Funky Squad Review
“In an attempt to crack down on crime, the police department has created an elite new team, a team that speaks the language of the streets. Young, hip, in touch with the now generation - Funky Squad.”
Cue fantastically funky theme tune.
Funky Squad was the brainchild of Australian based company Working Dog Productions. Its principal team of Santo Cilauro, Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner, Rob Sitch and Michael Hirsh are responsible for having created some of Australia’s best loved satire shows of the past twenty years, from their time spent as part of the D-Generation during the eighties to their successful nineties efforts which included Frontline and The Panel and more recently All Aussie Adventures and Thank God You‘re Here. Branching into theatrical features they’re also noted for such hits as 1997’s The Castle and 2000‘s The Dish, both of which were the highest grossing Australian films of their year.
The short-lived series appeared on television in 1995 after having enjoyed a radio stint on station Triple M. The televised concept was ripe for the picking and indeed the creative decision in making the show appear as authentic as possible was one of certain ingenuity. It billed itself as being an actual product of the seventies, and in fact ABC even went so far as to specially insert real Australian commercials from that particular period in maintaining the ruse - an act which only stirred controversy amongst single-minded individuals due to the network’s clause of never playing TV commercials. But it was a clever twist which aided the rather fun opening sequence that includes fake cast members Blair Steele as Grant (Tim Ferguson), Verity Svensön-Hart as Cassie (Jane Kennedy), Joey Alvarez as Stix (Santo Cilauro), Harvey Zdalka Jr. as Poncho (Tom Gleisner) and Baldwin Scott as the chief (Barry Friedlander); most of the members of course being Working Dog alumni, with the exception of Friedlander and Ferguson, the latter of whom was drafted in to replace Rob Sitch due to prior commitments.
Like most of Working Dog’s shows Funky Squad contains a satirical slant, although it’s slight, proving itself as being an equally affectionate pastiche of seventies cop shows and commercialism in general. Played semi-straight - you can’t help but notice a keen glint in every eye, with most of the acting deliberately obtuse - it knowingly embraces every cliché in the book, which in itself makes it a wonderful study on how formulaic television had already become. And yet it works so well that you’d be hard pressed to actually distinguish it from any number of shows from the era it lovingly depicts. Funky Squad revels in the well placed cliché, whether it be chase sequences and shoot-outs involving plenty of conveniently placed cardboard boxes and dustbins, or the totally left field bouts of indirect and cheesy character development, to the silly ‘who dunnit’ no guess work required investigative angle and obligatory epilogue in which everybody laughs at the end; all of this coupled with abrupt editing styles. The point though is that we’re able to laugh at all of these ridiculous moments and not take an ounce of it seriously; even when it involves sub-plots surrounding oppressed youth and modernism it‘s all harking back to the signs of the times. It is simply pure undemanding fun, emphasised by ridiculous wigs and a character who can’t talk because he took a bullet in the tongue. Furthermore its production values are very impressive. Considering that its budget was just a meagre one thousand Australian dollars per episode, the creators managed to nail its seventies iconography to a tee, which more than sells its retro appeal, along with a heavy assortment of funky threads that our heroes seem to change in and out of every five minutes.
And like any child of the seventies it needs that hip edge. It’s the quick-fire jive talk filled with groovy quips which keeps the show on its toes, magnificently delivered by a memorable cast playing the too cool for paperwork officers of the law, whose unconventional methods of investigation sees them permanently at odds with their fellow colleagues. Jane Kennedy under layers of eye-liner provides the eye-candy, along with an intellectual vibe, while we get ladies’ man Santo Cilauro sporting a hair-do that would make the Globetrotters proud; Tim Ferguson rips it up as the hip leader of sorts, while Tom Gleisner nods a lot because he has no dialogue and Barry Friedlander talks tough but plays sympathetically toward his underlings, thus bridging the oft mentioned generation gap. Ultimately it’s this comradery that sees Funky Squad shine brightly, even if it was only for such a short time.
1. A Degree in Death -
Funky Squad is called in to investigate the mysterious death of the Dean of Central University. The police chief immediately places blame on the campus kids, but Funky Squad believes otherwise. As protectors of the young generation they set out to prove that the kids aren’t behind the crime, but possibly a force higher up in the ranks.
2. The Art of Murder -
When a young artist is murdered by the owner of an art museum Funky Squad arrives on the case. But their investigation soon turns sour when evidence slips under their noses. Can they piece together enough to see justice served in time?
3. A Shot in the Dark -
Funky Squad investigates the death of a man who was killed for not paying a debt. Their search leads them to Viktor Ramirez - a wealthy businessman and drug dealer. Without proof of his involvement the team only have the kids on the street to help them.
4. Little Girl Lost -
When the daughter of a senator is kidnapped the chief hands the case to Funky Squad. A series of letters is being sent to the senator’s home demanding no cops and a heavy ransom. Funky Squad need to act fast if they’re to see the girl alive again.
5. The Wrong Side of the Tracks -
When the leader of a gang known as The Bandits is brutally attacked, his friends declare war on their rivals - The Skulls. Enter Funky Squad, who suspect that there is a set-up in the midst pertaining to a businessman in desire of local property.
6. Diamonds Are A Cat’s Best Friend -
A series of jewel thefts prompts Funky Squad to stake out local exhibitions in an attempt to discover who the mysterious cat burglar is. The thief only leaves a calling card, but when Cassie notices specific glove markings on the window of one of his hits they decide to call in at a local fencing school.
7. The Carnival is Over -
Funky Squad begin to received death threats shortly after the release of a criminal they put away three years ago. Drudging up old case files they’re forced to relive a past event, which will soon bring them back to present for a final showdown at an abandoned fun fair.
Note: From what I can tell the disc is region free, seemingly confirmed in DVD Decrytper, though it is marked as a region 4 title.
Funky Squad has been given a DVD release through ABC/Roadshow. The episodes presented here are fully intact, as originally aired in Australia. This means they come complete with the authentic TV adverts that we didn‘t get to see in the UK, most of which are truly awful including Uncle Sam’s antiperspirant, Swedish pop stars ABBA singing for National, Sammy Davis, Jr promoting electric pianos and a few for export cola. The real highlights, however, are the mock advertisements that see Blair Steele advocating hair spray, Joey Alvarez hilariously reading badly from a cue card in warning against drink driving (perhaps the show at its most satirical and no doubt controversial) and Verity Svensön-Hart getting wild about tanning lotion. Those curious can easily find them on Youtube.
All seven episodes are presented in their broadcast 1.33:1 aspect ratios. The show was designed from the outset to feel retro. As such the original recordings were deliberately degraded; the image is grainy overall and there are plenty of specks here and there. It works really well and comes across fine on DVD, which replicates the televised run perfectly. Additionally colours are bright and cheerful. The only negatives going against the transfer is minor aliasing and very slight compression artefacts, neither which prove to be too much of a deterrent.
Sound consists purely of a Stereo track, no surprises there. It’s entirely pleasant to listen to; the music is incredibly funky and atmospheric, while dialogue presents no major issues. A slight niggle is a 1 second distortion on episode six, which isn’t a natural part of the sound mix.
Optional English subtitles are included, which is a very nice addition to the set.
There are no extras from the main menus, though the packaging comes with a banner that says it includes a bonus comic strip. Finally, thanks to one of our readers, I can tell you that it can be found on disc as a PDF file.
As much of an exercise as it appears to be, Funky Squad is a well observed series which pokes fun at, but also embraces the television of old; a kitsch and colourful show, spurred on by terrific performances (depending on your viewpoint) and a keen sense of authenticity. It didn’t last very long, being something of a summer break from what Working Dog were already doing at the time, but what’s here is a fun collection of episodes that are always worth revisiting.
As a fan of this fairly obscure and bonafide cult gem it’s great to finally see it on DVD as I’ve harped on about it a bit too much in the past, and finally the worn VHS tape can be chucked away. It would have been fantastic to have been offered bonus material though, the lack of which makes this the only weak point of the disc.
Funky Squad can be purchased from all good Australian retailers including ABC & ezy DVD