By Shawn McKenzie 02/15/2003
This is how young I am…my first exposure to “Dragnet” was the 1987 comedy feature film starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. Later, as Nick-at-Nite was trying to cash in on the movie, I got the chance to see some of the episodes of the original first two series. I liked how serious the show was, even though some of the surroundings around them in the second series were a little goofy. This new series on ABC is obviously borrowing from the past and the present, and it does a decent job.
Detective Joe Friday (Ed O'Neill) is a hardened veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who has seen it all. We get an idea of his thoughts through his voiceovers, as well as look at his investigation process as the cases come and go. His young partner, Frank Smith (Ethan Embry), has recently been promoted to the robbery/homicide division from vice. They both work the day shift out of robbery/homicide, and they much more grisly cases than their predecessors did. Fortunately, for them, there are scientific techniques they can use that weren’t available in the past. Still, all Friday is looking for is “just the facts, ma'am.”
“Dragnet” began in 1949 as a radio drama, and then moved to television in 1951, running for seven years in its first version on NBC. It came back to NBC in 1967 for three more years. In 1989, there was a new version in syndication, but it didn’t have Joe Friday in it, and it only lasted one season. Jack Webb played Joe Friday in the first two versions, and Harry Morgan (Col. Potter in the “M*A*S*H” TV series) played Bill Gannon, Friday’s partner, in the second NBC series and in the movie version (his character had been promoted to Captain.) Dick Wolf, the mastermind behind the “Law & Order” franchise, decided to bring the series back and update it, making it grittier like his own series or like “NYPD Blue.”
So how is this version with Al Bundy and the kid who played the goofball in movies like That Thing You Do and Can’t Hardly Wait? I really wasn’t that worried about O’Neill. He had already proven to me that he could do serious TV drama in the 2001 CBS series “Big Apple.” I was concerned about Embry more than I was for O’Neill. While he hasn’t impressed me as much as Rick Schroder or Mark-Paul Gosselaar on “NYPD Blue,” but he hasn’t done too badly so far.
What do I think of Wolf’s attempt to bring “Dragnet” into the 21st century? Like the original series and Wolf’s “Law & Order” series, each episode is self-contained, so it makes jumping into the show easy. I like the old-fashioned voiceover technique, which lends a unique spin on a style that is starting to get old. The acting is fine, but the stories are generic. I hope the writing will improve if the show lasts.
“Dragnet” is a show that didn’t really need to be brought back, but since it is here, we can enjoy the minor nostalgia. I actually enjoy seeing O’Neill back more than I do Joe Friday. I’ll be curious to see how the past and the future get along.
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