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Friday, November 8, 2013

'The FBI" S6 DVD: Book Em Efrem

The FBI: The Complete Sixth Season
Thinking about which episodes from the 1970-1971 sixth season of the crime drama "The F.B.I." to feature in this review of the recent Warner Archive DVD release of this season led to a great (but woefully belated) realization.

The fact that virtually most episodes of every classic show from the '50s through the '70s are so good means that those series do not need to rely on "very special episodes." It is difficult to imagine anyone tuning into any episode of "I Love Lucy" and saying "oh, I hate that one."

The highly successful premise for this nine-season classic has F.B.I. inspector Lewis Erskine, played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., traveling around the country pursuing perpatrators of offenses that short pre-opening credit segments depict. All 241 episodes in the series are based on actual F.B.I. cases.


The narrator announces right after those credits the factor, which usually involves said malfeasors crossing state lines, that prompts local enforcement calling in the F.B.I. Marathon viewings of these episodes prompt thoughts that the narrator should more honestly announce that local law officials use that justification to pass the buck.

As an aside, Unreal TV's review of the DVD release of the fifth season of "The F.B.I." discusses how the comic genius Zucker brothers hilariously parody that show and other Quinn Martin productions from that era.

The sixth season starts with a great "Grapes of Wrath" style episode in which Martin Sheen plays unstable bank robber Perry Allan Victor who Charlie Sheen, now Carlos Estevez, could play even if suffering from a deprivation of tiger's blood.

The partner-in-crime of Victor is a slow-witted submissive type who obeys Victor's every command until meeting a Yoko Ono type floozy (played by Joan Van Ark of "Knot's Landing") who bullies him into resisting Victor's leadership. Van Ark's co-star Donna Mills appears in a later sixth-season episode.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, from that episode conveys the well-paced and acted drama of this series.

Another bank robbery episode has Michael Douglas expertly playing Jerome Williams, who had an inferiority complex regarding his older brother outshining him.

Although the episode does not mention this, it seems that the heroic depiction of famed bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde in the uber-awesome 1967 Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway film of the same name also influences Williams' decision to seek fame for his crimes. This element makes viewers wonder if Williams stayed to the end of the film.

Another sixth season episode is a variation of a fifth-season plot revolving around the Cold War espionage of the era.

The fifth-season episode has a spy ring manipulating men with access to state department secrets into providing classified materials, and the target of a different ring shifts to engineers whose work for defense contractors provides access to plans for weapons. References to the futuristic technology of 3D television is amusing to a 2013 audience.

Another element of the era relate to upper-middle-class post-adolescents defying authority by at best becoming hippies and at worst joining militant groups. Common themes in these episodes are the kids realizing that they are taking things too far and their (usually loving) parents experiencing intense angst regarding their offspring going down (sometimes literally) dangerous roads.

An especially enlightened episode relates to Erskine assisting with investigating a mafia campaign to coerce black businessmen to take loans that are impossible to repay; the objective is to ultimately seize control of the companies for nefarious purposes.

The first nice thing about this one is that it does not have an ounce of the exploitation typical of shows and films of the era; the second nice element is that it brings in a dedicated and competent black FBI agent to help bring down the gang; the trifecta is achieved by having the man whose business is currently being targeted being very highly principled and compassionate. Many of us would be thrilled to work for him.

An episode in which a 20-something man with obvious emotional issues kidnaps a young woman with whom he is obsessed and drags her through the wilderness with a very specific goal in mind is a particularly good. It further is an interesting diversion from the typical robberies and violent mayhem of most episodes. Additionally, the kidnapper is one of the most sympathetic characters of the season.

This awesomeness pervades all 26 hour-long episodes from the sixth season. It goes to show what good writing, directing, and acting can achieve.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "The F.B.I." is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.