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Police Story: Season One


The arresting ’70s crime classic was worth the wait.

Rod Lott September 28th, 2011

Far too young to catch it when it debuted in 1973, I’ve literally waited decades to set my eyes on “Police Story,” the NBC anthology series that broke the mold for cops on the tube by adding realism. Reading creator Joseph Wambaugh’s recent episodic novels about Hollywood cops only strengthened my thirst.

policestory

Shout! Factory has released the first season — all 22 episodes of it — on a six-disc set. It was worth the wait. Now I just pray the remainder will follow.

Police Story” makes for terse drama. As Wambaugh states on the bonus interview with him, the series is not about the cop on the job, but how the job affects the cop. “I don't care about chases and shoot-outs and squealing tires and sirens,” he says. “It's the psychology of the job.” To that end, it's not unusual to see Hungry-Man dinners, expressions of doubt and fear, and broken home lives. That’s not to say the show doesn’t contain action, but instances of such are realistic. In real life, gunfights are over in seconds, and so goes it here.

The show also stands out for telling a different tale with a different cast each week, with only a small handful of characters ever appearing once than once; you might see Kurt Russell one episode and “Dandy” Don Meredith the next. Ironically, the super-sized pilot, “Slow Boy,” is a fairly weak introduction for viewers, pitting cop Vic Morrow (the casualty of “Twilight Zone: The Movie”) against Mafia man Chuck Connors (TV’s “The Rifleman”). The second episode, “Dangerous Games,” is more alive, starring blaxploitation fave Fred Williamson (“Black Caesar”) as a pimp named Snake. This one tackles race relations with no sugar-coating ("I don't like spades," says one bigoted member of law enforcement), and the bad guys say "cop" with such dripping venom as the GOPers do "liberal."

Standout episodes include:
• “Collision Course,” which deals head-on with the issue of female cops. Their monthly menses and talk of puppies and purses does not sit well the largely sexist force.
• “The Ripper,” in which Darren McGavin (TV’s “Kolchak: The Night Stalker”) hunts the serial killer who exclusively murders homosexuals. His fellow detectives do their job to help, despite having no love for “fags.”
• “Wyatt Earp Syndrome,” which afflicts the officer (Cliff Gorman, “All That Jazz”) looking for a rapist, in that he can’t leave the day’s emotional baggage at his doorstep, thereby dropping a wedge between him and his wife (Kim Darby, TV’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”
• “The Gamble,” the season ender and quite possibly the series’ most famous hour, as it served as the launching pad for the show’s more successful spin-off, “Police Woman.” Here, a sexy-as-ever Angie Dickinson stars (although not playing Sgt. Pepper Anderson) as a new vice-squad cop having to pose as a prostitute. One funny moment occurs when her would-be john attempts to seduce her by singing "The Look of Love” (and bonus points to you if you know why that’s funny).

Others field taut stories of drugs, gambling rings, assassination attempts and many an Internal Affairs inquiry, and it’s all solid ’70s stuff. —Rod Lott



 
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