COPS: 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
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"Cops: 20th Season," "Pilot," "Las Vegas Heat," "First Ten Seasons," "Second Ten Seasons"
THE SMURFS: SEASON ONE, VOLUME ONE
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"The Smurf's Apprentice/The Smurfette/Vanity Fare," "King Smurf/The Astrosmurf/Jokey's Medicine," "St. Smurf and the Dragon/Sorcerer Smurf," "The Smurfs and the Howlibird," "The Magical Meanie/Bewitched, Bothered and Besmurfed," "Smurf-Colored Glasses/Dreamy's Nightmare," "Fuzzle Trouble/Soup a la Smurf," "The Hundredth Smurf/Smurphony in 'C'"
by Ian Pugh Kevin Rubio's "COPS"-Star Wars mashup Troops is painfully predictable, but there's a little nugget of profundity in its twist on "COPS"' familiar narration: "Suspects are guilty, period--otherwise, they wouldn't be suspects, would they?" It's the most concise description and criticism of "COPS" one could muster, almost impossible to build on because it so handily defines the tacit agreement the show's producers have with its audience. I mentioned in my review of the parodic "Reno 911!" that Fox's long-running reality show is useless in any political debate about police conduct, and it is--but upon watching several hours' worth of the series in a new "20th Anniversary Edition" DVD set, I became more perturbed by how it attempts to forge an uncrossable distance between you and the suspect. "COPS" always poses itself as something completely external to the viewer: in the interests of entertainment, the vast, vast majority of scenarios involve idiots caught in the act or resisting arrest. You're therefore not only a rubbernecker looking for a visceral thrill--you also come to consider yourself exempt from police scrutiny because you don't break the law and certainly wouldn't do so as blatantly and stupidly as these criminals. It's the equivalent of the moron who has no problem with the government wiretapping his phone because he doesn't believe he does anything to warrant their attention.
With all this in mind, I don't know if watching the show on a regular basis will make you dumber, but it will almost certainly make you less empathetic. It's something that becomes immediately apparent while sifting through "COPS: 20th Season," an hour-long montage of the most titillating moments in the show's twenty-year history. You can't blame a cop for tackling an apparently suicidal woman to the ground as she wildly swings a knife at onlookers, for instance, yet the segment simply ends with the blade embedded in her gut, her future uncertain. On a somehow more disturbing note, how could happenstance footage of a man on a bicycle being mowed down by a car possibly be labelled a "Fan Favorite"? Even if these highlights were better contextualized in their original airings, the truncated nature of the retrospectives found on this set lets you know exactly where you're supposed to stand as an innocent bystander watching "COPS": the police are your unquestionable protectors, and everyone else is cannon fodder.
Another relic of the '80s given to a ridiculously unfounded sense of moral absolutism, "The Smurfs" first greets us with a cheery narrator who states, in no uncertain terms, that its eponymous blue clones are good and their archnemesis-cum-stalker Gargamel (voice of Paul Winchell) is bad. This despite every troubling thing the Smurfs try to teach us in the constraints of eleven minutes: through the introduction and pseudo-Aryan assimilation of Smurfette, we learn that women are alternately vain, treacherous, and stupid; through the humiliation and literal drugging of one Dreamy Smurf, we learn that the way to maintain harmony is to browbeat anyone with any ambitions to venture outside the parameters of their tiny mushroom village; and through everything else that happens in the series, we learn that bad thoughts can and should be wished away with a mind-numbing song and dance.
Goes without saying that "The Smurfs" is also dull and repetitive--how many times can you watch the same characters fall for the same exploding-present trick? Consider that it was the one Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the period to really leave an imprint on the public consciousness and suddenly the frightening state of modern children's entertainment isn't so difficult to decipher, littered as it is with Shrek the Thirds and Bee Movies--assembly-line products that preach the status quo. (Let's just hope that the success of Horton Hears a Who!--with its audacity to question the authority of both atheism and organized religion, in addition to its unabashed love for the bizarre and inappropriate--will help break this deadly cycle.) Taking into account the show's general intolerance for weirdness and nonconformity, Gargamel ends up the lone sympathetic character, an obsessive-compulsive Sisyphus with uncertain goals (sometimes he wants to eat the Smurfs, other times he wants to boil them into gold) backed up by a wonderfully frustrated performance from Winchell. Though "The Smurfs" might be worth a brief gander for him alone, the bottom line is that you're probably better off renting "Fraggle Rock".
"COPS: 20th Anniversary Edition" docks as a two-disc set from Fox. The quality of the full-frame image varies depending on the date of broadcast; moments from the late-'80s are uniformly soft and washed-out. Still, one's ability to instantly tell a Season 5 episode apart from a Season 6 episode speaks volumes for the mastering of the discs themselves. While the talk-heavy format of the show never lends itself to mind-blowing audio, the indelible theme song, "Bad Boys," comes through loud and clear in DD 2.0 stereo. The original hour-long pilot (narrated by Burt Lancaster!) reveals that the series started off with a much more honest approach: it makes more of an effort to humanize the titular flatfoots by presenting snippets from their personal lives, thus forcing us to understand the difficulties of this line of work as well as the fact that "COPS" should not dictate anyone's opinion of law enforcement from its necessarily narrow perspective. A commentary with executive producer John Langley (who sounds an awful lot like Donald Sutherland) reveals that he laments these scenes (forced on him by the network), however, for being too staged and distracting from the action. I can't help but disagree, even if he does have a cogent point concerning the practicality of bringing cameras into police officers' homes. Joining Langley are former Fox president Stephen Chau and subjects Nick Navarro and Jerry Wurms, all of whom seem content with their contributions to the show's legacy. Another yakker appends "Las Vegas Heat," featuring Langley alongside Bill Young, Sheila Huggins, and Tom Jenkins of the LVPD. Since most of this episode concerns the investigation of a homicide, the cops recount the ins and outs of the case. Meanwhile, Langley--an adamant proponent of the half-hour format for his creation--seems a lot happier with how this particular hour of television was edited together.
The first Special Features menu starts off with "Parodies and Tributes" (12 mins.), which compiles a few humorous jabs at "COPS"' expense found throughout pop culture--scenes from Reno 911!: Miami, a relevant episode of "My Name is Earl", and the super-futuristic TV sequence from Minority Report--and ends with an interview with Kevin Rubio and excerpts from Troops. Yawn. Notably missing? "The Simpsons"' hilariously unflattering "Cops in Springfield" ("Whether in a car or on a horse/we don't mind using excessive force"). "Famous Fan Favorites" (13 mins.) is a misleadingly-titled featurette that primarily interviews C-list celebrities and D-list comedians about why they watch "COPS". Director Richard Donner offers a fairly intelligent analysis of the show's aesthetic worth and Luke Wilson correctly identifies it as "hypnotizing," but simpering jokes from Chris O'Donnell, Larry the Cable Guy, and Paul Rodriguez cement the series as nothing but an empty helping of schadenfreude. At least the cast of "Reno 911!" maintains their ironic adulation for their forebears ("Some people watch 'This Old House' to learn how to build a toilet; we watch 'COPS' and learn how to do our job"). A promo for the 20th season of "COPS" cues up upon insertion of the disc.
Disc Two is headlined by "Sizzling Scenes" from two decades of the show, but the "official" extras on this disc begins with "The Story of 'COPS'" (22 mins.), an informative if largely unsurprising doc about how the series has evolved over the years and how an average episode is culled from countless hours of footage. Next is "Cops on 'COPS'" (30 mins.), wherein several police officers recount their onscreen antics and how the show affected their professional lives; their commentary engenders a basic level of humanity that's too often missing from the program proper. Finally, "Lights! Camera! Action! Toughest Takedowns" (35 mins.) is one final montage of car chases and fleeing suspects. Not much else to say except if you love "COPS", you'll love the whole damn thing and probably devour it in less than a day.
Warner drags its feet on bringing "Freakazoid!" to DVD yet finds the time to release "The Smurfs: Season One, Volume One" as a two-disc set, more than likely to begin paving the way for the long-threatened CGI Smurfs film. Although whites are occasionally spotty, the fullscreen source appears to have been pretty well preserved and/or remastered, meaning you'll get the most out of the maddeningly inconsistent character models and oppressive shades of blue. The attendant DD 1.0 mono is somewhat muted, but how clearly do you need to hear those helium-inflected voices, anyway? Only a light helping of questionable supplementary material, thank God: called a "bonus episode," "The Smurfs Springtime Special" (23 mins.) is mostly a showcase for Gargamel's hilarious/tragic short-sightedness: he kidnaps Mother Nature (who holds sway over the seasons and, apparently, the boundaries of life and death as well) in a bid to lure the Smurfs into a trap. It also introduces a new villain to the formula, Gargamel's godfather Balthazar, a cheaper, fatter version of Ming the Merciless who if nothing else at least has the temerity to invent a musket with which to shoot the Smurfs. Last and unquestionably least is "Smurfs: The Music Video" (1 min.), less a music video than a bunch of clips and storyboard frames vaguely cobbled together in time with that godawful tune the little bastards are always singing. An entire menu of "Trailers"--for "Tom and Herry Spotlight Collection: Vol. 3," the Harry Potter Hogwarts Challenge Interactive DVD Game, "Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!: Vol. 1," the original "Horton Hears a Who!" animated special, and "What's New, Scooby-Doo?: Vol. 3"--caps off the set, while a trailer for "Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection - Volume Five" cues up on startup of the first disc. Originally published: March 31, 2008.