Universal // 1976 // 960 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // August 17th, 2005
"I don't like unanswered questions. I'm a scientist."-Quincy (Jack Klugman)
The 1970s were the undisputed golden age of small screen sleuthing, an era that saw the prime time airwaves teeming with quirky, one-named private investigators, loose cannon homicide detectives and fey insurance agents. Between Colombo, McCloud, Rockford, Banacek, Kojak, McMillan, Cannon and Baretta, there were barely enough unsolved mysteries to go around, forcing NBC to develop the NBC Mystery Movie, a unique 90-minute "showcase" series that kept the network's growing roster of TV detectives on a less intensive monthly rotation.
One of the finest shows to emerge from the NBC Mystery Movie stable was Quincy, a groundbreaking mystery series several years ahead of its time. Starring the unflappable Jack Klugman as a coroner with the determination of a bulldog and a mouth to match, Quincy joined companion programs Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan and Wife for the sixth and final season of the show in 1976 before it debuted as a stand-alone 60-minute series the following fall. From there, it went on to spawn seven long seasons, the first two of which have made their digital debut courtesy of Universal.
A valued member of the coroner's office, Dr. Quincy (Jack Klugman, Days of Wine and Roses) and his assistant Sam Fujiyama (Robert Ito, Rollerball) perform autopsies on bodies involved in suspicious deaths. Never content to trust uncovered evidence to his bureaucratic boss, Chief Deputy Coroner Dr. Asten (John S. Ragin, Earthquake), Quincy's uncompromising social conscience compels him to personally follow up on many cases to ensure justice is done, even though this puts him at odds with hardnosed homicide detective Lt. Frank Monahan (Garry Walberg, The Andromeda Strain). All of this time devoted to amateur sleuthing adds up, however, and Quincy's dedication to the job means that he doesn't get to spend much time lounging on his houseboat or relaxing with a few drinks at Danny's, a local bar run by his best friend Danny Tovo (Val Bisoglio, Saturday Night Fever).
Quincy finally comes to DVD with a "Season 1&2" box set, a double-sided, three-disc set which collects the four 90-minute episodes from Quincy's rounds on the NBC Mystery Movie, followed by the 13 regular episodes from the show's second season as an hour-long drama under the Quincy name.
* Go Fight City Hall -- To the Death!
While investigating the death of a woman on an LA beach, Quincy finds several clues that seem to connect the murder with others that have occurred recently. As he pieces together the solution to free an accused but innocent bystander, Quincy stumbles on a conspiracy that goes all the way to the mayor's office. 8/10
* Who's Who in Neverland?
Before Margo Bently can publish her tell-all Hollywood book, she's murdered. When her New York literary agent turns up dead too, Quincy turns a chance to speak at a pathologist conference in Buffalo into an impromptu autopsy to prove a link. 9/10
* A Star Is Dead
Quincy's friend Congressman Charles Sinclair is accused of killing a famous movie starlet with whom he was having an affair. A sleazy tabloid newspaper seems intent on ruining his career, but Quincy thinks he can prove it was a suicide. 9/10
* Hot Ice, Cold Hearts
While trying to unload $4 million worth of jewels in Mexico, a pair of cat burglars kill an undercover officer, slipping a poisonous stonefish spine in his neck. Quincy, on vacation with his girlfriend, helps the dying man and tries to convince locals to close down the beach to avoid more deaths. 8/10
* Snake Eyes (Part 1)
At a forensic pathologist convention in Lake Tahoe, Quincy and the other doctors are enlisted to help battle a strange illness that has broken out at the hotel. 9/10
* Snake Eyes (Part 2)
Much to the chagrin of the hotel guests, Quincy tries to keep the outbreak contained, just in case it's Legionnaire's Disease. While Sam works feverishly away back in the lab for a solution, a local doctor thinks he has the answer. 10/10
* The Thigh Bone's Connected to the Knee Bone
When a construction crew digs up a thigh bone at the building site of a new student union building, Quincy decides to conduct his university pathology class around discovering who the bone belonged to. Unfortunately, somebody doesn't want him to find out. Although officially a part of season two, this show is 90 minutes long, like the NBC Mystery Movie episodes. 8/10
* Visitors in Paradise
Quincy and Danny go on a fishing trip, but are soon embroiled in another mystery after a young girl convinces the vacationing medical examiner that her father has been wrongly accused of her mother's murder. The locals, however, aren't too pleased with Quincy's meddling. 8/10
* The Two Sides of Truth
In a trial, Quincy finds his brilliant old professor Dr. Stone acting as expert witness for the defense, which makes him question his interpretation of the research. The old friends find themselves at opposite sides of the courtroom again when an unidentifiable man's body is found and his widow pushes hard for the insurance company to pay up. 9/10
* Hit and Run at Danny's
After running over a pro football player in Danny's parking lot, a girl drives off a nearby pier and drowns. Quincy investigates her death and believes that she wasn't actually the one driving -- there were two men in the car, related to the girl's shady past. 10/10
* Has Anybody Here Seen Quincy?
That's what I'd like to know! In this crappy attempted spin-off, Quincy doesn't even make an appearance, with all screen time given to brilliant Japanese physician Dr. Hiro. Hiro, obviously patterned after Chinese sleuth Charlie Chan right down to his jive-talking African-American chauffeur, solves multiple mysteries while dispensing hackneyed nuggets of Eastern wisdom. Not only is the show borderline offensive, but it's also an insult to Quincy's fans. 2/10
* A Good Smack in the Mouth
When Dr. Asten's wife gets into an accident after she picks up a young hitchhiker, Quincy notices that some of the boy's injuries point to physical abuse by one of his parents. With no one willing to help because of the bureaucracy involved, Quincy goes on a one-man crusade to help the boy. 8/10
* The Hot Dog Murder
Quincy discovers a frozen hotdog lodged in the throat of a deceased prisoner's body donated to the medical university and goes undercover as a prison doctor to prove that the inmate was murdered. 8/10
* An Unfriendly Radiance
Sam performs an autopsy on a car crash victim and finds the body is wrought with radiation sickness. A man trying to help the sick party is accused as his murderer, which compels Quincy out to find how he was really killed. 9/10
* Sullied Be Thy Name
Lt. Monahan's friend, a priest trying to get legislation passed to shut down a locally-produced adult magazine, is found dead of a heart attack in the arms of a prostitute. Quincy tries to prove that the body was moved after the coronary in a move to discredit the altruistic preacher. 9/10
Quincy notices an influx of deaths from a nearby sanatorium, and believes that someone on staff has been pulling the plug on patients to ease their suffering. 7/10
* Let Me Light the Way
Quincy picks up some forensic pointers from a rape counselor, which come in handy when the counselor is sexually assaulted herself. 8/10
What's most notable about Quincy is the sheer quality of the shows. A bold, uncompromising series that didn't pussyfoot around issues or try to dance its audience past far-fetched plot devices, every week Quincy presented a solid, engrossing murder mystery with a likable, if slightly intense, protagonist.
After exhausting all the predictable plots in the four first season episodes-proving an apparent suicide actually was a murder, and conversely, that a murder was actually a suicide-Quincy's writers began to get really creative. From determining the accurate location of a death to reconstructing the identity of a murder victim from a decades-old bone, the show began introducing ingenious plots that consistently expanded the audience's expectation of what a coroner might be able to learn from a dead body, and what bearing that might have on a case. With several real pathologists serving as technical advisers on the show, Quincy often invoked real cases and forensic breakthroughs that gave the show a then-cutting edge approach to technology and a timely social relevance.
Despite the slightly unorthodox concept of a crime-solving coroner (at least before DNA and CSI), there was little question that Quincy had all the makings of a runaway prime-time success. As a testament to the series' immediate and broad-ranging appeal, Quincy changed very little over its lengthy run, relying on the show's above-average scripts and rock solid performances. Between the first and second season Quincy lost his occasional girlfriend Lee (Lynette Mettey, Liberty & Bash), freeing the character to become romantically entwined with his guest stars, and the show began to take a more active role in tackling current social issues, a theme that would come to define the series as a whole. In this set, episodes deal with subjects including drunk driving, child abuse and euthanasia.
Klugman, who literally screams his way through his part in a constant altruistic frenzy, pretty much carries the show on his more-than-capable shoulders. Just off of The Odd Couple TV spin-off (which also featured his Quincy co-star Garry Walberg) Klugman easily slips into the comfortable role of the detective and delivers in a way that puts him on even par with Peter Falk. From fighting the system to fishing with his friends, Klugman and the writers shape Dr. Quincy into an entirely believable, fully-rounded character from the very first episode. Sure, Quincy is an opinionated loud-mouth, a dogmatic workaholic, and an infuriating iconoclast, but it all comes from a desire to help his fellow man, and Klugman has the chops to make us believe it and even admire the character's tenacity. As Sam, Canadian-born Robert Ito provides a nice compliment to Quincy's brashness, even if he never gets many chances to get out of the morgue. Together they form a formidable team that lies at the very heart of the show's lasting success.
Like the rest of the 1970s mystery shows, Quincy always featured an impressive list of guest stars, and these seasons bring memorable turns by Buddy Hackett, Kim Cattrall, Bob Crane, Ed Begley, Jr., and the always excellent John Saxon. Beyond these notable names, however, the show is often brought down by some truly horrendous bit players, minor actors who, unsure of what to do when fixed in Klugman's intense glare, resort to yelling and screaming themselves. These are, however, minor distractions in an otherwise excellent medical mystery drama.
Like most TV on DVD releases from the 1970s, Universal's overdue Quincy: Seasons 1&2 isn't going to wow anyone on presentation, but it's adequate for the material at hand. The included episodes look sharper and brighter than those currently making the rounds in syndication, but minor source artifacts and grain crop up every now and again. The mono 2.0 soundtrack is pretty typical for a TV show from the 1970s, cramped and slightly muffled. Music and dialogue come through sufficiently, but more dynamic sound effects seem rather flat. Fans of the show will also be disappointed to discover that there are no extras included.
By today's standards, Quincy holds up extremely well. The forensics may seem a little primitive compared to modern police procedural TV shows, but with smartly-scripted episodes and commendable performances, you'll barely notice. This is a well-crafted show that is showcased nicely by Universal's DVD collection, despite a disappointing lack of extras.
Universal is to be drawn and quartered for missing the opportunity to provide fans with any bonus material.
Review content copyright © 2005 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 960 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated