What? A solid, entertaining, smartly-written forensics show from before the days of DNA and gratuitous CGI? Judge Paul Corupe says you'll find it right here.
Our review of Quincy, M.E. Season 5, published April 6th, 2013, is also available.
"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.
Facts of the Case
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!
• Who's Who in Neverland?
• A Star Is Dead
• Hot Ice, Cold Hearts
• Snake Eyes (Part 1)
• Snake Eyes (Part 2)
• The Thigh Bone's Connected to the Knee Bone
• Visitors in Paradise
• The Two Sides of Truth
• Hit and Run at Danny's
• Has Anybody Here Seen Quincy?
• A Good Smack in the Mouth
• The Hot Dog Murder
• An Unfriendly Radiance
• Sullied Be Thy Name
• Let Me Light the Way
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.
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