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McCloud - Seasons 1 and 2

Universal // Unrated // August 9, 2005
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted August 22, 2005 | E-mail the Author
Movie: Two of the most enduring genres on television (on in the movies for that matter) are the cop show and the western. I've read several dissertations on each as well as numerous books that were dedicated to the two; each seeming to strike a collective cultural chord in the nation from time to time. Westerns may appeal to the frontier aspect of life where people are expected to do for themselves, even modern day versions such as displayed in Firefly (with upcoming movie Serenity to reestablish the characters), or perhaps they answer our need for a simpler lifestyle given all the complexities we face (often with anguish) but you'll find numerous answers to why the genre is so popular, so often in our (and other) cultures. Police related shows have a similar dynamic with either police or other government agents seeking to establish order out of the chaos of every day living with just a few examples including The Andy Griffith Show, WHR, Gunslinger Girl, LFN or Glass Shield; depending on where your mindset is at. After all, we hand over a lot of power to those we put in charge of enforcing our laws and that gives us all a reason to want to glimpse inside the minds of our public servants either in fictional encounters or real life. Many attempts have been made over the years to combine the two genres, often successfully, but one of the first television shows I can remember watching back 35 years ago is now captured in the DVD set of McCloud: Seasons One & Two.

McCloud was the story of Deputy Marshall Sam McCloud admirably played by Dennis Weaver in a folksy manner that endeared him to a very large audience. The pilot movie, Portrait of a Dead Girl, established the general premise (later revised a bit as needed) of a rural lawman who was assigned to extradite a witness to a murder in order to facilitate a new trial. Sam was a skilled cop in Taos, New Mexico and upon arriving in New York City, finds himself and his charge kidnapped by people pretending to be police officers. From there, he meets a number of people related to the case such as Chris Coughlin (Diana Muldaur from Star Trek: TNG); an author of a book about the murder in question, who later becomes Sam's love interest. He also runs afoul of Chief of Detectives Peter Clifford (aptly played in hothead fashion by J.D. Cannon) and others who think of him as incompetent and a hayseed since he let his prisoner escape. Using his years of honed police skills from his own jurisdiction, Sam provides a different look at the case, and eventually plays a large part in solving it, much to the chagrin of the local police who come to view him as a publicity hound bent on making them look bad, although it's made clear from the beginning (to the television viewer at least) that Sam had no such intentions. The fish out of water cliché played well here and the writer's were not above showing Sam learning a few tricks from the so-called "Big City Boys", even if those attempts at conciliation were few and far between.

The episodes that followed later on in 1970, refined a few aspects of Sam's escapades, having him assigned to learn big city policing as part of a federal police exchange program. How exactly that would work when each state had it's own manner of licensing police was left up to the viewer's imagination but like many other aspects of television drama, it worked best if just accepted and forgotten about. The general premise of each episode though was to show how Sam would buck the system (another police show cliché) whenever it was in the best interests of solving a case; regardless of the consequences to himself and those around him. This led to numerous situation comedy bits such as when Sam was assigned to work with the lady auxiliary section of the police department (he didn't mind much since several of the gals were cute and he was more than willing to introduce them to his down home style of romance) or assigned to the rodeo in town in Murder Arena. In all though, Weaver's charm and casual nature made for the perfect protagonist to override the often lame writing and stereotypical nature of the others he encountered.

Much has been made of television on DVD showcasing how far we've come and how limited the series of our youth were but the fact that many such shows from the era are still popular on various cable television channels speaks loudly as to the desire by many to revisit the shows in question. The shows that could truly be considered limited would be the great wasteland of forgotten pilots and single season wonders that no one wants to watch again (with a few exceptions); making multi-season hits like McCloud the type that really should make it to DVD. This set had a lot of decent moments but the execution of the set onto DVD had some serious flaws that need to be addressed here too. The series was initially a segment of a rotating line up of substantially different genres. After a few years, the powers that be decided to make it a more frequent show (and give the audiences a more reliable schedule) but it's important to keep in mind that the show had some growing pains early on that eventually were addressed as it evolved. The first season was made up of episodes that originally lasted an hour. The DVD set had the syndicated versions of the season which would combine two such episodes and jam them together to fit a television movie of the week time slot of two hours. Rather than show the episodes back to back as is sometimes done today, network television executives argued that presenting them that way would somehow diminish their appeal. That the McCloud: Seasons One & Two DVD set would follow in the footsteps of these decisions made me wince although, to be fair, I'm willing to bet that as the show gained an audience, the later versions (as shown here) were probably more popular. I'm not going to lie to you and suggest I remember a few edited minutes from over 35 years ago but I wanted to make you aware of the version you're getting of the first season portion of the set. The way they were jammed together was pretty lame too since they seemed out of order with the writing (there were few glaring problems with the approach but a true fan could pick apart several times when something was assumed that wasn't stated until later on in the season) but again, your mileage will vary according to which version you prefer.

I liked McCloud: Seasons One & Two enough to suggest it as Recommended since I've seen a few of the current edits on cable that leave out a whole lot of material in order to allow for the multitude of commercials you'll find in their stead. I think the show struck a chord with audiences much like other rural "fish out of water" shows have over the years too (many cancelled not due to poor ratings so much as network executives wanting to viewed as "progressive") and the talents of Dennis Weaver should not be underestimated in regards to bringing this slightly retooled version of Clint Eastwood's Coogan's Bluff to the small screen. Here's a look at the episodes in order of their DVD appearance, along with their airdates dates (the season one shows include both original air dates):

Season One:

Portrait of a Dead Girl(Pilot Movie): (February 17, 1970):
Man From Taos: (September 16, 1970 & October 21, 1970):
Manhattan Manhunt: (September 23, 1970 & October 7, 1970):
Murder Arena: (September 30, 1970 & October 14, 1970):

Season Two:

Encounter With Aries: (September 22, 1971):
Top of the World, Ma?: (November 3, 1971):
Somebody's Out To Get Jennie: (November 24, 1971):
The Disposal Man: (December 29, 1971):
A Little Plot, A Tranquil Valley: (January 12, 1972):
The Fifth Man in a String Quartet: (February 2, 1972):
Give My Regards to Broadway: (February 23, 1972):

Picture: McCloud: Seasons One & Two was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame the episodes were shot in by the various directors employed when the show was made. The show looks its age with lots of print scratches, color abnormalities, and worn stock footage looking all the worse compared to more modern shows but given that 35 years have passed since it was made, I feel obligated to point out that the presentation was better than I've seen on cable television by a significant amount. I'm not going to compare the picture to my faded memories since advances in technology have provided a quantum leap in terms of resolution and other technical aspects but I'd say the show was as good as we have a right to expect without heavy (and expensive) restoration that would likely only enhance the picture minimally as a result. There were some compression artifacts although not as many as expected since Universal used the dual sided, dual layered discs to combat how much material was shoved on the available space.

Sound: The sound was presented in the original monaural, as expected, although it was billed as 2.0 Dolby Digital mono in an effort to make it advertise better. Like the visual presentation of the material, there were age related limitations to the audio but the vocals were clear and the score was about as cheesy as most cop shows from the early 1970's tended to be. I can't say for sure if any of the music was replaced but I've been chastised in the past for not commenting that the DVD package says in small print on the backside of the case "Music may differ from televised version" so as unlikely as any changes may be, you can rest assured that the music sounded as though it belonged on the episodes.

Extras: Sadly, the only extra included here was the initial episode of contemporary show McMillian & Wife, also released at the same time of this set was earlier this month. I really wish Universal had included some of the many television specials, interviews, press clippings, or other material readily available to the company if not get Dennis Weaver and company to provide some audio commentaries or new interviews as fans would jump up and down for.

Final Thoughts: McCloud: Seasons One & Two was not the perfect cop show but it had a bit more style than so many shows released throughout the 1970's and offered up a new way to look at the rural versus metropolitan argument we see played out even recently. Sam McCloud will probably remain one of the top television detectives of all time given his down home mannerisms, politeness and charm, as well as the way in which he fought to do the right thing over the convenient thing so often. Perhaps future season sets will improve on the extras and offer a better bang for the buck but this release of McCloud: Seasons One & Two was still well worth checking out, despite its limitations.

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