Original Airdate: 2003 (ABC), 2004 (NBC)
Creator: Dick Wolf
I love watching cops catch bad guys like any other red blooded American (other interests: red meat, debt, and beating up Commies), but it seems like the television world is just bloated with all sorts of cop dramas; between the many Law and Orders, multiple CSI’s, and TNT as a whole, it can get a little overwhelming and frankly, a little annoying. That’s not to say all of them are bad; some, like Southland, are actually pretty damn good. However, for me at least, one cop drama stands above all the rest, despite only lasting two seasons: that is the excellent 00′s reboot of the classic Dragnet…well at least the first season.
Originally airing on ABC in 2003, Dragnet starred Ed O’ Neill in the titular role of Lt. Joe Friday and Ethan Embry as his younger partner Det. Frank Smith. Working for the L.A.P.D. Robbery/Homicide division, Friday and Smith would tackle cases from serial killers to kidnappers, always managing to get their man at the end of the episode (usually). As opposed to the other cop dramas, O’ Neill also narrated each episode, including his signature line “My name’s Friday…I’m a cop”.
Instead of putting focus on the detectives’ personal lives like in other shows, Dragnet was all about the case. It was wall to wall police work, from questioning witnesses to car chases to the eventual capture and sentencing of the perpetrators. O’Neill and Embry, who previously worked together in the 1991 film Dutch, had great chemistry together, Embry the hotheaded detective and O’ Neill the grizzled calm veteran. O’Neill especially was great in the role, and even though I grew up on the radio show, I can’t picture anyone else as Joe Friday.
The cases themselves were varied and had interesting villains and motives. It also dealt with celebrity life and Los Angeles as a city, showcasing the seedier things that go on which Governor Schwartzenegger probably doesn’t want you to know about. Unique serial killers (“The Silver Slayer”), satanic rituals (“Sticks and Stones”), and run-ins with mobsters (“All That Glitters”) are just some of the interesting stories that take place in this first season.
Even though it had a good thing going with its two man team and a host of varied and interesting cases, its move from ABC to NBC during its second season proceeded made all of it null and void. Frank Smith was taken out entirely, and O’Neill’s Friday was surrounded by a host of new detectives and lawyers (including Eva Longoria and Dexter‘s Desmond Harrington). Instead of having a unique spin, the show turned into an ensemble, which looked like this:
Tell me you don’t hear the Law and Order theme when you see that. Not only was Friday now surrounded by other characters, the focus began to shift away from him and its identity disappeared. Dragnet, now L.A. Dragnet, became just another Law and Order copycat. Yawn. I gave up on the show around this time, but the second season is up on Hulu, so if you want to see a show do a complete 180, watch an ep from the first season and then any ep from the second season. Meh.
Regardless, the first season of Dragnet is definitely worth the watch. Focusing on just crimes and detective work instead of personal lives, it was engaging and had two leads with tremendous chemistry, with an especially great performance by Ed O’ Neill week in and week out. Despite being stripped of its uniqueness when it moved to NBC, I still regard it as the best crime drama show I have ever seen, and at the very least 500 times better than Cop Rock.
Dragnet: Season 1
Dragnet: Season 2 (L.A. Dragnet)