The Mod Squad - Season 1, Volume 2 Review

The decision of CBS/Paramount to separate many of their television shows into two different releases, or volumes, per season has made things more costly for consumers, who must purchase a pair of sets to get a full season. It's also presented a small annoyance for those trying to review a second part of what they've essentially already written about. Thus, I'll turn your attention to my write-up of The Mod Squad - Season 1, Volume 1 and largely skip the basics. Briefly, The Mod Squad debuted for the 1968-69 television season with an unlikely premise, that of three young adults on probation given the opportunity to work as cops, and a brilliant stroke of diverse casting with its one white, one black, one blonde tag line. These 13 episodes in Volume 2 mostly follow the previous baker's dozen found in Volume 1.

Indeed, it's more of the same in the continuing adventures of Pete (Michael Cole), Linc (Clarence Williams III), and Julie (Peggy Lipton). Episodes are self-contained and frequently feature a reference to the unlikelihood that these three cats would be the fuzz. There are no cliffhangers and little continuity. When Pete suffers a broken leg in one episode, there's no reference to it in the next. Consistency is the key throughout. Every entry sees the trio facing adversity before nailing the crooks and emerging safe and sound. A punch to the gut and a karate chop on the shoulder, but things always smooth themselves out with groovy efficiency. Capt. Greer (Tige Andrews) does his best to keep his young cops safe and they respect him in the process. It's a win-win situation as the Mod Squaders give the police a good name for rebellious youth and, at the same time, earn some leeway for hippie kids.

In this second half of season one, Julie is noticeably absent early on, even prompting a couple of instances where Capt. Greer asks Pete and Linc where she is. The focus shifts to Pete foremost and Linc in support, with Julie's participation lessened as she gets relegated to tasks less dangerous. Her mother shows up in the first episode of the set, entitled "Hello Mother, My Name is Julie," but Pete and Linc still dominate the plot. One of the more Julie-centric episodes can be found in "Child of Sorrow, Child of Light," where she goes undercover as an expectant mother intending to put her unborn child up for illegal adoption. Film legend and pioneering director Ida Lupino guest stars as the calculating matron behind the baby swaps. Lupino is such an iconic and underappreciated figure in film history that it's a treat to see her slumming it on episodic television. She's devilishly good in an irredeemable and cold-hearted role.

The very next episode, on the last disc, is "Keep the Faith, Baby," and it features not one, but two big-time guest star appearances. Sammy Davis, Jr. steps into the role of a controversial priest befriended by Linc and Robert Duvall plays a convict out on bail in preparation for a new trial. It's not a particularly great story, but the presence of such considerable talent provides an obvious appeal. Whether it serves more as a comment on the strength of The Mod Squad or the career standing of Sammy Davis, Jr., it's especially nice to see the singer/actor on his own and given an interesting character to play. Also, Duvall's small amount of time on the screen is probably the finest acting this entire half-season. Not surprisingly, the episode turns the spotlight on Linc and it's a welcome shift, both as a chance for Williams and because the character is more interesting than the affluent rebel Pete. That a high-profile television show, regardless of how safe or insubstantial it might have been, took the time to acknowledge the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X deserves a good amount of praise, as well.

Two other stand-out episodes, both found on the second disc, provide fascinating and unconventional story lines. "The Uptight Town" gives the Mod Squad a chance to rescue Capt. Greer after he goes missing in a very small town while on a fishing trip. Louis Gossett, Jr. returns in a different role (he had previously appeared in an episode found in Volume 1) as the lone black resident of the mysterious town. Linc gets a particularly humourous line when Pete asks "When did you become John Wayne?" and he responds "Oh no baby - Jim Brown." Linc's retort and a good portion of the episode, along with several other instances throughout this volume, indicate the racial awareness the writers had in dealing with an African-American character leading the way on a network series.

An especially moving opportunity to let Clarence Williams III shine came in the "A Hint of Darkness, A Hint of Light" episode. The late Gloria Foster, who was married to Williams, portrays a blind girl sheltered by her guardian after the death of both parents several years earlier. She's treated as a social outcast and likened more to someone who's mentally retarded than a person merely suffering from blindness. After she's attacked on a beach, our heroes provide around the clock protection, but it's Linc who takes a special interest. Foster's character warms to him and the two develop a deep bond that's unfortunately forgotten in subsequent episodes, though she will later reappear in the second season. It may be the best, most interesting episode in this set, and you can really see the potential the show had in turning seemingly pedestrian plots into something more.

Unfortunately, many episodes settle for predictable plot developments and descend into cheesy examples of typical late 1960s television. There's nevertheless something comforting about shows like The Mod Squad, where we're treated to an hour's worth of conflict and the good guys arise victoriously. The time when the show aired was a particularly turbulent one in American history and several topics of controversy are met head-on. Aside from the racial turmoil, resistance to the Vietnam War also rears its head as the focus of an episode. The line being walked each week was surely a tight one. In order to maintain a youthful audience, the show had to adhere to a certain political point of view, but not such an extreme one as to alienate the more conservative television viewer. I'd say The Mod Squad does well not to offend anyone while still providing a stronger than average alternative to mainstream programming. As I said previously, the show is never less than safe in terms of its core message, but the flicker of counterculture is presented (exploited?) tastefully enough to open up those minds who remain strictly on the other side.

The Discs

Volume 2 of The Mod Squad's first season arrives in R1 DVD on a quartet of dual-layered discs. Video is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and, like Volume 1, looks mostly outstanding. The big nags are inconsistency in the prints and that the transfers are interlaced, resulting in possible combing on some displays. The majority of every episode has a particularly excellent level of sharpness and detail, but, at times, scenes become grainier and noticeably worse. Generally, the transfers are very clean with light grain and minimal dirt. Skin tones are maybe a little too red on occasion, though this varies as well. I noticed particularly garish skin colours in the "Peace Now - Arly Blau!" episode. Colours otherwise look very bright and strong. Overall, the episodes here may be slightly less consistent in quality than in Volume 1, but close-ups, in particular, can look exceptional. Aside from the interlacing, there's little reason for complaint.

Audio is given an English Dolby Digital two-channel mono track that's of acceptable quality. The energetic theme song and score sound nice and clear, with no noticeable problems. Dialogue is similarly fine, though occasional overdubs can be easily detected. Disappointingly, there are no subtitles at all, as was the case with Volume 1.

In contrast to the 40+ minutes of supplemental material in the earlier release, here we only have a single extra. "Hello, My Name is Julie: The Mod Look" (10:14) is a very flimsy look at the clothes and fashion of Peggy Lipton's character. A recently filmed interview with Lipton has her discussing hats and shirts and hair bands and the sort. It's always nice to see some effort put into bonus features on classic television releases, but this is still pretty thin. Episode titles, descriptions and original air dates can be found on the inside of the DVD cover, and the set is housed in a regular size, transparent keep case.

On the back of the case is the common disclaimer of "some episodes may be edited from their original network version." It seems doubtful that much would be missing here because the runtimes are fairly consistent. Only "The Uptight Town," which runs about 35 seconds shorter than the regular length, and "Captain Greer, Call Surgery," which is a full minute shorter than most episodes, seem out of the ordinary. In general, most of these shows run just under 52 minutes long. As I've mentioned before, specific details on the edits should and could be included somewhere on the packaging, but it's most likely not in the studio's perceived best interest to do so.

7 out of 10
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