"My name's Friday. I carry a badge."
Few phrases are as iconic as those uttered by radio star turned television personality Jack Webb. His turn as straight-laced detective Joe Friday was one of a lifetime. In truth he could never get away from the dry mold he had created with Friday, but for those who enjoy classic television, we would never want to see him as anyone else.
"Dragnet" began its life as a radio drama that was narrated by Webb and told the stories of true Los Angeles crimes. Things like scams, robberies and drug rings, actual crimes that were fairly common in the fast growing city. Unlike today's cop shows, there was little glitz or glamour, rather, as Friday was fond of saying, "Just the facts."
When "Dragnet" made its jump into the still young format of Television, it carried with it many of the vestiges that made the radio program so popular, including the long narrations. While it might have been neat for those seeing their favorite real crime fighters, the program does lack a sense of life. In television you don't have to tell us what you see, we can see it for ourselves. The show is littered with transition scenes, that show the two detectives Friday and Gannon (Harry Morgan) sitting in silence in a car traversing the city streets while Webb's narration floats over their heads. It worked for its time, but wouldn't be as appropriate these days.
During the course of the seventeen episodes that made up the first season of "Dragnet 1967" Friday and Gannon track down clues on investigations dealing with the advent and spread of a little know hallucinogen called "LSD" (which, by and by, is hilarious in the same retrospective way "Reefer Madness" is), a new bank scam where charismatic men convince seniors to hand over their savings, exploring counterfeiting and even dealing with a kidnapping and ransom.
Friday and Gannon are good cops. They are noble, dedicated to the job and do not falter in their duty. If you are on the right side of the law they will do everything in their power to protect you. But if allegations surface against someone, even a member of the police force, they will doggedly pursue the truth.
The era and police shown in "Dragnet" are quite different from those who have experienced police through the media since the 1970s. Rogue cops who eschew process in search of justice is something that would never cross the minds of Friday and Gannon. To them, due process is the search for true justice and they would never do anything to damage that. They are not glib or flip about their job, because they understand they deal with people's lives.
That's not to say there aren't moments of levity in "Dragnet." During one episode Gannon and Webb talk about the former's lunch… and sandwich with so many fixings that one has to wonder how he could possibly stomach it. Of course the episodes only run about 25 minutes a piece so it's hard to fit in many character moments and the focus is truly meant to be on the case, but there are some nice bits on the show.
There are seventeen episodes that make up the first season of "Dragnet: 1951" and they take Friday and Gannon to a host of locations, dealing with a wide variety of crimes, from murder and kidnapping to fraud and robbery. Though the processes will seem familiar, the stories will always be different.
"Dragnet" is a story, and ultimately a picture, of another era. It is a time that has come and passed and an innocence that maybe never was. It gives us a portal to look into the past and I, for one, am grateful.
The video quality is passable, since this is several decades old. The 1:33.1 aspect ratio is expected and looks like it has aged well. There are some color variances that appear from time to time and some scratches on the print, it's nothing I didn't expect. In total I was rather pleased with how well the prints have held up over the years. Compression isn't an issue and overall the show looks pretty good.
The audio sounds remarkable. The mono 2.0 Dolby Digital track has a slight hiss that's more the fault of the original recording software rather than the transfer. Webb's narration comes through clean and the few music cues that populate the show are decent.
Universal has included a pretty neat extra feature… a few episodes of the original radio drama that inspired the television series. The audio quality on the CD is good, though nothing remarkable. If you've ever heard the "Radio Spirits" programs on AM radio then you'll have an idea of what these sound like.
I love "Dragnet." When I first got cable I'd stay up late to watch Nickelodeon when they played classic TV series like this, and was absolutely hooked. As I've mentioned previously this show is from a bygone era, one that we will likely never be able to recapture again. That having been said, it's a lot of fun to sit back and watch Sgt. Joe Friday do his thing.