Season One, Volume One
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
You know the infamous “Dragnet” episode entitled “The LSD Story”? There are episodes of “The Mod Squad” that are alarmingly similar to it, only instead of two stodgy cops, there are three hip young kids on the case. “The Mod Squad” first hit TV screens in 1968, and it was an attempt to grab the youth audience while addressing issues that the youth culture was being exposed to, like recreational drug use, the peace and love hippie movement, and racial unrest. Indeed, as it appeared a year after “The LSD Story,” one wonders if it was something of an answer to Jack Webb’s square brand of policing.
Going into the series I was expecting something along the lines of a ‘60s-era “La Femme Nikita,” in which three ne’er do wells are forced to aid the cops or go to jail. The opening sequence of the first episode, “The Teeth of the Barracuda,” also suggests as much. The cops raid a massive gathering of rowdy kids in a public parking lot. One of the kids starts to give quite a bit of guff, and before long, our three central characters are being hauled away to jail. But then the action spins, and we discover that Pete (Michael Cochran), Linc (Clarence Williams III) and Julie (Peggy Lipton) were actually undercover operatives, and the entire display was a theatrical sham. So the audience is thrust into the premise immediately, and the backstory of why the trio is working for Capt. Greer (Tighe Andrews) is somewhat glossed over. All we really find out is that Pete was a troubled rich boy, Linc from the wrong side of the tracks and Julie a flower child. The crimes they may have committed to end up with these jobs go unexplained.
“The Mod Squad” is a time capsule in the truest sense of the phrase. It’s late ‘60s prime time TV fare dealing with issues that often feel clunky by today’s standards. The performances from the four principals, who form something of a dysfunctional family, keep the show afloat. There’s actually a fair amount of emotion on display, and some of the show’s best moments come from the character realization rather than the plots. Cochran and Williams in particular are very good, but for a show that wants to break down social barriers, the handling of Lipton’s Julie is frequently questionable. Being quite the looker, she’s more often than not used as bait, and does very little real police work compared to the guys. She needs to be saved and rescued by Pete and Linc all too often. (Even the opening credits sequence shows Julie as a weak girl in peril.) Being a “Twin Peaks” freak, one of the big reasons I wanted to look at this set was for Lipton’s work, and it was a big disappointment on that level.
If the show were made today, there would be a more realistic blurring of lines, and the Squad members would find themselves from time to time falling back into their old habits. Here they’re presented as borderline squeaky clean, with only the occasional hint of having battled a personal demon or two. But this is also only the first half of the first season of a series that ran for five seasons, so it’s entirely possible that the show strengthens as it moves along. This is a very tough set to recommend to anyone unfamiliar with the material, as it’s doubtful to make any converts out of the uninitiated. On the other hand, if you’re old enough to have watched “The Mod Squad” on first run back in the day, then it’s likely to be quite a blast from your past. The episodes themselves all look gorgeous, and some of the show’s other strengths include a frequent inventive use of color, as well as some pretty innovative camera work. Well, by TV standards, anyway.
Special Features: Only three featurettes are found here. “Forming the Squad” and “Inside ‘The Teeth of the Barracuda’” (oddly misnamed as it has little to do with the pilot) are both reminiscence pieces including Lipton (who still looks fantastic), Cochran and others; Williams is unfortunately absent. “Friends of The Mod Squad” is a look back at some of the guest appearances on the show and includes interviews with Louis Gossett Jr., Lesley Ann Warren, Ed Asner and Tyne Daly. All three pieces are well produced and manage to offer up a fair amount of insight as to what the show was about and its place in TV history.