Frank Drebbin (Leslie Nielsen) leads his bungling detective squad in the comedy series that inspired the 'Naked Gun' films. This comedy classic mercilessly spoofed every detective show convention known and was the blueprint for the irreverent, 'anything might happen' formula that later made Nielsen a big movie name. Full of ridiculous moments such as when the weekly special guest star is introduced during the opening title sequence - and killed as soon as their name is read, never to be seen in the episode again. William Shatner, for example, dodged several bullets - before sitting down to a glass of poisoned wine. Even the title sequence itself was not straightforward; the title of the episode would come up on screen while a voiceover would say something entirely different. Thus does every episode have two titles; 'A Substantial Gift' (The Broken Promise),' 'Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment),' 'Rendezvous at Big Gulch (Terror in the Neighborhood), 'Revenge and Remorse' (The Guilty Alibi),' 'The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand)' and 'Testimony of Evil' (Dead Men Don't Laugh).
In addition to spawning the popular Naked Gun
movie franchise, Police Squad!
had a lasting impact on TV comedy, and it's still a guilty pleasure. Hot from the success of Airplane!
two years earlier, the ZAZ team (brothers David and Jerry Zucker and writing partner Jim Abrahams) decided to spoof TV cop shows, using the late '50s Lee Marvin series M Squad
and the popular series format of Quinn Martin Productions (e.g., The Streets of San Francisco
) as their template for supremely silly, gag-laden satire. With Airplane!
star Leslie Nielsen as straight-faced detective Frank Drebin and Alan North as Drebin's befuddled boss, Capt. Ed Hocken, this half-hour series quickly established an irresistible combination of nonstop sight gags, non sequiturs, and repeated routines ("Cigarette?" "Yes, it is") that dared viewers to pay close attention or miss the laughs if they didn't. Ironically, this very quality--you had to actually watch the show instead of casually listening for punchlines--is what ultimately sealed the series' fate. After only six poorly rated episodes, Police Squad!
was canceled without fanfare, and six years passed before Drebin returned as the bumbling hero of The Naked Gun
In addition to the rib-tickling disparity between onscreen episode titles and narrated titles, and "special guest stars" (including William Shatner, Robert Goulet, Lorne Greene, and others) who get killed in the opening credits, loyal viewers could count on a weekly dose of hilarity from Nielsen, North, and their supporting players. Character actor William Duell appeared each week as shoeshine boy "Johnny the Snitch," capable of answering literally any question if you repeatedly greased his palm (a gag that led to info-seeking cameo appearances by Dick Clark, Dr. Joyce Brothers, baseball manager Tommy Lasorda, and others). And while original Mission: Impossible costar Peter Lupus poked fun at himself as the dim-witted Det. Norberg (later played by O.J. Simpson in the Naked Gun movies), Ed Williams--an actual high school science teacher--is hilarious as "Mr. Wizard"-like lab technician Ted Olson, who dispenses dubious science lessons to unsuspecting children. The fast-paced barrage of humour guaranteed that every episode would deliver as many hits as misses, and while some of the jokes have lost their punch, Police Squad! still delivers the belly-laughs... and always will, as long as humans have an appetite for shameless stupidity. --Jeff Shannon