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Thursday, August 7, 2014

'The F.B.I.' S8 DVD: Eight Not Enough for Classic True-Life Crime Anthology Series

The FBI: The Complete Eighth Season
The 6-disc 26-episode Warner Archive DVD release of the 1972-73 eighth season of the docudrama classic series "The F.B.I." provides awesome escapist viewing for the dog days of summer. It is equally exciting that the DVD release of the ninth and final season likely will come out in time for the chilly days of late October.

The terrific concept of this series from god of '60s and '70s television crime drama Quinn Martin is that intrepid F.B.I. Inspector Lewis Erskine, wonderfully played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr, and his equally stoic team pursue the bad guys (and girls) just after said malfeasor commits a federal crime. Basing each episode on an actual F.B.I. case provides great authenticity and hearing how local law enforcement passes the buck to the feds is highly amusing.

The authenticity additionally makes this show a particularly good time capsule. Reflections of the era in this season and those before it include Cold War spy rings and student anarchists. There are plenty of oblivious society matrons, hippies, and other stereotypes of the period thrown in for good measure.

"The F.B.I." being the longest running of the scads of Quinn Martin programs is another well-earned distinction for it. Also, in typical Quinn Martin style, each four-act and an epilogue episode is distinguished by having future, current, and fading stars appear as the criminals and those caught up in their webs.

The season premiere has David Soul of the classic '70s cop show "Starsky and Hutch" playing a former college football god turned bad. This character catches the attention of the F.B.I. after escaping from prison with the aim of reuniting with his former girlfriend. Other fun casting in this one has Jim Davis of "Dallas" playing the (not-so-innocent) father of said woman and prolific cheesy series actor Robert Urich as her current boyfriend.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of footage from the aforementioned episode is highly entertaining and offers a good taste of the series.

The second episode is the first of at least two in the season that involve a kidnapping with a very personal connection. This one revolves around the apparent abduction of a businessman who seems to be suffering from the mother of all midlife crises. Watching things wildly spiral out of control regarding this scheme provides wonderful entertainment.

The second eighth-season episode of this nature is part of wonderfully campy offerings that make up the final shows of the season. The abduction this time relates to a comically desperate move by a trust fund baby who badly needs to grow up.

A true caper episode has Richard Anderson of the '70s action-adventure sci-fi series "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman" falling for the latest con of a woman, played by veteran actress Dina Merrill, who makes a living using her looks and charm to dupe uber-wealthy men. 

The penultimate episode of the season has some of the same wonderful camp elements as those that precede it but is also one of the best of the entire series. The "Godfather" style gathering of mob families for the wedding of the daughter of a boss and a rising star in the "family" of the boss prompts Erskine to go undercover with the company that is catering the affair.

Seeing Zimbalist display the same style of sophistication that marks his must-see later recurring role of  Daniel Chalmers in daughter Stephanie Zimbalist's '80s series "Remington Steele" is almost as entertaining as seeing one of the rare occasions in which Erskine fully gets into the game and faces a serious threat of harm.

Another memorable episode has veteran character actor Pat Hingle, whose nearly 200 roles include Commissioner Gordon in the late '80s-early '90s "Batman" films, playing an aging jewel thief. Much of the entertainment in this one revolves around said criminal sadly discovering both that the apple does not fall far from the tree and that his son lacks his talent.

The epilog to this review is that there is no a single bad apple in the entire orchard of "F.B.I." episodes. They all offer juicy treats in the form of nefarious types and the men dedicated to bringing them to justice without resorting to melodrama.

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