Aaron Spelling spent almost two decades in Hollywood as a writer, actor, and producer of failed Westerns before he hooked up with former undercover cop Bud Ruskin to create The Mod Squad, a hip cop show that brought the language of the streets and the sensibility of late-'60s Sunset Boulevard to standard-issue stories of thugs and drugs. The premise was simple: Tough-but-open-minded police captain Tige Andrews tried to reach the young people of Los Angeles by deputizing three troubled kids: hulking black rebel Clarence Williams III, fresh-faced waif Peggy Lipton, and super-sensitive rich boy Michael Cole. Each week, the trio would integrate themselves into some scene or another—staffing an underground newspaper, working at a local high school, and so on—and after a few red herrings and usually at least one harrowing experience for the fragile Lipton, they'd figure out who was pushing dope or strangling young girls or bombing hippie hangouts.
As a police drama, The Mod Squad was and is merely adequate. The mysteries usually follow Roger Ebert's "law of economy of characters," which means that any suspect left unaccounted for by the final 10 minutes is likely bound for the pokey. And the climactic chase scenes are fairly inert, even when dressed up with crazy camera angles. (The Mod Squad's directors, including cult favorite Richard Rush, loved extreme close-ups, oddball framing, and conversations shot in reflection.) The main reason to watch The Mod Squad in 2008 is the same reason audiences switched it on in 1968: to gawk at the flower children, and hear them say things like "I just got some new psychedelic curtains."
What's especially intriguing about The Mod Squad is its conflicted portrait of the counterculture and those tasked to police it. In nearly every one of the 13 episodes in the Season One, Volume One DVD set, Cole confronts Tige about that week's mission, complaining that he never signed up to deceive his own love-generation brothers and sisters. But by the end of the hour, the team inevitably discovers that there are finks everywhere, among the beautiful people as well as the establishment. The Mod Squad's heroes are oddly glum, reflecting a disillusionment with the '60s that was about to become pervasive. To quote Cole: "It's a bum trip, citizens."
Key features: Three short, informative documentaries about the creation of the show.