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.
The cops of Hawaii Five-0 were not city cops, but rather Hawaii’s version of the State Police. Leader McGarrett (Lord) answered directly to the Governor. The team included Danny “Danno” Williams (MacArthur) who was McGarrett’s right hand. Danno was great for kicking in doors or infiltrating a mob family. Detective Chin Ho-Kelly (Kam Fong) provided the local cop element to the team. In the 5th season Al Harrington joined the cast as Ben Kokua, in essence replacing Zulu’s character, who left after four seasons. This was in reality a straightforward typical cop drama. The Hawaiian locations and scenery added the unique style that kept the show fresh, even though they were recycling the same stories that other cop shows had already done. Perhaps it is the Morton Stevens theme that is most memorable from the show. The opening had that great cresting wave along with some drumbeats. Finally those familiar notes overtook the screen, and there was no mistaking what you were about to see. There was plenty of action, car chases, and even boat chases to keep the adrenalin pumping full time.
Have you ever walked down the street and heard a chorus of “Five Oh” making the rounds? In street lexicon, that means the police. It’s a warning to the drug dealers and any other illegal activities that the police are on the way. That’s just one of the ways that Hawaii Five-0 has invaded our pop culture. Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “Book him, Danno”? It’s no surprise, because until Law & Order, Hawaii Five-0 was the longest running crime drama on television. It started in 1968 and didn’t end until 1980 when the production staff and facilities were immediately retooled to produce Magnum P.I., which was an unofficial spin-off of Hawaii Five-0. While he never actually appeared on Magnum, Five-0’s McGarrett was often referred to by characters on the series. The series continued for a few years in syndication where the episodes were all mixed up. These DVD’s allow the first chance since their original broadcast for these episodes to air complete and in the correct order. While continuity wasn’t huge, as there were few actual story arcs beyond the episodes, there were minor changes that made the show look strange in syndication. The final season was aired under the title “McGarrett”.
Dexter Morgan (Hall) is a forensic lab rat for the Miami-Dade Police. He really knows blood splatter. He should, because he moonlights as a killer. It seems that poor old Dex just can’t help himself. His parents were criminals, and he witnessed his mother’s brutal slashing by a chainsaw gang when he was just a young boy. He was adopted by Harry Morgan (Remar), a police officer. Harry saw the killer instinct in Dexter and taught him how to channel the urges for the sake of good. Dexter adopted Harry’s Code, which means he only kills others that he’s able to prove were killers themselves. Working for the police with his officer sister, Debra (Carpenter), Dexter is constantly just on the verge of getting caught. He has to adapt and evolve to avoid capture. Dexter’s also trying to have a relationship, mostly because he knows it helps him blend in. Buffy and Angel’s Darla, Julie Benz, plays Rita. Dexter doesn’t really feel anything, but he’s trying to act the way he sees others act in the same environment.
The first thing that makes Dexter work is its star Michael C. Hall. You might remember Hall from his days on Six Feet Under, where he played the conflicted and very gay funeral director. His deadpan style and somewhat offbeat timing make him a perfect for these rather quirky characters. If you thought he was good as David Fisher, you’re simply going to love him as Dexter. It amazes me how different he looks and sounds. It was at first very difficult for me to actually identify him, he gets so completely immersed in character. You’ll find yourself rooting that Dexter doesn’t get caught, if for no other reason than you don’t want the show to end. The other actors and characters are also quite good. You’ll particularly like Erik King, who plays Doakes, the only detective in the squad who senses the evil in Dexter. He’s a great adversary for Dexter and helps to bring alive the second season story arc.
In the first season we’re just getting to know ol’ Dex. We learn about “the code” and we watch him deal out his own special brand of justice. He’s confident and sure of his mission. But as that season unfolded we saw Dexter become conflicted and even worried about getting caught. He discovers a brother who he must contend with; at the same time it brings out feelings for Harry that make him question “the code”. Of course, Dexter deals with the situation without getting caught so that we can have thes second season.
The show does share some of the qualities that have become traditional essentials for the CSI franchise. Each opens with a song from The Who. I was bummed to hear that the original selection for New York was Behind Blue Eyes, one of my favorite Townsend compositions. It would have been a far better selection. New York has the same narrative style, which usually allows for an “A” crime and a “B” crime. The mandatory lab montages are intact, as are the CGI recreations of some of the internal body demonstrations. The show, like the others, focuses on the CSI team. Beyond Mac Taylor the team includes Detective Stella Bonasara (Kanakaredes) who has a dynamic symbiotic relationship with Taylor. They are usually teamed together, and there is great chemistry there without it needing to involve romantic attraction. Detective Danny Messer (Giovinazzo) is all New York from the accent to his habits. He’s the kind of tough no nonsense New Yorker from an ethnic Italian hood who, you get a sense, could have just as easily gone the other way in the world of real-life cops and robbers. Dr. Hawkes (Harper) started the series as the medical examiner but now works as a CSI detective. Detective Monroe (Belknap), often called Montana, is a country girl adjusting to the big city. Messer often looks after her like a sister, and these two have developed another of the show’s good character chemistries together.
The cases are uniquely New York. The city’s plethora of eclectic cultures provides a wealth of material for the writers to mine. The characters are usually based on real people like the unlikely Suicide Girls found here in the third year. From grocery store cart races to the world of fine art, the city and its people play a huge part in each episode. There have been many shows based in New York over the years. NYPD Blue and the Law and Order franchise have been the most successful, but they never seem to make the city as much a part of the stories as CSI has done here. These elements taken together have allowed for a series that has the best of the CSI franchise, but enough independent identity to remain fresh. This is a solid show with a solid cast and crew.
The Streets Of San Francisco:
Detective “Iron” Mike Stone (Karl Malden) is a seasoned veteran of the San Francisco Police Department. He’s an old fashioned no nonsense detective whose life has taken some bitter turns of late. Much to his aggravation he gets partnered with Keller (Michael Douglas), a green detective who hasn’t lost his belief that he can make a difference. Together they just might be able to teach each other something. Before long the two develop a teacher/mentor relationship that works well enough to solve the cases and get the bad guys.
If you weren’t around in the 1970’s you might be surprised to find out that film superstar Michael Douglas was once in a television cop show. It was this influential crime drama that allowed Douglas to show off the acting chops that would earn him a spot in the Hollywood elite for decades to come. It didn’t hurt any that he was able to team up with Karl Malden, an undervalued talent in his own right. The two of them literally bring the show to life. The series was run by Quinn Martin, himself no stranger to groundbreaking television. Martin was the same talent who created the crime drama with The Untouchables. His uncanny ability to come up with a clever premise was responsible for such milestones in television history as The Invaders and The Fugitive. Later he would continue to shape the look of television with shows like Tales Of The Unexpected, The FBI, and Most Wanted. He was the Steven Bochco of his time. Long before NYPD Blue, Martin was able to make San Francisco, the city itself, an iatrical character for Malden and Douglas to interact with. The show had tremendous style, even if the cases were purely formula. Certainly you won’t find anything in these plots you haven’t seen a hundred times before. What you will find is a unique presentation that somehow makes even the most mundane story appear quite compelling. If you enjoy the Bochco and Wolf dramas or fall in with such classics as Starsky and Hutch or Miami Vice, you owe a tremendous debt to Martin for setting the table for all of those fantastic meals that would follow.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast 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 tracks do what they need to do, nothing less, nothing more. You get to hear the dialog and the famous themes 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.
Paramount has been doubling down on these pilot episode sets. They are relatively inexpensive, so that gives you a way to sample something you might not have otherwise given a second look to, or a first for that matter. As a way to own the shows, this is certainly not the way to go about it. All of these episodes are available in the first season sets of the series it was taken from. It’s also quite a bit eclectic in nature. These shows could not be any less alike. Yeah, they all deal with cops, but they are as diverse as shows in the same genre could be. I’m not even sure it’s fair to put them all in the same genre. It’s good enough as an appetizer, but what happens when you’re hungry for the full meal? It occurs to me that being a reviewer is a lot like being a cop. Like cops, “It’s our job to sift and isolate the garbage from the evidence”.