Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Mod Squad Episode #11 (“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet”)

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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More info, as well as some audio clips from the particularly groovy score, can be found here.


Joel Bocko said...

That Mod girl's pretty cute. Why does she look so familiar? And why do I have a sudden craving for cherry pie?

Steve Langton said...

I haven't seen a single episode of The Mod Squad, but this sounds right up my street. I'm unsure as to whether it's even available on DVD format over here, and will check this out. Your passion for the show tells me it's undoubtedly worthy viewing.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Yea, she's something isn't she. Funny, I have been rewatching TWIN PEAKS lately and have been struck by how little Peggy aged in between the two shows.

Thanks Steve,
It's a cool show...I hope the DVDs hit Britain eventually.

Tim Lucas said...

That fellow in the center of the fourth screen grab is one of my favorites, Norman "Woo Woo" Grabowski. A college football star, he somehow vaulted into the Disney universe in THE MISADVENTURES OF MERLIN JONES and THE MONKEY'S UNCLE, in which we wore his trademark buzz-cut. This pictures shows his hair longer than I ever remember clearly seeing it. He later was featured as "Huh" in the delightfully ditzy spy/beach party spoof OUT OF SIGHT, and the last time I saw him was in a brief unbilled appearance in, of all things, Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT. Quite a career, and I understand he's since passed away, but I always found him very likeable onscreen. Never knew about this MOD SQUAD appearance.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Very cool Tim. I rushed this one and didn't give myself time to research the guest stars. I knew he looked familiar and now I know why!
He's in a few scenes and is actually quite memorable. Thanks for the info...muh appreciated.

Keith said...

It's been so many years since I've seen this series. I remember loving it though. Great shots though. Peggy is beautiful. Always had a big thing for her. She's one of the reasons I loved Twin Peaks.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks Keith...give the new DVDS a look. They are incredible looking.

Marty McKee said...

George McCowan later cast Joan Van Ark in FROGS.