To celebrate the release of one of my favorite television shows on DVD, I will be offering reviews of each episode of THE MOD SQUAD as I watch them. Season One Volume One has just come out and the second volume is due in March.
EPISODE #1: THE TEETH OF THE BARRACUDA
The pilot episode of THE MOD SQUAD premiered on September 24th, 1968 to much acclaim and high ratings. The episode, entitled TEETH OF THE BARRACUDA, was original featured in a ninety minute time slot and was subsequently edited down to a regular sixty minute episode for syndication. The new DVD box set of the series offers the first chance to see the unedited pilot for the first time in nearly forty years.
Directed with flair by top TV director (and future LE MANS feature filmmaker) Lee Katzin, THE TEETH OF THE BARRACUDA is a splendid introduction to one of the most inventive and influential shows of the sixties. Working from a script by Tony Barrett, a prolific television writer who had just scripted the William Friedkin Sonny and Cher vehicle GOOD TIMES (1967), the pilot of THE MOD SQUAD is notable in just how locked down the series already seems.
The premise of the show is simple. A frustrated California Police Captain by the name of Adam Greer enlists the help of three young former convicts to help him deal with criminal activity in the blooming hippie youth culture. The trio is known as 'The Mod Squad' and they consist of a white rich outcast Pete Cochran, a black small time hood Linc Hayes, and a beautiful lonely young woman named Julie Barnes.
THE TEETH OF THE BARRACUDA begins with the three of them accidentally getting busted after making themselves too noticed at a party they were undercover at. Early scenes in the episode that were cut for syndication include several where we see Gree training his young crew. Also cut is an important scene where we watch as Greer attempts to talk his chief into allowing his Squad their first major assignment. These cut scenes are of massive importance to the series as they show early on Greer's unwavering dedication and loyalty to his squad. It is this loyalty and their friendship together that quickly became one of the major hallmarks of the series.
The pilot, featuring television staple Brooke Bundy as Tina and a cameo by a young Harrison Ford, has a a slightly contrived plot concerning the death of a cop, political blackmail and drug addiction. The main selling point to this first episode isn't the storyline though, but the iconic starring cast who seem to immediately fall into their characters as if they were born to play them.
Michael Cole is the perfect Pete Cochran. He exudes a rich boy confidence but has a tender heart, and Cole plays him expertly from the get go. Clarence Williams 111 has never gotten enough credit for his portrayal of Linc Hayes, one of the first truly positive and non-stereotypical African Americans characters in television history. There is nothing apologetic or compromising in Williams' exciting characterization of the young and damaged Linc and, like Cole, Williams seems to have an immediate complete connection to the role. As Julie Barnes, young Peggy Lipton might be the prettiest actress in sixties television. She is also startling good as the vulnerable child of a prostitute who embraces the Squad as the family she has obviously always hoped for. The much missed Tige Andrews, who passed away early this year, is the show's anchor and he manages to bring just the right amount of heart and fire to his Captain Greer.
The direction in this first episode by Katzin is solid for the most part. He has an interesting shooting style, and the many low angle shots give it a much more cinematic feel than most television productions of the time. The episode falters during the fight sequences due to some poorly chosen angles and obvious stunt doubles, but this is still on of the strongest television debuts of the decade.
While it is easy at this point to call aspects of THE MOD SQUAD dated, the Aaron Spelling produced show was unlike anything television had ever seen in 1968. It is indeed a commercial Hollywood view of the youth culture of the time, but it is also a caring and at times insightful one. I can imagine the impact this show would have had a teenager seeing this show for the first time with its Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead posters proudly in full view...not to mention the overwhelmingly important image of three friends loving each other despite class, race, and sex. Dated or not, THE MOD SQUAD is an incredibly important television show and its reappearance is a welcome one.
The picture quality on the new DVD edition will be mind blowing for people, like myself, who have only known this show through syndicated and bootlegged prints. The colors are vibrant and stable with only a hint of grain offering a clue that this was filmed almost forty years ago. The original mono soundtrack is also rendered nicely on the disc.
For more on this particular episode please visit this link from the best MOD SQUAD site online.
My look at the second episode will appear soon, and I hope readers will enjoy my future posts on the show.