Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Scripted with a real zing by first time Mod Squad writer Jerome Ross and shot with finesse by “When Smitty Comes Marching Home” director George McCowan, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” is a splendid addition to Season One of 1968’s most progressive series.
Centering on a serial killer targeting young and blond actresses in Hollywood, Episode 11 of The Mod Squad premiered just a week before Christmas in 68 and it stands as one of the best episodes of the year for the young show. Co-starring future Knots Landing star Joan Van Ark, Richard Evans and character actor William Smithers, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” is an inventive ride that stands as probably one of the first hour long dramas focusing on a clear ritualistic serial killer in television history, a fact that alone makes it one of the most important hours in The Mod Squad’s history.
Watching “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” today makes one wish that McCowan would have helmed even more episodes of the series, as his direction has a very cinematic quality about it and is more than a step above the average work other television directors were doing at the time. With a terrific sense of pacing and a real flair for intense action sequences, McCowan would continue to prove a real force throughout the seventies on such iconic shows as Starsky and Hutch and Charlie’s Angels. His best television work remains arguably on The Mod Squad though and his power behind the camera is well on display in “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet”.
One of the most refreshing things about the episode is its willingness to poke fun at actors, the movie and the television business in general. From a sleazy talk show host to pretentious actors in class, Ross’ script has a real knowing and sharp satirical quality about it. Far from being just an hour about a crazed murderer on the loose, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” focuses on both the ridiculous and sublime forces that go into making a television program in 1968 and its still as refreshing as ever.
Van Ark is fine as the young protégé with the delightful name April Showers (a tag that I’m surprised some enterprising adult star hasn’t snagged) as is the always-reliable Smithers. Keep an eye out for prolific veteran actress Virgina Gregg as well as a few other familiar faces along the way.
The hour belongs though to Peggy Lipton, who she really shines in the episode and gives one of her best performances of Season One. Projecting a simultaneous toughness with a sharp and rather heartbreaking vulnerable streak, Lipton is simply superb in the episode and it is surprising it took the Emmys until Season Two to grant her fine work as Julie a nomination.
“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” almost has a Giallo quality about it with the fetishistic type murders, groovy fashions and red herrings. It’s a tight, nicely played out mystery that’s a real treat for fans of The Mod Squad as well as fans of sixties television in general.
More info, as well as some audio clips from the particularly groovy score, can be found here.