Alexa here, back from vacation with an atypical Curio. I was very saddened at the news of James Garner's passing. While I am a fan of many of his films (The Americanization of Emily ranks especially high), he is primarily remembered from television, and, for me especially, as Jim Rockford. His beleaguered, Marlowe-esque hero was a touchstone of my childhood.
In fact, I am something of a Rockford Files obsessive: I even altered a toy Firebird to more closely resemble the one made famous from many a car chase. [More...]
Admittedly, the theme song was the first thing that hooked me on the show, with its accompanying montage of Rockford smoking in a phone booth, arguing with cops, and looking sad at the grocery store, smiling only for the ladies or when he's fishing with his dad Rocky. But over the years I've become quite an aficionado of the show, even coming up with my own list of ten best episodes (à la The A.V. Club's TV Club 10) from the show's six seasons. It's a good guide should you want to do a binge watch in honor of Garner's famous beachside-trailer-dwelling private detective. While it looks like the show is no longer on Netflix, you can stream the first three seasons on Hulu.
"Tall Woman in Red Wagon" (S1E7)
Showing its roots, this is perhaps the most Chandler-esque Rockford Files episode. It plays like a noir film compressed into an hour of television, with Rockford and a fast-talking newspaper gal on a missing persons case. Jim gets to impersonate a funeral director and an IRS agent before he gets thrown into an open grave.
"Counter Gambit" (S1E18)
This one is notable for its being the debut episode of Angel, Jim's con man pal. Jim is reluctantly talked into taking a job for a Neanderthal convict who once tried to kill him; then he gets roped into an insurance fraud case involving a pearl necklace, safe-cracking, and Bob Newhart's other wife. Soon he is framed for stealing the necklace and enlists Angel to help him with a double-cross to clear himself of the crime.
"Chicken Little Is a Little Chicken" (S2E9):
In another great Angel showcase, this episode has Angel hiding $30,000 in Jim's Firebird and dragging Jim into a mess involving anchovy-loving mob goons and a check swindle. Jim tries to untangle the mess through a classic shell game, faking Angel's death. We also learn Angel's real name: Evelyn.
"The Hammer of C Block" (S2E14): Gandolph Fitch (Isaac Hayes), a menacing convict Jim owed money to in jail, is released and collects his debt from Jim by using him to clear his name, during which he repeatedly calls Jim "Rockfish" and glowers a lot.
"Quickie Nirvana" (S4E7):The eye rolls come fast and furious when Jim agrees to help aging hippie Sky Aquarian. Soon he's dodging bullets and chasing after another $30,000, in between throwing some priceless quips such as "forget the karma and get in the car!"
"The Queen of Peru" (S4E12):Jim is hired by an insurance company to recover some stolen diamonds; soon after, the thieves leave the stones in Jim's portable grill outside his trailer. When a clueless family vacationing from Peru, Indiana takes off with Jim's grill by mistake, Jim is forced to hit the road, chasing their RV with his furrowed brow along for the ride. A jarhead lifeguard and a weekend warrior insurance agent add some comedic embellishment to an already screwball episode.
"Black Mirror" Parts 1 and 2 (S5E9/E10): Jim finds romance with blind psychiatrist Megan Dougherty (Modern Romance's Kathryn Harrold), who seeks his help when she is terrorized by an unseen stalker. Genuinely scary at times and affecting, thanks to David Chase's writing. (It also has a superb follow-up episode in season six, "Love Is the Word.")
"The Deuce" (S5E16): Jim serves on the jury of a manslaughter trial of a drunk he believes is being framed, and is predictably the lone holdout, much to the exasperation of all involved. The best moment of the episode has Jim tying up a baddie in his trailer, putting the guy's head in a trash can, and hitting the can with a spoon to elicit a confession for the crime, all the while with a defense attorney present. Says attorney: "I hate to say this, but that wasn't the most admissible confession I've ever witnessed."
"The Man Who Saw the Alligators" (S5317): It all starts with Jim doped-up after oral surgery finding out that a mobster with an irrational hate of California (and featured in the season three two-parter "To Protect and Serve") is out of jail and after him. Written by David Chase, it has all the accompanying mob family tropes, including a seriously guilt-tripping Italian mama ("I bet you miss my sauce"). Soon Angel gives Jim up and the mobsters are punching Jim in his still-healing jaw, and all the while Jim just wants to be left alone and sort out his taxes.
"Paradise Cove" (S6E1):Showcasing Jim at his put-upon best, this one has him dealing with a court-appointed receiver making an inventory of his assets after he loses a lawsuit filed by an angry neighbor. Soon Jim is on a treasure hunt for gold buried near his trailer, and in the process he wrecks three cars: his Firebird, Angel's Chevy, and the receiver's Nova.
And if 10 isn't enough, here are 10 more: "Sleight of Hand" (season one, episode 17); "The Four Pound Brick" (season one, episode 22); "The Farnsworth Stratagem" (season two, episode two); "Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, But Waterbury Will Bury You" (season three, episode 13); "Just Another Polish Wedding" (season three, episode 17); "To Protect and Serve" Parts 1 and 2 (season three, episodes 19 and 20); "The Attractive Nuisance" (season four, episode 14); "The Prisoner of Rosemont Hall" (season four, episode 19); "White on White and Nearly Perfect" (season five, episode four); "Love Is the Word" (season six, episode six).
And one to avoid: "Heartaches of a Fool" (S5E1). Really, it's just awful.