When I was growing up in the 1980s, “Hart to Hart”, starring Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers and Lionel Stander seemed to be on every bleeding day, and this when there was only six channels.
Running for five seasons from 1979-1984, and then ten years later as a series of TV movies, Hart to Hart held a special place for me. My parents marriage was actively disintegrating before my eyes, two people who had loved each other now swung from disdain for each other to loathing, all played out in front of me and my younger brothers.
Then there was Jonathan and Jennifer Hart. Even then I knew their smoochy childless marriage was too good to be true. Of course they were happy. They’d no kids, a nice dog, a gravelly voiced chef/driver/factotum named Max, and Jonathan was worth about $200 million, back when that was a lot of money. Watching their globe trotting holidays (where every bar, hotel and restaurant manager knew their name), I’d happily have put up with the fact that every week someone would try to murder them, Max, their friends or even their dog. To me the novelty was that here were two married people who still loved each other.
Having said that, the show was shockingly formulaic, with the following lessons constantly applying in HartLand:
1. Jennifer Hart was a lovely, beautiful, kind and well-read woman. She was also as dim as a bag of broken bulbs down a sealed well. She was forever getting kidnapped, more often than not escaping and then flagging down the car driven by the people who kidnapped her in the first place. In the opening credits, Max would announce that she was a “lady who knew how to take care of herself” That was a lie. She was rubbish at it, having to constantly be rescued by her husband. She also was incapable of detecting anyone sneaking up behind her with chloroform, a gun or even dressed as a f**king mummy. She’d just stare blankly ahead, never look behind her, and scream “Jonathan!”when someone would sneak up behind her and grab her. Looking back, I wonder was she just looking for attention.
2. You can’t help wondering if she married him, at least initially, for his money, given that every episode seems to involve the two of them on obscene spending sprees. Having said that, given that nearly every bed scene involved her letting out an “Oh Jonathan!” when the lights went out one suggests he might be one kinky bastard, and she just lies back and thinks of Tiffany’s. One shudders to think what he’d take out of the bedside drawer once the lights went out.
3. The Harts had a drinking problem, constantly quaffing champagne at inappropriate moments. Jennifer was constantly being “drugged”. If you watch the show from the point of view that it’s the drunken imaginings of a rich man’s bored wife at home getting pissed on gin, it’s a whole different show, always ending with her ever-patient husband “rescuing” her from her latest adventure.
4. Hart Industries seemed to make money, or at least Jonathan was constantly signing deals for mergers and the like. On the odd occasion you see what his companies actually make, it’s shite. HartToy Inc made, yes, toys, including a shitty version of Simon Says (that had a bomb in it. I don’t recall if that was part of it’s charm), and an even shittier robot which he was convinced was going to be a huge success, a plastic pony and a “Snake in a Box”. No, I’ve no idea either. Funnily enough, Jonathan was always terrified that other companies might be stealing his toy plans. Looking at this crap, you can’t help thinking that maybe he was drunk most of the time too.
5. Late seventies, early eighties California was a weird place. Solving the murder of rich people seemed to be beyond the purview of the LAPD who got irritated when Jonathan would ask them to solve a murder or yet another of Jennifer’s kidnappings. But then, one could hardly blame them. “She’s kidnapped again??? What’s wrong with you people? Have you considered locking her in the basement for her own good? Have you been drinking again Mr Hart? “
6. Additionally, every gun in California seemed to be adjusted to fire a bullet three feet away from whatever you aimed at. When the guy who played The Incredible Hulk tried to murder their dog on a golf course because the dog witnessed a murder (don’t ask, just keep going) they ended up chasing him in a golf cart at about 10 feet an hour, and he still couldn’t hit them. He should have stopped the cart and stood behind Jennifer. They’d never look there.
7. California also boasted the highest nationwide incidences of people bumping their heads and getting amnesia, evil hypnotists, and people who looked like Jennifer Hart only more evil and sluttier. In fact, Jennifer Hart seemed to resemble dozens of people from ancient Egyptian queens to the aforementioned slut.
8. Jonathan Hart loved jumping on people from a height. He could easily shoot someone from a safe distance (although those wonky Californian guns…), hit someone with a tire iron or just plain punch them, but no, he’ll climb on top of something and jump on them. It was his thing. And he had lovely hair. The man was trapped in a wind tunnel but his hair reset itself. Maybe that’s how Hart Industries made money. Their super hair gel subsidised all the other crap.
9. The Harts’ friends were mostly awful people, and a bunch of murderers. After the first twenty you’d think the Harts would start wondering how they surrounded themselves with these psychos. But then, they probably didn’t notice with all the drinking, sex, and Max constantly asking them if they wanted a sandwich, even when they were pawing each other on the sofa.
10. You were never sure whether Max was a higher functioning retard or not. He could drive OK, and was a pretty good chef, but seemed to be taken in by whatever passing fad was on the go at the time. You always wondered would they arrive home from some glamourous fundraiser to find him dead, hanging from a door with his belt around neck, trousers around his ankles and Freeway licking chocolate sauce from his balls. Max seemed the sort of guy who’d give anything a go.
Still, when they met it was murder.