To discover a TV show whose episodes are reminiscent of O’Henry and Steinbeck with a side of Norman Rockwell is like finding a single rose among the thorns. Hack, starring David Morse, is such a series.
I love discovering “new” stuff to watch. Only thing is, by the time Mike and I “discover” it, it is several years old and we stream it on Netflix. Actually, that’s good. No commercials. What’s bad is, the show apparently didn’t catch on and only lasted two years.
Hack premiered on CBS from 2002-2004 starring one of my favorite actors, David Morse. Quiet and low-key, the tall, intent actor often runs under the riotous waters of Hollywood radar. But once you’ve watched him in action you never forget him. At least for those of us who like the occasional Monet among the pop art.
Mike Olshanksy (David Morse) is a Philadelphia cab driver, formerly a police officer with Philadelphia’s finest, now under a cloud of corruption charges. The twist in this scenario is that the charges are all too true and Mike has only himself to blame for the loss of his job, his wife and son, and his self-respect.
The bright yellow cab takes him on a dark and lonely road of self-discovery, not only by introspection, but in sharing the lives that daily touch his own from the back seat of his cab. He watches, he relates, he acts, and he learns from them. Episode by episode, we are given a front row view of a broken man shedding the ruin of his old self and being reborn. Slowly. Painfully. And in the narrow confines of his cabby world, and among the streets of Philadelphia, the pain of other people touches his own in such a way that they become entwined and virtually indistinguishable from each other. So he uses his expertise and experience as a former cop to help alleviate the suffering of others in whatever way he can. And in so doing, he strives to understand and come to terms with his own.
The characters in the series are not typical of your run-of-the-mill, popular TV shows. They are people who are what they are. No apologies. His former partner on the police force is Marcellus Washington (Andre Braugher), who was also his partner in corruption but wasn’t caught. Mike never ratted him out, and continues to cover for him. This makes for a strained relationship with his former friend and partner, who often seems to blithely “forget” what Mike has done, and continues to do for him. In order to get information from the department to help the beleaguered lives who reach out to him, Mike doesn’t hesitate to “remind” Marcellus how much he owes him, and how much he can still lose.
His oldest and best friend is a priest, Tom “Grizz” Grzelak (George Dzundza), who attempts to guide Mike through the human and spiritual maze of right and wrong, moral and amoral, perception as opposed to self-deception. But Father Grizz stumbles over a root in that maze due to a little clay in his own feet. Addiction to gambling. But that human failing aside, the man in the black shirt and white-turned collar is solid in his belief in a God who cares. In one episode, Mike is arguing with Grizz about the suffering of Job. As Grizz comes back time and again to counter his friend’s bitterness, Mike smiles and says, “I can’t argue with you, Grizz. You have too much of a home field advantage.”
The visuals in this series are outstanding. A shot of children playing on a street in the rosy glow of a dawn or sunset light. A shadowed mural on the side of a building at night. Shots of the city of Philadelphia in different lights and directions. All make for a beautiful portrait of the City of Brotherly Love I have never seen before. In one episode, when Mike faces spending Thanksgiving with only his cab and nameless fares for company, an older couple slides out of the backseat onto a sidewalk filled with welcoming family. My husband called it a Norman Rockwell moment. And it was. Except that the face of the lonely cab driver is seen through the entwining arms and touching hands of a family that is not his own.
But before you get the idea that ex-corrupt cop Mike Olshansky is “Mother Theresa’s brother”, let me just remind that this guy is evolving. From what I gather (but is not shown on the series), is that Mike was not the best husband or father, or person, before he crashed and burned. He is working to determine where he went wrong. What road he took that was so far off the straight and narrow. But he isn’t an instant “good guy”. He is a human being who is searching for the right, and sometimes he fails. Sometimes he stumbles in the muck and has to climb out all over again. It’s a great series about what real people in a real (bad) world, have to really deal with. Of course, we don’t have a cab driver who can punch out the bad guy, or is willing and able to help find a missing child, but it sure is good to have one we can identify with on the TV screen.
Do you see what I see?
In trying to understand what happened to this jewel among the paste imitations, I’ve pulled up what others had to say about it. And though I try my best to allow for differences of opinion, I can only say that somewhere someone missed the boat. Either these viewers went once too often to the kitchen to get a snack, or they talked all the way through. They certainly didn’t see what I saw. Or my husband saw. Or my sister saw.
This from IMBD: Mike Olshansky forges a new identity as a Philadelphia cab driver patrolling the city as a roving vigilante who works with local police.
Now I ask you. Does that sound anything like what I’ve described above? He’s not forging an identity as a cab driver. If he’s “forging an identity” at all it’s as a man who cares rather than the man he was before. The cab is just a living. “A roving vigilante who works with local police”? What? Sure he mixes it up with some of the rough characters. But it’s usually to protect someone who can’t protect himself. And one awesome show was simply about a homeless man who died in the back of his cab, and how he strove to identify the man and get him “home” to his family. The “local police” he works with is ONE cop who was his ex-partner in crime as well as in law enforcement.
As for those who could not get past the unlikely premise of a cab driver who happens to have such unlikely fares, all I can say is — Look, guys. At the expense of making a pun, the cab is just a “vehicle” for the stories of human suffering, and a man who is trying to find his way. I can deal with that. Why can’t you?