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Auto Pilot: Cobra

By Zach

Continuing our look at action shows focused around vehicles, this time we’re checking out the 1993 series Cobra, starring the American Ninja himself, Michael Dudikoff.

Episode Title: Pilot

Original Air Date: September 16th, 1993

Did I Know Anything Going In?:  About the show, no, but I’ve seen American Ninja and some of Dudikoff’s other 80’s B action movies.

Not to be confused with the Stallone classic, Cobra gets it’s name from both Michael Dudikoff’s choice of ride, a Shelby Cobra, and also the mysterious organization that hires him.  The show was created by Stephen J. Cannell, who was behind shows like The Rockford Files, The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero, 21 Jump Street, and The Commish in the 80’s and 90’s.  He also produced fellow 90’s syndicated show, Renegade.  Cobra lasted only 1 season in syndication before being cancelled.

Dudikoff plays Robert “Scandal” Jackson Jr., a Navy SEAL who goes AWOL after refusing to blow up a target full of civilians and flees to Alaska and becomes a teacher with possibly the worst mullet in TV or movie history (It makes Joe Dirt’s seem natural and normal by comparison).  Danielle LaPoint (Allison Hossback), who represents the mysterious organization Cobra, tracks Scandal down but when she gets to his Inuit village home, he’s jumped by two goons, also in ridiculous mullets, who shoot him in the face for his involvement in an illegal fighting ring.  Danielle has Cobra pay his medical bills and they give him plastic surgery, as is the case for most of these secret groups, and, after Scandal recovers, she brings him back to Cobra HQ in Bay City (San Fransisco?) to meet her boss, Dallas Cassel, played by Top Gun and Back to Future’s James Tolkan. Cobra is the project of a wealthy backer, Quentin Avery, and they want to Scandal to be their field agent to help people the law has failed and, to entice him to join, they reveal his first case would be to solve his father’s murder by a serial killer, as it seems the killer has struck again.  Scandal’s father was a police officer and the case was seemingly solved when his partner, Scandal’s Uncle Jake, killed the killer in a hotel room but this new case has the same MO.  Scandal agrees to help, at least for this one job, and starts his investigation with Danielle.  The strange thing about Cobra, the corporation and the show, is that there actually is not a high tech vehicle being used.  Scandal’s Shelby is just a regular, cherry red Cobra with nothing fancy about it and he doesn’t even use it in a car chase in the pilot movie.  The whole show actually feels like more of a noir/mystery show than an action show, which doesn’t really suit Dudikoff’s acting skills as he’s much better fighting people with karate than staring off into the middle distance while having depressing voice overs.  The lack of action and overall serious make Cobra kind of a slog to watch, with only a few fun bits scattered throughout the pilot. (The best bit is easily when someone uses an exact quote from Top Gun that Tolkan used and they cut to him giving a knowing raised eyebrow)

The investigation reveals a pretty convoluted scheme being run by the local mob, led by boss Boticelli, that involves smuggling in cocoa powder from Colombia via a bottled water company and also using a squad of psychotic soldiers, all presumed dead, as hitmen led by Sam Jones aka Flash effing Gordon.  Scandal also starts to believe his father may have been dirty, as he gets evidence from Uncle Jake (who is killed by Jones), that seems to reveal Scandal Sr. was in league with Botticelli.  Scandal eventually gets Botticelli to agree to meet in an abandoned warehouse to leave a payoff to Scandal to keep the nature of the bottled water company secret but Scandal has actually rigged up a slightly more high tech, Home Alone, style trap and takes out everyone, leaving Botticelli and his stooge for the cops and he agrees to stay with Cobra as their field agent to help others.

Overall, Cobra is not great.  It’s way too serious and slow moving to compete with the other, much more fun shows we’ve talked about already this month and it doesn’t play to Dudikoff’s strengths at all as a cheesy action hero.  James Tolkan is the main highlight but I can see why it got cancelled against the other competition of syndicated 90’s television.

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