Retro Television Reviews: Half Nelson Episode 1.5 “Diplomatic Immunity”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Fridays, I will be reviewing Half Nelson, which ran on NBC from March to May of 1985. Almost all nine of the show’s episodes can be found on YouTube!

L.A. …. you belong to me….

Episode 1.5 “Diplomatic Immunity”

(Dir by Alan Cooke, Originally aired on April 12th, 1985)

Somebody is stealing luxury cars in Beverly Hills!  Detective Hamill (Gary Grubbs) is pretty sure that he’s caught the responsible party, a teenager who was seen near one of the cars when it was taken.  The teenager, who is in danger of losing his athletic scholarship, insists that he was just thinking about stealing the car but he didn’t actually do it.  Instead, the car was stolen by some guy who arrived on the scene via a limousine.  Why would a car thief be getting transported around in a limo?

That’s what Rocky Nelson (Joe Pesci) wants to find out!  Just as in the previous episodes, everyone tells Rocky to not get involved.  The police tell Rocky to stay out of the way.  Rocky’s boss, Chester (Fred Williamson), tells him that it’s not his concern.  Rocky’s landlord, Mr. Martin (Dean Martin), stops by the guesthouse to use Rocky’s phone and, though he doesn’t say not to get involved, it’s still pretty obvious that Dean Martin doesn’t care about the car thieves.

Only Rocky cares!  Actually, Kurt (Bubba Smith) and Beau (Dick Butkus) care as well.  In fact, in this episode, Kurt and Beau get almost as much screen time as Rocky.  They follow Rocky around, hoping to learn how to become better detectives.  As critical as I can sometimes be of Dick Butkus’s character on Hang Time, he was actually pretty funny on Half Nelson.  He and Bubba Smith made a good comedy team and they seem to be having so much fun together that it makes up for the fact that neither one of them had much range as an actor.  For instance, when Rocky goes to Beverly Hills High School to do some investigating, Kurt and Beau follow him.  Kurt and Beau claim to be two new teachers at the school.  “We got traded to this school from Harvard,” Beau says before Kurt explains that they got traded for another teacher and several draft picks.  It’s a dumb joke but Butkus and Smith sell it with their enthusiasm.

Eventually, Rocky figures out that the car theft ring is being led by a diplomat (John Saxon) from Central America.  Saxon pretends to be collecting money for charity but he’s actually just stealing cars and smuggling them out of the country.   Rocky’s investigative techniques are not particularly complex.  He “borrows” an expensive car from the studio and then hides in the trunk with his pitbull, Hunk.  When Saxon’s henchman (Lewis van Bergen) steals the car, Rocky and Hunk jump into action.  Hunk cripples the thief by biting his ankle and then Rocky and his dog run away as the car explodes.  “Run, Hunk, run!” Rocky yells.

Rocky, Kurt, and Beau manage to catch Saxon right before he boards a plane to leave the country.  The teenager is freed from jail.  As he leaves his cell, he complains about the incompetence of the cops.  Rocky yells at him for being disrespectful.  It’s the best scene in the show, just because it feels spontaneous.  It’s almost as if Pesci himself suddenly got mad and started yelling at the kid.

Rocky, Amanda (Victoria Jackson, who has been underused in every episode, with the exception of the pilot), and the rest of the Beverly Hills Security team throws a birthday party for Chester.  Dean Martin does not show up.  The end credits roll.

Half Nelson‘s main weakness is that, despite having an once-in-a-lifetime cast, the plots tend to feel somewhat generic.  It just doesn’t feel right to have actors like Joe Pesci, Fred Williamson, Dean Martin, and even Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith dealing with the type of boring cases that any 80s TV detective could have solved.  That said, compared to the previous episodes of Half Nelson that I’ve watched, this episode was okay.  Pesci got to show off his streetwise attitude and, as always, he seemed to be happiest when acting opposite Dean Martin.  John Saxon was stuck playing a one-note villain but it’s still always enjoyable to watch Saxon as he plots to do something bad.  This episode was enjoyable if not exactly memorable.

4 responses to “Retro Television Reviews: Half Nelson Episode 1.5 “Diplomatic Immunity”

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