The danger in revisiting a show you used to love as a kid is that it will almost always disappoint, especially, it seems to me, if the show was made in the 70s. I have had this experience several times in my life, sitting there with a dull expression in my eyes, gazing at the screen and wondering why I ever thought Welcome Back Kotter was funny. And did I really thrill to the exploits of Starbuck and Apollo without noticing how awful Battlestar Galactica was?
With these thoughts zipping around in my head, I inserted the first disc from the new Mod Squad set. The chances of it holding up seemed low; here was a show from 1970 that was network television’s attempt to reach the youth market of the time by airing a show about members of the current counterculture. And not only were these characters hip and groovy, but they were working for the establishment, as cops. The possibility of serious cheese seemed high.
Well, after watching several episodes I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, the plots are pretty standard for the genre and the time, though they do feature more swinging rock’n’roll clubs and groovy pads than Mannix or Ironside. The dialogue is also sprinkled with hip slang like ‘solid’, ‘groovy’, and that old chestnut, ‘I can dig it’. Again, not the kind of thing you heard a lot on Cannon. What really makes The Mod Squad work, however, is the strength of its leads. Michael Cole plays Pete, the sensitive hipster with a cool Peter Fonda in Easy Rider look working for him. Clarence Williams III plays Linc, the stoic black dude with an afro you could set your watch to. And Peggy Lipton plays Julie, a girl. This sounds sarcastic, and okay, maybe it is, but from the episodes I watched, I was unable to work out exactly what her function was on the team, except that she is very pretty and occasionally needs to be rescued. Pete and Linc are getting in fistfights and racing motorcycles and breaking into dark warehouses to look for clues. Meanwhile Julie, after getting kidnapped, at one point gets the gun away from her kidnapper and then can’t shoot as he takes the gun away from her. Heck, even the promo’s tagline was ‘One White, One Black, One Blonde’.
The show’s setup is fairly simple: three troubled youth are recruited by the insightful Captain Greer (Tige Andrews) and given the choice of doing time or joining the force. The idea is that they can use their youth and coolness to infiltrate the counterculture, though they focused on taking down adults exploiting young people and not simply busting hippies.
The Mod Squad was a breakthrough hit for producer Aaron Spelling, and manages to follow standard 70s cop show conventions (yes, in the 70s, a car that slowly slides down a loading ramp on its side will blow up when it reaches the bottom) while staying hip and cool. Though the supporting cast is not always up to the task, the show’s leads are likable, charismatic, and able to pull off their action scenes with aplomb (Williams’ Linc in particular displays some breathtaking athletic moves). I plan to watch more episodes, and am keeping my fingers crossed that Julie will finally get to do something.
The Mod Squad is shown in its original 4:3 aspect ratio and its picture quality is fairly impressive. The print is very clean and the transfer is nice, though I did spot an occasional bit of video noise. The episodes have excellent clarity and strong, solid colors with good contrast overall. It does show its age a bit, but I’ve seen many, far more current television shows on dvd that didn’t look this good.
All we get here is the original English mono track, which serves the show well. It is clean and the dialogue is nice and clear so you don’t miss one ‘groovy’ or ‘heavy, man’. It also seems appropriate for the soundtrack, which features the standard 70s cop show music along with the swinging sounds you would expect from a show about hip young people, though its rock’n’roll soundtrack is awfully heavy on the organ.
Sadly, none to speak of outside of several ads for other dvd releases of other shows of the era.
Anyone with fond memories of this show will not be disappointed with this set. If you’re a fan it’s worth the purchase, though its lack of features do make it less attractive. If you’re merely curious, I would recommend a rental. It’s an entertaining and unique product of a fascinating age in television history. Now I’m off to watch some more episodes. A renegade biker gang is holding a small town hostage, and Pete and Linc are caught in the middle. Julie may or may not be involved.