Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The Mod Squad (1968-1973)
Creator: Buddy Ruskin
Starring: Peggy Lipton, Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III, and Tige Andrews
The Mod Squad was the first television show to feature young street kids as cops. When I was nine, those cops, Julie, Pete, and Linc, were my idols. On long Saturday afternoons we played The Mod Squad. Sporting long blond hair and a headband or sunglasses atop my head, I was Julie, the loner hippie chick from San Francisco who ran away from her prostitute mother. My brother posed as Pete, the anti-establishment guy from Beverly Hills whose family disowned him after he stole a car. A friend stood in for Linc, the street-smart poor dude who had been arrested during a riot in Watts. All three avoided jail by serving as undercover cops for Captain Adam Greer. They might be cops, but these hippies refuse to carry guns, are against the Vietnam War, and support young people protesting against unfair or cruel issues.
I haven't seen this show since it originally aired, but I find it as fun to watch today as I did all those years ago. It's action packed particularly for Pete and Linc who get in a fistfight in nearly every episode. They leap onto the bad guys, take them down, and pound the crap out of them. But no guns, man. Julie, if present for the fights, takes cover, as a woman would back then. Now she'd be punching and kicking butt with her costars, all the time being scantily dressed. (Talk about a sexism paradox.) Julie, except when in a bikini on the beach, dresses much more modestly than today's t.v. heroine. But don't confuse her for a prude. She is a groovy dresser, and, surprisingly, save the brash colors, her clothes look contemporary. In the pilot, Julie wears jeans and hippie beads, but as the season progresses, her wardrobe expands to include tights, boots, mini skirts, hats, lots of hats, headbands, sunglasses, and false eyelashes. I want those eyelashes.
To watch The Mod Squad is to take a trip back to the sixties: Hippies, peace symbols, beaded curtains, VW bugs and micro buses, motorcycles, mod clothes, psychedelic colors, go-go dancing, guitars, strobe lights, the Vietnam War, protests, underground newspapers, bad drug trips, the slang (dig it?; split; cool, man; scene; groovy; power to the people; peace, baby, peace; and Linc's signature affirmation, solid), and hair, everywhere big beautiful hair (afros, curly hair, long straight hair).
Many familiar faces can be seen on The Mod Squad. Sammie Davis, Jr., Ivan Dixon, Ed Asner, Tyne Daly, Lesley Ann Warren, Lou Gossett, Jr., Veronica Cartwright, Robert Duvall, Joe Don Baker, Barry Williams, Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Bosley, Margot Kidder, and an assortment of character actors from the sixties appear at one time on The Mod Squad. The biggest surprise is a brief onscreen, uncredited, appearance in the very first episode by Harrison Ford.
The Mod Squad was probably the first television show to feature the exploding car. Every car accident, no matter how slight, results in the car blowing up and bursting into flames. Not even their beloved Woodie, the clunker they drive throughout the first season, is spared destruction by explosion. Luckily, Woodie's not their only mode of transportation. They drive a convertible and acquire another wood-paneled station wagon. Plus, all three of the hippie cops and their cool captain, too, at some point in the series ride a motorcyle. Back in 1969 my Linc drove me around on his pretend motorcycle, actually a banana-seat bicycle. After one of our rides, "Linc" kissed me, just as t.v.'s Linc kisses Julie at the end of one episode. Although I think we kids may have beaten them, Linc and Julie probably shared the first interracial t.v. kiss.