The Mod Squad: Season 1 Volume 1
For those of us who were teenagers back in 1968 we literally watched the world change. This was a pivotal year not only for the United States but for the world. We witnessed the assassination of two men who spoke out for peace. Racially motivated riots broke out in American cities. The war in Viet Nam was raging on before us on the evening news. Protest over the war split the country into hawks versus doves and the old against the young. It was also the year that President Johnson signed the Civil Rights act. Music had changed once again with the influences of drugs and sexual freedom. While it may seem insignificant in the light of all these events something also changed for American television. A series was introduced on ABC that both young and old would watch, ‘The Mod Squad’. The premise was simple but it was a crime show with a twist. The detectives were three young people recruited by the Los Angels police to work undercover. The older folk like the crime drama but the real target audience here was the emerging youth market. Since I was part of that demographic back then it was naturally one of my favorite series.
I have to admit I was thrilled when I found out I would have a chance to preview the DVD release of this series. Paramount has split the first season in two so this set contains the first 13 episodes of the season. It was this year that many networks tried to reach out to the teenage audience. Most of the previous attempts at teen programming were going off the air. Star Trek had started its third and final season. The Monkees had gone off the air and the satirical ‘Smothers Brothers’ also was about to be cancelled. We were left with asinine game shows like ‘The Newlywed Game and ‘The Dating Game’ and westerns like ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘Big Valley’ and ‘The Guns of Will Sonnett’. When ‘The Mod Squad’ premiered in September of 1968 we finally had a series that spoke to us, the teens of America. There were characters that were intended to look and sound like us. Okay, it was actually what adult television writers thought we looked and sounded like but it was a lot closer to us than anything else on the air.
From the first episode ‘The Teeth of the Barracuda’ you can tell they were trying to appeal to the teenagers. The opening shot is a beautiful female leg wearing over the knee black vinyl boots kick starting a motorcycle. The blonde in her mini skirt is joined by two guys who proceed to terrorize the people around them. The police are called in to stop them. It turns out the trio consist of Pete Cochran (Michael Cole), Linc Hayes (Clarence Williams III) and Julie Barnes (Peggy Lipton). The three talk back to the officers show no respect for their authority; can you dig it man. Linc tells them he doesn’t feel like picking their cotton or turning in his bike. Pete chimes in telling the police that they pay the taxes that bake their bread. As the police place them in the squad car Pete shouts out ‘they are really up tight people, it’s a bum trip people.’ Off to the side watching is Captain Adam Greer (Tige Andrews). Back at the station house he questions each one of them. Linc lives in Watts, the site of riots in 1965. He is openly defiant of the Captain and tells him he wants to burn baby burn. Julie has no address; she wants to go where it is happening. Her mother is a prostitute working the streets of San Francisco. Pete is from a rich family living in the luxurious Beverly Hills. When the uniformed offices leave the room Greer chastises the three for blowing it; they went too far over the top with their covers. They had previously made a deal with Greer to work undercover for him to get their own records expunged. They then show the special training the trio receives. It covers everything from martial arts, suspect identification to picking locks. Greer had an idea to take some lonely, angry kids and instead of letting get in more trouble use their street smarts to help the law. There are usually scenes of kids at a club playing rock music and wearing ‘mod’ clothes, places a regular undercover officer would stand out. Greer needs the Squad to infiltrate their own for the good of society. I almost forgot about all the fringes and paisley we wore back then. Maybe I just wanted to forget. Of course Greer has a difficult time selling his squad to Chief Metcalf (Simon Scott) who thinks the idea is crazy. Greer tells the chief that he may have pushed them into this but they are the best for the job. They have to prove themselves with a difficult case, the murder of a police office with a zip gun.
Watching this again after all these years was like taking a time machine back to 1968. I almost felt like putting on a pair of bell bottom jeans and listening to a Grateful Dead album. Even though the premise was a gimmick it worked. The stories were better than average for the time albeit always with some twist that required the Squad’s unique perspective. The series was fast paced but allowed ample time to develop more of a story than most crime dramas of the day. Usually there were just a lot of chase scenes and a few gun fights but here there was dialogue mixed in with the action. Sure it was pseudo youth-speak but it was the closest we got to someone trying to reach our generation.
Like most other teenaged boys of the time we really didn’t care about the stories as much as checking out Peggy Lipton. With her waste length blonde hair and slim form we all had major crushes on her. In fairness I did admit this to my wife before I started reviewing this set. Lipton was the deepest, most empathic of the bunch. She always seemed troubled and vulnerable and occasionally needed a rescue by the boys. There are also times were she showed that she could handle herself and that was a plus for the teenaged girls watching. Michael Cole played the bad little rich kid to the hilt. His character was from the privilege class but he preferred to keep it real. This was the series that introduced most of us to Clarence Williams III. He remained a powerful actor right up to today. He may portray the angry black man but his character was far from being a stereotype. He was willing to work within the system to effect necessary changes.
Paramount has done a great job bringing this first part of season one to DVD. I was truly impressed with the full screen video. It was exceptional bright and colorful especially considering the decades that have past. The mono audio is clear but unremarkable. There are also a few very well done extras in the set. The first, ‘Forming the Squad’ is a look by the cast and crew at the creator of the series, Buddy Ruskin. Ruskin was a Los Angles detective who had a similar squad in real life back in the fifties. It took years for a network to give his idea the green light. The next featurette is a behind the scenes look at the first episode and what it took to get it on the air. Last there is ‘the Friends of the Mod Squad’. This looks at some of the guest stars that appear on the show. Many would go on to very successful careers. If you were born in the early fifties this is an absolute must have; it is a piece of our history. Even if you were born a bit later it is still great television so sit back and enjoy.