If you’re interested in cop shows, specifically the way early “cops vs. crooks” fare gave way to more nuanced and complex portrayals of police work, Police Story is one of the most important examples of the genre. Each episode would include some standard action like a car chase or a shootout but it placed greater importance on depicting police work in a believable way and bringing psychological depth to the cops pursuing it.
Police Story‘s anthology format not only gave the viewer new stars each week but allowed the show to explore all levels of police work: patrol cops on the beat, different squads of detectives, even internal affairs. The second season of this series showed off all these conceptual angles in a number of impressive episodes. Here are six examples of what made the show so unique and effective.
A Dangerous Age: Veteran patrol cop Tatum (Ed Asner) is paired up with Bentley (David Huffman), a rookie eager to prove his skills. The two spar over the value of an older cop’s experience versus a young cop’s energy and modern approach. In a nice touch, the episode allows us to see the flaws of each man as well as effective moments where they make their respective cases. Both leads do strong work but it’s Asner who dominates with his haunting turn as a cop unnerved by the specter of retirement and what it might bring. Also of note here: a substantial role for Scott Brady, one of the show’s few regulars, as the ex-officer who runs the local cop bar. He plays a crucial role here as Tatum’s caring friend with charm and gravitas.
Requiem For C.Z. Smith: James Farentino returns to the show with one more entry for his vice cop Charlie Czonka, who operates undercover as the pimp named in the episode’s title. His wife (Janet Margolin) wants him to become a detective and a string of prostitute murders offers such an opportunity but he finds himself wondering if he wants to abandon his vice work – and if his alter ego’s mannerisms are taking him over. Farentino gives a compelling performance and is backed up nicely by an eclectic backing cast that includes Tina Louise, Frankie Avalon(!), Bruce Davison and Hari Rhodes as a menacing pimp. Interesting touch: several scenes involve one character trying to bend another character to their will, a reflection of Czonka’s daily work as a vice cop.
Robbery: 48 Hours: Police Story would periodically do episodes where it would just follow a few days in the lives of a particular police squad. This is an excellent example of this format, covering two days with the robbery squad as they deal with a liquor store robbery they have advance notice on as well as a pair of violent, gun-toting bank robbers. Jackie Cooper is charismatic as the squad’s leader and there is also solid support from Jeremy Slate, Glenn Corbett and particularly Joe Santos as a veteran who has to use his gun in the line of duty. Tight direction from regular series helmer Virgil Vogel: his handling of a shootout between officers and thieves during a bank robbery is tense and effectively staged.
World Full Of Hurt: This episode deals with the juvenile division, depicting a few days in the lives of partners Prescott (Paul Burke) and Craig (jazz singer Nancy Wilson). As they deal with some heartbreaking missing children cases, Prescott struggles with a faltering marriage… and an attraction to his new partner. A lot of topics are covered here – the oft-messy personal lives of cops, how kids can easily get lost in the system, the pitfalls of cops becoming romantically involved with each other – but the script by Sean Baine elegantly threads them all together into a satisfying, multifaceted narrative. Burke and Wilson make compelling leads, with the latter giving a warm, understated performance. Also of note: a searing performance from Tamu Blackwell as a hard-luck kid struggling with the worst of family circumstances.
Glamour Boy: The likeable partner duo of Calabrese (Tony Lo Bianco) and Jameson (Don Meredith) return here as they try to get the drop on a slick, playboy-type bank robber (Larry Hagman), who is not only skilled at covering up his crimes but is also possessed of a disarming charm. The two star cops have great chemistry but it’s Hagman who pulls off a tour-de-force here as one of the most likeable criminals to appear on the show. It’s also worth noting that this episode pulls an effective bait-and-switch on the viewer, charming them with a lighthearted first two-thirds before providing a final act that pointedly reminds the viewer there is no such thing as a victimless crime.
Wolf: You could call this a bookend to “A Dangerous Age,” offering another tale where a policeman has to face his greatest fear: the end of his career. The titular figure is a cop of advancing age, played with great intensity by Lloyd Bridges. He finds himself in a position where his tough-guy methods put him at odds with the department – and he takes drastic measures to ensure he remains in charge of his own fate. The finale is powerful stuff, taking the story to daring places for a ’70s cop show while maintaining the show’s uncompromising portrayal of the emotional crises police officers face. Christopher Connelly also makes an impression as Wolf’s younger partner: the episode’s haunting final moments rely upon Connelly’s abilities and he handles them like a pro.