From September 24, 1968to August 23, 1973, Aaron Spelling and Danny Thomas produced The Mod Squad, an early attempt to capitalize on the counter-culture of the late ’60s in a weekly television series. For 123 episodes, the formula of “One White, One Black, One Blonde” ensemble of youthful undercover cops not only maintained credible ratings, but also earned six Emmy nominations, four Golden Globe nominations (with one win for Peggy Lipton), and one Directors Guild of America award.
The show centered on Captain Adam Greer (Tige Andrews), who took a fatherly interest in three young offenders he thought could go places regular officers could not go. So he offered the trio the choice of becoming undercover officers in lieu of going to jail. The white guy was the often vulnerable and emotional Pete Cochren (Michael Cole), the seriously hip black dude was Link Hayes (Clarence Williams III), and the blonde was hippy girl Julie Barnes (Peggy Lipton), who never developed a romance with either of her partners. Hmm, those were innocent times.
Historically, the program was significant as it joined the few other series of the era that featured such characters as equals. The other trend-setters were I Spy, Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible which all broke race and gender boundaries on network TV. Dramatically, the show spotlighted human relationships over action or police procedurals. Often the squad intervened in situations where arrests wouldn’t lead to justice but instead the squad resolved ruptured families or repaired the same sorts of mistakes they themselves had made. Stories dealt with issues of the times including the anti-war movement, the plight of returning vets, abortion, and, of course, drug abuse.
Now, while the first seasons have been available on DVD for some time with the latter years only being released in 2013 by Visual Entertainment, for the first time the complete series is now available as a collector’s set. Presented in full screen with an aspect ratio of 4.3 and digital sound, the set includes the Special features “Forming the Squad,” “Inside the Teeth of the Barracuda: 1968,” “Friends of The Mod Squad” and “Hello, My Name is Julie: The Mod Look.”
As the screenner provided to this reviewer only included three episodes and none of the extras, I can’t attest to how interesting or insightful the bonuses might be. I’m not sure the three dramas on the disc provided me were really representative. You’d think one would showcase Pete, one Link, and one Julie. However, the choices seemed to signal the series was a Pete and Link show with a pretty bit of window-dressing on the side. That’s not the series I remember.
By today’s standards, The Mod Squad works at a slow, deliberative pace. But that’s true of every other hour-drama of the time. As a result, along with vivid insights into Pete, Julie, and Link, we get deeper inside the guest characters, whether good, bad, or down the middle, played by the likes of Vincent Price, Ed Asner, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Griffith, Richard Pryor, Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Bosley, and Martin Sheen.
The new collection will likely please those who remember The Mod Squad from its original broadcasts, but younger generations might find it slow going. While press materials tout The Mod Squad as using a rock ‘n roll soundtrack, that’s not evident on the screener I saw. Instead, the main connection between the “narcs” of the squad and the counter-culture generation is the slang they toss out—”Solid, man!” Well, the show was pretty solid and well worth being resurrected in its entirety. Still, it might be worthwhile to check out one season of The Mod Squad before making the commitment to 123 hours. That’s one long flashback.