Handcuffs have been a staple of American TV series for at least as long as there have been cop shows. And since there have been cop since for as long as there has been American TV, that means the average viewer has seen a lot of handcuffs come and go on the boob tube. Of course, handcuffs on cop shows are usually the most boring use of these storytelling staples. The best use of handcuffs on TV may start off with law enforcement officers, but that doesn’t mean they end with a ride down to the station.
For instance, there is an episode of “The X-Files” in which some body switching took place. Agent Dana Scully saw the flesh and blood reality of her partner Fox Mulder, but inside he was a creepy black in man with a heightened sense of his sexual attractiveness. The man in black decided to use the greater physical attractiveness of Mulder to his own advantage by trying to seduce Scully. A pair of handcuffs figures prominently in the sequence.
Here we have another memorable moment in TV history involving cops that isn’t really about subduing offenders. “The Defiant Ones” cemented the storytelling trope of handcuffing two people with nothing in common together as a way for them to overcome their differences; in this case racial differences. While the famous writer Rick Castle and his muse on the NYPD Kate Beckett may be quite different from each other, however, the episode that seems them joined together by handcuffs practically from beginning to end is not a based on “The Defiant Ones.” Rather they must learn to work together while cuffed to overcome significant physical obstacles threatening their lives.
If you want to see a parody of “The Defiant Ones” that hits the nail right on the head, there is an episode of “Quantum Leap” that virtually duplicates the racism angel. For me, a much more memorable moment in TV history featuring handcuffs is the parody of “The Defiant Ones” undertaken by “The Simpsons.” After Bart, finally, gets sentenced to a juvenile prison, he finds himself in the unlikely situation of making a run for while handcuffed to a girl who is much more appropriate material for juvie than Bart. What is especially memorable about this great moment in TV handcuffs is that Bart and the girl happen upon a blacksmith who agrees to help remove their shackles. Seen, but not heard, also waiting to have blacksmith pry this particular aspect of his trade are other handcuffed couples including Laurel & Hardy, a cowboy and indian (Native America), a hippie and a soldier and the show’s recurring boat captain character who is handcuffed to a squid!
Among the many unlikely things that wash up on “Gilligan’s Island” is a briefcase determined to have belong to a spy because a pair of handcuffs are attached. You just know it is only a matter of time before Gilligan accidentally snaps the cuffs tight around his wrist. For most of the rest of the episode, Gilligan lives in dread and fear of the bad guys (Russians) arriving on the island and doing whatever it takes to remove the briefcase from his possession. Consider there is no key, this method of removal can only take the form of slicing through his offending wrist. The classic moment in TV history involving handcuffs is another episode that features one of the patented dream sequences that makes “Gilligan’s Island” such fun to watch.
On the classic episode of “Seinfeld” where all four of the main characters are the stars of their own little mini-story that takes place on separate subways, George’s story is about meeting a hot woman who promises to fulfill his fantasies. This being George Constanza we’re talking about, nothing goes as planned. She takes him to a hotel room for what promises to be an afternoon of delightful pleasure, but the moment he agrees to be securely shackled to the bed with handcuffs, he is doomed. She disappears into the bathroom and comes out fully dressed before robbing George of his wallet and leaving him there still cuffed to the bed.The most memorable moment about this bit of handcuff history on TV may well be George’s response as the thief makes her exit.