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After focusing on watching cozy British-style mysteries throughout April, I was craving a bit of a change in May. Mike Hammer certainly offered that change by being staunchly American and definitely not cozy.
Mike Hammer is a New York private investigator created by writer Mickey Spillane. He first appeared in the novel I, the Jury published in 1947. I knew of Mike Hammer, but I’ve never before read any of the books or seen any of the series featuring the detective. The series I’ll be reviewing in this post is officially titled Mike Hammer, Private Eye and it originally ran for a single season in 1997-1998. It starred Stacy Keach as the title character, and was actually a revival of earlier series starring the same actor: Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (which ran 1984-1985) and The New Mike Hammer (which ran 1986-1987).
Mike Hammer, Private Eye is set in modern day (meaning the late 1990s) but the show still evokes the mood of the classic hardboiled era of the 1940s. There’s jazzy music in the background, and the cinematography relies on closeups rather than wide establishing shots. If it weren’t for the occasional references to computers and modern technology, it would be easy to forget what year it’s supposed to be.
Mike Hammer is the kind of detective I’ve always seen parodied in TV shows and cartoons, but have never actually seen played seriously. Compared to some other TV detectives, Mike Hammer isn’t subtle about questioning his suspects and getting information out of them, so the dialogue can sometimes border on unrealistic. With that said, there are plenty of tongue-in-cheek comments, either in Mike’s voice-over narration or uttered by other characters which demonstrate the show doesn’t take itself too seriously.
I have so far seen five episodes of this show and already I’m noticing some recurring motifs:
- at some point in the episode, Mike Hammer will see the same fact of a woman that mesmerizes him, but when he tries to reach her something gets in his way and eventually she disappears
- at some point, the woman that owns the yoga studio in Mike Hammer’s office building will tell him to either keep it down, or stop smoking, or something similar
- about half way through the episode, you can expect Mike Hammer to get into a fist fight with someone
- and then towards the end, there’s some kind of gun play involving Mike Hammer using his trusty gun Betsy to take down the bad guy
These recurring motifs can make the show a comfort to watch, but this is by no means a cozy. Sex, drugs, and violence are central to the show’s plot. Additionally, I personally find a lot of the episode endings to be unsatisfying. I don’t want to spoil the show by revealing why, but let’s just say the viewer can only get a superficial glimpse into the killer’s motive.