In a world where Game of Thrones can leave me wrung out emotionally, Hart to Hart (1979-1984) has been a refreshing change of pace the last two weeks.
Hallmark Channel ran a Hart to Hart marathon over the holidays and I let them build up on my DVR out of curiosity.
I had vague memories of the show as a kid as enjoyable and my mother loved it, as she had a thing for Robert Wagner. (Can’t blame her there.) I’ve burned through all the episodes in two weeks, helped by the fact that I can fast-forward through most of the villain parts.
Conclusion: It’s light comedy with forgettable plots that floats entirely on the chemistry of the leads, Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers, as Jonathan and Jennifer Hart.
However, that chemistry is still damn effective after all these years,
So what did I learn from the adventures of the Harts?
1. Roleplaying is good for the sex life.
I’ve lost track of how many times the Harts either wear costumes or assume a different identity undercover. My favorite role-playing episode by far was when Jonathan lost his memory. He didn’t remember his life but accepted that he was who he was when he found his house.
Which led to a bedroom scene in which Jennifer decided it would be fun to make love to a husband who didn’t remember her, since it would be like having sex with an entirely different person.
To which Jonathan replied, “You are lovely.”
Fade to black.
And it’s not just our happy couple who love the roleplay.
In one episode, Max had to put on a ball gown to enter a costume party (don’t ask about the plot) and when he left the bathroom where he’d put on full drag regalia, a couple making out on the bed asked, “Where did you come from?”
“Out of the closet,” Max says. (That the couple making out on the bed are dressed as Batman and Wonder Woman is the cherry on the top of that particular sundae.)
Max later accepts a date from another man and returns home to complain (in very Some Like It Hot fashion) that men have issues.
You can see a quick shot of Max in the dress at the 3:00 minute mark in this clip.
2. The plots? Forgettable. But the Harts banter is forever.
While pretending to be strangers:
Him: “If I roll over and make love to you, will you call the police?”
Her: “Only if you need help.”
While Jennifer is undercover at one of the Hart Industries properties:
Her: Careful, you’re going to expose me.
Him: Only in private.
And then there’s the bit, twice repeated, where they’re in a hot tub and she asks him to “move his foot.” The look on her face leaves the rest to the imagination.
There are times when I can’t believe the stuff they got past the censors.
Jennifer with a statue: If you rub his tummy, it’s supposed to bring good fortune.
Jonathan: If you rub my tummy, you can have anything you want.
3. Choosing a classic style keeps the look fresh.
Perhaps as a nod to its inspiration, The Thin Man movies, Hart to Hart has a distinctive, classic style.
Jonathan’s suits would be in style today, though the double-breasted look that he wears sometimes might tag him as retro. I’m also impressed that the majority of Jennifer’s elegant dresses are classic, including a Grecian-inspired one that would’ve looked good on Audrey Hepburn.
One then-contemporary style that I miss are the open collars for men. Because Robert Wagner rocks that look.
Which brings me to the refreshing lack of manscaping. Wagner’s in good shape but he looks, well, like a good looking guy who dresses snappy. He has chest hair. His flat stomach sports no chiseled abs.
(Yes, he’s shirtless a few times. I studied that. Hey, I needed information to write this post, ya know.
The show only flails when it tries casual wear. Some 1980s trends (collars up on Polo shirts) are unfortunate.
Similarly, the luxury cars driven by the Harts, especially Jennifer’s yellow Mercedes-Benz convertible, would fit in today. But, oh, the American vehicles! Ugly as sin. Not a good era for Detroit. These clunky monsters (usually driven by the bad guys) inevitably date the show.
Both Hart vehicles are in evidence in this clip from the pilot which, incidentally, is the first time the viewer sees Jennifer Hart. Pretty sure she likes winning.
The verdict on the interior decorating is a bit more mixed. The Harts’ kitchen suffers from a bad color and lack of modern devices but the rest of the Hart house is again, a classic style, and the paintings on display are either Van Goghs or Impressionists.
Compare this to a show that also ran on the chemistry of the leads: McMillan & Wife. It tried so hard to be topical that it only looks laughable (style-wise) now.
But, I admit, Jennifer does sometime suffer from 1980s hair, though hers is somewhat restrained.
4. A good score can make any action seem tense.
The show does comedy and banter well. Not so much plotting or even the action sequences, which rely on very old-school (and glaringly obvious) special effects. But the music, the theme song and score, are terrific, memorable, and still fun. The theme is by Mark Snow, who also did the theme to the X-Files, and from what I could gather on the IMDB, scored 106 episodes of Hart to Hart.
5. While Jonathan is often a sex object, Jennifer usually isn’t.
By this, I mean that it’s usually Jonathan showing more skin than Jennifer, especially in a very funny scene where they’re in a Mexican prison and Jennifer notices the female guard is admiring her husband. So she insists he strip to the waist to get the guard’s attention.
Meanwhile, Jennifer’s cleavage is incredibly restrained, as is her overall look.
6. Jennifer is a full partner.
One wonders if creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz’s work on the Superman movies in the 1970s influenced Jennifer Hart’s chosen profession as a journalist. It also made me wonder if we have Mankiewicz to thank for the “I’ve got you,” “You’ve got me, who’s got you?” and “I like pink, Lois,” lines from those movies, because that sounds exactly like the banter between the Harts.
Whatever it was Mankiewicz’s doing or not, Jonathan never condescends to Jennifer, sees her as a source of essential information and never indulges in the “stay here while I go protect you” spiel. Usually, he’s fully on board with sending her out undercover or bringing her to the breaking and enterings they indulge in while solving crime.
Aside: breaking and entering seems to be foreplay for them.
Granted, Jonathan does more of the fighting but Jennifer takes out quite a few people by bashing them over the head with nearby objects. This seems to be her signature fight more and it’s quite effective.
7. Location shooting adds to the atmosphere.
Sure, a lot of the “effects” were shot in-studio but many of the scenes take place outside, in and around Los Angeles. I wish I knew more about LA architecture so I could recognize some of the buildings and parks which, I suspect, don’t exist any more.
8. The sexual chemistry works because of eye-sexing.
Jonathan absolutely flat-out adores Jennifer and that’s evident every time they’re in a scene. He’s watching her, she’s watching him, and they’re very aware of each other at all times. For those who say married couples can’t generate heat, watch the way Wagner and Powers play off each other. They absolutely sell adoring each other every single time.
9. We’re really upped the ante on gun violence since 1979.
Guns were different back then.
The first time I saw a revolver in this show, I blinked. I’m so used to seeing newer weapons that the sight of older.38 caliber revolvers surprised me. Oh, sometimes there’s a larger revolver–I spotted the .44 Magnum in one scene—but mostly the .38’s are used by heroes and villains alike, even when they’re shooting at cars.
Rifles (single shot) are used a few times, but not machine guns. (Maybe the increase in weaponry is the fault of the A-Team? Who knows.)
10. This last is very, very important: Don’t become friends with the Harts.
If you do, that immediately ups your chances of injury or death. Especially don’t work for them, as you’re likely to be kidnapped, framed for murder or disappear.
Now I want to go write a breezy couples comedy set in the 1970s. Someday.