Tuesday, February 7, 2012

BHM 2012 The Mod Squad

THE MOD SQUAD premiered on ABC-TV in the fall of 1968. This was the year that both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were murdered assassinated, so it must have been a very difficult time to be an American. It was in this world of chaos and hatred that the cast of Clarence Williams III, Peggy Lipton, Michael Cole, and Tige Andrews (not shown) got together to breathe life into the Sixties version of "21 Jump Street." The three young leads played undercover cops (or deputized cops; not sure of the specifics) whose job was to help "the man" catch villains who were preying on the youth and disenchanted in Los Angeles who thought the police were out to get them. Young people didn't trust cops, so this special group was created to help their own. It was a hugely popular show until its last year, 1973, when it was cancelled after its fifth season.

When I was a kid I remember watching this show and loving it. I was all about watching young people on TV (I mean, really, who else was popular at the time....Dragnet? All in the Family? Gunsmoke?). Besides liking it, though, I didn't think too much about it.

It was only later after I got older that I realized that in its own way THE MOD SQUAD had been important. Here was one of the first (if not THE first) Black Cops on television. Not only that, but he was hanging out with a White Woman. Only forty years earlier, black men were getting lynched for doing less than what "Linc" was doing with/for "Julie." And throw in another guy, "Pete," and the mind is thoroughly blown, haha! I imagine ABC-TV must have gotten some pretty strong hate letters! Unfortunately for the haters, After the first season or so of getting to know and trust each other, these three characters actually became friends! At the end of the show you knew that they really had become more than just co-workers: they cared for each other; in some ways, they had become each other's surrogate family. In the racially charged USA of the late 60s and early 70s, this must have been huge.

And to all the kids like me watching it without realizing it *was* a big deal, it never WAS a big deal. What I mean is, my generation was the first to grow up knowing that blacks, whites, and men-women could get along....because we had seen it on TV! Who said they couldn't? Now, as an adult, I use THE MOD SQUAD as Exhibit A as proof that TV, movies, and other pop culture stuff really does matters, because it mattered to me. When I was older and white people would say disparaging things about black people, I would think of Linc being friends with Pete and Julie and realize that it wasn't necessarily so. For a whole generation of white kids, we grew up thinking Linc was cool...and we didn't care that he was Black.

Watching this series again now, it is almost funny in its overblown drama. While it is definitely a product of its time, it is also just another cop show ala "Charlie's Angels" or "TJ Hooker." At the time, I'm sure, it was revolutionary. And I appreciate it.

Next week: the most well-known integrated show in television history!

I leave you now with the wonderful theme song to THE MOD SQUAD, written by the incomparable Earle Hagen.

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