Grade: B/B-
TV comedy
Rated TV-PG

All right, I’ll talk: I’m a big Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker fan. I think Airplane! and Top Secret! are hilarious, and The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! gets my vote for funniest laugh-out-loud movie ever made (sorry, Mel Brooks).

This trio of high school friends from a Milwaukee suburb specializes in visual puns, sight gags, “triples,” and running gags that expand with every repetition. David Zucker once told me they gravitated toward rapid-fire jokes out of self-defense. When they first created Kentucky Fried Theater they borrowed money from their parents and couldn’t afford actors, so they had to do all of the skits onstage themselves. They hated not getting laughs and went the rapid-fire route because they discovered it was easier to keep audiences laughing than it was to get them to laugh in the first place.

Police Squad! aired in 1982, with the trio pitching it as Airplane! but with the police genre. The title and opening sequence pays tribute to M Squad, a popular ‘50s cop show staring Broderick Crawford. There are some funny jokes here, but as with SNL or other sketch comedy shows there are some misfires as well. Police Squad! ran just six episodes, maybe because the trio’s brand of rapid-fire gags hang better on a model that’s full length.

That said, once you get past a first episode that’s not quite as funny as The Naked Gun, the others have their share of laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of smiles and groans. Groans? Yeah. Baseball announcer Steve Stone said it best: “Puns are like children. You love your own, and can’t stand anyone else’s.” You can almost create a drinking game out of predicting what visual pun will splash across the screen next after you hear a familiar expression that can be taken more than one way. A few of the gags are off-color, which is why this short-lived TV series carries a TV-PG rating.

But fans will be grateful to Paramount for finally releasing it on Blu-ray. With The Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane! and all three Naked Gun movies now on Blu-ray, the only Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker movies not available in HD are their single comedy of character, Ruthless People, and the zany comedy that David Zucker told me they thought was their funniest: Top Secret! So we can only hope that Paramount will finally get around to releasing that one on Blu-ray next.

The star of Police Squad! is Leslie Nielsen, who played the doctor in Airplane! (“And don’t call me Shirley”) and takes the same approach with Frank Drebin, who seems clueless as Clouseau and has a deadpan delivery to match. While Alan North does a fine job as Drebin’s boss, George Kennedy would replace him in the movie and hold his own a little better opposite the charismatic Nielsen. In this series, two minor characters also stand out, and viewers will find themselves looking forward to their routines. The first is William Duell, as Johnny the shoeshine man. Duell is the clichéd informant who knows everything, and that includes syndromes Dr. Joyce Brothers wants to know about, or specialized information that other celebrity guests solicit. Equally fun is Ed Williams as Mr. Olsen, a police lab scientist who’s always giving Science Guy lessons to an adolescent girl when Drebin walks in, and those bits are far funnier than the exchanges with Drebin. Fun too are the celebrity guest stars who are bumped off in the opening credits.

Although a fair number of gags from this series were reused in The Naked Gun, the film is still far superior. Still, this collection of Police Squad! episodes is every bit as strong as The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear, and stronger than The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.

Included are commentary tracks for Episodes 1 and 3 (Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, with producer Robert K. Weiss) and 6 (with story editor Robert Wuhl).

Entire family: No
Run time: 150 min. (6 episodes), Color
Studio/Distributor: Paramount
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Clip montage
Amazon link
Not Rated (original show rated TV-MA)

Language: 0/10—Nothing I noticed; this aired on CBS

Sex: 2/10—Only innuendo and a scene where attention is drawn to a woman’s bust

Violence: 3/10—Shootings and some fisticuffs, all comedic in nature

Adult situations: 2/10—Infrequent smoking and drinking

Takeaway: Top Secret! in HD please! And pronto! The Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker brand of comedy is addictive.

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