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Friday, February 8, 2013

'Quincy, M.E.:' Crusader Coroner



The six-disc 22-episode set of "Quincy, M.E.'s" 1979-1980 Season Five is the latest example of Shout Factory's great track record regarding adopting classic shows after another studio stopped releasing them. Although Shout is not releasing this set until March 19, 2013, it is well worth the wait.

This release comes a few months after star Jack Klugman's Christmas Eve 2012 death. The fact that "Quincy," rather than Klugman's arguably more popular show "The Odd Couple," is featured on Klugman's imdb.com page indicates a great deal about that exceptional series that was still going strong after five seasons.

The credit for the exceptional quality of "Quincy" extends beyond Klugman's contributions. Donald P. Bellisario, who is perhaps best known for creating the even more successful "Magnum, P.I.," and "The Hardy Boys" TV series creator Glen A. Larson also helped bring "Quincy" to life.

Although losing any prospect of hoisting a domestic beer at a bar and grill with Klugman is sad, I am fortunate to have a six degrees of separation style connection with this truly talented actor and mensch. 

A good friend's grandfather was Klugman's cousin. That grandfather was born with the name Klugman and changed it to King to further his own successful show business career.

A recent news story about Klugman provided insight regarding how he successfully portrayed the down-to-earth and intelligent characters Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple" and "Dr. Quincy," whose undisclosed first name garnered as much interest as that of Seinfeld's Kramer roughly 15 years later.

The story was that Klugman appeared for his "Odd Couple" audition wearing sloppy clothes. On being told that that was one reason that he was cast as the slovenly Madison, the already successful Klugman reportedly responded that he had worn his nicest clothes and thought that he looked his best.

"Quincy" was an early procedural that was Klugman's version of "Matlock" or "Murder, She Wrote" in that it was his semi-retirement mystery series. However, comparing Klugman's series to the other two is like comparing the military sitcoms "The Phil Silvers Show" and "M*A*S*H" to "Major Dad."

The titular character was a highly skilled coroner who was often called in on tough or VIP cases. Regardless of the catalyst, the autopsy results typically indicated some form of societal evil that Quincy was bulldog determined to rectify.

The season opener demonstrated the series' concept well. This plot about a plant growth stimulant that was turning marijuana lethal was essentially an "Afterschool Special," complete with Quincy addressing a high school assembly.

Despite the hookey elements, the story was good and had important messages that included the challenge of regulating advertisements of marijuana-related items. 

Another equally timely episode had Quincy battling a rich and powerful hospital owner who provided literally criminally negligent care and turned away even critical cases if the patient lacked medical insurance. 

A third episode about incest was less "After School Special" than the marijuana one. That one included both below-the-surface reasons for that icky practice and the message that father-daughter sex was not limited to lower income households.

It could be argued that an episode in which Quincy helped determine the identity of a D.B. Cooper style hijacker and the cause of that person's death simply by examining a skeleton that was found hanging in a tree by a parachute inspired the creators of the current procedural "Bones." An Anthrax outbreak was another current element of that episode.

No list of noteworthy episodes from the season would be complete without one that involved the death of a disgraced televangelist  from a fatal combination of alcohol and prescription drugs. Quincy's inability to determine whether the death was accidental or suicide prompted calling in consultants to perform a psychological autopsy to determine the televangelist's mental state at the time of his death.

Watching the consultants perform the psychological exam was fascinating, and the true circumstances regarding the cause of death included above-average twists.

The bottom line is that the series, including its fifth season, has enough appropriately toned drama, humor, and social commentary to make "Quincy" worth owning.

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