Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mark Harmon and Jo Ann Pflug Learn About Life While Patrolling in "Adam-12"


Growing up as a kid, "Adam-12" was one of my favorite TV shows.  It ran almost concurrently with my childhood years being raised in a Los Angeles that still had remnants of its past glories as it was about to embark in a new era marked by further urban development, mini malls, and ever expanding diversity.  Los Angeles is a great city and it was a great place to grow up.  I think growing up there taught me to respect and appreciate solid traditions while, at the same time, keeping my mind open to new and fresh perspectives.  Watching "Adam-12" now reminds of me those days as a kid in the 1970s when the city was on the cusp of new, exciting, and controversial developments.  In contrast to the equally great and iconic, but comparatively stage-bound and claustrophobic "Dragnet" (which was also produced by Jack Webb), what made "Adam-12" so great was how so much of it was shot on location on the streets of Los Angeles.  The early years of "Adam-12" were clearly shot in the North Hollywood/Studio City/San Fernando Valley areas that surrounded Universal Studios, the company that made "Adam-12."  But, as the show progressed, it seemed to gradually venture further and further beyond those locations so that other, notable areas of the city were also represented.  Anyone who wants to study the history of Los Angeles locations should watch "Adam-12."


What also made me love the show was the easy camaraderie between Martin Milner, as Officer Pete Malloy, and Kent McCord, as Officer Jim Reed.  Their friendship was simple and uncomplicated, but also completely genuine and believable throughout the seven years of this series.  There was no backstory involving their characters that would create tension between them as so many police or crime dramas would insert nowadays.  They just genuinely, and unquestioningly, liked and cared about each other and they completely understood each other on an instinctive level.  But that doesn't mean the show didn't occasionally allow us a sense of who they were as individuals outside of their profession.  Over the course of the series, we learn that Malloy is a confirmed, yet happy, bachelor who isn't looking to settle down in life.  He usually bristles at the suggestion that he should get married and have a family someday.  (Though by the end of the series he seems happily involved with a woman named Judy, played by Aneta Corsaut from "The Andy Griffith Show.")  He's a solid, "old school," kind of guy who would be the first to admit that he isn't particularly complicated, but has a calm, rational way of viewing the world so that he is able to interact effectively with the diverse group of individuals he encounters throughout his career as a police officer.


In contrast, Reed is a happily married guy, with a young son, who was fresh out of the Army at the time he joined the LAPD.  We learn that Reed's loving and devoted wife, Jean, dislikes hearing about police work because it continually reminds her of how her husband may be harmed in the line of duty.  Nevertheless, Jean still rises to the occasion and is supportive of her husband, especially in a second season episode entitled "A Rare Occasion," when she learns that one of her husband's fellow patrol officers has died and she immediately offers to go to the hospital to help comfort his widow.  Malloy and Reed become such close friends that Reed and his wife decide to make the acerbic Malloy their son's godfather, a gesture that clearly moves and touches Malloy.  I remember an episode in the middle of the run of the series where Reed casually mentions to Malloy that his son Jimmy is ill, and Malloy demonstrates how concerned he is about the boy's health, commenting that "There's nothing more important to me than my godson."  And that's about it in terms of "character development," but that's all right in the context of "Adam-12."  We learn just enough about Malloy and Reed to know that we care about them without allowing the show to lose sight of what it's supposed to be about.  (Don't misunderstand me.  The show did occasionally step outside its comfort zone, especially in episodes like 1970's poignant "Elegy for a Pig," a dialogue-less episode, told in flashback, as Malloy recalls his close friendship with a fellow police officer killed in the line of duty.  Such atypical episodes helped to heighten our appreciation of the series as a whole.)


Unlike other, later police dramas, which try to "develop" its characters by creating contrived conflicts and focusing too much on the trials and tribulations at home of the regulars, "Adam-12" kept its eye on the ball and focused on the police work.  It was kind of an unusual show in that most episodes were very loosely structured vignettes depicting a series of events in a day in the life of Malloy and Reed as they patrolled the streets of Los Angeles in their police unit with the radio call sign of "1-Adam-12."  It wasn't a typical police drama in that few episodes introduced a villain or conflict at the start of the episode that the heroes had to resolve or capture by the end of the segment.  Furthermore, unlike most other police dramas, "Adam-12" was a 30 minute television series, as opposed to a one-hour drama.  The comparative brevity of the episodes allowed the writers and producers of the show to retain its loose, almost plot-less storytelling technique so that the show wouldn't have to be padded with needless exposition in order to fill out a one-hour time slot.  I would argue that its short running time allowed the producers freedom to make most episodes as unstructured and relaxed as they were.  It wasn't needlessly melodramatic in its content, and its scenes of action and violence also seemed credible because they were staged matter-of-factly and never seemed contrived or outrageous.  In the course of a typical episode, Malloy and Reed could end up dealing with armed robbery suspects, but they might also become involved with attempting to locate a missing child, issue traffic citations, deal with quarreling neighbors, interact with individuals in the public that they have developed connections and friendships with, or whatever else might cross their paths during the course of their day.  Even though some would argue "Adam-12" was a "formulaic" show, I would wager that its relaxed, free-form style was in itself daring and innovative. 


When the show debuted, Malloy was already a seven year veteran patrol officer who was about to leave the force due to his guilt over his partner being killed several weeks earlier.  When he meets the rookie Jim Reed on what was supposed to be his last day with the LAPD, he seems rather impatient and stern with the young, wide-eyed neophyte patrol officer.  Malloy is wound so tight that, when he asks the rookie officer "Do you know what this is?" and Reed eagerly responds, "Yes, sir.  It's a police car," he gives Reed an admonishing description of their vehicle, and how he should learn to appreciate it, which is a brilliant monologue, that Milner delivers with ratatat precision, and has to be seen to be believed: "This black and white patrol car has an overhead valve V-8 engine.  It develops 325 horsepower at 4800 RPMs.  It accelerates from 0 to 60 in 7 seconds and has a top speed of 120 miles an hour.  It's equipped with a multi-channel DFE radio and electronic siren capable of emitting three variables: Wail, Yelp and Alert.  It also serves as an outside radio speaker and a public address system.  The automobile has two shotgun racks:  One attached to the bottom portion of the front seat, one in the vehicle trunk.  Attached to the middle of the dash, illuminated by a single bulb is a hot sheet desk, fastened to which you will always make sure is the latest one off the teletype before you ever roll.  It's your life insurance.  And mine.  You take care it, it'll take care of you."  In so doing, Malloy has already started to impart to Reed that nothing associated with their work, even the tools and weaponry that they rely upon to accomplish it, should be taken for granted. 


Over the course of their first day together, however, he recognizes both the skill, as well as the impetuousness, of the eager and brash young Reed.  Malloy, who recognizes qualities in the young Reed not unlike himself when he was a rookie, decides to stay on the police force so that he can mentor Reed and offer the benefit of his wizened perspective and experience to his new friend and partner.  As "Adam-12" progresses, you see how Malloy goes from being serious and uptight to becoming a more relaxed and warmer individual due to the enthusiastic presence of Reed in his life.  Martin Milner does a great job at allowing us to see the warmth and humanity of Malloy so that he becomes a character we both admire and care about.  Concurrently, you see how Reed goes from wide-eyed, naive, and eager, to becoming cool, controlled, and calm as he gains more experience on the streets.  Kent McCord has never been praised as a brilliant actor, but he does fine work playing Jim Reed.  What I notice as I watch "Adam-12" through the years is how McCord demonstrates to us how Reed continues to mature and develop confidence in his job as he recognizes the responsibilities that come with his position.  I particularly like how McCord's eyes grow tougher and more assured by the time the series ends in 1975, seven years after his character joined the police force in 1968.  As regular viewers of the show can attest, we've seen Reed grow up before our very eyes.


Towards the end of the show's run, the writers allowed "Adam-12" to step outside its regular format and produce two episodes that fully dramatized and demonstrated how Reed had come into his own and went from being the rookie trainee to becoming a training officer himself.  In the 7th Season episode entitled "Gus Corbin," which aired April 1, 1975, Malloy is assigned duty as acting watch commander for a day.  Reed is assigned to patrol with a young officer, Gus Corbin (Mark Harmon), who is already 9 months into his probationary period as a police officer.  Corbin is a Marine Corps veteran and a talented and conscientious young man, but one who is also insecure about his youthful appearance and how that might cause the public to perceive him.  When Malloy and Corbin pull over a mother and daughter who are driving recklessly in a green Chevrolet Vega Station Wagon, Corbin impetuously scolds the mother by telling her, "What are you trying to do lady, get yourself killed?"  They learn that the mother and daughter were chasing after a thief who had snatched the mother's purse.  When Corbin asks for a description of the suspect, the young daughter describes him as "sorta young, around your age, 18, maybe 19 (years old).  He has real long hair."  Later, back in their patrol car, Corbin sneers and whines as he mimics the young girl's description of the suspect as "About your age, 18 or 19."  Recognizing that Corbin is taking the girl's comment too much to heart, he tries to reassure his partner that "There's nothing wrong with being young.  You know most adults wouldn't look past the uniform or the badge."  Corbin self-pityingly muses aloud, "I'd rather grow a mustache."  Reed again tries to buck up his young colleague by sharing with him that "When I was 21, I didn't look a day over 18 either."  Corbin continues whining as he responds to Reed, "But I'm 24!"


Corbin's insecurity over his youthfulness, and how others might perceive him as a result of it, causes him to overcompensate for it later in the episode.  When Corbin and Reed apprehend the purse snatching suspect, Corbin is overly brusque with the suspect, who surrenders peacefully to both officers, and locks the handcuffs too tightly on him.  When the suspect complains about his handcuffs, Corbin coldly responds, "You should've thought of that before you stole the lady's purse, Ace."  Reed notices how the cuffs are indeed too tight on the suspect and loosens them.  Later on, after the suspect has been booked, Reed discusses with Corbin his overzealousness with the suspect.  Corbin glibly remarks, "He had it comin'."  Reed pointedly asks Corbin, "You tryin' to prove something'?"  When Corbin defensively asks "What have I got to prove?" Reed responds by telling him "Maybe it would be easier if you grew a mustache."  In so doing, Reed highlights to Corbin how his own insecurity, and need to overcompensate for it, is starting to affect his judgement and instincts in being able to make effective decisions with his job.


Later, Reed and Corbin investigate a break-in at a pharmacy that is meant to allow the suspects to rob the pawn shop next door.  While Reed is busy apprehending one of the suspects on the roof, Malloy and Corbin investigate the pharmacy and then the pawn shop.  Corbin impetuously suggests using tear gas to ferret out the suspects, who are in hiding, but Malloy vetoes Corbin because it's too premature to resort to such procedures.  As Malloy goes to call for backup, he orders Corbin to stay put and not search any further until he returns.  Corbin defies Malloy's direct order and begins nosing around.  Corbin is able to spot the remaining suspect, which leads to his arrest, but Corbin's defiance of Malloy's orders causes the senior officer to call the young rookie to the carpet.  Malloy asks Reed, while Corbin is present, "Jim how much do you figure it costs to put a man through the Academy?"  When Reed speculates it costs about $12,000 to $15,000, Malloy asks, "Did you know that Corbin?...So if you get yourself killed, the Department's out of a lot of money.  That would be quite a waste, wouldn't it?"


When Corbin tries to explain that he didn't think it would hurt to look around, Malloy continues dressing down the rookie, "I didn't tell you to go exploring."  Corbin makes the case that, if he hadn't been looking around, they wouldn't have found the suspects in hiding.  Malloy contradicts him by pointing out, "Yes we would, when SWAT got here."  Reed attempts to defend his young partner by arguing on his behalf, "Look, Pete, I know what his problem is.  He's just a little eager."  Malloy bluntly responds "There's a difference between being eager and being stupid."  Reed offers to point that distinction out to Corbin only to have Malloy respond, "So will I...Give me about 5 minutes" before dressing down Corbin further off-screen.  To his credit, Corbin acknowledges to Malloy later, "Phew, that Malloy's really hard nosed, isn't he?...The heck of it is, he's right.  Maybe I should grow a mustache."


Even though Corbin acknowledges his immaturity, he soon demonstrates how he still has much to learn when he and Reed soon afterwards find themselves pursuing a robbery suspect.  As Corbin leaps out of the car to pursue the suspect on foot, he loses his service revolver and is essentially walking into a dangerous situation unarmed.  Using his wits and determination, Corbin is able to bluff the suspect into believing he still has his weapon and apprehends him single-handedly.  A disapproving Reed soon comes upon the scene and returns the gun to Corbin in front of the suspect, who realizes he's been had.  As they place the suspect in the patrol car, Reed reminds Corbin that he needs to be more careful while on duty than what he has demonstrated so far.  A humbled Corbin acknowledges, "This just hasn't been one of my better days," which Reed responds by acknowledging "That's putting it mildly!"  Corbin continues by expressing how he realizes "I've been playing with the Academy's money again.  But I figured he wouldn't know I dropped my gun."  Reed points out to Corbin that "You've got a lot of confidence, but you've also got a lot to learn."  Corbin nods and acknowledges, "But I've got a great teacher."  What redeems Corbin in this storyline is that, despite his insecurity and immaturity and impetuousness, he's also intelligent and humble and self-aware enough to recognize his own faults and short-comings.  He might make the wrong call, but he's quick to realize his mistakes and own up to them.  Mark Harmon demonstrates his early promise and potential as an actor with this guest role on "Adam-12."  Harmon's inherent strength as an actor is his courage and willingness to play characters who are flawed and human, but who also demonstrate tremendous integrity and bravery at the same time.  He's not a one-dimensional hero as an actor and his performance as Gus Corbin prefigures the fine work that Harmon had to look forward to in decades to come.


Soon after the "Gus Corbin" episode, "Adam-12" aired on April 29, 1975 a similarly-themed episode entitled "Dana Hall," with Jo Ann Pflug guest-starring as a female patrol officer who is being trained by Jim Reed while Malloy is still serving as the acting watch commander.  In contrast to Gus Corbin, who had to deal with his own insecurities and immaturity while learning to become a good police officer, Dana Hall has to deal with condescension from male police officers who feel that she doesn't have what it takes to do the job.  As arrogant Officer Ed Wells (Gary Crosby) says aloud, within Dana Hall's earshot, "Well they better not put one in my car, that's all.  It's the dumbest thing I ever heard of.  Where is Super Chick anyway?"  An annoyed Malloy dresses Wells down by telling him, "Look, she's pickin' up reports and why don't you knock that stuff off.  You know, she's gonna have enough problems without you hasslin' her."  Wells condescendingly tells Reed, "You just watch yourself out there today, buddy boy.  Don't count on the Ladies Auxillary to back you up."  Reed ends the discussion by simply telling Wells, "Look, Ed, you take care of your unit and I'll take care of Adam-12, OK?"  As they walk out, Wells holds the door open for Hall, to condescendingly highlight she isn't one of them as far as he's concerned, to which she drily responds "You're sweet."


What I rather like about the episode is how Malloy and Reed neither condescend nor show preferential treatment to Hall during her first day as a patrol officer.  While they are both clearly getting used to the idea of working with a female patrol officer, they each handle the situation by dealing with it at face value and holding Hall to the same standards they would hold to themselves and other officers.  When Hall defensively asks Reed while they are on patrol, "Well...Shall we get those tired old questions out of the way, like 'What's a nice girl like me doing in a patrol car?,'" Reed simply responds by saying, "Well, I assume you like the job or the money."  Hall brightens up and says "Well that's a refreshing attitude.  You don't mind having a woman for a partner?"  Reed candidly responds, "Not unless you're gonna harp upon it all day long."  In so doing, Reed treats Hall with the same level of respect as he treated Officer Gus Corbin in the previous episode.  As with Corbin, he makes no assumptions about Hall and allows her an opportunity to prove herself while on the job.  Later, Hall shares with Reed that "When I finished college, I considered graduate school, even law.  I couldn't decide, so I took a job.  Do you know that I worked four years for my B.A. and the best job was as a secretary to a dirty old man?  Talk about your boring!  That's boring!  I was so anxious to do something that was really useful that when this job came along I just took it."  In so doing, we understand that Hall became a police officer after careful consideration of the options presented to her in life, and that she doesn't have any agenda outside of doing a good job. 


However, like Corbin, Hall has her own set of insecurities that occasionally mar her judgement as a police officer.  Whereas Corbin was insecure because of his youthful appearance, and how that would affect the way he would be perceived, Hall's insecurities stem from how people might perceive her as a female police officer.  After Reed and Hall arrest a teenage DUI suspect, they both speak with the young man's mother after she arrives at the police station to pick up her son.  When the mother admits to being permissive and allowing her son to drink occasionally at home, thinking that that would be better for her son than experimenting with illegal drugs, Hall scolds the mother for enabling her son and being a bad influence on him.  Hall bristles when the mother attempts to reason with her by making the case that "Surely, as a woman, you..." to which Hall cuts her off and reminds the mother "I am a police officer, Mrs. Bell.  I handle police problems.  Your family problems are your own."  When Reed asks to speak to Hall privately over a cup of coffee, Hall asks "Is this a conference...Man to Man?" to which Reed shakes his head and replies, "Cop to Cop."


When Reed points out that Hall came on too strong with the mother of the DUI suspect, Hall defensively responds, "Well, in another minute she would have had a crying towel on my shoulder."  Reed reminds her that "Sometimes that's part of the uniform."  Hall scoffs and asks, "For lady cops?" to which Reed explains, "No, for every cop.  You know what I think?  I think she was starting to get through to you and you were afraid of that so you started acting like you were tough.  But believe me that's not a departmental requirement."  When Hall asks, "You mean the other cops would have come in and listened to a sob story?" Reed responds, "Yes, most of them.  Even Ed Wells.  You don't like him, but at least he doesn't leave his feelings in the locker room when he puts on his uniform.  Now you try to do that and you're gonna end up a basket case and you're not gonna be good as a cop either."  As with Gus Corbin in the earlier episode, despite her insecurities, Hall is able to recognize sage advice when it's being offered to her and acknowledges, "You know the problem with you Jim is you're right."  In so doing, Reed underscores that Hall doesn't need to lose her humanity or sensitivity in order to prove to herself and others that she is a good police officer, and that those are assets that will come in handy in her line of work. 


As with Gus Corbin, Dana Hall proves throughout her episode that she is a talented and capable police officer who has much to learn, but who also much to offer on the job.  She relentlessly chases on foot a car stripping subject throughout a parking garage until he is out of breath and accidentally runs into a post and knocks himself out.  As Hall explains to Reed, the suspect hurt himself because "He was about ready to fall down anyway, he's not in good shape."  Hall further explains to Reed, "I used to hit the Hill with gusto at the Academy, I still do a couple of miles every morning," to underscore how her physical stamina wore out the suspect to such a degree that she was able to take him into custody.  Later, during a riot taking place at a rock concert, Hall single-handedly apprehends several suspects and is even able to save her nemesis, Ed Wells, from being clobbered by rioters.  When Malloy asks Hall to stay with the Command Post and help him process the suspects, rather than returning to where the rioting is taking place, Hall responds "But my partner's up there."


At that point, the show draws a distinction between Dana Hall's character, and the Gus Corbin character played by Mark Harmon in the previous episode.  In Gus Corbin's episode, when Malloy told Corbin to stay in place until reinforcements could arrive, Corbin disregards the order and searches the pawn shop without backup.  In Dana Hall's similar situation at the riot, when Malloy asks Hall to stand down and help at the Command Post, Hall requests permission to continue working with Reed to subdue the rioters.  In so doing, Hall demonstrates her comparative maturity to Corbin because of how she is able to see the bigger picture.  She respects the chain of command and doesn't show herself to be foolish and foolhardy the way Corbin occasionally was in his episode, which is why she is treated with more respect and as a genuine equal by Malloy and Reed, compared to the way Corbin was treated at times in his episode by Reed and Malloy as an immature kid.  I think this has to do with the fact that, even though Dana Hall demonstrates courage and assertiveness, she doesn't do anything to put herself, or others, in unnecessary danger the way Gus Corbin did in his episode.


People who might find some aspects of the "Dana Hall" episode dated should really watch it in the same context as the "Gus Corbin" episode.  Both involve rookie police officers being trained by Reed.  Hall has to deal with prejudice and condescension due to her gender, and some aspects of the episode might seem regressive such as when Hall files her finger nails in the patrol car and admits that she keeps her lipstick in her sock while in uniform, but compared to Gus Corbin, Dana Hall is portrayed much more competently and maturely.  Though she isn't perfect, she still doesn't make as many mistakes during her patrol with Reed the way Corbin does.  Jo Ann Pflug does a good job at demonstrating Dana Hall's intelligence and dedication to her job.  She's attractive and appealing, but also convincingly brave and athletic when dealing with the more physical aspects of the role.  Despite "Adam-12's" reputation as an old fashioned, conservative show, it is also in many ways a fair-minded program because it is willing to consider new ideas while at the same time upholding traditions.


By the end of the Dana Hall episode, even though Ed Wells still isn't completely convinced of the idea of women being police officers, the show demonstrates how she has started to prove herself to her other colleagues.  In the epilogue, Officer Jerry Woods (Fred Stromsoe), who was also skeptical of Hall, tells Wells in the locker room, "I'm telling you Buddy Boy, she saved your bacon.  No kidding, you should've seen the way she cleared that rail without breaking stride.  I'll bet you couldn't do it."  When Reed points out that Hall's 8 years of ballet training allowed her to develop athletic skills that helped her deal with the rioters, Woods continues ribbing Wells by telling him "She study ballet too?  See, that's your problem Wells!  Not enough Ballet!"  Wells remains unconvinced and insists, "Maybe Hall's an exception...Maybe she's one of those, what do you call 'em?, Amazons.  Freak.  All I know is this: no normal woman can handle this job and I don't care if you give her a gun, a baton, a whip and a chair.  The whole idea stinks, you know.  Because if you let one of them in, there goes the whole department."  Reed sensibly opines, "You're a reactionary, you know that Ed?"  As they run into Hall out in the hallway, attractively dressed in civilian attire, she cheekily holds the door open for Wells, to demonstrate to him that she's no longer intimidated by what he, or anyone else, thinks of her as a police officer.


Even though these two episodes are atypical in that Malloy and Reed are not patrolling together in "Adam-12," the episodes are satisfying because they help underscore the extent to which their working relationship has matured throughout the seven years we've been watching them.  Malloy feels confident and assured that he has taught Reed everything he needs to know that he is able to start taking other leadership assignments that will allow him to continue progressing in the LAPD.  Meanwhile, Reed has gone from being the wide-eyed neophyte to the wizened mentor, ready to dispense helpful insights to new police officers who are about to embark on a new, exciting phase in their lives.  Even though they aren't working together in these episodes, I never get the feeling that Malloy and Reed are ever in danger of drifting apart and losing that friendship that is the hallmark of the series.  This is because Reed continually confers with Malloy with regards to working with both Corbin and Hall, and Malloy continues to be present to help offer helpful insights to Reed as his partner has now become a mentor to others and begins to take on new roles and assignments on his own.  "Adam-12" would continue for just two more episodes, when the series finally ended with an episode where Reed is awarded the LAPD Medal of Valor for saving Malloy's life.  I always found these last episodes rather poignant because, even though it's not clearly stated, they do suggest that Malloy and Reed are on the brink of going in new directions in their careers that would, in essence, end their partnership patrolling together in Adam-12.  Nevertheless, I always found the series finale of "Adam-12" extremely satisfying because I always feel like I have experienced something special watching the burgeoning friendship and partnership of two men who enriched their lives, and ours, by demonstrating qualities of courage, leadership and integrity week-after-week.

2 comments:

  1. I remember watching "Adam-12" as well, but,sadly I missed the episodes with the lovely and engagingJoAnn Fflug. Watching shows like "Columbo" and "Mod Squad" on DVD or minor cable networks like MyTV now one does get a sense of the architectural and automotive evolution in Los Angeles ,as well as how much television was shot on what now seems like very spartan police room sets, as compared to today's high-tech and gleaming HQs. While at the same time, we get to how 1960-70s television writing is reflecting society's attitudes changing on matters or race and gender. Excellent review, one that reminded me of a lot of things that had slipped to the back of my mind about this show.

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  2. An excellent analysis of this classic show. I've been watching a lot of Adam-12 lately now that Me-TV shows it in the afternoon when I'm usually just home from work. Seeing it now with older eyes makes me realize what a fine show it truly was (the "Elegy of a Pig" episode is a knock-out). I'm going to share this blog on my facebook page and on Google.

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