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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Before there was CSI there was "Quincy, M.E." an 8 season detective
show that ran from 1976 through 1983. It's a fairly entertaining TV
series for it's time although there are some dated aspects to it and it's
low budget origiins are obvious to fans of the contemporary CSI series
which is very slick and big budget in comparison.

Jack Klugman stars as the guy who does autopsies for the police department.
Needless to say because of the censorship standards of the time, you cannot
see what he does and it takes place off screen. You rarely see any blood on
his gloves which is quite a contrast from CSI which is so gory it's practically
a splatter movie. The trouble with the premise is that a coroner is a rather
disgusting and dull job so they expanded the concept to make the lead character
a type of private detective. You have to really suspend your disbelief to enjoy
this show since Klugman spends most of the time investigating, sneaking around,
lying and doing all kinds of blatantly illegal activites to find out who the murderer
is. Everything he discovered would've been thrown out of court or he would've
been fired in real life but this is "TV" where these things can happen.

Klugman had just come off of "The Odd Couple" sitcom which ran from 1970-1975.
He played lovable, irresponsible and sloppy Oscar Madison. So he wouldn't be
typecast, he wanted to play a new character that was the polar opposite of
that role. So he chose "Quincy" the medical examiner who is meticulous and
passionate about his work. The problem is the role wasn't as sympathetic
and likeable as Oscar.

In this first two seasons it appears to be a 'show in search of a character and
formula'. It took a number of episodes to find them. Even the term 'season'
doesn't apply to this box set as it normally would. "Quincy" started as part
of the NBC Mystery Movie cycle. It was a quirky concept. The network made
a series of "made for TV" features trying out different characters to see which
ones worked. The cycle included Columbo, McCloud, McMillan and Wife and
this one. The formula rotated each character one week of the month. It was
basically a different type of pilot. When one of the TV movies got good ratings
and proved popular, they would spin it out into an actual weekly series.

So Quincy began as a collection of feature films with this character. While
generally interesting, Klugman didn't have a handle on the role at first. He
comes off a bit like a fanatic and lunatic in the early movies. He yells and
screams and rants at his superiors and suspects. While it's good to have
passion for truth and justice, a quieter approach garners more sympathy.
In addition, the feature length running time came off as too padded. There
were a lot of scenes that had nothing to do with the plot and distracted
viewers from the narrative.

After the show became a series it worked out much better with an hour running
time and a modified lead character. An hour back then meant about
50 minutes of actual drama before commercials. This is when the Quincy jazzy
theme tune and opening appear. Klugman toned down the role to make him
passionate but more respectful of his superiors and associates. They also gave
him a girlfriend for humor. There is a running 'coitus interuptus' gag with her.
Everytime Quincy tries to romance his woman, a corpse shows up or a murder
is committed so he never gets to sleep with her. It's a nice bit and makes him
more empathetic to the audience. The series found it's formula that worked
by the third disc in this boxset. A tight narrative within the shorter running time,
some humor and romance along with a mystery plot that Quincy solves even though
he doesn't spend that much time in the coroner's lab. He breaks every law in the
book to prove his points and in the most outlandish episode, he poses as a prison
doctor and gives an inmate little electric shocks to get him to disclose information.

Those are the good aspects of the series which I recommend providing you can sit
through the earlier features while the creators and star tried to find their way. The
liabilities are the production value. It's a cheap show and looks it. Although it
was shot in 35mm and is sharp, they did a lot of corner cutting techniques at
the time. Every shot of the coroner's building is identical in each show. No variation
of angles. Every shot of a different building is the same zoom up. When they show
Quincy's equipment you see the scan lines on his monitor which is very distracting.
There is a special camera that can shoot off of the video screens without displaying
them but they didn't bother to use it here. Car mount shots of people driving are
very bumpy even though they had a steady cam unit that could've smoothed it out.
The optical effects like the title sequence and fade outs have scratches and dust on them.
Again, comparing it to the ultra slick CSI series, this one tends to look cheesy
but it's still fun. Of course the seventies wardrobe, music and other cultural
links are present which date the show but are amusing on that level. Women had huge
hairdos at the time exploding on their head. Men wore bell bottoms and kept the first
two buttons of their shirt open. "Saturday Night Fever" type of outfits which tend to
look silly in hindsight. Middle aged adults dressing like teenagers.

The supporting cast is good even if they didn't develop their characterizations beyond
stereotypes. Quincy's Japanese assistant, Robert Ito, doesn't have too much to do
in the first couple of season's other than cover for him which he's out pretending
to be a PI. His boss is played by John Ragin who is funny as a perpetually frustrated
beaurocrat although it's a one note performance. Another harried character is played
by Garry Walberg as a police lieutenant who is always yelling at Quincy for exceeding
his authority in the investigations even though the coroner predictably solves the mystery
by the end of each show. Val Bisoglio is his buddy who runs a bar in town where Quincy
discusses the grisly details of his latest case scaring away the customers.

There was one episode where Quincy doesn't appear and for unknown reasons, they
played the show for laughs and slapstick. I won't reveal which one it is so it will surprise
you when you see it but it seems like it's a sitcom from another series.

So I recommend this show providing you can suspend your disbelief and enjoy watching
mysteries with a nutty lead character that are a time capsule of their era.

Jack Klugman is still alive at age 87 but he tragically lost his voice due to throat cancer from
smoking so there is no commentary by him.
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