- Created by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker
- March 4 to July 8, 1982
- Detective Frank Drebin-Leslie Nielsen
- Captain Ed Hocken-Alan North
- Officer Norberg-Peter Lupus
- Ted Olson-Ed Williams
- Johnny the Snitch-William Duell
- Al-Ronald “Tiny Ron” Taylor
- Announcer-Hank Simms
Detective Frank Drebin is a member of Police Squad, a special department of the police force, and deals with crimes involving the criminal scum of the city.
Police Squad! is a series that left television far too soon. It was, and still is, a brilliant comedy that was done in a way that was ahead of its time. It was semi-serialized requiring some knowledge of previous episode. A very prime example is a gag in Episode 6 “Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don’t Laugh)” when Frank is driving to the crime scene and his narration mentions that he is taking the boxer’s girlfriend (“Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment)”) Mary played by Tessa Richards from that same episode. You would not get that joke if you had not seen that very episode.
This was a comedy that went for the laugh. It is filled with non-sequiturs and sight gags and silly jokes. One thing that distinguished the ZAZ’s Airplane! and Naked Gun films was that not only was the foreground important, but the background was as well. If you watch the action on screen, you will be entertained and get a laugh but there is stuff going on in the background.
Clocks with numbers out of order. Silly signs. Perhaps the characters step into a Japanese garden filled with actual Japanese. And the occasional continuation of a joke from earlier in the episode or even the series. And that is just a small sampling. One reason the show is still hilarious is that there is almost always something to discover in an episode you have seen before.
It is reported an executive at ABC said the reason Police Squad! was canceled was because you had to watch it. And that is quite possibly the reason it was canceled. I am not talking about watching in the sense that you had to turn the television on. I am talking about watch it in the sense that you had to pay attention to everything. There was just so much going on in every scene.
And the plots of the episode were the mix of the usual and unusual. There is a murder involving a debt to an orthodontist. Or there are weird and odd twists. There were occasionally pop culture references of the era that still land rather quite well. How they managed that is a testament to everyone involved.
Running gags were a staple of the show. For example Rex Hamilton was credited in every episode but only ever appeared in the opening credits with the same clip used each time. Speaking of opening credits, there was a special guest star announced in each episode, but they only appeared in the opening credits getting killed. I remember being confused by it after watching the opening credits of the pilot but once I understood the joke it was just stupid and funny.
And the show still holds up. It is still just as funny today as it was when it first came on. The humor is broad but specifically it is genuinely funny to the point of being timeless. As I said before while there are some pop culture references these are references that have withstood the test of time and they are minimal. You can draw parallels between the humor done here and the old Warner Bros. cartoons. You may not know what celebrity or what bit of culture they are making fun of in those cartoons, but the jokes are still good because it was quality work.
The actors often played it straight here. They were oblivious to the silliness of their situation or what they were doing. Nobody reacted as if this was a comedy. The oddities never elicit a doubletake nor the use of Nielsen’s famous rubbery face.
Ed Hocken was Frank’s boss though it seemed like Frank was more in charge than Ed. There is nothing odd or quirky about the relationship and they treated every case with a near over-the-top seriousness. Norberg was the only less than series character.
Ted Olsen was the lab technician they often went to for answers. Often though when the scene with him began he was talking to a young child in an Ask Mr. Wizard type scenario that ended in some risqué request or statement (at least for the time on television). Things like “bring something from your mother’s underwear drawer” could probably be found in newer comedies but not so much back then.
Johnny the Snitch was a parody of the snitch character that as I recall many shows around that time employed. They tended to be individuals that would provide vital information to the investigation which allowed the story to skip a few steps that the characters would otherwise need to go through to learn the information that was imparted.
This character though was hilariously well-informed. Not only did he know stuff that Frank needed to know but after Frank departed another individual would step up like Dr. Joyce Brothers or a fireman or a heart surgeon and he would import information that helped them.
Frank Drebin is perhaps the role that defined Leslie Nielsen. With Airplane! Nielsen introduced the world to his amazing comedic skills but with this show he cemented himself as a comic actor. Dr. Rumack may come to mind but when you think of Leslie Nielsen you think of Frank Drebin first.
There was a lot of talent here. Not only in front of the screen but behind it as well. David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, Pat Proft, Joe Dante, and Robert Wuhl all had a hand in crafting what we get here. That is a lot of talent for just six episodes.
Police Squad! never had the chance to jump the proverbial shark. It only lasted six episodes and each episode was perfectly crafted. They wrote it like they had Airplane! It had the same gags and bad puns and significant amount of material within it. The show did not overstay its welcome, but it left far too early.
Police Squad! is a show that ended far too soon but what we do have is pure comedic gold. If you can find it watch it! This is must see TV!