, introducing an elite team of three young undercover cops whose work clothes--fedoras and long overcoats--create an image farcical even by television standards.

Visually, they're a cross between Hasidic Jews and the Blues Brothers.

The premise calls for them to be so incredibly menacing that they sometimes terrify murderous thugs merely by showing up. These bobos? It would be more believable if the thugs started giggling.

Just why the Hat Squad never goes bareheaded on the job is not explained. You have to read the CBS publicity to learn that the title is inspired by the nickname given a group of Los Angeles police officers in the 1940s.

We are told that the three heroic crime fighters are orphans who work out of a vacant high-rise but are old-fashioned enough to still hang out with their foster mother and foster father, a police captain. There's hip Raphael the Puerto Rican (Nestor Serrano), cool Buddy the Italian-American (Don Michael Paul) and baby-faced Matt (Billy Warlock).

Tonight, after bungling a couple of stakeouts, they ultimately foil a seemingly indestructible super-villain named Victory Smith (Sam J. Jones), who plans for every contingency except cops who bungee jump. His capture--in a sequence so astonishingly implausible that it's almost camp--must be seen to be believed. It's a classic.

Before the brothers take him on, however, sensitive Matt detours to a hospital where he schmoozes with a little boy whom the monstrous Victory traumatized by stealing his cherished baseball card. The maudlin scene reminds you of the Babe promising to sock one out of the park for hospitalized little Johnny.

Just as overcooked and pretentious are underlit, slow-motion flashbacks explaining how The Hats became orphans. Then there are the scenes of the trio sitting obediently at the dinner table with their foster parents.

Mom: "Raphael, you need a haircut. Get one by Sunday."

Raphael (protesting weakly): "You know, Mom, I'm doing undercover now."

After dinner, The Hats rush off after that "dirtbag" Victory and his grungy biker henchmen. Buddy: "That means you'll be left with the dishes, Dad."

And viewers will be left holding this dirtbag of a show.

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