S.W.A.T.‘s second season was its only full-length season – and also its last. As noted in Schlockmania’s review of Season 2, the show’s high level of violence made it too much of a hot potato for both the network and the producers despite its rating success. Thus, it ended up as a footnote in the history of 1970’s-era primetime television – but it’s a fascinating one thanks to its odd tone (brutal violence plus light laughs). If you’d like to get an idea of what this potboiler of a show is all about, here is an overview of five episodes that will cue you in to the show’s eccentric comic-book charms…
The Vendetta: A pair of wily crooks played by 1970’s t.v. stalwarts Aldo Ray and Paul Mantee use a pair of brothers who’ve just lost their family home to a crooked land developer as patsies so they can rob the developer. Hondo realizes the brothers are innocent but has to find them and outwit the crooks using them. Killer action-packed episode opens with a tense shoot-out/house siege and also works in a sniper scene and a fantastic “run the gauntlet”-themed finale. Ray & Mantee offer amusingly sleazy performances as the crooks, as does George Murdock as the crooked land developer, and the action benefits from tight direction by b-movie vet Bob Kelljan.
Strike Force: when a politician who leads a racism-tinged paramilitary force finds himself endangered by potential assassins, Hondo and his men are ordered to be his security force by the city government. The politician and his men aren’t exactly cooperative and things become further complicated when the assassins may actually be part of the politician’s strike force. The plot actually uses its comic book thrills to convey an anti-racism, anti-authoritarian message and builds to a taut finale in which the S.W.A.T. team has to protect the politician from several snipers at a t.v. studio. Like The Vendetta, this was directed by Bob Kelljan and he turns in strong work behind the camera.
The Running Man: A two-part episode with lots of action and a great guest-star cast. The first half chronicles the team protecting an undercover cop (Stuart Whitman) while he waits to testify against the mob family. The cop puts the mob boss away but finds himself endangered when he goes into witness protection and ends up in a small town where the local crooks have ties to the mob family the cop worked against! The plot relies on some fairly ludicrous contrivances in its second half but this feature-length episode is such fun you won’t care. Whitman gets to carry the episode and does a fine job in the best “aging tough guy” fashion. Better yet, this episode also features Leslie Nielsen as a mob consigliore, Forrest Tucker as a rural crime kingpin, Bruce Glover as a thug, James Darren as a mob enforcer and Donna Mills as the small-town love interest! The solid direction from George McCowan – who directed another nine episodes of this show – really packs in the action.
Any Second Now: the most suspenseful episode of the season stars former Dirty Harry villain Andy Robinson as a revolutionary who takes over a radio station to protest his brother’s imprisonment over the airwaves. He also plants a few bombs in the building, forcing the S.W.A.T. team to team up with a grizzled bomb disposal expert played by Robert Loggia. Edward Lakso’s script is a finely-tuned suspense piece that works in several effective twists and keeps the tension going right up to the nerve-racking “defuse the bomb” finale. Robinson and Loggia turn in appropriately colorful performances in their guest roles but its Bert Remsen who is the biggest scene-stealer here as a radio station employee and war vet who gives the revolutionaries a hard time.
Officer Luca, You’re Dead: the finale of the show boasts the most unique plot in the show’s entire run. Luca gets into a confrontation with a gunman during a hostage scenario and shoots him down. The incident gets into the papers, with the wife (the main hostage) claiming that Luca shot him down in cold blood. Hondo investigates the incident to keep Luca from getting prosecuted and gets three very different accounts of the event a la Rashomon. John Tomerlin’s smartly-plotted script keeps the viewer guessing until the last moments, when Hondo gets to do a Perry Mason-style revealing of the full truth… and that’s not even the ending, as there is one more confrontation to be dealt with. Mark Shera gets to put aside his usual comic relief duties to give a real dramatic performance as Luca and director Bernard McEveety brings some visual flair to the tricky staging, particularly during the witness account/flashback scenes.
Honorable Mentions –
Criss-Cross, Courthouse, Ordeal, Silent Night Deadly Night, Dragons & Owls
To read Schlockmania’s review of S.W.A.T.: The Final Season, click here.
To read Schlockmania’s review of S.W.A.T.: Season 1, click here.
To read Schlockmania’s guide to 5 Great Episodes from S.W.A.T.: Season 1, click here.