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DVD Review - Baa Baa Black Sheep - Volume 1

June 5th, 2005

Baa Baa Black Sheep, or as it was known later, Black Sheep Squadron, is loosely based on the real life exploits of Greg "Pappy" Boyington, one of the greatest American Aces in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. The first half of season 1 was released a couple of weeks ago on a 2-Disc set.

Greg "Pappy" Boyington, played to perfection by Robert Conrad, is deep in debt and, with more than a few disciplinary problems as well, decides to enlist to help defend China from Japanese air force. But when General Claire Chennault, whom he works for, falls behind paying him, he decides to head back to the Marines. Only problem, he needs a plane to get him to India first. Solution, steal one. A solution he uses a lot during the rest of the show.

Once back with the Marines he's immediately put under house arrest, loses his wings and is given a desk job. It doesn't take long until he sets up a squadron, finds himself a dozen or so pilots who are just as much of a screw-up as he is, and steals himself some planes. Now all he has to do is turn these drunk and disorderly Marines into the best damn fighter squadron in the South Pacific before Colonel Laird throws them all in the stockade.

And thus begins the incredible career of the Black Sheep Squadron.

While the show is based on the life of Pappy Boyington, this is not a realistic TV series. It has more in common with McHale's Navy and Sgt. Bilko than Saving Private Ryan. There's an excellent mix of drama, action and humor, which is a combination that is hard to get right. Not only that but the show also mixes combat and military life. Much of the plot has to do with military rules and regulations and how the gang gets around them.

Like any show of this nature, Baa Baa Black Sheep has its share of oddball characters. My favorite among the crew is Lt. T.J. Wiley, who was possibly the worst pilot in the war; before the pilot is over he has crashed or shot down 5 American planes. He's summed up best by Pappy Boyington, "You know, that boy has only been flying for three months, and he's already a Japanese ace?" In an early episode he manages to shoot down Pappy Boyington, twice. But he isn't there just for comic relief. He goes through some character development and adds some emotion depth to the show. It was also fun to see a young John Larroquette as Lt. Bob Anderson and Larry Manetti of Magnum P.I. fame as Lt. Bob Boyle.

Probably the most popular aspect of the show is the aerial combat. The fight scenes are fun to watch using both refurbished planes and archival footage, but the latter has not aged well. (But since it's 60 years old, it's entirely understandable and it would be unfair to hold it against the show.) And unlike Airwolf, which I reviewed yesterday, there's plenty of chatter amongst the crew during the dogfights. There are a couple of minor problems, including some reused footage and the Japanese planes are not actually Zeros because none where available in flight condition when the show was filmed.

Besides the excellent TV movie / pilot, there are 10 first season episodes including standouts Small War (with guest star Rene Auberjonois), Prisoners of War (where the squadron captures a Japanese POW, who quickly becomes like a member of the squad), and The Meatball Circus (where the squad uses Japanese fighters in a daring attack on an Aircraft Carrier). Even more impressive, none of the episodes really stood out as low points, excellent consistency.

Special features are light with just two interview clips, which clock in at just under 7 minutes long. The first interview is on the Today Show with the real Greg "Pappy" Boyington and Robert Conrad and includes a clip from the pilot. It's interesting to compare the quality of that clip with the actual quality of the DVD; it's clear they cleaned up the video quite a bit. The second is a shorter interview with Pappy Boyington from 1959 talking about the release of his book, which the TV series is based on.

The Big Three. I first mentioned The Big Three on my review for the Monk - Season Two Review. They are: Captioning / Subtitles, Play All Button and Proper Chapter Placement, and fortunately this set as all three. In fact, the first chapter of each episode contains just the pre-credit teaser and the opening credits, allowing the viewer to easily skip both. I really do not like teasers at the beginning of shows and I'm glad they went out of style.

Normally I hate TV on DVD that's isn't full season sets. However, this show only lasted a season and a half when it first aired and it makes sense to release 3 volumes instead of one full season set and 1 half season set. The show isn't perfect, the video and audio is showing its age and if you're looking for historical World War II reenactments, you're in the wrong neighborhood. But if you just want a fun time with a great cast of characters you can't go wrong with Baa Baa Black Sheep - Volume 1. I definitely recommend this DVD and I'm looking forward to Volume 2.

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