Universal // 1974 // 1085 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kristin Munson (Retired) // February 6th, 2008
We've got a bleeder!
The '70s were a simpler, more innocent time, at least where television was concerned. It was a time when you could boast of having John Gage's face on your lunchbox and not have it misinterpreted by some social maladroit cackling in a juvenile fashion (That reminds me: Ha ha ha ha!).
For those of us born later, a lot of these shows are "you had to be there" phenoms, as cheesy as a block of Brie and about as entertaining as watching it melt, but Emergency has something many of today's edgy, sexed up series lack: fun. Unfortunately that particular selling point has been all but smothered by studio apathy.
Emergency! is a third generation series. Dragnet begat Adam-12 which begat Emergency!, and lo, it was good entertainment. Charting the day-to-day adventures of fire-paramedics Roy Desoto (Kevin Tighe, Lost), John Gage (Randolph Mantooth, He Was a Quiet Man), and a fire engine that never turns left (No, seriously), it features the same anthology-style format of the series that birthed it. Emergency! Season Four contains all 22 episodes of the 1974-75 season on five discs in three slimpack cases.
My first inclination that something about this set might be terribly wrong was when I turned over the box and found this:
"Music may differ from television version."
That dreaded disclaimer could mean anything from scenes being cut or reconfigured to get around a rights issue, or feature entirely redubbed soundtracks, or worse. The first season release of Hamish Macbeth is missing an entire episode because it couldn't resolve its right issues. I can't speak for the incidental music on the actual episodes of this particular show, but the theme song is completely different from broadcast. "905-Wild" has the regular season credits music -- exciting, jazzy, and fast-paced -- but the rest of the batch have a gloomy bass guitar plucking away over the paramedics' radio calls. Picture the CSI franchise with Philip Glass on the credits to appreciate how ridiculous this is.
The Dolby Digital Mono track is wildly uneven, with the roaring of the fire engines overwhelming the already muted dialogue, and the full-frame transfer is even worse. Some episodes are so clean you can see the rainbow created when a gushing hydrant hits the LA sun, but most are littered with visual debris. "The Mouse" and a handful of others have periodic green blotches, and "The Firehouse Four" is a soft, mushy mess. Not only are there the same audio pops and occasional flecks that plague the other episodes, but this one looks likes portions were transferred from a VHS recording, with blurry, washed-out scenes and horizontal tracking lines.
For Emergency!: Season Four, Universal has done away with the double-sided disc format from earlier releases, and that is the closest thing to a special feature that fans are going to get, unless you count the hit-and-miss closed captioning. Along with cast bios, interviews, or anything else that might tempt you to shell out cash for this mess, also not included is the season's crossover episode with Sierra, a one-year wonder that's never going to see the light of DVD. The decision to make the discs of an action series lavender and then package them in identical cases confirms that this company just doesn't care.
The sole redeeming feature of this collection is the actual program. Emergency! holds up amazingly well for a program in its mid-30s. The emphasis on action rather than character arcs means you can pop in any disc from anywhere in the season and just enjoy, unlike ER, where you need a flowchart and a checklist just to keep up from the week before (screwed-up parent, chemical dependency, ill-conceived romance with co-worker...Hey I got BINGO!.) This is the first time I'd seen this show, and it was a breezy blast.
In addition to car accidents and building fires, there are lighter stories like a prickly incident with a cactus and a man on a health kick (played by the voice of HR Pufnstuf!) whose exercise regimes keeps the rescue team busy for a whole episode. Mixed in with the silly rescues are some unusually dark stories, including a call involving a date-rape drug and a woman who uses suicide attempts to get attention. "905-Wild" has an animal theme and finishes with the whole gang pulling together to save a pygmy goat named William.
The actors are all in solid form, except for the occasional histrionic victims who seem to think they're auditioning for the next disaster epic. Season four also boasts star turns by Mark Spitz and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Adam West and Keenan Wynn, and even a young Mark Harmon shows up as an animal control officer.
Emergency! Season Four is a cool show done in by a lazy release. Despite the accessible nature of the program, the audiovisual issues ensure that only diehard fans are going to want to pick this one up.
So very guilty. Get Universal 30CCs of a clue, stat!
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1085 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Fan site
* DVD Verdict Review - Season One
* DVD Verdict Review - Season Two