Seven years had passed since Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) and his overbearing drill instructor Sergeant Carter (Frank Sutton) were marching across the television screens, and since then we had had five years of Archie Bunker drilling us full of his perspective.
With NBC scrambling for a hit in 1976, they called upon comedy legend Don Rickles and CPO Sharkey was born. Not nearly as intimidating as Carter nor as ignorant as Bunker, Sharkey trained, counseled, and occasionally mothered, the diverse group of men in his charge. The men each represented a stereotype familiar to the audience of 1976 and perfectly walked both Rickles and the audience to the punchline they were waiting for.
Rickles had become known for his willingness to insult anyone and everyone regardless of their heritage, sex, social or political standing, and everyone lined up to see him perform. NBC was banking on audiences doing the same. Nonetheless, the second episode of the series (“Shimokawa Ships Out”) is clearly written to make sure the audience understands the humor of Don Rickles by emphasizing that he treats everyone the same. Not necessarily well, but the same. Unfortunately that is not the only episode that is written with obvious intent.
The first season of CPO Sharkey is now out on DVD and like many of the shows in the seventies, it simply tries too hard. The scripts are written to hit the audience over the head with the jokes; the actors portraying the recruits are a bit too old for the roles and far too obvious with the characterizations. The highlight is the relationship between Sharkey and fellow Chief Robinson (Harrison Page). There is clearly mutual respect in this relationship which allows Robinson to be mentor, confidant, and antagonist. The performance of Page is one of the highlights of the series as he is the least cartoon like.
With binge-watching becoming so common, it draws immediate attention to the shows like Sharkey which simply don’t hold up if you watch them more than one episode per week. The jokes and gags are extremely repetitive and the effort to make “I’m gonna keep my eye on you” a catch phrase just becomes sad.
There is one piece of bonus material but be prepared that once you select it, it starts a bit abrupt with no set-up. We see Rickles fumbling with the cigarette case on the desk of Johnny Carson during an appearance on The Tonight Show with guest host Bob Newhart. This section is quite brief as we then go to the return of Carson in a future episode where he notices that the case is now broken. Finding out that Rickles had broken it, he takes his cameras next door where CPO Sharkey is being filmed and interrupts the shoot to confront Rickles. Much fun despite the poor presentation on the DVD.
Recommendation: CPO Sharkey has become a contradiction that may actually work in this day and age. The material of Rickles as delivered in these situations is now considered politically incorrect while the characters and premises are almost cartoon like, so, CPO Sharkey should fit right in on today’s television landscape. Rent it and watch it in small doses. Better yet; get out and see Rickles live while you still can.