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Mission: Impossible - The Second TV Season
Indeed, the show didn't become the big hit it eventually was until its second season. As former Desilu executive in charge of production Herb Solow and producer Bob Justman tell it in their fascinating book Inside Star Trek (Star Trek being Desilu's other one-hour drama at the time), both series were frequently over-budget and behind schedule, but where Star Trek's rating were going into the toilet, despite the famous "Save Star Trek" letter-writing campaign, the executives at CBS were much more forgiving of Mission: Impossible perfectionistic creator Bruce Geller as by this time the program was a ratings smash. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Dramatic Series (with Geller picking up a second Emmy for his writing), and co-star Barbara Bain won for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series while real-life husband Martin Landau was nominated.
As before, the series' structure is rigidly adhered to. At the beginning of each episode, Jim Phelps (Graves) inconspicuously receives a recorded message outlining the week's seemingly impossible mission, and each week the recorded voice warns, "As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions." Messages are by season two generally recorded on a reel-to-reel tape (that "will self-destruct in five seconds") but sometimes other means are used. In "The Bank," for instance, the message is found on an old 78rpm record.
Phelps works his way through a folder of glossy photos, theater programs and the like, selecting the best talent to comprise each particular mission. In virtually every show, Briggs' team includes former model Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), electronics genius Barney Collier (Greg Morris); onetime strongman Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus); and master of disguise, magic, and dialects Rollin Hand (Martin Landau, now given co-starring billing with Graves).
Where Steven Hill frequently played a minor role in the actual missions, Graves's no-nonsense Jim Phelps is much more front-and-center, and a major part of the action. The result of this is that the show's original concept, to rotate guest stars playing other agents with various specialties has been deemphasized, though still present.
The great pleasure of the series at its best is watching the missions played out and how they're presented to the audience. Though each mission's purpose is clearly explained, the IMF's strategies for accomplishing them aren't; the show's writers hold back on most of the details, revealing early on only a few of the gadgets that'll be used, or the roles some of the IFM team will play in their usually elaborately-staged schemes.
As a result, the television audience goes into these missions with only the vaguest idea how the IMF team will pull their missions off, and since the missions largely rely on out-conning foreign spies, drug lords and the like, the best shows generate terrific suspense because they're so unpredictable. They're like cryptic little puzzles that only make sense when all the pieces are put together. We're not sure what exactly is going on until almost the end, while at the commercial breaks before then - always stopping just short of the IMF getting found out, a member being killed, etc. - the audience wonders how the IMF is going to get themselves out of their latest jam.
That the show is one of the best-produced of the 1960s with each episode playing like mini-movies is a major asset. The series also attracted some of the best guest stars around, some carry-overs from last season. The list includes William Windom, Joe Maross, Dan O'Herlihy, Albert Paulsen, James Daly, Warren Stevens, Brock Peters, Darren McGavin, Hazel Court, Fritz Weaver, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Ihnat, Eric Braeden, John Randolph, Anthony Zerbe, Peter Donat, Edmond O'Brien, Will Geer, Mark Lenard, Paul Winfield, Bradford Dillman, and Sid Haig.
Video & Audio
Once again, Mission: Impossible is presented in extremely good, eye-popping transfers in their original full frame format which are not cut or time-compressed. Typically there are four episodes per disc. The shows are offered in their original mono, but the audio defaults to the superb Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as Season 1, which adds enormously to the show's excitement. Unlike Season 1's lack of alternate subtitle and audio options, this set includes a Spanish audio track and optional English, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles. There are no Extra Features.
Simply put, if you liked Mission: Impossible: The Complete First TV Season you're going to enjoy Mission Impossible: The Second TV Season, probably just about as well. Highly Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.