The Greatest '70s Cop Shows

The Greatest '70s Cop Shows

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The Greatest ’70s Cop Shows

At a bare minimum, the Greatest '70s Cop Shows DVD serves up a killer set of opening-credits sequences. With the abundance of funky music, freeze-frames, and drawn weapons, the shows tended to pack more style into their first minute than they otherwise did in a full season–and they're snazzier and more sincere than Beastie Boys' and director Spike Jonze's "Sabotage" video parody. The Greatest '70s Cop Shows draws mainly from the archives of producers Leonard Goldberg and Aaron Spelling, whose reputation for gritty police procedurals once rivaled their reputation for pandering to the lowbrow. The five episodes on the DVD represent the first post-pilot installments of The Rookies, Police Woman, S.W.A.T., Starsky & Hutch, and Charlie's Angels. Watched in chronological order, they chart a fast-evolving pop culture. The Rookies episode, from 1972, is a tame morality play about gang violence and poverty, featuring soft-looking, articulate, drug-free, gun-free, interracial street gangs patrolling a trash-strewn studio backlot meant to approximate the ghetto. Two years later, Police Woman (the disc's sole non-Spelling/Goldberg production) has its cops out in real, seedy Los Angeles locations, dealing with sadistic bank robbers and rape victims. The tone is earthier, too, with star Angie Dickinson (and her tight satin pantsuits) projecting a sexy vulnerability to go with her gun-toting righteousness. By the time of the 1975 series S.W.A.T. and Starsky & Hutch, the violence and punchy naturalism of '70s American cinema had crept into network prime time, as illustrated on the DVD by two episodes about bloody crime sprees. The era's moral guardians criticized both shows for their rough play, but where S.W.A.T. relies somewhat dubiously on minimal character moments to connect the shoot-outs, Starsky & Hutch is too silly to offend, especially with stars Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul exploiting their resemblances to, respectively, any vaguely ethnic Hollywood actor of the '70s and a formless hybrid of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. After trailing the trends in '75, Spelling-Goldberg started setting them in '76, with the frothy Charlie's Angels. Tapping into the nationwide craving for exuberant escapism, Goldberg and Spelling put three female detectives in tight T-shirts and sent them on a series of absurd undercover operations, including the first episode's dirt-racetrack caper. Even with the decreased realism, Charlie's Angels retains the sunny, outdoor California locations of the decade's earlier shows. And, of course, it's got a classic opening-credits sequence, with curvy female silhouettes zooming across the screen to uptempo, string-laden dance music. The overture makes a promise impossible to keep, though generations of TV addicts keep hoping.