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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Television Review: QUINCY M.E. (THE HILARIOUS YEARS) Number One in a Series!

QUINCY: THE HILARIOUS YEARS (a.k.a. Seasons 5 through 8, 1979-1983; Universal/NBC-TV. Starring Jack Klugman, Robert Ito, Anita Gillette, John S. Ragin, Garry Walberg and Val Bisoglio.

Number One -- "Scream to the Skies", Season 6 (1981)

When QUINCY, M.E. finally received a DVD release in 2006 (of the first and second seasons together) it was promoted as "the original C.S.I.". Almost every episode brought an intriguing mystery, quite a few of them filled with baffling twists and turns, and intense dramatics from Jack Klugman.

The 1976-1979 version of QUINCY was really a good, if formulaic show, one of the few bright spots for an ever-fading NBC. But for yours truly, the show really became must-see TV when, in my opinion (and I say this as a Klugman fan) Jack Klugman acquired too much power. When the story came out just last year that Klugman was suing NBC for his share of the series' profits, he was quoted by the AP as saying: "I worked my tail off. I got up at four in the morning and stayed at the studio. I did rewrites, I edited."

He's DA MAN!!

Boy, did he do re-writes....and Dr. R. Quincy subsequently became the hour-long dramatic answer to the post-shark jump Fonz. Formerly a socially active widower in a realistic way, Dr. Quincy became almost irresistible to women, no matter the age. Formerly a hardworking coroner urging the police to take another look at a seemingly open and shut case, Quincy morphed into a crusading superhero, able to overcome not merely a hardheaded Lt. Monahan, but beaurocrats, corporations, even domestic and foreign governments! And just as Arthur Fonzarelli would preach about eating your vegetables and tell Shortcake that "Smokin' Ain't Cool" (Aaay!) Quincy would pontificate for several minutes at a time before TV cameras, judges and legislative committees about the injustice of the week.

Often there wasn't a mystery at all in the final 4 seasons of the show, just a death in the opening scene to set up an issue of the week for The Big Q to A) become an expert on in about 15 minutes, and B) shout about the injustices for the next 30. A good mystery show turned into sort of a hybrid of BATMAN (with Sam as his Robin, I suppose) and the late 1960's DRAGNET with Quincy's preaching much louder and more emotional than Jack Webb's ever could be. In short, it became one of the funniest shows of its era, and a worthy rival to POLICE SQUAD! and SLEDGE HAMMER! for the title of "Greatest Laughtrack-less Comedy of All Time". At the very least, it was the funniest non-laugh track show lacking an exclamation point on its title.

It's hard to pinpoint an exact turning point, and I'll concede that many consider Season 6 to be the real start of Klugman's Comedy Classics, but for me it was the Season 5 episode Never a Child that told me Quincy had become a superhero.  After breaking up a child porn ring, The Big Q joined the cops on their raid on the filming location. While Monahan just stood there, Quince marched into the bathroom, turned on the shower while the perp screamed pathetically (guess he had a cat-like aversion to water). grabbed him by the back of the neck and pushed his face within inches of the mirror. Yup, police, F.B.I., doesn't matter...The Big Q does everyone's job! So for me, the takeoff point for QUINCY: THE HILARIOUS YEARS starts with Season 5. Without further ado I'll be periodically taking a fond look back at selected episodes from this great run of classic unintentional comedy.

We start with the following classic from Season 6: Scream to the Skies. This one is typical in some ways: The Big Q heroically saves more people from the water than a dozen Coast Guarders, makes a corporate baddie look foolish at a congressional hearing, spends at least a week and a half away from his real job and makes a superhero's arrival at a disaster site. But----there are some interesting wrinkles this time out: he actually finds a corporate entity he can't defeat, he suffers acute depressive reaction delaying his outward rage for half the episode, and he fails to nail any tail half his age.

This episode starts with establishing shots of an airport at night. After briefly seeing some of the passengers and flight attendants, we get some opening dialogue, learning that one co-pilot had three burritos (glad I'm not in that cockpit) and getting a foreshadowing bad weather report. Next up, our pre-flight instructions on safety, including the knowledge that "this aircraft is equipped with floatable seat cushions and inflatable life vests" just in case of "the unlikely event of a water landing". The passengers pay little attention. Hmm....something tells me this isn't going to turn out well.

Then we're back to more familiar territory for a QUINCY, M.E.....Astin interrupts Sam and Quincy and calls them in for an important meeting. This turns out to be a suprise party for The Big Q, intercut with footage of the passenger plane hitting turbulence and, yes, landing in the water. Q should have been tipped off that something was up, seeing how he was whisked away to Danny's Restaurant for this meeting. Immediately after the yell of "Surprise!" Quincy gets a smooch from a twentysomething hottie in a Skipper hat, and there's at least three more nubile lovelies among the 40-plus people at the party for the Big Q to hit on. Paul Kersey, eat your heart out!

How old is The Big Q? IMO they're a few candles short.

All those cigarettes haven't diminished Klugman's lung power, as he blows out about 45 candles with relative ease, but the festivities are interrupted by an unsettling call notifying The Big Q of the plane crash. The plane, which went down in the Santa Monica Bay, was carrying 147 passengers.

A Coast Guard cutter awaits, with at least 20 guardsmen, and as The Big Q rushes to the boat, we hear, "He's here! Let's shove off!" Now, I was curious as to why they would be, you know, waiting around for Quincy to arrive instead of just starting the search for the site immediately to start trying to rescue people. We are told that every available Coast Guard vessel is "on the way" and although we just shoved off, Quincy already has a reason to get angry: there aren't any emergency locator transmitters, because commercial airliners "aren't required to have them". "How do we find the survivors?" Quincy shouts, and we have our first official Outrage! at 9:41 in. To be fair to the Big Q, it is his birthday, so he's entitled, right?

The survivors are located, floating above water and barely hanging on after 40 minutes in the water. (There's also probably a lot of bubbles around "three burrito man".) The cutter is the only Coast Guard craft on the scene, so manpower is sorely lacking. The Big Q is seen pulling the first rescue into the boat and he asks why these people weren't in the raft. "The FAA doesn't require the plane to carry one!" The Big Q doesn't have time for an official Outrage! this time, though, he's too busy directing the boat over to some more survivors "before they go into hypothermia!". Quincy slags off a little with this second group, as he pulls only one of the three into the boat himself this time, but unfortunately the young girl Quincy pulls into the boat already has a subnormal temperature.

"40 minutes in the water was all he could take", is Astin's explanation for one victim. He turns out to be a Chicagoan on his way home. Now, I'm no air travel expert, but I'm wondering just how much time a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago would spend over the ocean, if any. Perhaps someone can help me out with this in the comments. For now I'll just go with it....

They all survived the crash itself.  I guess my question from earlier regarding the Coast Guard waiting for Quincy has been sufficiently explained, as The Big Q did pull as many of the folks out of the water himself as the rest of the Coast Guarders combined, so he really was too pivotal not to wait for. 87 autopsies in all to do.....yup, "some birthday", indeed.

Our hero is next seen trying to talk the young girl, Katy, out of her hypothermia-induced coma. Even Quincy's magic has its limits in this particular entry, though. Despite a full one minute monologue imploring the girl to fight, she remains comatose, and later dies. The complete impotence of Super Quincy throws us for a loop, but his reaction this time is a further curveball. No outrage---he merely withdraws, to the point of not showing up for work the next day!

Quincy is finally found sitting in darkness on his boat. Danny brings him lunch, after he hasn't touched breakfast, all to no avail. Danny finally barges in on Dr. Aston out of concern for The Big Q, who is "like a zombie!".

Brief interruption here--oh Lord, what a great show that would be! Zombie Quincy! Hey, that's a feature film I'd pay to see!

Ah, it's nice to dream.  Okay, back to the program at hand.....

While the Big Q is staring out at the ocean, a thirtysomething hottie sits next to him and tries to snap him out of his funk. No, not the way you'd expect. She berates him for feeling sorry for himself. She asks, "since when did you become the hero of this piece?"....obviously QUINCY, M.E. isn't appointment TV for her, huh?

"I thought a man like you would be chewing up the FAA!" Yeah, so did I, lady! I'm surprised at the unexpected turn this script took. But the lady who lost 3 friends in this crash spells it out: "There won't be any rafts as long as people like you don't get off their duffs and DO something!". She exits, stating they'll just have to fight the powers that be without him. 28 minutes in, but the Big Q still isn't ready to fight yet. In the next scene he's back on the boat moping.

Astin shows up, to give Q a talking to about the rage he's repressing. Dr. A also makes sure to remind us that Quincy "pulled people out of that water everywhere". Actually, we only saw two, and Astin wasn't there, but hey, he's appealing to The Big Q's sense of pride. Surely he's expecting The Big Q to get to work right away...after all, the coroner's office has apparently been keeping things going for at least three days without him.  But instead our hero goes to visit the thirtysomething hottie, pizza in hand! He's back! But---no hanky-panky. We're just going to be informed of the FAA's inadequate requirements. So finally, after a loooong delay, Outrage! number two--"the FAA's gonna have to MAKE them put the rafts on!".

Certainly the lack of rafts is a worthy issue, but the missing emergency locators, which to me seems equally important, is forgotten. Hey, the people died because they were in the water for 40 minutes, right? The cutter had to search blindly for them instead of having an exact location, which certainly added to the time frame. I'm thinking this regulation change is even more necessary than the rafts.

Then again, waiting around for The Big Q added who knows how much time as well.....certainly the Coast Guarders could have started pulling people out of the water without him, right? (Well, then again, based on what Astin told us, maybe not.) And there was only the one cutter, so wouldn't more Coast Guard manpower make a difference too? Ah, well, screw it, I guess you have to focus on one reform at a time. Anyway.....it probably isn't the effect Astin intended with his pep talk, but it looks like he'll have to do without Quincy at work for several more days as The Big Q we all know and love is officially back, and ready to crusade all the way to the top! He's now after the "heartless bureaucrat" who gives us a stock QUINCY corporate answer: "My hands are tied!". Quincy points out that he's protecting the airline's profits, but not its passengers! Outrage! Number 3. After getting nowhere with this "public servant", we're off to a Senate subcommittee in Washington D.C., where The Big Q will not only testify, but will cross-examine the FAA rep!

Quincy's about to give a speech!  RUN!!

Klugman makes up for the lack of earlier fireworks with lots of Outrages! in the episode's final quarter. At a Senate Subcommittee, the Big Q implores Congress to change the regulations. He berates the FAA representative with his lower teeth fully bared, about the "statistically insignificant" deaths. The best part of the episode follows the FAA rebuttal, as The Big Q conducts an experiment challenging the members of the committee to find and inflate the devices within the one minute given. Only one succeeds.

Quincy is encouraged by this start, as he vows to visit "talk shows, newspapers, magazines, street corners" and campaign for the rafts, again completely forgetting the other factors. Probably a good thing, because he's served with a "gag order" at the end of the episode, learning he's being sued by the airline for defamation. This is one fight that The Big Q won't be finishing, apparently. And I suppose he'd better get back to his real job, since it now looks like he'll be needing plenty of cash for his legal defense.

EVERYBODY loves this guy!  Everybody!!

Despite a questionable focus on only one crash factor, and a moping Quincy for half the episode, "Scream to the Skies" gives us several twists on the latter-day QUINCY formula, and a worthy topic to explore, if fewer laughs than we will have in subsequent episodes. Nevertheless, making The Big Q more vulnerable than usual doesn't make him less heroic, and we get enough decibels from Klugman in the final quarter to make this more than worthwhile. (*** out of ****)


goooooood girl said...

i like your blog......

Marty McKee said...

Netflix has every QUINCY available for streaming, if anyone wants to follow along with Hal.

Pastor Rob said...

Thank you for taking me down memory lane. Quincy, M.E. was my favorite show at the time. It was fun, even if formulaic, before it became Klugman's bully pulpit, but stayed interesting (if not mysterious) afterwords. I even remember watching it, fact checking "Quince's outrages" and analyzing the show for a "Communications and Popular Media" course in my college journalism department. Either Klugman or other staff had actually checked out and used real statistics for his "outrages" so that, in some ways, I suppose the show also became educational and political in the guise of entertainment.

I remember other shows of the era did the same -- though sometimes with less humor, such as Saint Elsewhere (another favorite). I had no idea how realistic parts of Saint Elsewhere really were until after I became the a department chairperson of a hospital's psychiatric department and several docs and I spent and afternoon watching some re-runs of the show.

And, along with "Dr.Q" let's not forget "Lou Grant" (167 episodes, 1970-1977), which was often an excuse of Ed Ashner to crusade and pontificate about various causes and ills of the day.

Other "classics" included "In The Heat of The Night" with Carroll O'Conner challenging social ills as small town Chief Gellispie -- sometimes with outrageous scenerios (such as the "anti-gay-bashing episode") where Gellispie is outraged because someone's attacking patrons of the areas gay bars (as if a small, red-neck town in Mississippi would have multiple gay bars...I doubt even one in real life). And, finally "Hill Street Blues" (filmed in parts of Chicago, but taking place in an unnamed fictional Midwestern city with police cars that looked, of course, like Chicago cop cars)...
and the often preachy show aimed at the younger set, "21 Jump Street".

Most of these shows didn't seem so funny then. I suppose with age it's easy to see them in different lights as the props often looked like props and audiences clearly had different tastes.

Thanks again for the memories.

Vin said...

Quincy was a horrible series in every possible way.All Klugman ever did was yell and pontificate.What an insufferable blow hard.The entire premise of the show was ridiculous.
This show suffered from the same problem as Matlock,Diagnosis Murder and In the Heat of the Night.It's main characters stubborn refusal to stay in their lane.
I asked a friend at work if they ever watched Quincy and when they said never i asked why.Jack Klugman was his answer.
The best thing about Quincy was that here was one of the homeliest dudes on TV bagging every babe in sight.Nice try Klugman.

OB said...

Vin. You must be looking in the mirror. He’s. Not. Homeliest. Actor. YOU. ARE

OB said...

At the. End of Quincy. Episode with the airplane. Crash and when the Same. Episode Quincy. Being. Sued What. Happen. To that. Episode at. The. End