Last weekend, I finally got around to watching the finale of Wayward Pines, which was a double-edged sword. I loved the finale and thought it was a fantastic wrap-up to an excellent series, but it also meant that I was officially out of television to watch. At the moment, I’m not catching up with anything, and the current offerings leave me cold, with the best shows either just in the rearview or not starting up again for another couple of weeks.
So I started prospecting on Hulu and ran across a remarkable gold mine in the form of Silk Stalkings. All eight seasons — that’s 176 episodes — are available with a Hulu Plus subscription, and since tapping that vein, I have not been able to kick it. Consider me officially addicted to the gloriously cheesy, proudly trashy exploits of the detectives that only investigate the alarming number of sex-adjacent murders occurring in central Florida.
I had never seen a full episode of Silk Stalkings until this binge, though I had seen the first four minutes of a bulk of the episodes of the series. That’s because it used to come on right after WWE Raw on the USA network, and shadowy promos for the show would run nonstop during the weekly wrestling program. (This still happens constantly, by the way, though instead of John Cena’s adventures being interrupted by commercials for early ’90s cable gems like Swamp Thing, TekWar, or Duckman, it’s now a cavalcade of spots for Royal Pains and Chrisley Knows Best.) As a huge fan of Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, and the like, I rarely missed an episode of Raw, and more often than not, I would watch the final segment of the show and then catch the pre-credits sequence of Silk Stalkings, which typically involved a woman wearing a bra. It was just the right amount of titillation for an adolescent. I had always assumed that the play-on-words title was a reference to the two main characters (maybe they were named Silk Monroe and David Stalkings?), but it turns out that a “silk stalking” is a term that this show uses for the type of crime our two heroes investigate. (And they reference “a silk stalking” a lot, in the same way that Scully constantly refers to cases directly as “x-files” on The X-Files.)
But I’m glad I’m coming to the show fresh, because it is glorious. It’s full of all the obvious fun that can be found in ’90s nostalgia shows, like the wardrobes of stars Mitzi Kapture and Rob Estes, the gigantic cell phones, and the dated slang. But Silk Stalkings is also wonderful in a lot of unexpected ways. Clearly made on the cheap, the settings on this show are so simple and weird that they are almost avant-garde. The police headquarters in the first season is a neon nightmare, and it’s so distracting that the only defining trait for one of the characters — the homicide captain, played by Ben Vereen — is that he can’t stand the apparent renovation the station recently received. In another scene early on in the show’s run, Estes and Kapture visit a piano bar to interview somebody, and it looks as though the club exists in a black void in a parallel dimension, with only a piano and the faintest suggestion of other humanity around. It’s like a black box theater version of an episode of Law & Order: SVU.
Elements like that make Silk Stalkings a surprisingly engaging viewing experience. It’s a procedural at its heart, with all the usual trappings and structure that those types of shows use. But it also makes decisions no TV show in history has ever done, which makes it wonderful. Outside of the core cast, most of the rest of the performers on the show come across like amateurs, so every time the two detectives go to meet a guest star, you never know what you’re going to get. Seemingly every character on the show lives in an opulent home, dresses only in silk bathrobes, and listens to smooth sax music at all times. The thrill is in the unpredictability — while other shows on television at this very moment are objectively better, few have the ability to surprise the way Silk Stalkings does (and that’s without any Red Weddings). Plus, at no point does it comment on its own camp. It’s completely over-the-top, but never goes meta, mostly because that wasn’t a thing that people were doing on cable in the early ’90s. When was the last time something genuinely campy came along that wasn’t a pastiche or a send-up? Let me put it this way: If the end of every episode of Silk Stalkings, a credit came up reading “Executive Producers Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim,” it would make absolute sense and run on Adult Swim forever.
But Silk Stalkings was actually created by Stephen J. Cannell, the TV legend behind such series as The A-Team, The Commish, Renegade, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street and The Greatest American Hero. Stalkings was actually Cannell’s longest running show, and it even survived a cast changeover: In the fifth season, both Estes and Kapture bolted the show, and they were replaced by Nick Kokotakis and Taylor Layton. But that pairing didn’t take, and they were replaced by Chris Potter (he played David Carradine’s son on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues) and Janet Gunn for the remainder of the show’s run. I haven’t arrived at those latter-day episodes yet, but they sort of have a lot to live up to, as Kapture and Estes do have a genuine chemistry, and I’m looking forward to their will they/won’t they dynamic.
So I’ll be watching over a hundred hours of Silk Stalkings over the next few weeks, and if you are looking to indulge in some sweet throwback nostalgia but are frustrated by the lack of sex crimes on Friends, then you should be binging Stalkings too.
And seriously, if you need any more enticement, just look at the opening credits sequence for this show. They don’t make them like this any more.