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Stamos, We Hardly Knew Ye

The cancellation of Thieves upsets me -- certainly not in a the-floodwaters-are-rising-and-the-bank-men-are-coming-for-our-deed-and-they-done-shot-Billy-Joe kind of a way. But, provided we keep a healthy sense of perspective about these things, it's bothersome nonetheless, in the same way that it's upsetting when the good Mexican restaurant takes the barbecued burrito off the menu or the New York Yankees throw a sack of money at your team's star first baseman or Madonna releases a new album. Upsetting in that way.

It's not that Thieves was transcendent television. It was plenty entertaining, but we're not talking a complete reinvention of the dramatic narrative here. It has nothing to do with any particular affection toward the stars, though John Stamos was surprisingly good and, really, who'd have thought I'd ever get such a kick out of Tone Loc of all people? And while ABC stuck to its m.o. and axed a perfectly fine TV show while allowing lifeless, toothless fare to remain on the airwaves -- enjoy the ride while it lasts, Jim Belushi -- I'm not particularly miffed about that.

No, the cancellation of Thieves upsets me because it ensures that I wind up looking ridiculous to family and friends.

A little background is in order: Thieves is -- well, was -- about a pair of cat burglars, ably played by Stamos and Melissa George. They're caught mid-caper by John Q. Law, handed over to a pair of humorless federal agents (Robert Knepper and the aforementioned Mr. Loc) and told they must perform thievery in service of the crown to avoid lengthy jail time. While all this happens, Stamos and George banter. A lot.

If the premise doesn't necessarily sound like it was culled from a Kafka story, it's of little consequence. Thieves is -- well, was -- a damned fine hour of programming, with dialogue just sharp enough to make you feel less bad about spending a Friday night in front of the TV set. Perhaps TeeVee will get around to reviewing Thieves one day. Or perhaps not. It's not like I run things around here. If I did, let me assure you, things would definitely be different, starting with the dress code.

ABC replaced Thieves in its Friday night lineup with the apparently indestructible America's Funniest Home Videos, now in its twelfth glorious season of broadcasting hilarious pratfalls. Popular tastes will change, years will fade one into the next, and civilizations will crumble into the sea, yet America's Funniest Home Videos endures, supplying a grateful nation with footage of wedding video mishaps and wacky pet antics. I cannot stress enough how simply incomprehensible this development is to me.

(A tangent to this tangential-enough aside: During my senior year in high school eleven years ago -- when America's Funniest Home Videos was still on the air -- I took a girl I was very sweet on to the Winter Ball in one of those Moonie-like group dates that are so very popular amongst the young people. We all assembled at the house of this other girl, whose little sister insisted upon videotaping us in all our finery. "Maybe we could send it to America's Funniest Home Videos," the young lass said hopefully, which gave us all a good chuckle. We didn't have the heart to explain to her that the prerequisites for an America's Funniest Home Videos submission were physical pain, obvious anguish and complete humiliation -- and that wouldn't come until subsequent dates with the girl I was going out with that night. But that's a story for another time, I guess.)

So how do all of these things -- the cancellation of a show I like, its subsequent replacement with a program that considers kicks to the groin the highest of comedy, the awful, awful girls I went out with in high school -- conspire to make me look foolish? Because I gave Thieves a big ol' thumbs up. I sang its praises to anyone who would listen. I even wrote a nice little blurb about Thieves that nobody probably read, urging you all to watch it.

And what did I get for my efforts? Mockery.

"You know, Thieves is actually a pretty good show," I'd tell them.

"Yeah, right. Good one," they'd respond.

"No, really. I'm not being ironic," I'd insist.

"But John Stamos is in it," they'd sneer.

"True... but he's good," I'd say.

"You're drunk on paint thinner," they'd snort. And that would end the argument. Because usually I am. But that has nothing to do with why I like Thieves.

My one hope -- my one chance to restore the tattered remains of my reputation -- was that my friends and colleagues would find themselves stuck at home on a Friday night (not too much of a longshot, really, considering who we're talking about), turn on ABC, and find out that, well, goddammit, Phil was right all along. And then those that had mocked me, that had wronged me, would come crawling back to offer deep and sincere apologies. "You were right, and we were wrong," they'd say choking back tears. And I would nod sadly and bite my lower lip and hold out my arms in a gesture of beneficent forgiveness -- which is when I would puncture their chest cavity with my right fist, rip out their still-beating heart and show it to them as they spent their final seconds on earth regretting how they did me wrong.

And now, by canceling Thieves, ABC has robbed me of that simple pleasure.

ABC has also done something else by canceling Thieves -- something I never would have thought was possible. ABC has made me sympathize with fellow Vidiot Ben Boychuk.

It was at my bachelor party last year, right after Jason Snell lost $40 at the $5-minimum blackjack tables in about the time it took you to read this sentence. A friendly game of low-stakes poker just seemed like a better idea than watching Snell sink deeper into debt and having to hock his clothes just to afford bus fare home, so back to our hotel room we went. We ordered a bottle of Jim Beam, and there's no need to go into too much detail about how Boychuk drank most of it. These are the sorts of reckless stories that destroy men's reputations, and Boychuk can rest easy knowing that I won't recount the sordid details of the evening -- not even how he screamed, "You all drink like children!" before collapsing in a sweaty, whimpering pile where he stayed for the next 20 hours. Because I'm a good friend like that.

No, the portion of the evening that's least libelous and most relevant to the discussion at hand is when Boychuk launched into a bourbon-fueled testimony on behalf of Vengeance Unlimited. You may remember Vengeance Unlimited as the 1998 ABC drama where discomforting character actor Michael Madsen played a shadowy man of mystery who went around extracting vengeance against greedy businessmen and snotty college kids and adulterous housewives and, so far as I know, anyone who looked at him funny. Or maybe you don't remember Vengeance Unlimited, which would be perfectly understandable since ABC canceled it as quickly as Jason Snell can find himself 40 bucks in the hole at the Tropicana.

Well, Ben Boychuk remembers Vengeance Unlimited. Ben loves Vengeance Unlimited. And, damnit, Ben is going to tell you about Vengeance Unlimited until you admit you like it, too. Or until you keep filling his glass with booze.

"Vengeance Unlimited was a good show," Ben kept saying that night. "A damned good show."

We laughed at him, of course, because drunken, hapless people are funny. But if I knew that night what I know now, I wouldn't have laughed -- well, not as much anyhow. Because I would have known the pain of being one of the few people to like a show and having no way, no proof, no rerun to convince doubters of the rightness of my cause. And I would have wondered how many others were out there just like us -- the poor, put-upon souls who insist against a sea of naysayers that Hello, Larry was a perfectly fine sitcom or that there wasn't a damned thing wrong with Hooperman. How many of us are out there, hoping, praying, waiting for the day the program we alone defended appears on the USA Network, wedged between juicer infomercials, so that we can finally prove to friends and loved ones all along? A good 10 or 20 of us at least, I'm guessing.

So no, I wouldn't have laughed at Boychuk that night. Instead, I would have poured myself a glass of Jim Beam and had a drink to John Stamos and Tone Loc and all that they stood for.

Because Thieves was a good show. A damned good show.


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