The Rockford Files – Season 3 Review

  • Title:  The Rockford Files
  • Season: 3
  • Episodes: 22
  • Discs: 5
  • Original Network:  NBC
  • Distribution Network:  Universal
  • Cast:  James Garner, Noah Beery Jr, Joe Santos, Gretchen Corbett, Stuart Margolin
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

Oddly enough, the third season of The Rockford Files starts with a few weak episodes, but the season steadily improves and there are some excellent episodes. Also, Season 3 seems to have promoted attorney Beth Davenport and Rockford’s prison buddy, Angel, to regulars. This season also features some great guest stars. Best of all, it’s enjoyable to watch and unlike many other shows of its times – it’s not cringe-worthy. Well, at least, not that often.

One of the best episodes of the season, “So Help Me God”, sees Jim Rockford railroaded by a grand jury attorney, played with relish by William Daniels (of St. Elsewhere fame, though he’s also known as the voice of K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider). Rockford is subpoenaed to appear in court. He does and tells the truth, but the attorney refuses to believe him. Left with no other recourse, Rockford pleads the fifth – which lands him in jail on contempt of court charges. Even his attorney Beth can do nothing. Finally, Angel, of all people, breaks the deadlock – he finds a picture of the person Jim supposedly met with, and Jim recognizes it as a client – who gave him a different name. Jim is willing to testify to this – but by this time someone is out to get Rockford, because, well, someone is always out to get Rockford. He’s attacked and stabbed in prison. Once he recovers from that, he testifies, and he makes a statement ripping into the attorney.  Why the attorney was so determined to “get Rockford” isn’t explained – but really Jim also was the victim of a mistake. He had no idea who the guy they wanted information on was, other than what he’d seen in the papers. Once he saw a picture of the guy – he knew it was a client who gave him a false name and was perfectly willing to testify to what he knew, which wasn’t much. But it’s an excellent episode.

“The Becker Connection” sees Sgt. Dennis Becker transferred temporarily to narcotics, a few days before he’s due to transfer back to robbery/homicide, he’s hauled in by Internal Affairs. Jim has to help Dennis find out what’s going on. That Dennis is having serious money problems doesn’t help matters. Rockford is able to prove that narcotics is running a serious drug ring, and with IA closing in, they decided to make the new guy the pasty. But it’s nice to learn a bit more about Dennis (a character I always liked in this show) and we meet his wife, Peggy.

“Coulter City Wildcat” and the two-part, “The Trees, the Bees, and T.T. Flowers” focus more on Rocky and Jim’s relationship with his father. Rocky’s also an iconoclast and a very kind person. By the time of “Dirty Money, Black Light”, Jim is frustrated that his father seems to trust anyone that asks for help, thus getting himself or Jim in trouble. But the two are also close, and if anyone threatens Rocky, Jim will stop at nothing to help his father. I’ve always like the character of Rocky too, and I would have liked to see more episodes that show the two together.

“Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones but Waterbury Will Bury You,” is a great episode. Another PI, played by Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) comes to Rockford because his license has been pulled after he’s accused of breaking and entering. But the PI insists he was trying to save a girl, a client, so he had a good reason for the break-in. While investigating, Rockford runs into another PI – with virtually the same story, including the same girl being in trouble. And then they run into a third PI who has lost his license after a similar rather minor infraction. These PIs try to find out what’s going on. Rockford discovers that a large, corporate Security Service had decided to reduce the competition by twenty percent by eliminating the competition. James Rockford was at the top of their list, but their “client” couldn’t reach him since he was on vacation. Rockford and his PI buddies are able to prove what Waterbury is up to – since their dirty tricks including murdering a PI. But not only is the episode interesting in that it shows the depths an unscrupulous corporation would go through to destroy “the little guy”, but it is pure joy to watch the guest cast: Cleavon Little, Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Baa Baa Black Sheep, various movies, and lots of other guest performances), and Val Bisoglio (Quincy, M.E., Hill Street Blues, M*A*S*H, Saturday Night Fever).

This brings me to another point, The Rockford Files has some great guest stars. Sometimes you know their names; William Daniels, Ned Beatty, etc. and sometimes it’s just “that guy” (or gal) from “that show” – because Veronica Hamel and Joan Van Ark also make appearances. But I also noticed that the people in The Rockford Files look like people – they aren’t all gorgeous Hollywood twenty-somethings. In fact, most of the people you see in the show seem older – mid-thirties to even early forties, and that includes the main cast. The show also moves out of Los Angeles, Malibu, and Bel Air, visiting Oxnard, Ojai, and Ventura, California or at least claiming they are.

The Rockford Files is smart, fun, and most of the episodes follow a twisted as opposed to the obvious path to their conclusion. Of course, Jim Rockford gets in one fistfight or car chase per episode, and his clients still lie to him or use him. But in this season, Rockford is often helping his friends who are in trouble (even Beth calls Rockford for help when she is stalked). Thus Rockford who at times could be an unlikable character becomes more likable – and with James Garner playing the central character – you can’t not like the guy. And for a series made in the 1970s, there is little to none of the “bouncing boobs” of other series made at the same time. We don’t see Rockford dating a different girl in every episode. And although he gets some female clients, in this season most of the clients are friends or men. So there aren’t “women as victims” stereotypes. This makes the show still watchable and still enjoyable. Recommended.

Please see my The Rockford Files Season 2 Review.

Please see my The Rockford Files Season 1 Review.

The Rockford Files – Season 2 Review

  • Title:  The Rockford Files
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes: 22
  • Discs: 4
  • Original Network:  NBC
  • Distribution Network:  Universal
  • Cast:  James Garner, Noah Beery Jr, Joe Santos, Gretchen Corbett, Stuart Margolin
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

The Rockford Files isn’t nearly as formula as Batman (1966) was, but it’s still a very episodic show. Every episode, other than the occasional two-parter stands completely on it’s own and you could watch this show in any order, though I watched it in the order presented on the DVDs. There isn’t a set formula to the episodes, but they do have a sameness to them. Rockford is actually a very unlucky PI – his clients lie to him, or misrepresent information, or straight-out use him for often nefarious means. It’s a 70s show so there’s usually at least one car chase and fist fight per episode, and the occasional gun fight as well. James Rockford comes off as a guy who’s just trying to get by, and Garner plays him in a very likable manner. Truly, anyone else playing this part and it would never have worked.

Season 2 promotes Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), Rockford’s lawyer and lady friend to a regular – present in most episodes, and Rockford’s client in two – one where a friend of hers is murdered and she asks Rockford to look into it for her, and a second one where she’s set-up by one of her law clients and nearly dies. Angel (Stuart Margolin), Rockford’s ex-con friend who’s still involved in a number of cons on the side to his newspaper job, also makes a number of appearances. Det. Dennis Becker is pretty much a regular. Rockford’s father, Rocky, is also a regular though not in every episode. The two-parter for the second season focuses on Rocky.

There are a number of prominent guest-stars in this season, sometimes in small roles where the actor is obviously just starting out. It’s often a pleasant surprise to see recognizable people, often “before they were stars”.

Overall, The Rockford Files is fun. There is a lot of action, but there are also some nice complicated plots. In fact, for the most part, many of the episodes have plots full of twists and turns as Rockford tries to figure out just what is going on and keep himself and his friends alive and out of jail. It’s an enjoyable show.

Please also see my Review of Season 1 of The Rockford Files.





The Rockford Files – Season 1 DVD Review

  • Title: The Rockford Files
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 24
  • Original Network: NBC
  • Distribution Network: Universal
  • Cast: James Garner, with semi-regular appearances by Noah Beery Jr, and Joe Santos
  • DVD Format: Three Double-Sided Discs, 4 episodes per disc

“Two hundred dollars a day, plus expenses.” – Jim Rockford, explaining his rate.

I picked up this set, pretty cheaply on sale, less than $15.00 for the set. One of the annoying things about the set is that the discs themselves are double-sided, so there’s no disc art, and they are more likely to get damaged, no matter how careful you are to only handle the sides of the discs and not touch the playing surface. Accidents happen, which is why I really don’t like double-sided discs. However, the case/set design actually isn’t bad at all. There’s an outer cardboard case, then the discs are in slim-line inner cases, one per case. This is a design I like for TV-on-DVD sets, as it takes a minimum of shelf space and the discs are still protected from dust, dirt, light, and other possible issues.

The Rockford Files is often cited as an “iconic” 70s TV show – and it certainly fits the bill, a single hero, in this case, a private investigator, who has a great personality – but is something of an anti-hero. Plus car chases – lots of car chases, that is, at least one per episode. There were dozens of shows like The Rockford Files, but this is the show that lasted in syndication, and many people have fond memories of it. Part of that was because of James Garner – he had an easy-going, relaxed style that made his character of ex-con, and rather sleazy PI likable. Garner is perfect as James Rockford, and he makes a show with somewhat repetitive plots watchable – very watchable. The other element of this show that really works is Rockford’s father, Joseph “Rocky” Rockford (Noah Beery Jr). I loved the relationship between Jim and Rocky – from Rocky’s over-protective attitude to his son’s career choice, to Jim’s very real concern for his father’s well-being, especially when Rocky gets accidentally involved in Jim’s cases.

First Season Rockford Files is pretty uneven – the first few episodes are filled with car chases, helpless women asking for Rockford’s help, thin plots, and from everybody but the semi-regulars some really bad dialogue. Oh, and Jim Rockford is no fan of the police either, having spent five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (he was pardoned by the governor, however, all everyone seems to remember is that he’s an ex-con, especially the police, as well as Rockford’s shadier contacts.) Towards the end of the first season, the quality picks up considerably, though this is still an American show that has no continuity between episodes whatsoever. I thought, “Sleight of Hand”, was the best episode of the season. It didn’t have the typical structure – Rockford didn’t even have a client, essentially he was his own client. The episode also had a much more melancholy and introspective feel to it.

Overall, I don’t regret buying this, but I’m glad I got it on sale. Garner is excellent, and a joy to watch. I also liked Noah Beery Jr and Joe Santos – episodes without either one often felt very flat. And in the episodes without Beery, really do feel like they’re missing something. Overall, probably about three out of five stars. I will probably get additional seasons of The Rockford Files at some point, but I doubt I’ll give it a high priority.