Tune in Tonight: "Holmes & Yoyo"
Remember that thing we watched many years ago, about a robot cop invented to change the face of crimefighting? Sure, you remember, don’t you, how he used his superhuman strength and futuristic technology to clean up the mean streets and make his city safe for its citizens again?
I’m speaking, of course, about the short lived 1976 sitcom Holmes & Yoyo.
Though not quite as legendary a flop as Supertrain (which is in my blood now like hepatitis C and I will never be able to stop talking about it), Holmes & Yoyo still has its own bad TV cache, mostly for its Ed Wood level commitment to portraying “technology” in as low budget a manner as possible. Yet, its cartoonish, kid-friendly feel is surprisingly thisclose to being charming, and a harmless, refreshing change of pace from nine hours of assholes stumbling around in narrow hallways and disco dancing.
The premiere episode opens with Alex Holmes (Richard B. Shull), a bumbling police detective who does things like get his necktie caught in a typewriter carriage, and grievously injure his last four partners. His frustrated precinct captain teams up Holmes with Gregory “Yoyo” Yoyonovich (John Schuck), a new kind of cop who’s the subject of a top secret project. Yoyo, named after his inventor, is a robot, though, much like no one on The Walking Dead says the word “zombie” for some reason, the word “robot” is never used to describe him. Nevertheless, he looks like a regular person, except for what appears to be a graphing calculator strapped to his chest, and comes equipped with all sorts of useful features, like a nose activated camera inside his head, and a few that just seem like they’d be inconvenient, like magnetic hands.
Because the script demands it, Holmes isn’t permitted to know what Yoyo is, so much of the comedy in the first episode comes by way of Holmes’ befuddled, occasionally annoyed reactions as Yoyo takes everything he says literally (e.g. “Try my blue plate special,” Yoyo takes a bite out of a plate), exhibits super strength, and glitches by repeating the same phrase over and over. Yoyo seems like he might need a little more finetuning at the lab, especially when a garage door opener makes him do mid-air flips, but Holmes warms to his guileless, friendly new partner anyway, as they work together to solve the theft of an expensive classic car.
Though his creators claim that he’s indestructible, Yoyo is injured in the very first episode, when he crashes a car during a high speed chase. It’s here that Holmes discovers what Yoyo really is, and reacts to it with a strange mix of shock and even revulsion (dude’s got a calculator on his chest, who cares), telling him “You’re not a person! You’re a bunch of parts!” Yoyo’s not having any of that shit, though, responding “And what are you, Alex? Just five dollars worth of chemicals and a few gallons of water. And we’re both programmed, each in our own way.” Holmes sees that Yoyo is right, and runs across the street to a garage to purchase “two quarts of the best grade oil for my new partner,” while Yoyo looks on in teary eyed gratitude.
In the third episode (the second seems to be lost to the cruelties of time), Holmes and Yoyo investigate a series of dental office bombings. Considering there’s currently a series of explosions being investigated in Austin, Texas, two of which resulted in death, it’s a bit hard to fathom that once upon a time a “mad bomber” plot on a TV show could be played for laughs, but never mind that. Yoyo’s creators must have taken some extended time off, because he’s “malfunctioning” more than ever, still repeating phrases like a broken record and occasionally picking up the police radio frequency through his mouth.
Nevertheless, he’s still the most efficient cop in the precinct, and together with Holmes quickly figures out that the dentists whose offices were bombed all went to the same college together. When they finally catch up with the bomber, however, Yoyo is ordered by his captain to go and dismantle a live bomb. Because he’s expendable you see, on this TV show that very occasionally ponders what it means to be “human,” but more often than not just has Yoyo do stuff like hop around when Holmes tells him to “hop to it.”
Holmes goes in after him to help, and finds that all Yoyo has to do to learn how to dismantle a bomb is punch a code into a key pad on his chest plate, like he’s getting $20 out of an ATM. He does so by sticking one of the wires into an electric outlet in his shirt, which in the earlier episode made a typewriter work by itself and caused a vending machine to launch snacks and change everywhere. This time, it somehow makes the bomb on the clock move backwards, and he saves the day. When we next see Yoyo, the problem with picking up the police band frequency through his mouth has been fixed—he now picks up a CB frequency instead. Doh ho ho, those scientists sure are bad at their jobs!
My sense of judgment is undoubtedly weakened after watching all nine episodes of Supertrain, but it must be said: Holmes & Yoyo isn’t nearly as bad as I expected. Now, by saying that I don’t mean to imply that it’s good. Two episodes were more than enough to get the point, and I had no desire to find out if, by teaching Yoyo how to be human, Holmes becomes a better human himself. The slapstick comedy always lasts at least a minute longer than it needs to, and the scripts seem to take a casual at best approach to characterization, with both Holmes and Yoyo exactly as smart or stupid as the plot needs them to be at any given time. Don’t expect consistency with what Yoyo can or can’t do either—by the end of the first episode the writers seemed to forget that his hands were supposed to be magnetized. It begs the question of whether or not you really want a 425 pound robot with superhuman strength out there doing police work with the public, but malfunctions the second someone uses a television remote in his presence. Do you want to get people killed, Holmes and/or Yoyo? Because that’s how you get people killed.
Nevertheless, each episode is a brisk twenty-five minutes long, and the lead actors are likable, which is more than you can say for Supertrain. If the episodes consisted of just Holmes and Yoyo hanging out at the police station filing paperwork, it would still be more entertaining than Supertrain. It feels a bit like a Saturday morning TV show that someone decided at the last minute to slightly retool for an older audience, to its detriment. I’m not going to go overboard and say that Holmes & Yoyo is an underappreciated lost gem, but it’s endearingly silly, and sometimes that’s just enough.
Original airdate (episode 1): September 25, 1976
Original airdate: (episode 3): October 16, 1976