Adam 12 - Season Three
Shout Factory // Unrated // $34.99 // August 11, 2009
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 21, 2009
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Graphical Version
The good news about Shout! Factory's Adam-12 - Season Three is that the transfers are a big improvement over their flawed Season Two release, which was marred by a kind of ghostly video smearing whenever there was any movement among the show's characters or police cars. It also improves upon Universal's First Season offering, double-sided DVD-18s manufactured in Mexico and which were basically unplayable on many machines. Finally, four years later, an entire season of Adam-12 looks and plays just fine.

The show itself is reasonably entertaining though much less ambitious and interesting than executive producer Jack Webb's original 1950s version of Dragnet, which remains one of the most innovative and influential police procedural shows in the history of the medium. Season three of Adam-12 is little more than a collection of dramatized police reports, all purportedly based on real incidents (though "names have been changed to protect the innocent," i.e., the show's producers) and a few episodes here strain credibility. Like Dragnet it's all business; unlike seasons one and two, which offered a few glimpses of its protagonists' home lives and offered season-long story threads (Officer Reed's probationary stint, his wife's pregnancy, etc.) there's little-to-none of that here.

As before, seasoned, more cynical cop Pete Malloy (Martin Milner) and earnest junior Officer Jim Reed (Kent McCord) patrol the vaguely Rampart area between downtown Los Angeles and Silverlake, though most of the show's exteriors were filmed around Studio City and Toluca Lake, with major crime scene exteriors usually being a well-trodden section of Universal's backlot. (Beaver Cleaver's and the Munster's houses are often visible in the background.)

The show was the co-creation of actor-producer-writer-director Jack Webb, a spin-off of his revived Dragnet series, and like that show is notable for its fidelity to LAPD technologies and departmental procedures, so much so that episodes were (and perhaps still are) shown as quasi-training videos at its training academy.

The original, early-to-mid-1950s version of Dragnet was at once noirish and almost documentary-like in its realism. By the late-1960s, Webb was wearing his conservative heart on his sleeve, and the revised Dragnet and early Adam-12 episodes sometimes resembled laughably un-hip public service announcements warning impressionable youths against the dangers of psychedelic drugs while decrying disrespectful attitudes toward police among counterculture types. These shows, and Webb's famously stilted (though once mesmerizingly authentic) delivery unfortunately gave them a kind of so-out-of-touch-they're-cool camp status.

In fact, both Dragnet and Adam-12 did shows like that only occasionally. The bigger problem was that where Webb had been technologically and aesthetically daring during the first four or five years of the original Dragnet, by the late-1960s he had resigned himself to forever being Sgt. Joe Friday as far as the general public was concerned, and to crank out grist for the TV mill and in Universal-Television's unattractive house style of the period.

Adam-12's third year alternates between innocuous police calls (including very dated scenes involving funny, almost loveable, drunk drivers), Serious Stuff (gang wars, domestic abuse), and bizarre crimes that make the viewer question that "based on real incidents" claim. In one, a "reformed" safecracker secretly sends his kindergarten-age niece and nephew to pull jobs, all because he wants to raise money for their college education!

Still, as with the new Dragnet, Webb rose to the occasion with little one-shot episodes that unexpectedly entrance the viewer with their unusualness. Kent McCord began his association with Webb in a first season Dragnet 1967 episode, as a potentially dirty cop interrogated by Joe Friday and partner Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan). That unusual episode took place almost entirely in one room, and by television standards of the period was almost unbearably claustrophobic, intense, and ambiguous.

The highlight of Adam-12's Season Three undoubtedly is "Elegy For a Pig." For starters there's no opening theme, just white titles against a black background read solemnly by Webb himself. The episode that follows has no onscreen dialogue, just grim narration by Malloy as he recalls a slain officer and best friend (played by Lost in Space's Mark Goddard). Incorporating footage of an actual police officer's funeral and filmed in an unusually movie-like style by director Christian Nyby - who neatly cuts between the loud applause as the officer, in flashback, is awarded a medal, and the sound of a rain falling on his lifeless face - "Elegy for a Pig" is a dark and pessimistic show, ending with Malloy bitterly implying that while those no-good hippies unhesitatingly protest alleged police brutality, no one will protest his friend's murder, a friend who will quickly be forgotten by all but a few.

Guest starring in these season's batch of episodes: Arthur Hunnicutt, Kenneth Tobey, Myron Healey, Rand Brooks, Bruce Gordon, Tony Dow, Ted Gehring, Colleen Gray, Jodie Foster, Virginia Gregg (a longtime Webb favorite), Butch Patrick, Mary Grace Canfield, Mantan Moreland (yeah!), Foster Brooks, Stanley Adams, Howard Culver, Margaret O'Brien, Paul Picerni, Billie Bird, Helen Kleeb, Jon Lorner, Irene Tedrow, Trini López, Don Barry, Ken Lynch, Iris Adrian, Eve Brent, George Sawaya, Robert Clarke, Gary Crosby (another semi-regular), Shelley Berman, Burt Mustin, Ellen Corby, George Furth, Keye Luke, Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor (the last five all in the same episode!), Morey Amsterdam, Woodrow Parfrey, Jason Wingreen, Norm Crosby, Randolph Mantooth, Francine York, Robert Dowdell, and James Luisi. William Boyett has a semi-regular role as Sgt. MacDonald.

Video & Audio

Though still a bit on the grainy side, Adam-12 - Season Three is a big step up from the previous season set, as that ghosting/smearing transfer issue has been corrected. There are 26 episodes spread over four single-sided DVDs, with 6-7 episodes per disc. The shows do not appear to have been time-compressed or edited. The mono audio is adequate; there are no alternate audio or subtitling options, but the set is closed-captioned. There are no Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

If you liked the first two seasons of Adam-12 chances are high you'll like this. Overall, it's very slightly less interesting than seasons one and two, only because the limited opportunity for characterizations between the two leads, already limited before, has been pulled back even further. But for "Elegy for a Pig" and a few other shows, Adam-12 - Season Three is definitely worthwhile. Recommended.

Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, Japanese Cinema, is on sale now.

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