Friday, August 03, 2007

Cleanin' the House: A Quinn Martin Production

Oy. I harbored the naive notion that once we were moved out of Stalag West Seattle I'd be able to blog like the living dickens. No such luck.

The new pad is a big, lovely--but resolutely high-maintenance-- old cuss, so most of my/our waking non-wage-earning hours have been spent cleaning, unpacking, organizing, or some combination thereof (I've also earned my Official Membership in the Weekend Warrior Fraternity with an extensive bout of lawn work, all of which was subsumed by weeds again in short order: Gotta love nature).

In between all of the chores and work, I have had time to imbibe from the well of pop culture, in tiny gulps (just haven't had time to write about much of it). Said sips largely come at dinner, when 30 to 45 minutes can be spent taking in some episodic TV before another vault onto the home improvement breach.

This week's dinnertime diversion: The Streets of San Francisco, the early seventies Quinn Martin cop show that launched Michael Douglas's acting career and made the wonderful character mug of Karl Malden into a household fixture.

The first volume of Season One just hit stores a few weeks ago, providing modern viewers (and old fans, of course) with a unique view of TV evolution. SOSF tried to reconcile the social turmoil of its era with the regimented format of network television, and if the end result creaks a little today, it still packs the requisite thrills--and some (not-always-intended) food for thought.

It's pure formula, with Malden's veteran detective Mike Stone and Douglas's college-educated rookie inspector Steve Keller providing the grist for the obligatory buddy-cop mill. And you can bet dollars to donuts that each episode will end with a chase and/or shootout.

But both leads really click, both as individuals and as a team, and awesome guest stars turn up by the bushel. My personal faves so far: the mighty Roscoe Lee Browne as an avuncular beat poet and possible murder suspect in "Trout in the Milk" (love that title), and Edward Mulhare (Michael Knight's fey employer in Knight Rider) as a cultured, obsessive freak in "Tower Beyond Tragedy," among others.

The series also stands as an interesting bridge between the standard TV cop shows of its era and the CSIs and Law and Orders of today. I watched SOSF with none of the nostalgia that uber-fan Rita harbored, so while the action, guest stars, and buddy chemistry made for great entertainment, the show's glimpses into police procedure of the time were what really hooked me (the show tried much harder than most of its ilk to accurately present the minutae of police procedure).

Some of the procedure has stayed reassuringly consistent (who doesn't love to see a perp read their Miranda rights?), but changes in technology make watching The Streets of San Francisco downright surreal for a modern audience. "Where's his cell phone?" my mind cried out more than once as I watched a beat cop forced to run to the nearest pay phone to call in a crime scene, and observing antique equipment like Tele-type machines and, hell, electric typewriters was like peeking in on a living museum. Such stuff makes SOSF more than just fun: It makes it a genuine time capsule.

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