Hard-hitting Judge Paul Corupe has his nose out of joint about restrictive music licensing fees.
Our review of Hunter: The Complete Series, published August 9th, 2010, is also available.
Works for me!
Inspired by the undisciplined anti-hero cops that tore up the screens in the mid-1970s, Hunter was an action-cop series that detailed the hardboiled exploits of Detective Sergeant Rick Hunter, a gun-slinging, one man felon clean-up crew who epitomized society's obsession with tough love law enforcement in the 1980s. From the hit making stable of Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo, the team behind bare-knuckle television shows like Riptide and The A-Team, Hunter wasn't shy about pulling out all the stops-car chases, explosions, gunfights, and scum-sucking dirtbag criminals just asking to go down in a hail of police-issued firepower. Anchor Bay, who recently acquired the rights to almost all of the Stephen J. Cannell television productions, has finally given Hunter his richly deserved DVD release.
Facts of the Case
Homicide detectives Rick Hunter (Former L.A. Rams player Fred Dryer, Cannonball Run II) and his partner Dee Dee McCall (Stepfanie Kramer, The Dogwalker) are determined to bring lowlife criminals to justice by any means necessary, working within a system that often binds their hands with bleeding-heart frivolities like search warrants, fair trials, and basic human rights. The only way Hunter can cut through these layers of distracting red tape is by pulling out his pistol in self-defense—which he does with alarming regularity. Originally from a mafia family, Hunter broke his Godfather's heart when he decided to dedicate his life to stopping criminals rather than become one. As a result, Hunter isn't fully trusted by either his mob-associated relatives or his by-the-book police captain (John Amos, The Beastmaster), inhabiting a gray area as he solves crimes and saves innocent people with a combination of detective instincts, brawn, and—of course—bullets.
Hunter: The Complete First Season presents all 19 episodes on five discs from the 1984-85 debut season in broadcast order, with a sixth disc reserved for extras.
• Hard Contract
• The Hot Grounder
• A Long Way from L.A.
• Flight on a Dead Pigeon
• Pen Pals
• Dead or Alive
• High Bleacher Man
• The Shooter
• The Garbage Man
• The Avenging Angel
• The Snow Queen (1)
• The Snow Queen (2)
• The Beach Boy
• The Last Kill
• Fire Man
Hunter may not make for a very good police ethics lesson, but it does make for solid, action-packed entertainment, the kind North America hungered for in the Reagan-happy 1980s. Even though most episodes have the writers coloring within the lines of the typical cop show formula, with back alley shooting gallery locations, scummy criminals, and rumpled suit police detectives, Hunter was a tough-guy cop series that would have stood out against other crime solving series like the popular Remington Steele. Hunter's often over-the-top crime detection techniques—which often included fiery cars flying through the air—put the accent firmly on action in this exciting, well-made season.
But beyond the more visceral shoot-'em-up aspects of the series, it's often the little touches that count, and the relationship between Hunter and McCall is above and beyond what you might expect from the average prime-time police procedural. Dee Dee McCall is an extremely strong and tough character in her own right, never dependent on Hunter to pull her out of precarious situations, and almost as quick on the trigger. In fact, they frequently work by themselves and follow their own leads when putting together a case—an unorthodox partnership that really helps set this show apart from its heavy competition. For another welcome surprise, the partners never get romantically involved this season, nor do they ever. McCall is easily one of the finest female cops to ever hit the small screen, and the fact that her relationship with Hunter is purely professional and based on mutual respect really affirms her an essential part of the show, and not just a piece of producer-concocted arm candy.
Originally slotted in Friday nights at 9:00 on NBC as competition for Dallas, Hunter struggled with poor ratings in its first year. With the two-parter "The Snow Queen," written by series creator Frank Lupo, however, Cannell convinced NBC heads to give the show a shot on a new day and time, and the resultant ratings boost proved kept the show alive. Of course, it also helped that "The Snow Queen" is one of the best episodes on this set, utilizing a plot that borrows elements from several "true crime" stories and cranks them through Hunter's heightened reality of exploding vehicles and vile criminals.
Dryer is pretty wooden and uncomfortable in the first few episodes of Hunter, but he's balanced quite nicely by the very talented Kramer, and it's obvious that her natural talent starts to rub off on the ex-footballer even a few episodes in. Throughout the season, Dryer make a Herculean effort to get his acting up to par, and he almost succeeds at it too.
Making up for any problems in front of the camera, Hunter is a consistently well-made show, with much better stunt work and editing than several other Cannell productions (A-Team, I'm looking in your direction). The only real noticeable fault is a good deal of additional dialogue added in post-production, but it's obviously used to explain away Hunter's more controversial actions and his sometimes gruff attitude, and may have been imposed by the network. Guest stars this season are few, but memorable. Wings Hauser is quite good as a Texas-fried hit man in "Dead or Alive," Married with Children's Ed O'Neill makes an appearance as a corrupt parole officer in "The Garbage Man," and Dennis Franz plays a (you guessed it) hardnosed New York City cop with suspicious motives in "The Snow Queen."
The picture quality on this release is, for the most part, just excellent. Although a little dirt and edge enhancement is detectable, if you compare this set to DVDs of other shows that came out around the same time, you'll be really amazed at what a great job Anchor Bay has done, including deep, well-saturated colors and nice detail levels. One episode, however, "The Beach Boy," was obviously mastered incorrectly for this release, resulting in a very choppy image that renders it barely watchable. The audio, presented in stereo, sounds like a mono track that has had some new, stereo musical tracks laid overtop of it (more on that later). Otherwise, it's a typical 1980s TV mix—flat, but relatively clean.
Even though the sixth disc in the set is devoted solely to extras, there are only two included interviews that barely last a half hour combined. Stephen J. Cannell is up first to give a rundown on the history of the show and talk about the later direction of the series. His pride over Hunter is quite obvious. Stepfanie Kramer—who still looks great, incidentally—is extremely animated and personable, and looks pleased to be talking about the show. She discusses her involvement with Hunter, how it developed over the years, and laughs off the 1980s fashions. Some of their anecdotes might not be new to fans of the show, but both interviews are really quite good, and certainly worthwhile for someone like me.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As already hinted at, however, there are a few notable problems with this set. Besides the aforementioned transfer issue with one episode, there has been quite a bit of music replaced in this season, obviously for copyright reasons. Not really having been much of a fan of the show during its original run, this didn't bother me until music became a fairly prominent part of the show about halfway through the season. Anchor Bay has obviously dubbed in new music, but their choices, which range from generic alternative radio rock to generic new country, are pretty questionable. Not only do they not match the period of the show at all, but they don't match the fidelity or volume levels, proving to be completely obtrusive additions. Even worse is the complete bungling of an important plot point in "The Snow Queen," in which an undercover McCall is supposed to sing to impress a club owner. This scene has been completely re-edited to remove all traces of the song, except for a few slow-motion shots of Kramer dancing around the stage. Far from smoothly hiding any alterations, these changes stick out like Hunter going undercover in a punk rock bar. Even someone with no familiarity with the show will be bothered by this sloppy work, so you can imagine how a die-hard fan might feel.
This season of Hunter is a bit of an anomaly, as Hunter's gritty edge didn't last much beyond the first season. Even in the episodes seen on this set, Hunter's initial gung-ho cowboy tactics are almost immediately toned down, especially with the mid-season introduction of several plots that face Hunter off against an increasingly nasty series of law enforcement officers who prove to be looser cannons than he is—proving, at least by contrast, that he's not a total hard-ass. When veteran producer Roy Huggins (Maverick) came into to assist Cannell at the beginning of the second season, he further changed many defining aspects of the show. As Huggins moved the series from the graffiti-covered urban L.A. wasteland to the posh mansions and clubs of the upper crust, Hunter was suddenly more focused on the "cop" half of the action/cop formula. Although this made Hunter a slightly more generic detective show, it also helped seal its popularity in its remaining six seasons. As a result, however, this set stands out with its unique mix of high-speed car chases, frequent explosions, heroin junkies, and scuzzy bars, which are far more representative of the 1980s and make for a highly enjoyable, if somewhat typical, cop drama.
Innocent: Despite some grievous charges, Hunter: The Complete First Season gets off on a technicality.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Interview with Stephen J. Cannell
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