Sunday, October 23, 2016

Holmes & Yo-Yo (1976-77)

Holmes & Yo-Yo
Stars: Richard Shull, John Shuck
1976-1977
13 episodes

No, it's not that Robocop (1987). But it does feature what could be referred to as a robocop, probably one of the first such entities to appear on TV - or at least the first to have its own series. It all took place in Holmes & Yo-Yo, a short-lived (and apparently much maligned) series that aired in the mid-Seventies and which starred John Shuck as a 427-pound android cop.

The buddy cop concept has been around on TV since at least the early Fifties, when Dragnet first rolled out, and Holmes & Yo-Yo continued in this time-honored tradition. Shuck starred as Gregory "Yoyo" Yoyonivich and was paired up with Richard B. Shull. He portrayed Detective Alexander Holmes, a shlubby Columbo-ish type with a penchant for accidentally injuring or bumping off his partners.

Shuck is best known to viewers of a certain age as Sgt. Charles Enright, Rock Hudson's amiable and slightly doofy sidekick on the Seventies cop/detective show McMillan and Wife. In the waning years of that show Shuck jumped ship and headed for what must have seemed the greener pastures of Holmes & Yo-Yo. However, SF fans probably know Shuck best for his role as a Klingon in the fourth and sixth installments of the Star Trek movies, as well as a smattering of appearances on various Star Trek TV shows.

I haven't been able to divine why Yo-Yo was named Yoyonovich. Perhaps the 12 episodes I didn't screen would provide the answers. I suspect that the name was snatched from the air so that the character's nickname could be Yo-Yo - but that's just a guess. The robotics (such as they are) that make up Yo-Yo are accessed by pulling his tie, which opens a panel on his chest that contains what looks like a calculator, a primitive looking panel of lights and perhaps a tape drive of some sort.

Yo-Yo is described as "a completely mobile computer specially programmed for police work." What this boils down to is a bunch of silly gags, such as popping a Polaroid photo from his shirt pocket when his nose is pressed and repeating the words "the bunco squad" when his programming goes haywire, to name a few.

While robotic cops were a relatively new innovation on TV, they made a notable appearance earlier in THX 1138 (1971), the first feature film turned out by a then little-known director named George Lucas. On TV, of course, a sort-of android named Steve Austin was all the rage at the time, with The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978) approaching the end of its run. One suspects it was the success of the latter that inspired the creation of yet another short-lived robocop TV show. Future Cop (1977) starred Ernest Borgnine and John Amos, though it took a more serious approach than the whimsical Holmes & Yo-Yo.

That the show should take a comic approach was not surprising, given that executive producer Leonard Stern did time as a staff writer for the spy spoof TV show Get Smart. A show that had its own android (Hymie), that started life as an evil robot created by the baddies at KAOS but which later jumped ship and went to work for the good guys at CONTROL.

Several other showbiz luminaries had a hand in the creation of Holmes & Yo-Yo, though one can't help wondering if they later came to regret it. The pilot was directed by former child star Jackie Cooper, with several episodes directed by John Astin, probably best-known as the patriarch of The Addams Family TV show. Also on hand, as a co-writer for one of the episodes, John Landis, who would later make a name for himself as a director.

As for the notion that Holmes & Yo-Yo was a comedy, well, that was the objective, but in practice it didn't seem to work so well. Comedy can be a somewhat delicate art and there's often a fine line between boom and bomb. As I realized when I managed to track down the one solitary episode I could locate of the 13 that were made. It bears the somewhat peculiar name, The Dental Dynamiter, though I guess this is appropriate, given that our heroes are trying to "solve" a case where someone is bombing dentist's offices. I must confess that this was all so riveting that I signed off about two-thirds of the way through.

All of the foregoing could theoretically have been the basis for a funny show. After all, truly funny comedy TV has been accomplished with equally - or more - ludicrous building blocks. I'd nominate F Troop and Green Acres as two great examples of televisual comic absurdity built on a goofy premise, but your results may vary. Unfortunately, Holmes & Yo-Yo fails on two fronts - as a cop show (which probably wasn't so much the point) and as a comedy. I've considered the possibility that the episode I screened was an anomaly and that the rest of them were gut-wrenchingly funny. While that might actually be the case the historical record suggests otherwise.

TV Guide honored Holmes & Yo-Yo by ranking it 33rd on their 2002 list of the 50 worst TV shows ever. Which is not nearly as bad as it could have been. After all, there were 32 other shows that this august publication deemed to be worse. Such as the unjustly maligned Hee Haw Honeys (10) or Homeboys in Outer Space (31), on which John Astin appeared as a guest star (small world indeed), but I digress.

There were doubtless a number of reasons why the show didn't succeed but they could mostly boiled down to just one - it wasn't funny. Shuck himself, interviewed several decades later, said that in his opinion "the main problem with it was that the writing just wasn't up to snuff." I wouldn't argue with that.

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