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Our reviews of Mission: Impossible '88 Season (published December 8th, 2011), Mission: Impossible '89 Season (published February 28th, 2012), Mission: Impossible: The Second TV Season (published July 18th, 2007), Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season (published May 6th, 2009), and Mission: Impossible: The Third TV Season (published December 5th, 2007) are also available.
"Mr. Briggs, your mission, should you decide to accept it, would be to remove both nuclear devices from Santa Costa. As always, you have carte blanche as to method and personnel, but of course should you or any member of your IM Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. As usual, this recording will decompose one minute after the breaking of the seal."
-- Pilot episode
It has one of the most recognizable theme songs and a plot device that has been copied and parodied for the past forty years. More a mini-movie than a weekly series, it's no wonder that Mission: Impossible has gone on to spawn a successful film franchise. But if you've only ever seen the movies, then you don't have a real feel for the show. There is some action, some gadgets, but the series hangs its hat on complex plots, suspense, and front-loading the clues to the mission so viewers are sucked in to wondering how they will come in to play. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to read this full review of Mission: Impossible—The Complete First Season
Facts of the Case
Before the world knew that the US Government actually had a covert operations force, we were entranced by the exploits of the fictional Impossible Missions Force, aka the IMF.
Every episode begins with a hand striking a match and touching it to a fuse. As the fuse burns, we see an exciting preview of the episode that is coming up before sliding into the credits. This clever gimmick really sets the tone for the series, promising viewers action, if they'll just sit through the opening exposition.
When most people think Mission: Impossible, they think of Peter Graves as Mr. Phelps, but he won't show up until season two. In the first season, the squad is run by Dan Briggs (Steven Hill, Law & Order). Hill was an Orthodox Jew who had it in his contract that he would not work from dusk on Friday through to sundown on Saturday. This difficult schedule coupled with some bad behavior on set cut down Hill's screen time as the season progressed and he was fired before the start of season two.
Every episode began with Briggs visiting some innocuous location where his orders were delivered via a recording, be it a tape, a record, or a film. There was an obvious attempt to mix up the delivery method at the start, which was eventually be abandoned in favor of the well-known tape recorder gag.
Once he had his mission, Briggs retired to his modern '60s bachelor pad, where he sorted through a photo file of potential operatives. Each photo was tossed into the yeah or nay pile and with a strong couple of bars of music and the show's logo, another mission was underway.
The next scene was usually the front-loader. The team was assembled and Briggs quizzed each one on his or her part of the scheme. Never the full game plan, just enough bits and pieces to keep you wondering. "Barney, will you have enough time to shut off the electricity and still make it back to the bar?" "Cinnamon, how's that knock-out lipstick working for you?" "Rollin, are you sure you can mimic both the parrot and the ambassador?" This gimmick served to invest the viewer in the episode as they tried to figure out how each of those items would come into play.
The first season team was made up of four regulars (in addition to Briggs) and an occasional guest star with special talents. Greg Morris was Barney the electrical wizard, and minority groups applauded the series for casting an African American in an intelligent co-staring role. The only other cast member to last the entire run of the series was bodybuilder Peter Lupus (Muscle Beach Party) as Willy the strongman. Bringing glamour to the group was the lovely Barbara Bain (Space: 1999) as high fashion model Cinnamon Carter, and lastly, there was magician and mimic extraordinaire Rollin Hand played by Martin Landau (Ed Wood). It's interesting to note that even though Landau was a series regular, he was billed as Special Guest Star, presumably so he could walk if a better offer came along.
The series plots were generally political in nature and played off of our still tenuous relationship with Russia and South America. Though they never used the names of real countries, there was a distinctive trend toward Slavic sounding names and signs written in a strange mix of English with added z's to make the words look foreign. Thwarting dictators, rescuing political prisoners, stopping a biological terrorist—all in a day's work for the IMF team.
First off, how cool is the title? Mission: Impossible! Wouldn't have quite the same impact if it were Mission: Piece of Cake or Mission: Yeah, We Can Do That! Seriously, the chief problem of every writer who sat down to pen this show was in coming up with a plot that was dire enough, difficult enough, that your average agency couldn't handle it. You needed to come up with an impossible mission.
Of course, after viewing several episodes, you may want to change the title to Mission: Improbable. The complex plots and intricate timing are completely unbelievable, but that never stopped me from enjoying the show. I like the puzzle that is this series, figuring out how all the pieces are going to fit together in order to accomplish the mission and I'd pat myself on the back when I'd figure the twists before it was revealed.
I also enjoy the show's sense of style. The visuals are very theatrical and Bain and Landau both add a touch of sophistication that is unusual on TV. In their own ways, they're both scene-stealers. Bain just drips film noir sex appeal with her slow moves, sideways glances, and perfectly painted lips. Angular Martin Landau is just a marvel to watch from his fun and flirty magic tricks to his highly dramatic monologuing.
This first season is also jam-packed with some interesting guest stars. Wally Cox makes the grade in a serious role, and Eartha Kitt (Batman) joins the team when a contortionist is needed. You'll also spot Eric Braedon (The Rat Patrol), Malachi Throne (It Takes a Theif), Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island), and every '60s character actor that could manage a Slavic accent.
The packaging truly does the show justice from the gold foil embossed box art to excellent use of character art on the four snap cases. The pictures quality isn't extremely sharp, but I think that has more to do with the warm, flat color palette of the show and less with the transfer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For such a piece of television history, Paramount has delivered nothing but the bare bones in this DVD set. No extras, no booklet with insightful tidbits, nothing but the episodes, but at least they aren't on double sided discs. And what I was really expected, but didn't get, was the use of the famed theme music over an animated navigation screen. No music. No animation. Disappointing.
Mission: Impossible is the gold standard by which other spy thrillers have always been measured. There's an attention to detail here that is rarely seen on TV and a theatrical style that is almost too big for the small screen. Don't plan on cooking dinner while you're watching these shows; you'll need to catch every second if you want to follow the complex plot twists right up to the big reveal at the end of each episode. It's clever, it's cool, and turning out a show of this caliber on a weekly basis…well, it should have been an Impossible Mission—but these guys got it done.
The newly crowned leader of Balzakastan has banned this DVD box set from his country, labeling it a piece of capitalist propaganda. Sounds like two thumbs up to me!
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