It’s a disc loaded with pilots. No, you won’t find any daring men and their flying machines here. These pilots owe more to Philo T. Farnsworth than The Wright Brothers. Farnsworth transmitted the first televised image in 1927. In case you’re wondering, that image was a dollar bill. These pilots follow in those footsteps; that’s because these pilots are television shows. They’re the first episodes of some of the best action series to appear on CBS over the last few decades. Going back as far as the 1960’s, these shows represent a nice cross section of television action entertainment.
Walker Texas Ranger:
There was a new Cowboy in Dallas, and he wasn’t throwing touchdown passes. But Walker was almost gone before he could really get started. After just four episodes the show’s production company suffered financial collapse, and the show was rescued at the last minute by CBS Productions, who would continue to run the show for its nearly decade-long run. For nine years Norris brought us the ultimate Texas Ranger in a formula cops and robbers show. The show often became a parody of itself, but maintained a solid viewer ship throughout. Hell, Norris even sings the theme song. Truthfully, what started as a one man show (it was originally called Chuck Norris Is Walker, Texas Ranger) became a good working ensemble that probably kept the train going for so long. Walker (Norris) is a tough guy Texas Ranger. He is partnered with Sydney Cooke (Peebles) and Jimmy Trivetti (Gilyard) who’s an ex-jock with a brain. Walker had a love interest and eventual wife in the local assistant district attorney Alex Cahill (later Walker). Together they fight the evils that come to the high plains of Texas armed with their fists, six-shooters, and Stetsons. After starting with the final season, CBS is finally halfway through the series back from the beginning.
NCIS is a spin-off, of sorts, from the popular military lawyer show JAG. You could say that NCIS is the Order to JAG’s Law. The NCIS is a real government agency that deals with criminal activity inside or involving the US Navy or Marine Corps. The series has an incredibly global feel and honestly looks damn good for television. Production values are high, and the location stuff is out of this world, or at least all over it. Special Agent Gibbs (Harmon) heads up this group of criminal investigators. Harmon has always been good, but I dare you to find a character he’s played better. He just eats up the part. You won’t have any trouble believing that Gibbs is the seasoned veteran investigator leading this team. Special Agent DiNozzo (Weatherly) is a former Baltimore homicide detective who often lets his determination run his investigation into trouble. He’ll bend a rule or throw a punch, whatever it takes to bring down the bad guy. The newest member of the team is Israeli Mossad Agent Ziva David, played by Cote de Pablo, a newcomer to television. She has the unenviable task of replacing popular actress Sasha Alexander who exited the show after 2 seasons. She is, perhaps, one of the most complicated characters I’ve yet to encounter in ensemble television. She’s difficult to read and shows a performance level beyond the scope of a beginner. Rounding out the cast are two very nice characters. Pauley Perrette plays the goth chick/forensic specialist Abby Sciuto. She reminds me a ton of the Penelope Garcia character from Criminal Minds. She’s flirty, far too informal for Gibbs, but is a lot smarter and tougher than she appears. Making himself more visible in this series is David McCallum as pathologist Ducky Millard. Ducky is the Quincy of the group as he checks out the bodies. His dry wit makes him my favorite character on the show.
“MacGyver (v) To act in an extremely resourceful manner. To utilize everyday items in unconventional ways to achieve a difficult task.” I predict it will not be long before you can open your trusty copy of Webster’s and find this character has officially entered our lexicon. There is little doubt but that it is an unofficial part of it now. Crossing over from the realm of pop culture and into our language is a phenomenal achievement for a television show.
Richard Dean Anderson really is MacGyver. OK, maybe he’s not quite so handy with a paperclip and matchbook, but his own acting ability and charm make MacGyver more enjoyable than the formula that has become so renowned. They share the love of hockey. Anderson was slated to be a hockey star before injuring both legs. Both men hail from the wilds of Minnesota. The two also share an environmental crusade. These traits also coincidentally apply to Jack O’Neil. The quasimilitary nature of The Phoenix Foundation, MacGyver’s employer, allows the show to have the action without so much of the “hut hut” of other military films and shows.
The IMF team was run by Daniel Briggs, played by Steven Hill. Hill was never really happy and left after the first season, citing a refusal to work on the Sabbath as his reason for leaving. While Hill was never bad in the role, his departure was our gain. Peter Graves immediately stepped up as the iconic Mr. Phelps, and Mission Impossible as we know it was born. I should add a word of caution and say this is really nothing like the films which have become big budget vehicles for Tom Cruise over the last decade or so. This was not an explosive f/x or stunt driven show. The team managed their impossible missions with cunning and guile. The team was necessarily eclectic in nature. It featured Martin Landau in his signature role of Rollin Hand. Hand was very much akin to Martin Ross and his role in The Wild Wild West. He was a master of disguise. He could imitate almost anyone in very short order. Barney Collier was the gadget man, played by Greg Morris. Cinnamon Carter was the model and the team’s chief seductress and was played by Landau’s real life wife Barbara Bain. Finally, the muscle was supplied by Willy Armitage, played by brute Peter Lupus. Together they took on missions that the government could not be officially a part of. They were always admonished that should they be caught “the secretary would disavow any knowledge” of them. Usually they were sent somewhere to put some evil mastermind out of business. Their tactics ranged from scams to outright theft. Sometimes they were a rescue team while other times they would infiltrate a group of bad guys. There were certainly cold war elements to the whole thing.
Each episode is presented in its original television full frame format. Some of this is 40 year old television, and your expectations should be adjusted accordingly. Overall the transfers are remarkably solid. While colors are a bit soft, the picture itself is rather clean. Print defects are minimal when you consider the age.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 tracks do what they need to do, nothing less, nothing more. You get to hear the dialog and the famous theme perfectly even if not in a more modern dynamic presentation. Explosions are often muffled. The music even distorts at times, but for the most part this soundtrack delivers enough to keep you in the mission.
All of these shows are available at least in several season sets. MacGyver is already out there as a complete series sans the reunion films. While I applauded the comedy collection, I don’t feel the same about this one. There are too few episodes to make this of the same historic value, obviously because these are one hour shows and not the typical half hour of a sit-com. A double disc set here might have been better. The release is only of interest to the casual fan of one or more of these shows who’d like to see how the series began. Put them in your player and “let no one near the television equipment”.