Sunday, March 6, 2016

TELEVISION’S INTEGRAL CHARACTERS

A Hypothetical Sidekick for Jim Rockford

On the classic series, “The Rockford Files,” private detective Jim Rockford usually worked alone, by preference, to solve cases. He did things his way. For this reason the series was not created with a sidekick or an assistant in mind. Jim was not Barnaby Jones or Joe Mannix. Angel Martin might seem to be a logical candidate. Although he was a frequent contact, sometimes working with Rockford, he more often than not was a detriment to him. Angel never took nor retained any advice from Rockford and he would just as soon sell Jim out to save his own neck. Not the traits of a trusted sidekick. Other members of the cast fell short of the sidekick moniker with occupations at odds with Rockford. But there was one character in the same line of work who assisted and learned from Rockford. I think the young, aspiring private investigator, Richie Brockelman, would make a good candidate. An endearing character to be sure, thanks to a superb script and Dennis Dugan’s performance playing a character much younger than himself. Unfortunately, Brockelman was not able to sustain his own series. He needed Rockford’s help.


Though only guest starring in two, ninety-minute episodes, Richie was to Rockford what Chester was to Matt Dillon, Archie to Nero Wolfe or Artemis to James West. Each with opposite personality traits to one another. Richie runs mornings. Rockford runs only when being chased by thugs. Richie is excited about any new case. Rockford is skeptical of most clients and, at times, takes the job just to pay off creditors. But their common ground, a necessary sidekick qualification, is being in the same line of work and loving it. Student and mentor relying and learning from each other to solve a case.

Rockford meets Richie in one of the best episodes of the series. “The House on Willis Avenue” is brilliantly written and introduces Richie as a guy who also thinks outside the rules and at times, a con man to rival Rockford; a competent investigator with a lot to learn. Both are attending the funeral of Joe Tooley, a veteran Los Angeles P.I., played by Paul Fix. The things Joe taught Rockford kept him alive his first few years. Tooley was a mentor of sorts to Rockford. When Rockford coincidentally sits next to Richie and introduces himself, Richie is in awe. Wow! Jim Rockford! He cannot help but stare. The beauty of this first meeting is that it reinforces Rockford as one of the best and most experienced private detectives in the Los Angeles area. Legendary in Richie’s eyes. It also establishes the “gee whiz” factor for young Brockelman.


Neither buy the idea that Tooley could have died in the location that the authorities said he did. Paraphrasing, “The thing of it is, is, I don’t think Joe Tooley’s death was an accident, Mr. Rockford. And if you are working on the same theory, we should pool our resources and work together on this.” Rockford does not show his hand readily to the lad so Richie keeps needling him in the hope that he will provide the information he wants. Rockford makes no commitment but makes it clear that if they work together Richie is to follow his lead. “Hey, no problem. You’re the boss,” replies Richie. But in his unrestrained enthusiasm, Richie has the tendency to butt in on Rockford’s conversations after being told not to say anything. “Do you mind, son?!,” Rockford retorts. He calls him “son” but his driving skills, at the expense of Rockford’s Firebird, completely loses the bad guys in one scene and Rockford is impressed. And that is saying something. ”I guess people underestimate you all the time, son.” To which Richie replies, “Yeah. You can count on it.” Richie quickly endears himself to Rockford, who, in turn, teaches the young P.I. a thing or two. Especially how to get into business offices they have no authority to be in. A real teaching moment for Richie.


In a scene reminiscent of Chester Goode confiding in Matt Dillon in numerous first-year epsiodes, Richie asks for sage advice from Rockford. Richie says his dad does not understand why he is in the P.I. business. He assumes Rockford’s own father likes what he does for a living. Jim is quite familiar with his father’s opinion on the subject, responds, “Oh, he will say things like, ‘Life is like a red Ford. If you rev the engine too much it won’t last long.’ “Things like that.” A puzzled but accepting look comes over Richie’s face.

In the following season’s episode, “Never Send a Boy King to do a Man’s Job,” Rockford and Richie, with the aid of a cast of operatives, team up for an elaborate sting operation to bring down a crooked sports promoter, Jack Coombs, whose underhanded practices have forced Richie’s father out of business. Richie is beside himself and wants to make Coombs pay. But he is not sure how to go about it. He suggests some sort of con to Rockford but he is wary of a sting on such a powerful businessman with endless connections. It could very well backfire. Yet the whole idea could be a thing of beauty and Rockford is in. Their plan is to get Coombs invested in a phony Egyptian artifacts tour that promises to bring in millions. 

Coombs is amazed at the potential and takes charge as only he can. By beating his opponents into submission. In separate incidents, both he and Richie take a pretty good beating from Coomb’s muscle. It is Richie’s understanding that when the principle marks get beaten up, there is a flaw in the con somewhere. Rockford does not find the comment amusing. Coombs boldly makes a move which Rockford or Richie never saw coming. Richie admits to Jim, “He gave us the ‘ol greased pole.”


With the only back up plan that might work, they turn up the heat on Coombs by suggesting, through a series of fake deaths, there may be an ancient curse on anyone associated with the artifacts. Coombs, already a health hypochondriac, immediately buys his way out of the whole deal, unknowingly writing a large enough check to restore Richie’s father’s business and pay off the operatives.

Though not official sidekicks, Rockford and Brockelman fit the bill on the assumed age gap alone. Rockford’s experience leads the way but cases would not be resolved successfully without Richie Brockelman’s assistance. Proving two opposites can work well together.

13 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. I got 2 email notifications about your post comment. My deletion of 1 apparently removed the duplicate comment.

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  2. I actually remember Richie Brockelman better from the short-lived TV series than his appearances on THE ROCKFORD FILES. Dennis Dugan was always a likable actor and the Richie Brockelman character suited him very well. I was surprised the TV series didn't last longer. Seems like NBC never gave it a chance. You have convinced me, though, that ROCKFORD's producers should have kept him around longer as Jim's sidekick-protege.

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    1. Dugan hit gold with the Richie character for me, too. So genuine and as you say, likable.

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  3. "Rockfish" was must-see TV in our family and so, briefly, was "Brockleman". Interesting and elucidating choice for the blogathon has made me wistful for things that never can be.

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  4. I can't believe Dugan was only in two episodes of the Rockford Files, as he's stuck in my brain as a much bigger component to the series. That's a testament to Dugan's indefatigable charms. This was the show that made me love Dugan and I have never wavered... Great article. I really need to revisit these episodes.

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    1. Thanks! Well, it is hypothetical but the mentor angle was the key. Rockford was not a mentor to any of his co-stars and as I say, Angel was usually no help at all.

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  5. Too bad such great chemistry had to be spun off rather than integrated into Rockford, though of course Rockford already had his own other sidekicks, I guess. Great look into the series and the character! I need to watch more of Rockford soon!!!

    Terrific article!

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    1. Dugan's character really was powerful for me. "The thing of it is, is..." he should have been in more episodes but the series was winding down by then.

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  6. Brockleman? Are you serious? Rockford had two great sidekicks his father Joseph 'Rocky' Rockford and Detective Dennis Becker. Angel was just a pain in the ass but maybe Lawyer Beth Davenport could be considered but Brockleman? Never.

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    1. It is indeed a risky call for a character only in 2 episodes but for me, a sidekick has to have a mentor. Rocky seemed too obvious. Tremendous father but he was not all that supportive of Jim's occupation. Beth does not fit the "sidekick" moniker, especially considering their assumed past relationship. And Rockford was many times at odds with Becker and vice versa.

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  7. Your discussion has inspired me to go back and re-watch these Brockleman episodes. Great essay--thanks for writing it.

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