Anthony's Film Review
(TV Series, 1982)
Although the show got cancelled, it is still a very funny cult classic...
The 1988 comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! was actually based on a short-lived 1982 TV show called Police Squad!. You can easily tell as the show's theme music and its star, Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin, made their way into the Naked Gun movies, which were much more successful. The main reason the show lasted only six episodes is because TV viewers were not sophisticated enough to pay attention to all the details to get the jokes. The humor in Police Squad! is like that. There are funny things in the foreground that are subtle and also things in the background. Viewers today would have no problem, but back then, this show was ahead of its time.
I've seen these episodes. I can tell you that they're nearly as funny as the Naked Gun movies, particularly the first one. Now, I say "nearly" because one thing might be another limitation in the show's run. There are jokes that are used in most or in all of the six episodes. Yes, there are some gags unique to a particular episode, but for the most part, watching the six episodes in a row does have some degree of monotony. In fact, I think I shall describe the formula used for each episode.
The opening sequence already delivers the first several jokes. An announcer says, "Police Squad! . . . in color." Yes, the show is in color. "Starring Leslie Nielsen," who is engaged in a shootout after getting out of his car. "Also starring Alan North," who is engaged in a shootout inside the police station as bullets are flying into the office area and a man on fire is running towards the back. "Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln," who is engaged in a shootout, probably with his assassin, but doesn't appear in the episode. "Tonight's special guest star, (INSERT NAME HERE)," who is murdered and therefore doesn't appear in the episode. Finally, the announcer announces "tonight's episode." The joke here is that the episode title that appears on screen absolutely does not match the title the announcer says.
The first scene is the crime taking place. Right after that, Frank Drebin is driving his car. He is explaining that he was doing something else when he got a call to investigate the crime that just occurred. Expect to see instances of him ramming his car into trash cans or other objects before stopping. At this point, you can expect to start seeing the unique episode-specific jokes. And after the midpoint commercial break, the screen tells you that it's Act II.
There are also recurring characters with the same jokes. There's a guy at the station who's so tall that the screen cuts off his head. There is also a crime lab scientist who doubles as a science teacher for kids. Then there is a shoe shiner who is also an informer. In each episode, Frank goes to this guy to get the last piece of information for the case, then leaves. The scene goes on a bit more, though, as another person gets his or her shoes shined and pays the informer for information about how to handle things in his or her life. Nothing to do with police work.
Finally, the last scene of the episode after the last commercial break, titled "Police Squad! Epilogue," shows the last dialogue between Leslie Nielsen and Alan North. Then the credits roll with a freeze frame. But it's not a real freeze frame where the camera stops rolling. Rather, the camera is still rolling, and the actors are just simply staying still. You can tell because they're blinking or there are other things still going on. My favorite example of this is where everyone in the station freezes for the credits, except for an apprehended suspect, who takes this opportunity to escape from the police.
The humor is very much the kind that made the Naked Gun movies successful, and I laughed a lot. Now, the show does not have a laugh track, another reason the show was way ahead of its time, but I still found it hilarious. So Police Squad! is a TV comedy classic in my opinion, despite its short run. Maybe it would become a longer running series if the producers (Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker) did two things. One, air it on TV after the first Naked Gun movie. Two, vary the jokes a lot more. Even so, we at least have the Naked Gun movies where the humor of Police Squad! finally became appreciated by many.
For more information about Police Squad!, visit the Internet Movie Database.
In addition, check out my reviews of the spin-off films The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, and The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.