November 25, 2006

Finally on DVD: POLICE SQUAD! (1982) prime TV spoof

6 x 25 minutes
Region 1 and Region 2 DVD (Paramount)

Norberg or Nordberg?

Six years before The Naked Gun movies made Leslie Nielsen a film star (again), the creators had already used the characters of Frank Drebin, Ed Hocken and Norberg, as well as most of the gags, in a short-lived but much loved TV series. Police Squad! has finally been released on DVD in the US and UK.

Like the sixties TV series of Batman, the actors have to play ridiculous characters with straight faces, while sending up the genre of police detective shows. I'm sure episode director Joe Dante (Gremlins) added some in-jokes and movie references of his own.

If you've seen The Naked Gun or Airplane films, you'll know what humour to expect, but Police Squad! also spoofs various TV conventions of the seventies, particularly those produced by Quinn Martin. Shows like The Invaders and The FBI insisted on titling every single section as an Act, alluding to scenes from a Shakespearean play, including the Epilogue. QM Productions also had voiceovers read out the opening titles to the viewers, the names of the episode and the guest stars. Very useful for the under-5s.

All six episodes of Police Squad! are on this release, together with a recent interview with Nielsen, who explains that while the cast and crew thought they were working on a sure-fire hit, the ratings reflected that TV audiences weren't interested in paying enough attention to the action to get the gags. Without a laugh track (again like Batman), viewers weren't cued into the deadpan humour and the series was dropped.

Luckily, the producers knew the characters were worth another shot, and The Naked Gun movies revived the format, but with Drebin's boss and assistant recast with the better known George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson. Kennedy is just as good at deadpan as Alan North, but O.J.'s slapstick Nordberg is no substitute for Peter Lupus's enjoyably dim Norberg from the TV series.

Movie send-up kings Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker, first worked on a movie together with Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) a must-see collection of sketches which they co-wrote and appeared in. The film launched director John Landis into his big hits, National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) and then The Blues Brothers (1980).

Abrahams and the Zucker brothers took on the directing of their next film Airplane! (1980), spoofing Airport disaster movies around the framework of an old Arthur Hailey thriller Zero Hour (1957) (a review in which I talk about their later careers and more about how Airplane was dreamt up).

Police Squad! is the link between Airplane! and The Naked Gun, continuing the brand of humour and especially Leslie Nielsen's priceless character, spoofing his seventies TV and fifties film star personas.

I've enjoyed watching these essential TV episodes again, now remastered with a clear audio track and crisp film transfers, so you can't miss a single gag, if you're paying attention, that is.

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  1. eddie lydecker04 July, 2013 21:31

    I liked the shoe-shine geezer who knew literally everything there was to know about literally everything, that character is one of the most hilarious of all-time.

  2. Funniest comedy series in television history. Z, Z, and A were comic geniuses!

  3. Funniest comedy series in television history. Z, Z, and A were comic geniuses!