Incredibly prolific producer Aaron Spelling had an incredible knack for
giving the public what it wanted... even if they didn't know that
wanted it at the time. He was behind such diverse and popular shows as
The Smothers Brothers Show, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Dynasty,
S.W.A.T., and the list goes on and on. One of his early successes was
The Mod Squad, a 1968 police/detective show with a twist: instead of
staring detectives in suits like Dragnet, his show featured a trio of
anti-establishment youths... who just happened to be cops. It was a
brilliant idea and one of the first prime-time shows to tap into the
counter culture revolution of the 60's. It was a hit, running for five
seasons, and now Visual Entertainment Inc. (VEI) has released the
entire original run of the show in a very nice boxed set that's the
perfect gift for the retro TV fan on your holiday gift list.
They were three disaffected youths: Long-haired rich-boy Pete Cochran
(Michael Cole) who had been kicked out of his Beverly Hills home
because he was so rebellious; angry young black man Linc Hayes
(Clarence Williams III) from Watts, and flower child Julie Barnes
(Peggy Lipton) who ran away from her prostitute mother and was living
rough. That all changed when they were arrested for various crimes.
Instead of going to jail Captain Adam Greer (Tige Andrews) of the LA
Police Department gave them an alternative: they could become cops.
Together they formed a unique group, detectives who could go where
regular officers couldn't, and who could blend in and get close to the
criminals they were hunting.
Over the next five seasons the trio would tackle crime, but not
ordinary murders and embezzlements, The Mod Squad's cases often
revolved around subjects that were current and topical at the time:
racism, drugs, the anti-war movement, illegal alien trafficking,
bombings and the like. The shows were all stand alone episodes, and
while it was often clear who the villain was early on in the program,
it was watching Pete, Linc, and Julie track them down that made the
show so much fun.
Though the mysteries were fairing engaging and the settings always a
lot of fun (they often found themselves going undercover at the beach
or a race track) it is the characters themselves that really make the
show. Williams is often easy to anger, though he's never becomes 'scary
black guy' which would be all too easy to do. Pete's a little
hot-headed and is usually the first one in a fight, but he's good
looking and has a kind heart. The person who really steals all of the
scenes she's in is Peggy Lipton. She's absolutely stunning in the show
and wears some really great clothes (and bikinis). Even more than that,
she is able to capture her character's conflicts and inner sadness
making Julie a fully fleshed out person. Of course the other star of
the show is Captain Greer, the tough-as-nails official who has a soft
spot for the kids, though he'd never admit it. He acts as a mentor and
father figure being tough but fair.
The brilliant part of the show is the way they deal with the counter
culture in general. The producers and the network didn't want to
alienate everyone over the age of 30, but at the same time they were
actively trying to court younger viewers. The solution was to play it
both ways: they'd show groovy night clubs and cool hangouts that looked
like a lot of fun, but then someone (often Greer) would state the
establishment's point of view, that abusing LSD was really dangerous
for example, and they'd be proven right. It was a hip show that managed
not to alienate older viewers. That's quite a trick.
The one problem the show did have at times was how to work Greer into
an episode. His part, though very important in some stories, seems
forced in others. When the squad heads off to Vegas for some R & R
and finds themselves in the middle of a murder, for example, Greer
makes the trip up in person so he can see how everything is going. He
couldn't have just picked up the phone?
It's interesting to watch this show today and see how influential is
has been. It was an early attempt to capture the youth market by being
cool and embracing current trends, and it directly inspired other
programs. It's very easy to see the seeds of another Aaron Spelling hit
in this show: Charlie's Angels. Not only are the mysteries similar and
the way they approach the crime nearly identical (splitting up at the
beginning then having all of the plot threads dovetail at the end) but
the later show seems to be created from the lessons learned in this
one. The most popular character is the hot girl? Why not cast
attractive actresses in all three of the main rolls? Having trouble
fitting the necessary mentor figure into the episodes? Let's make a
point of never showing him. Problem solved! The Mod Squad might not be
high art, but it is very entertaining, even 45 years later.
The entire five seasons on The Mod Squad arrive in a very nice, sturdy,
flip-top box that houses the ten quad DVD cases. There's a total of
39-DVDs containing 123 episodes and bonuses. Note: The reunion TV
movie, The Return of Mod Squad, which aired in 1979 is not part of this
set. VEI wanted to include it, but they could not secure the rights.
The set includes the original mono soundtrack in Dolby Digital and it
sounds very good. It's limited by the technology of the era, naturally,
but the dialog is clear and the music comes across well, though the
dynamic range isn't great. It is a very serviceable audio track that
fits the show.
The 1.33:1 color image looks surprisingly good. I was expecting a soft
but serviceable picture, but it is better than that. The lines are
tight, the colors strong (which helps in some of the psychedelic bars
they end up visiting) and blacks nice and inky. There were a few minor
spots and blemishes, but honestly there were a lot less than I was
expecting. I very good looking collection of shows.
There are only a few extras included. Forming the Squad looks at the
genesis of the program and Inside the Teeth of the Barracuda: 1968 puts
the show in a historical perspective by looking at what was happening
culturally in America in 1968. Friends of the Mod Squad is a 16-minute
look at the guest stars who added so much to the show. The final bonus
is Hello, My Name is Julie that discusses Peggy Lipton's outfits and
the fashion sense of the show. These appear to be ported over from the
CBS release of the first season.
I really enjoyed this show a lot more than I thought I would. Even seen
today the program it's a lot of fun and still has a lot of style. Fans
of the era definitely should make a point of picking this up, but
anyone who enjoys action-filled detective shows should enjoy it. Highly Recommended.