Police Squad!: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (20th April 2020).
The Film

Primetime Emmy (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series): Leslie Nielsen (nominated); Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series: Jim Abrahams of David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker (nominated) - Primetime Emmy Awards, 1982

The short-lived television follow-up project to Airplane! of Jim Abrahams of David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, Police Squad! was a sendup of the television cop series particularly the Lee Marvin series M Squad drawing on the trio's Kentucky Fried Movie stage sketches (which had already inspired a feature) and capitalizing on the then-lesser known comic chops of Canadian character actor Leslie Nielsen. Only six episodes were produced and only four of them aired originally (with the rest airing in the summer) thanks to sliding ratings and a lot of documented network interference, but the series did spin off into three feature films starting with The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. The series follows Detective Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Nielsen) of the Police Squad, a special detail of the police department, though what exactly makes them special we are never told as the cases of the week are varied, only a few of them requiring undercover work. The show revels in the formulaic nature of the cop show, but the humor of Airplane! is more than a bit blunted by network standards and practices with the likes of lab tech Olson's (Ratboy's Ed Williams) "Next week, we'll look into some interesting experiments we can do with discarded swimwear," to a child visitor comparing poorly to "Joey, do you like gladiator movies?" The Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker sight gags are in abundance from the special guest stars who get killed during their onscreen credits including Roots' Georg Stanford Brown, Cannon's William Conrad, singer Robert Goulet, Bonanza's Lorne Greene, The Brady Bunch's Florence Henderson, and Star Trek: The Original Series' William Shatner to back projection shots of the Colosseum when Drebin drives to "Little Italy," hapless Officer Norberg (Mission: Impossible's Peter Lupus) just as Alan North's captain would be replaced by George Kennedy who would be replaced by O.J. Simpson hammering a beer keg tap into a phone, Sergeants Takeraway and Booker to the more desperate "toe truck" and the Japanese garden of Asian people standing in large planters and shoe shiner Johnny's (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest's William Duell) word on the street. The "freeze frame" end credits sequences are the most consistently funny element along with "Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln." Besides the special guest stars, some of the recognizable actual guest stars include Dark Shadows' Kathryn Leigh Scott, Return to the Planet of the Apes' Claudette Nevins, A Bucket of Blood's Dick Miller, and Die Hard's Grand L. Bush. As expressed in the audio commentaries and extras on the Blu-ray and DVD releases, it was a bit of a relief when the show was canceled, compromised as it was and soon to be followed by Top Secret!, Ruthless People, and the Naked Gun films.

Video

All six episodes were released on VHS and laserdisc in the mid-eighties in two volume sets, with a fully loaded special edition series DVD released by Paramount in 2006. Paramount's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen Blu-ray has not been restored but also does not look like a repurposed DVD-era master, with vibrant colors and a mostly sharp and detailed image in the studio interiors and backlot scenes with only a couple location scenes (including a nightclub scene during "Ring of Fear" flattening into the shadows which also take actor Bush's hair with it. The overall quality and era of the show's production makes one pine for Paramount to toss their HD masters of shows like The Streets of San Francisco onto Blu-ray.

Audio

Audio options include a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in which the dialogue is clear and the music full-bodied but the sound effects are at their best when front-oriented and monophonic while bits directed to the surrounds like crowd noise and background traffic sound rather weak. A lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is also included along with optional English SDH subtitles.

Extras

Extras replicate the DVD package with audio commentary tracks for three episodes. On the audio commentary on "A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise)" by creators David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, & Jim Abrahams and producer Robert K. Weiss in which they reveal that they were just throwing ideas around when future Disney CEO Michael Eisner went ahead and sold the idea to ABC just based on their credits without a pilot. They discuss the show's influences, including pointing out gags from their Kentucky Fried Movie show, and note that the spare look of the film's sets was not a budgetary restriction but based on the cop shows of the earlier period, gags the network did not like (including the innocuous shot of a running man on fire during the credits), as well as noting that Williams actually was a school science teacher who did a bit of acting. The Zuckers, Abrahams, and Weiss are back for the audio commentary on "The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand)" which they note is the only whodunit of the series, and that it was where they met Goulet who would have a prominent role in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear. On this track, they open up more about the Network's lack of faith in the show, putting it in the Thursday night "suicide slot" up against Magnum P.I. and replaced when the network promised Jane Fonda a strong lead-in for the series spin-off of Nine to Five. They also discuss the celebrity death guest star shots, including the one shot with John Belushi which involved him getting dropped into the ocean with cement boots (noting that he suggested doing a gag where he overdosed), which went unused after his untimely death the day after the first episode aired. The audio commentary on "Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don't Laugh)" by story editor Robert Wuhl has him recalling auditioning for the lead in Airplane! that went to Robert Hays (he als notes that David Letterman also tried out for the role), getting invited to Los Angeles to work on the show, his disappointment at its cancellation, and that he would not write again for series television until an episode of the similarly goofy cop show Sledge Hammer! which he did as a favor for star David Rasche.

Also included is a Leslie Nielsen Interview (8:40) in which he reflects on the experience of working with three directors on Airplane!, feeling a fraud when he started the show since he was not actually a comedian, and recalling that one of the reasons cited for the show's cancellation is because audiences had to pay attention to get the gags rather than being guided to them by a laugh track. "Behind the Freeze Frames" (4:31) which is actually an optional commentary by the creators not over the series freeze frames but over an interstitial bit they shot after the series when there was discussion of putting the six episodes out as a feature film. The gag reel (4:57) features the usual line flubs as well as some funny bits, including one in which Nielsen nearly kills himself bumping into a prop street lamp with a real glass dome that was not secured. Casting test video is included for both Ed Williams (2:50) and Alan North (6:03) as well as producers' photo gallery (0:58). Most interesting is the List of Celebrity Death Shots which is two pages of concepts for the "special guest star" bits as well as Production Memo Highlights including notes from the network about all the bits they have issues with from dialogue to visuals.

All of the extras have optional English SDH subtitles except for the commentary tracks.

Overall

Paramount's Blu-ray edition of Police Squad!: The Complete Series offers up no new extras but is an upgrade in picture quality and audio.

 


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