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Featured TV on DVD Review: Dragnet: 1968: Season Two

July 2nd, 2010

Dragnet: 1968: Season Two - Buy from Amazon

Dragnet is one of the most iconic police procedural shows ever and this particular series was the third of six incarnations. (The show started as a radio drama and included a theatrical adaptation. Although one could argue that was more of a parody than a straight remake. They obviously played up the humor.) When most people think of Dragnet, they immediately think of that theme song, and the phrase, "Just the facts, ma'am." (Although that was never said on the show. It was said in the movie.) Since it is an iconic show, nostalgia might cloud a person's judgment, especially if they haven't seen any of the episodes in a while. Is that the case here?

Jack Webb stars as Joe Friday, as he had since he created Dragnet as a radio drama back in the late 1940s. It made the jump to TV in the early 1950s and its first run on TV lasted till the end of the decade and only ended because Jack Webb went on to work on other shows. In 1967, he decided to come back to the show, with only a few minor tweaks, and one major difference. Ben Alexander wasn't available, so he was replaced as Harry Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon.

The formula mostly remained the same with each episode introduced with the voice of Joe Friday describing the city of Los Angeles and the law abiding citizens that live there, and what happens when the few decide to break the law. With extensive voiceovers, we are introduced to the crime and watch as Friday and Gannon collect evidence, interview witnesses, and piece together the clues. At the end of the episode we hear about the results of the trial while the suspects stare uncomfortably at the camera. One would think that with such a set formula, that the show would quickly become repetitive. However, as any fan of Roadrunner vs. Coyote cartoons will tell you, in the right hands, a formula can increase creativity by allowing the writers to concentrate on the details. And the details are important in police procedurals.

A wide variety of crimes can be plugged into this formula from serial killers and contract killings to more everyday crimes like fraud or muggings. (There's even an episode around a series of purse snatchings perpetrated by a pack of trained dogs.) It's hard to talk about any specific episode without getting too deep into spoiler territory, but I will say there are very few real misses among the 28 episodes on this six-disc set. For instance, The Big High is a little over-the-top when dealing with the horrors of marijuana, likewise The Big Prophet is also overly preachy on a similar subject. Meanwhile The Christmas Story deals with the theft of the baby Jesus from a nativity scene, which seems more like a stupid prank than a crime two officers would be sent to investigate. However, those are the only three misses out of 28 episodes, which is an excellent hit to miss ratio.

Extras on the 6-disc set are limited to the first and last disc. On the first disc there's the 1966 pilot TV movie. I'm not sure why the pilot TV movie is on the second season DVD, as it was filmed in 1966 to convince the studio to bring back the show, but not aired till 1969 during the third season. However, I'm glad it is, because it is one of the better episodes. Of course, it is unfair to compare a 95-minute movie with a 25-minute episode. Over on disc six, there's a 26-minute featurette on Jack Webb featuring interviews with a couple of actors who worked with him over the years. Some fun stories are passed along.

The Verdict

Dragnet is still one of the best police procedural shows out there and while some of the police work seems positively antiquated by today's standards, the writing and acting help it survive the test of time.Season Two has enough extras that the 6-disc set is a solid rental for fans of the genre and worth picking up for fans of the show.

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