There are some shows that change your life when you’re a kid. For some of you out there it might’ve been The Outer Limits. Or maybe it was Night Gallery. Perhaps even The A-Team.
S.W.A.T. was one of those shows.
In some other posts I’ve done here, I talked previously about a couple television shows that predate S.W.A.T., The Mod Squad, and also Harry O. I talked about how those shows reflected the times in which they were created, and I mentioned how S.W.A.T. was different. Now I’m going to tell you why.
Some background: The show had a two season run, 1975-76, and it starred Steve Forrest as Lt. “Hondo” Harrelson, Robert Urich as Officer Jim Street (he of Vegas and Spenser for Hire fame), Mark Shera as Officer Dominic Luca (he of Barnaby Jones fame), James Coleman as Officer T.J. McCabe, (he of fame that’s hard to find) and Rod Perry as Officer “Deacon” Kay (he came back for the 2003 S.W.A.T. movie). These five actors formed a core group that saw a LOT of action. Every episode was filled with a ton of tough talk and a room full of bullets.
Enough with the run down. No, wait… some more background. As a ten-year-old kid (yes, I’m getting old), this show blew my head off my shoulders. I ran right out (well, with my mother) and bought the tie-in action figures. 8” tall S.W.A.T. guys. I remember having the McCabe one because he was the sniper of the group and came with the cool rifle.
I also had the Hondo and Street figures. You could buy a replica of the van, but it was too expensive for my mom to get for me (I didn’t get an allowance that I remember, and we were sorta poor then and going through tough times). So, I made my own van out of a shoebox. I also possessed this Spock action figure (found him on the street one day with no clothes, so I made him an aluminum foil codpiece), and a Hutch action figure (from, of course, Starsky and Hutch). They were also 8” tall. Oh, yeah! Right! I also owned the Cornelius action figure from Planet of the Apes. These three were the bad guys. Time and time again, S.W.A.T. would answer the call to rescue my sister’s Barbie dolls from the clutches of these three depraved madmen. Good times.
Sorry, back to the show…
There was something that really struck me as I watched the episodes, and that was that I just couldn’t get over how the show was indeed a reflection of the burst bubble times in which it was created. Gone are the murders solved by the lone detective. Gone are the crime situations where the detective might not even need a gun to bring the criminal to justice (Hello, Mod Squad?).
No, now war has come home. It was here, on our streets. It was no longer “over there”. These cops wear military-style uniforms, carry M16s, and have a van that is basically a rolling arsenal and radio unit, coming complete with all manner of items to break down doors, use tear gas, and scale walls. This show gave us action on an entirely different level. It also gave us violence on an entirely different level. Hell, in the pilot, it showed criminals as coked-out maniacs who are killing cops for vengeance and pleasure! Three snowed-out, boozing murderers (two brothers, one cousin) seek vengeance for the death of a relative at the hands of the police. They set up a military-style ambush while a fake distress call is phoned-in to police dispatch. These three maniacs then blow away the cops that respond to the bogus call.
Wait. Let’s call Columbo. Wait. Let’s call Steve Keller. Um… no.
There’s also an early episode where a Manson-style family create mayhem and murder, their leader swearing a vendetta against S.W.A.T. commander Hondo Harrelson. Criminals no longer running from justice, but meeting it head on, with guns in their hands.
Violence ensues, of course.
Show me something like that in Harry O.
No, now it’s all-out war, and to respond to that urban war you need a platoon of guys that use military tactics right here in our own neighborhoods. Our society, disillusioned with the Vietnam Nam war and the recently faded away Flower-Power movement, is reflected in almost every episode of this show.
Produced by Spelling/Goldberg, I have to admit that I was expecting a show somewhat hollow and empty of content (Um, Charlie’s Angels anyone? Fantasy Island???). That’s not what I got. The show was way better than I expected. It’s not great, sure, but incredibly dynamic and… well, meaty. If you like your action with a hail of automatic gunfire and guys leaping through windows in a shower of glass to come up with their M16s blazing, this is the show for you.
And really? Bottom line? Two things:
1. It’s a gas to watch
2. It has one of the greatest theme songs ever. VERY much like the theme to Shaft. Yes, it’s THAT cool.
Give it a whirl. Ten-four… and all that jazz.
Bay Area resident Robert K. Lewis has been a painter, printmaker, and a produced screenwriter. In addition to contributing here, Lewis is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the International Thriller Writers. Untold Damage is his first novel, with Critical Damage to follow in 2014. Visit him at his website, at needlecity.wordpress.com, and on Twitter @robertklewis.