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.