Police Squad! (ABC, 1982)
I am not a big fan of American sitcoms, but this is one of my favourites. In 1980 the film Airplane! was released, which was a very funny film as ridiculous things happened around everybody. One of the stars of the film was Leslie Nielsen who delivered his lines in a brilliantly deadpan style. Nielsen went on to star in Police Squad!, this parody of old-fashioned TV police drama series.
Police Squad! is definitely one of the oddest sitcoms of its time. It is clear right from the start that is an unusual show as it plays with the conventions of how this style of drama is presented. This includes a special guest star who was announced and then killed off during the title sequence, and the episode title on screen being different to the one said by the announcer.
Nielsen played Frank Drebin, a cop who gets himself into some rather awkward situations. As well as the plots being rather absurd, there was also some amusing wordplay which I am a fan of. Probably the most famous quote from the entire run is “we’re sorry to bother you at such as time like this, Mrs Twice. We would have come earlier but your husband wasn’t dead then.” There’s also the classic “cigarette?” “yes, I know”.
There were a few other regular characters in the show including Dreben’s sidekick Captain Ed Hockin, plus the scientist Ted Olson who was always eager to help out, and Johnny who seemed to know everything about everyone for a price. Every episode also famously ended with what appeared to be a freeze frame as the credits began, but everyone had to actually awkwardly stand still.
Police Squad! never really had a chance to be a big success with viewers because it was cancelled after only six episodes, which is remarkable considering that most American sitcoms get at least 13 episodes. That wasn’t the end though thankfully. In 1988 a film version of Police Squad! was released called The Naked Gun.
This was a great film did well enough to spawn two sequels in The Smell Of Fear and The Final Insult, and at long last Frank Drebin had finally become the popular comedy character that he deserved to be. And yet Airplane! or The Naked Gun wasn’t actually how I first discovered Police Squad!, it was something a little different.
In the early-90s Leslie Nielsen appeared in a series of adverts for Red Rock Cider, which were made in the style of Police Squad! The catchphrase was “it’s not red, and there’s no rocks in it.” I thought that these adverts were really great, and so when I saw Police Squad! for the first time I got into it right away.
Police Squad! has been repeated on various channels in the UK throughout the years, and a DVD has also been released which along with all of the episodes (in color and everything) also features some interesting behind-the-scenes information, meaning that it took a while, but Police Squad! finally is now acclaimed by many people to be the great sitcom that it always was.