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Blu-ray Review: Police Squad!: The Complete Series

April 28, 2020

By John Corrado

After delivering the comedy classic Airplane! in 1980, directors David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams reunited with one of the stars of that film – the late, great Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen – and brought their talents to the small screen for the tragically short-lived ABC television series Police Squad! in 1982.

An inspired spoof of police procedurals starring Nielsen as Detective Frank Drebin, (and Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln), the series only ran for six episodes before being cancelled due to low ratings. Nielsen, of course, famously got to reprise this role on the big screen in the 1988 movie The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! and its two sequels in 1991 and 1994, and the rest is history.

Paramount has recently made the entire Police Squad! series available on Blu-ray, in a newly restored set that includes all six existing episodes of the show; A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise), Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment), The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand), Revenge and Remorse (The Guilty Alibi), Rendezvous at Big Gulch (Terror in the Neighborhood), and Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don’t Laugh).

These 25 minute episodes serve as a great precursor to the film trilogy, setting the stage for the style of humour that was a cornerstone of the movies. The key to this kind of comedy is that the characters don’t know they are living in a comedy. The humour is brilliantly deadpan, built around Nielsen’s completely dry performance as Frank Drebin, in what remains an excellent showcase of his comedic abilities. The series is filled with fiendishly clever wordplay and features some hilarious sight gags, and there are great running gags that keep coming back throughout the episodes.

Despite its short run, Police Squad! was recognized with a pair of Emmy nominations, including an Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series nod for Leslie Nielsen (who lost to Alan Alda in M*A*S*H), and an Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series nomination for the pilot. My first introduction to this series came when I was a kid and borrowed the VHS tapes from the library after watching the Naked Gun movies on TV, and I’ve been a fan ever since. After watching the complete series again on Blu-ray, I’m pleased to say that Police Squad! still holds up, and the show is as funny as I had remembered. Plus, you can binge-watch the whole thing in two and a half hours.

The Blu-ray also includes commentary by David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Robert K. Weiss on the episodes A Substantial Gift and The Butler Did It, and a commentary track by Robert Wuhl on Testimony of Evil. This is followed by a gag reel, a very enjoyable retro interview with Nielsen, and a piece entitled Behind the Freeze Frames which presents several minutes of lost footage from one of the closing freeze frames with commentary explaining how this highly elaborate sight gag was done. We are told that this footage was shot as a potential bridge between episodes when the studio was looking into editing the defunct series into a feature film.

Finally, the disc includes casting tests for Ed Williams (who plays scientist Ted Olson), and Alan North (who plays Captain Ed Hocken), a producers’ photo gallery that presents a series of pictures from the set scrolling by on screen, a list of celebrity death shots, and a few pages of production memo highlights, which are fascinating to look through to see the jokes that the censors forced them to cut.

Police Squad!: The Complete Series is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 150 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: April 14th, 2020

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