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Retro T.V Review: Jake and the Fatman (1987) (Part 3 - Review)


The time has come to finally review the show. Is Jake and the Fatman still as good as I remembered?


I have have always said that most memorable TV shows always have a great theme. You remember that theme, even years later. The theme here is pretty average. It does not really stand out from all the other shows at the time. It is a mix of 80's drums with saxophone. It feels like it tried to be a more smooth version of the Miami Vice theme.

There were actually 3 iterations of the theme. There was the one in season 1, which I think was the best one. It has Joe Penny and William Conrad, talking about each others faults but also acknowledging they are the best for the job. It was simple yet effective.

Jake and the Fatman Theme (Season 1)

Then when they went to shoot in Hawaii, they had a second opening. The theme song was pretty much the same but the visual sequences were different. The production value was higher and the show looked like it had a real opening sequence. However, at this point I still enjoyed the season 1 opener better.

Jake and the Fatman Theme (Seasons 2, 3 and part of 4)

Then when they moved the show back to Los Angeles, they had to make a third opening.

Jake and the Fatman Theme (Part of Season 4 and Season 5)

When looking at the three iterations of the openings, I would have to go with the original one as it seemed like the most authentic. Although, Season 4 and 5 themes were better produced, the first one has a little something special.

You will notice in each version of the theme, both Joe Penny and William Conrad stare at each other at he end and then have a laugh. From my perspective it looked in the first version that the smile and laughter were candid. It looks like this was an outtake that the producers decided to leave in. In the 2 later versions it seems like it was forced. May be it is me. Let us know in the comments what you think.

In conclusion, the theme was nothing really special. It was very generic and I am pretty sure not many people remember it.


Does this show still hold up after all of these years? The answer is a solid meh.

The show played on CBS. What does this mean? Well, in most cases, shows on this network usually have a formula and they milk it for all its worth. They did this with Murder, She Wrote, Matlock, Diagnosis Murder and Walker, Texas Ranger, just to name a few. Here it is no different. The formula is not as clear as in the shows mentioned, but it is still there.

Before we go any further, let us agree that no show in 2021 would ever say Fatman. I am sure that some groups would be up in arms about the naming of the show. The thing is that William Conrad made fun of his weight in most shows that he starred in. So, you can see this as deprecating humour. However, in today's day and age, this would probably be named Jake and McCabe.

Let us look at the main characters. First we have William Conrad as J.L. McCabe (James Lochinvar McCabe). His character is a tough as nails District Attorney but has a heart of gold. However, he does not like people to see this side of him. The best example of this is in the Christmas episode of season 1. He yells at everyone for decorating the office and slacking off, when he decorates his own office with a tree and other decorations.

I think that Conrad plays this role well but it may not be for everyone. It took me a few episodes to get used to him and his way of delivering his lines. I personally think his best moments are when he is talking to his dog, Max. You can see that he would do anything for that dog. The dog brings out his softer side.

McCabe Talks About his Dog Max

Joe Penny plays the character of Jake Styles. He is always well dressed and in a nice car. In the first season he is in a Porche 356. The seasons that followed he drove an Oxford White 1988 Mustang Cobra GT convertible. He also always ends up living in nice places. I will admit that as the show goes on, you can see him downgrading just a little bit. In the first season he looks like he is in an expensive condo. He mentions that he is place sitting for a friend. Then when he is in Hawaii, he inherits a beach front properly, after his best friend gets murdered. Then in the final seasons, he has a smaller house in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

He is the cool guy that always goes undercover and can sweep any women off their feet. (Personally i think it was his chest hair. But i digress). He is the trusted PI for McCabe and he needs to be available at all times of the day. In fact, there was a small story arc where McCabe would not let Styles go on a vacation. However, when he did, he was usually written off the show for a few episodes. This was probably due to Joe Penny's health issues which we will discuss later.

I think that Penny added some charisma to the show, which is what the producers wanted. I think that he did his best work when the show was filmed in Hawaii, even though he had a virus that plagued him for most of seasons 2 and 3. I can see why people were concerned back then as his weight loss was pretty drastic. It is not as if he was ever fat. However he did work out and had a nice build. At one point he did look like he was skin and bones. In seasons 4 and 5, he seemed to gain the weight back on but I think he was still struggling with it. When he was fine, he always had his shirt off or short sleeved shirts. When he was not doing great, he would be in a summer jacket or arms were covered.

Alan Campbell was the third wheel on the show. At least that is what it felt like. He would rarely be part of a full episodes and often he would just go get stuff for McCabe or Jake Styles. He did have a few episodes where he was more of the focus, but as a whole I think he was under utilized. I will say though, you do see his maturity throughout the show. He learns the ropes from McCabe and eventually he is prosecuting real cases.

The rest of the cast was pretty forgettable. Lu Leonard who I gave as an honourable mention in the previous part, is probably the only one that deserves that moniker, even if she was there for about 10ish episodes. Her banter between McCabe and her are gold. I will admit that nowadays the banter in the show would have been considered harassment and would not fly with audiences. However, in 1987, it was fine and I enjoyed the back and forth of the banter. McCabe can come out as an a**hole but what I liked about her, she was able to rebuttal anything that he said and often better than he ever could.

There were a few characters that had a few recurring roles. This is especially true in Season 5 with Melody Anderson as Neely Capshaw. She is the new PI to help Styles and McCabe. These additions I guess were to keep the show fresh but I felt it fell flat. The actors were fine, but I watched the show to watch Jake and the Fatman and not other characters.

Overall I think that the show started slow, picked up steam and then went downhill after that. Season 1, was nothing spectacular. The sets looked cheap and the stories were not very different from what we saw on Matlock. In fact, some say that the show was initially cancelled after one season. But, when the show relocated to Hawaii, it got picked up for another season. That was a good choice because I found the episodes were much better. You also got a glimpse into the backgrounds of the characters and the shows seemed to have more action. Then in season 4 and 5, the stories got very lazy. In fact, in Season 5, for a lot of it, Jake Styles takes on a secondary role or is not in the episodes altogether. Sometimes, it seems like he just makes a cameo. The same could be said for McCabe. He is not in many of the shows and if he is, it is in a limited fashion. Season 5 felt more like a random cop show with cameos with Styles and McCabe. Do not get me wrong, there are some episodes that revolve around these characters. Just that for a lot of them, they are not prominent players. That was disappointing. In fact, even the series finale focused more about a friend of Styles, Mickey Daytona solving a case than Styles being front and center. You would think for a series finale they would have written something better. However, I guess they just wanted to get it over with at that point.

The good news, is that there is no real over bearing arch to the show. You can watch the show out of order and it does not really matter.

By far the best seasons were 2 and 3. These were the shows that were filmed in Hawaii. Most of the episodes had action and were fun to watch. Sometimes, it was hard to follow how they managed to put all the pieces together, but it was still entertaining. It did look like they liked what they were doing for the first few seasons. Then once they went back to Los Angeles, the episodes seemed more paint by numbers. The energy seemed to not be there and for many of the episodes, it seems Styles or McCabe were not even part of the episode. At least they did not seem to be the focus of the episode.

The best episodes in Hawaii were "Why Can't You Behave?", "Side by Side", "It All Depends on You", "Wish You Were Here" and "Chinatown, My Chinatown". You will notice that the names of the episodes are actually titles of old songs. I found this to be a cool touch to an otherwise bland show.

I must say that the stunt double work looked horrible. The stunt double for Jake Styles often looks nothing like Jake. There was even a point where Joe Penny had lost a lot of weight but they kept the same double and it looked as odd as it sounds.

Another thing that I am starting to realize watching these old shows. There are often actors that play bad guys, that come back as different characters. This is more evident in later seasons but it is still worth noting. I guess I noticed it more because I binge watched the show. It would have been less noticeable when watching week to week. I had also noticed the same thing with my review of Hunter.

Having said all of that, does the show still hold up. Unfortunately, it does not. For me, it was nice to rewatch a show that I used to watch with my dad. It had a sense of nostalgia. However, this is not a show that the average Joe will want to binge watch. The crowd that would like this would be those that like Matlock, Walker, Texas Ranger and Perry Mason.

You know that I review a lot of B-Movie martial arts movies. Well this one would kind of fit in that B TV category. It had its moments and the banter between some characters were fun. However, the actual murders and investigations were done time and time again. Often the same theme always came back. Rich woman, wants out of relationship and frames someone else or did a bad job of covering up the murder.

Have you watched the show? What do you think? Let us know below.

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