I’d occasionally see reruns of “The Rockford Files” when I was young. I didn’t think too much of it. To me it was like a dozen other 70s and early 80s cop and detective shows for all the good and the bad that entailed. Stuff my parents liked. Give me “The Dukes of Hazard” and “The A-Team” instead.
When I was in my 20s I got really into detective fiction and revisited a few episodes. The show was pleasant enough and, by then, I was able to understand that it stood head-and-shoulders above its contemporaries, primarily because of how charming James Garner was in the lead role. But it was a tad slow, a tad clunky and looked extraordinarily dated to my young man’s eyes. It was certainly far less action-packed than the visceral cop and action dramas of the 90s and lacked all of the style of the then-increasingly common 1970s-inspired fare. Quentin Tarantino would happily show you the cool sideburns, feature the baddest muscle cars and put all the coolest music of the era on the soundtrack, but he excised the plaid and vinyl, the ugly haircuts and the low-end Chevys and Dodges. I liked the 1970s pastiches more than the real McCoy at the time and I thus appreciated “The Rockford Files” more than I enjoyed it.
I recently dove back in to the show — Cozi TV shows episodes every morning and I record them — and I am loving it more than anything. I’m early in season 2 now and I am almost certainly going to watch every episode as they pop up on my DVR.
It’s hard to say exactly why it’s clicking for me so well now when it didn’t before.
A lot of it has to do with me having an even greater appreciation for Garner now than I did back then. Dramatic TV today is so full of tormented anti-heroes and comedic TV is so full of discomfort-driven quirky humor that seeing a genuinely warm, funny, and comfortable performance from a straightforwardly likable actor stands out more than it once might’ve.
It’s also the case that I’m older now and the I appreciate the slower pace than I did when I was 25. I’ve lived enough and read enough by now that I’m less interested in pastiche than I am in that which is authentic (or was authentic). There is no nostalgia to “The Rockford Files.” None for me, certainly, as I was really too young when the show was on to look at it and say “that was my time.” None on its own terms either, as nothing that show was up to was either especially backward or forward looking. They were living in 1974 (and 1975-80), and that was that.
All of this was twirling around my head this morning when I stumbled upon this bit from a blog post someone wrote about the show a few years back. I think it hits the nail pretty squarely on the head:
Perhaps it was the leaded gasoline fumes that made us all more lethargic, but to the best of my recollection, the mood in America just after Watergate was decidedly hung over, and no one pulls off a ‘where the hell’s the damned aspirin’ look like Jim Rockford does.
The trailer’s leaking, the Pontiac just blew a retread, Angel’s shaking him down for another sawbuck, and the insurance company isn’t going to pay out after all. That was exactly how the Seventies felt; but Rockford persevered with style, ending every episode with a wry twist that let us know that no matter how much it felt like things were spiraling out of control, at the end of the day we always break about even.
That’s all pretty comforting, really. And it’s probably why I’ve been enjoying easing into “The Rockford Files’ each day.