Sometimes TV shows drag their unfunny, uninteresting, yet highly rated feet across our living rooms for years. “Who let this happen?” we cry in vain. Other times, the powers that be get things right. That’s where “Brilliantly Canceled” comes in, looking at the shows that didn’t make it past their first season and saved us all a ton of grief.
On a list of failed shows where Peter Boyle plays a talking police dog, Poochinski owns the number one spot. And it’s not for lack of trying either. Poochinski earned the position by undershooting even the lowest aspirations of its premise with a cascade of exhausting jokes, arduous exposition, and animatronics straight from the nightmare dog park of the uncanny valley. Then it does us one better. Remove the whole “dog can talk and operate stereo equipment” vehicle, and Poochinski is still a confusing, toneless mess. The show’s bizarre place in network television history — coupled with its equally bizarre spot in four writers’ “good idea” book — makes Poochinski one of the worst pilots to ever go live on a farm upstate somewhere.
Poochinski must have looked like a sure-fire hit. A late-80s ad-wizard dreams of a crossover between popular police dog movies and Trading Places. But what might Tom Hanks starring as Hooch or Scruff McGruff and Fred Savage going all Vice Versa look like? The answer: A half-hour cop comedy, where a vulgar detective trades bodies with a bulldog. We are through the looking glass here, people.
Just as Poochinski plays to its poorly punned title to a T, Stanley Poochinski (Boyle), the man, lives up to his namesake. He’s loud, messy, and far from housebroken yet, supposedly, a great detective. You could say he keeps his nose to the ground, if that weren’t the stupid type of joke that restricts Poochinski from being anything remotely funny. Detective Poochinski made a name for himself catching the “Post Office Bomber.” His antics are boorish but assured — or so we’re told. Presumably the detective will show the goods when he’s assigned a new partner that’s not Andrew McCarthy or Judge Reinhold, but rather Det. Robert McKay played by George Newbern. The nameless and short-tempered chief sets them to work on a string of ATM robberies, and while on stakeout, they find their man. An aviator-spectacled monster in his mid-40s holds up an old woman at a cash dispensary, and McKay hits the street in pursuit. Moments later, the perp’s car careens around a corner towards a helpless bulldog, and with only moments to act, Poochinski carries the dog to safety but meets the car’s windshield in the process. His dying wish to McKay: Take the Cubs’ tickets from his wallet and flip them. With that all wrapped up, there’s nothing left to do but transfer his soul into the body of the rescued bulldog and cut to commercial.
Because that requires no further explanation, Poochinski picks up after the break with McKay saying goodbye to his fallen partner. The funeral of Stanley Poochinski is a sparse event with few attendees, making it the perfect venue for a talking bulldog to reveal himself. After about two seconds of convincing, McKay accepts that the dog is Poochinski reincarnate and the dog’s offer to hunt down his killer. The rest of this block is filled with moments of McKay walking Poochinski, Poochinski adapting to his life as dog by picking up a few instinctive traits, like eating slippers, and trying to get McKay laid. It’s a blast.
Poochinski finishes off its exhausting 21 minutes with another stakeout, the episode’s third. Why the writers didn’t cast Boyle as a talking prime rib and call this thing “Steak Out” remains a mystery. Anyway, Poochinski hunts down his killer outside another ATM, bites him in the testicles, and resolves to spending his remaining dog days in the service of his partner and police force. No fuss, no muss.
Except there is a bit of muss, isn’t there?
Poochinski is so poorly dashed together, it’s a wonder it was financed it at all. In its opening moments, these four writers go right to work, painting Poochinski as a scoundrel, though without anything resembling subtlety or humor. As the George Thorogood-inspired theme plays over the credits, viewers were treated to Poochinski telling his dispatcher that she has “a really sexy voice.” Of course, she’s read all about Poochinski on the bathroom wall. Dialogue and jokes like these are the show’s main problem. To keep the show about a talking police dog as broad as possible, everything must be spelled out for us.
So much of this show is left up to lines of dialogue. Often times, the clumsy exposition and characterization gets in the way of the characters doing stuff. The two leads typically wait around in cars for something to happen, and their passivity backs the characters into a corner. Because they’re so immobile, the chief must tell McKay about Poochinski and McKay must tell us he’s interested in the widow next door. Not that the show was ever made with the highest artistic aspirations, but the only thing more fun than hearing about a character do something is seeing them do it. Show Stanely be a lousy cop and show McKay stumble in his romantic woes, and Poochinski turns into the talking dog cop comedy we all want. Poochinski spends so much time delivering exposition that it forgets to tell us how he becomes a dog, which, aside from “why am I watching this?” is probably the only question worth asking.
Want your brain to flee your cranium with its tail between its legs? Check out the whole pilot for Poochinski below.
Matt Schimkowitz is a writer, TV-watcher, and founder of the one-man band “Mountain Dewd.” Like you, he enjoys the finer things in life: drinking from coconuts, the latest Italian vogue, and complaining about movies, music, and TV on the Internet. Find more writing about canceled TV shows and other irrelevant nonsense on the Twittersphere.