Aug 19, 2012


The only reason to watch CHiPs (1977-83) was to watch California Highway Patrol Officers Ponch (dark Hispanic bodybuilder Erik Estrada) and Jon (babyfaced blond Larry Wilcox) speeding on their motorcycles down silvery loops of southern California freeway.  

Ok, there were campy cameos, from Jim Backus and Natalie Schaefer of Gilligan’s Island to Milton Berle to H. R. Pufnstuf.  But the opening sequence revealed the program’s real focus, juxtaposing screen-filling shots of motorcycle parts with the officers’ equally hard and technologically-enhanced chests, butts, boots, and black leather gloves.  

Both officers filled out their khaki uniforms beautifully, but Erik Estrada, named one of the “Ten Sexiest Bachelors in the World” by People magazine in 1979, was stunning in a tank top or shirtless, his muscles dark and massive with just a hint of chest hair.  Many of the male guest stars were equally hot, and they were endlessly inviting the Ponch and Jon to swimming pools, beaches, yachts, and other places where male regulars and extras could dressed as skimpily as possible. 

Oddly, for all the beefcake, the producers were quite heterosexist; according to associate producer Randy Torno, “it epitomized everything about the good life in America – the beaches, the girls, the freedom.” There were no men on those beaches?  There were no gay characters anywhere.

Playing to a universe where same-sex desire most emphatically could not exist, Ponch and Jon shared few of the moments of the romantic attraction that characterized their contemporaries Starsky and Hutch, but they made up for it by befriending endless strings of has-been sitcom boys playing troubled teens (Adam Rich, Keith Coogan, Ike Eisenmann, Todd Bridges); indeed, Ponch rarely expressed interest in a girl unless she had a teenaged brother for him to comfort with a dazzling smile, a massive arm around the waist, and an invitation to a ball game or sleepover.