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.