Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie or TV show coming out that week. This week: Inspired by HBO’s High Maintenance, our favorite episodes about pot.
Trying to find a drug-themed episode of Dragnet 1967 isn’t quite as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, but it’s easy to see why casual fans might think so, given how much ink the series has received over the years from installments like “Narcotics,” “Juvenile—The Little Pusher,” and the series premiere, “The LSD Story.”
In fact, there are really only about half a dozen spread out over the course of four seasons, and when it comes to the marijuana-centric plots within the bunch, “The Big High” is the must-see episode.
If you know anything at all about Joe Friday, then you probably know three things about him: He’s the master of the deadpan delivery, he’s as staunchly conservative as they come, and if you snap at him with a philosophy that doesn’t match his own, he’s not afraid to drop a rapid-fire, staccato rant on your ass. Unsurprisingly, he’s also not a fan of those who would deign to use illegal pharmaceuticals, but he’s particularly pissed off about pot smokers, because he—like so many others of his era—views marijuana as a gateway drug, having once growled to a suspect, “Marijuana is the flame, heroin is the fuse, LSD is the bomb.” As such, when Friday is asked by Charles Porter, an upstanding businessman and a respected member of the community, to visit Porter’s daughter, Jean Shipley, and try to convince her to stop smoking pot, Friday doesn’t hesitate for a moment.
Porter pointedly mentions to Friday that his daughter was an honor graduate from college, and when Friday and his longtime partner, Frank Gannon (Harry Morgan), visit the Shipley homestead, they find that Jean is a far cry from a long-haired hippie type. Indeed, she’s spiffily dressed, and when they inform Jean that they’ve heard reports of marijuana smoking on the premises, she’s quick to casually mention that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a drug addict and quotes a few lines from “Kubla Khan.” Neither Friday nor Gannon are buying what Jean is selling, but it doesn’t stop her from spouting out all of the stock lines you’d hear from your average stoner, including the all-time classic, “It’s no more addictive than having a drink before dinner!”
When Jean’s husband, Paul, arrives on the scene a few minutes later, he blows a gasket on Friday and Gannon about their accusations, though he does calm down long enough to make a remarkably prescient point about the future of marijuana’s criminalization: “In a couple of years, things may change when all the kids grow up and start wearing ties and go into to the polls,” smirks Paul. “Marijuana’s gonna be like liquor: packaged and taxed and sold right off the shelf.”
“I doubt it, Mr. Shipley,” replies Gannon, prompting a huge laugh from viewers that certainly wasn’t there in 1967.
With the young couple having gotten up on their high horse about how it’s fine and dandy to smoke marijuana, the Dragnet formula demanded that the Shipleys be proven wrong in the most traumatic manner possible—effectively guaranteeing that it would never be taken seriously by the “kids.” At the same time, it convinced their parents that the horror stories they’d heard about the possible effects of marijuana were, if anything, underselling the potential damage that the drug could wreak on their children’s lives.
With anti-drug propaganda like “The Big High” airing in prime time, the surprise isn’t that it took so long for marijuana to start becoming decriminalized. It’s that it’s happened at all.
Availability: “The Big High” is available to stream on Hulu and for digital purchase.