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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

'The Streets of San Francisco' S5 V1 and V2: A Quinn Martin Classic

People who know "The Streets of San Francisco" remember it as a good example of the testosterone-driven '70s cop show in which gritty police detectives or private investigators chase either equally gritty malfeasors or evil rich guys who wore three-piece suits and drove Lincoln Continentals. 

People who are unfamiliar with that series or genre may relate to it as the inspiration for the tragically short-lived Zucker Brothers', best known for the classic film comedy "Airplane," hilarious series "Police Squad" and the subsequent "Naked Gun" films.

The recent release of the two-volume DVD set of "Streets'" fifth and final season provides a chance to complete your collection of this great Quinn Martin production. Virtually everyone who watched television in the '60s or '70s at least knew of "The F.B.I.," "Barnaby Jones," and the other hour-long dramas that Martin produced.

"Police Squad" did an excellent job parodying Martin's trademark lurid episode titles and technique of breaking episodes into four or five acts and an epilogue. Episode titles from "Street's" fifth season include "The Thrill Killers," "The Cannibals," and "Chill of Anger."

Before discussing "Streets" further, it is worth mentioning that the complete series set of the '60s Quinn Martin classic "The Fugitive" was also recently released.

"The Fugitive" was a quasi-anthology show that was a slight departure for Martin in that it had the titular fugitive Dr. Richard Kimball helping those in distress while traveling around the country evading arrest and seeking proof of his innocence of the charge that he killed his wife. The final episode of "The Fugitive" truly is one of the best shows ever.

My moderate personal affection for "The Fugitive" is such that I am going to wait until it is the bargain of the day to purchase it. However, the excellent things that I know about the series and  have heard about the set suggest that it is worth buying now either if you really really like the show or want to get a fan of good drama an extra special holiday gift. (Hint to those to whom I am significant. )

Returning to "Streets," the hook was that grizzled veteran homicide detective Lt. Mike Stone was partnered with younger and more polished and educated Inspector Steve Keller for four of the five seasons. Karl Malden, best known to Gen Xers from his American Express commercials, played Stone. Michael Douglas, who requires no introduction, played Keller.

Richard Hatch from the original and new "Battlestar Gallactica" replaced Douglas in the awesome first episode of the fifth season. Douglas received a nice sendoff in that one.

The two-part season premiere, which was the aforementioned "The Thrill Killers" was a great example of what made "Streets" memorable. The fact that it had several "Love Boat's" worth of '60s and '70s television stars as guests in dramatic roles started things on the right foot.

The Reader's Digest version of the plot is that a group of radicals, including "The Partridge Family's" Susan Dey and "The Patty Duke Show's" Patty Duke Astin, kidnap the jury for the murder trial of two of the radicals' comrades.

I confess to joking to a friend that "Duke's" Patty, rather than Cathy, Lane had become a radical to impress a boy that she liked and that she finally saw more sights than a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights.

Actors who portrayed the jurors included "Eight is Enough's" Dick Van Patten and "Three's Company" Norman Fell. I laughed out loud when I saw Marion Ross, Mrs. C. from "Happy Days," play the equally sweet mother of Dey's character.

On a more serious note, most of the action in the "Streets" season premiere and the other episodes was realistic and not melodramatic. Martin truly was a master at setting the proper tone.

I was also glad to see that a loving homosexual relationship between one of the radicals and a fallen comrade was not sensationalized or otherwise disrespected. The episode additionally touched on the issue of race in an equally sensitive nature.

The show overall continued strong throughout its final season and introduced other topics worthy of water cooler discussions.

One fifth season episode involved the detectives trying to find a murder suspect before citizens who were pursuing a $1M bounty by the victim's father captured the alleged criminal. "Barney Miller's" Max Gail played the suspect. Another episode had a twenty-something dirtbag show surprisingly strong intelligence and chutzpah.

It is genuinely sad that the final episode was not one of the season's stronger offerings. A plot involving pursuit of a dog collar that had stolen diamonds was entertaining and had interesting twists and suspense but was more "Hart to Hart" than "The F.B.I."

An episode in which a kidnapping of a young heir, played by "The Hardy Boys'" Parker Stevenson, was a cover for a more sinister plot was a better episode and had a personal element that would have made it a better series finale.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Streets" is encouraged to email me.