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Series / The Commish

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The Commish was a television series that aired on ABC in the United States for five seasons from 1991 to 1996. The series focused on the work and home life of a suburban police commissioner in upstate New York.

The series starred Michael Chiklis as Tony Scali, a police commissioner in the small upstate New York town of Eastbridge, who worked through problems with humor and creativity more often than with violence or force. The show focused as much on Tony's family situation as on police drama. The series often dealt with a wide range of topical social issues such as racism, homophobia, drug addiction, disabilities, child abuse, illegal immigrants, and sexual harassment.

The Commish provides examples of:

  • Anachronistic Clue: Tony tries to prove to the press that his name and sexual preferences appeared in a madam's rolodex only after he had arrested her. He takes a polygraph and passes, but people still aren't convinced, so he gets an ink expert from the FBI to test the card and prove that the ink was less than 48 hours old, created after he had arrested the madam. The press refuse to believe it anyway.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: One episode had two police officers agonizing endlessly over the best way to break a death notice to a man's family, only to find they're overjoyed about his death.
  • Catchphrase: Tony's smug "Gotcha" when he nabs a perp (usually in the comic relief case of the week, not the serious ones), and "Beautiful!"
  • Crooked Contractor
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: During the first season Rachel's na'er-do-well brother Arnie is staying with the Scalis. He gets written out, but in the final episode of the series when Rachel's father dies he's not at the funeral; nor are any of Rachel's occasionally mentioned sisters.
  • Diplomatic Impunity:
    • In a first season episode Tony jails a Cuban diplomat on the grounds that Eastbridge isn't in the US, it's in "Tonyland." He gets chewed out by an old friend who is now with the state department and is forced to let him go.
    • In "Sleep of the Just", the rapist was a diplomat. At one stage the police decide to harass him by ticketing for obscure and long-obsolete violations of the law, like sneezing in public (it frightens the horses).
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Perhaps inadvertently, the assassination of a white supremacist leader plays out a lot like the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Dream Sequence: "The Ides of March."
  • Embarrassing First Name: Cyd Madison's first name is Cydavia. Call her that and she will shoot you.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: One episode involves a mob boss's son being killed in a police shootout. Tony's son David is then kidnapped. He's returned after the mob boss learns that two guys in his organization kidnapped him and the mob boss has them killed because he doesn't harm children.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: An off-duty closeted police officer is a witness to a gay bashing incident. Tony strongly encourages him to write up a report, which the officer says will force him out. He does so, and then is beaten by the same group of gay bashers.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: When Tony's best friend Paulie comes to visit him (and eventually becomes his Chief of Detectives) they reminisce about their youth in Bensonhurst, where the two of them always planned to become cops together. In the fifth season they return to their old neighborhood and visit with their friend Vinny's widow, where we suddenly discover that the three of them planned to become cops together - and they did, with Vinny being killed in action in his late 20s.
  • Gender-Concealing Writing: Done In-Universe, where Tony's new Number Two is a female but his wife doesn't realize that until she meets her, because Tony always refers to her as "Cyd" which Rachel hears as "Sid," a common enough male name.
  • Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: In flashbacks to their younger days Tony has a full head of hair and Paulie has a natty mustache.
  • Happily Married: Tony
  • Inappropriate Hunger: The intro shows Tony eating a sandwich while reading a book entitled: Tissue Decomposition: A Homicide Primer.
  • Jail Bake: Tony gets jailed for Contempt of Court by a judge he suspects is on the take. He moves his office down to the cells and conducts business as usual. His wife comes by to check up on him and gives him a cake. She baked a file into it as a joke.
  • Loving Details: As Tony is talking about the case of the week with his wife, she mentions that it must be particularly vexing for him because he's absentmindedly playing with his wedding ring while he talks about it, which is something he always does when he's annoyed by a case. This serves as Tony's "Eureka!" Moment for the case: a man whom they have arrested for murder claims that his wife set him up to take the fall, but she claims that they're not married and he was her stalker. Tony asks him to identify something that "only a husband would know," and he mentions that his wife hates to see a cup away from its saucer—if he walks around with a cup, his wife follows along with the saucer to make sure they stay together. Tony visits the woman and asks for a cup of coffee, then wanders around her place and she follows along with the saucer.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: A prostitution ring is uncovered when a businessman orders a blonde dressed as a police officer, and runs into a Fair Cop in the hotel lobby. She's a brunette but he's too excited to care. He asks to be arrested as part of the roleplay. She happily obliges.
  • Model Scam: There is an episode with a professional photographer who works for a couple of questionable papers which require shots of underage (though not child: ages 14-18) models. What many find too late: he also works for a child porn ring. The girl who used to babysit the Commissioner's son is among the victims...
  • The Mountains of Illinois: The Commish was supposedly set on Long Island, but one Chase Scene showed the Rocky Mountains prominently in the background. (the show is in upstate New York in the Hudson Valley, which definitely has mountains; just nothing as impressive as the Rockies)
  • Mr. Smith: Spoofed. The coroner slides open a fridge labelled "John Doe" and is outraged to discover an illegally-shot deer the police commissioner is holding for evidence.
  • Nazi Grandpa: The final episode of the series involves a Jewish concentration camp survivor who turns out to actually have been one of the Nazis in charge of the camp, and who is involved in a white supremacist group attacking synagogues. When asked why he did it his only reply is "Because they're Jewish." His daughter, who believed the concentration camp story, is appalled.
  • No Warrant? No Problem!: Zig-Zagged in an episode when Tony is faced with an illegal search dilemma during the hunt for a stolen baby. He's reasonably sure he's at the right house, but he can't wait for a search warrant. If he goes in without a warrant the search will be illegal and the perp will walk, but if he waits the baby could die (it has a rare condition and needs its medicine). He tries to play the "did you hear that?" game with his supporting officers but realizes he's too honest for that. He busts in anyway and finds the baby.
  • One-Steve Limit: In the episode where Tony coaches his son's basketball team, three of the team members are named Steve.
  • Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: In a dream episode set in an old crime-noir setting, the main character pulls a gun out of his pocket. To which, the femme fatale responds, "That was a gun? I thought you were just happy to see me!".
  • Outfit-Rip Sex Check: Tony approaches the senior mother of a wanted bank robber who he suspects of harboring her son and/or the money he had stolen. Tony tells her and her friend, another little old lady, that unless she tells him where the money is he'll get a warrant to tear her house apart looking for it. He also mentions that her son had stolen $200,000. The woman is outraged, because apparently her son had told her he stole less than that and was holding out on her. Her friend assures her that her son wouldn't do something like that but the mother knocks her wig off, revealing that she is really the son, in hiding. Tony then reveals that the son had only stolen $80,000.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Tony overhears his son talking to a friend, hoping that he'll get Crash Test Dummies as a gift. Tony, being the loving father he is, buys his son actual crash test dummies rather than the Crash Test Dummies' latest CD.
  • Prisoner's Dilemma: In an episode Tony uses the dilemma to trap a couple of killers. He has them brought in and kept for hours without food or drink. He explains the dilemma to one, who won't talk, so Tony lets him go. Then he has the DA go into the other holding room and offer the second guy whatever food he wants. The first guy sees the second guy through the office window, with the DA frantically scribbling down what he's saying, and thinks that the second guy is ratting him out, so the first guy blames the second one for the actual murder.
  • Rape as Drama: The local football hero is rapist. Sure enough, an investigation reveals he's had complaints filed against him before.
  • Rats in a Box: In this case the guilty party was the one who fell asleep in the prison cell (apparently Truth in Television as it was mentioned in the non-fiction book Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets. Based on the idea that the others don't know why they've been arrested, but the guilty party is resigned to the fact that he's been caught). Tony calls it a "Brooklyn Invertview."
  • Razor Apples: There was an episode where someone was giving out poisoned candy, so Tony had his son go out trick-or-treating, which they then tested one piece at a time as it was gotten. Turned out it was a neighbor of Tony's.
  • Sex Slave: One episode has a 15 year old girl (who used to be the babysitter of the Commissioner's son) is forced into doing porno films. And pleasing the boss.
  • Shout-Out: In the rapist diplomat episode referenced above, the Ambassador from the country is named Trentino.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Both subverted and played straight. Scali and Pentangeli are going undercover to gather evidence against a pornographer. At one point the pornographer reaches under his coat, Pentangeli draws his gun shouting "Don't move!" only for it to be a cigar case. At the end of the episode they've no evidence against the pornographer, even though he indirectly caused the death of their friend's daughter. The pornographer is smirking at this, and reaches for a cigar to celebrate whereupon Pentangeli shouts "Don't move!" and shoots him. Although the only other witness (a police officer who entered the room at that moment) backs up his statement that the criminal appeared to be reaching for a gun, Scali knows the truth and insists that Pentangeli leave his department.
  • Spot the Imposter: The plot is used with twin brothers confessing to the same crime. The real murderer is uncovered because he's dyslexic, and when telling his brother about the crime he passed on his incorrect reading of a sign.
  • Stripper/Cop Confusion: One episode's teaser featured a gentleman who had ordered a prostitute dressed for a cop, waiting to meet her in a hotel lobby. He encounters a real (female) cop instead. We never get to see the payoff - roll opening credits and commercial; when the episode 'proper' starts, we get a glimpse of him handcuffed to a chair in the booking area as the camera pans by.
  • Turn to Religion: In one episode, one of a trio of boys who had committed a murder years before (and it had gone unsolved) decided to become a priest in order to make up for his crime.
  • Two Words: I Can't Count: One episode opens with Tony on the phone to a friend inviting him out to dinner, when the friend refuses, Tony wants to know why. The friend attempts to be succinct, by using "forget about it" as one word.
    Friend: One word: Forget about it.
  • Vigilante Man: Desconstructed. One episode features a vigilante who tapes his acts and sends them to the press. At first, his actions are relatively innocuous (running criminals off the road, then humiliating them), and even the cops are cheering him on. Commissioner Tony, however, thinks the guy is bad news. He's proven correct later when the police arrest a man for a brutal rape/murder, then release him after realizing he's innocent. The vigilante, wrongly believing the innocent man got Off on a Technicality, goes to the guy's home and clubs him to death. The vigilante then becomes the cops' target for the rest of the episode.
  • You're Not My Type: One of the officers is outed as gay and the others start giving him a hard time. At one point he says, "What, are you afraid I'm gonna come on to you? News flash, you're not my type."