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Police Story‘s third season offered a number of standout episodes that explore police work from unique angles, showing off both the flaws and positive elements of the way things work for officers at different levels of the department. The plotlines also reveal a couple of key themes that the show got a lot of mileage out of: the tension between two warring impulses in an officer, often duty to self versus duty to the force, and how hard it is to overcome different unspoken prejudices that exist within department.

Company Man: Detective Dave Hansen (Christopher Connelly) is trying to track down a savvy car thief (Bernie Casey) and also dealing with a marriage that has gone loveless. When he begins to see a free-thinking teacher (Janet Margolin) on the sly, his wife denies him a divorce and goes to the Internal Affairs department – and he finds himself having to choose between personal happiness and career. Police Story often tried to find the good in Internal Affairs but this episode explores how it could have a negative, domineering impact on a cop’s life. Connelly anchors the show with a quietly soulful performance and Margolin makes a compelling love interest, making their scenes together something special. Elsewhere, Casey steals a few scenes and Bruce Glover gets to successfully play against type as Hansen’s low-key, caring partner.

Spanish Class: Officer Taylor (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) takes on an opportunity to get better pay and more interesting work by transferring to the Hispanic district. He is assigned to work with Fernandez (Joe Santos), a veteran officer who knows the area well, and learns the challenges unique to the area. This episode really captures the vibe of a Joseph Wambaugh novel with its episodic plot and a final setpiece that mixes danger and dark humor. Arnaz Jr. is likeable as the new officer but it’s Santos, a reliable utility player best known for The Rockford Files, who really carries this episode with a mix of charm and street-savvy gravitas.

Firebird:  D.J. Perkins (Tony Lo Bianco) is a cop with a reputation for thrill seeking. He suffers severe burns during a training exercise and finds himself facing many struggles: to regain his health, to reintegrate himself into the life of his family and to reestablish his career as a police officer. Police Story vet E. Arthur Kean wrote the script for this episode and it’s a smart, heartfelt piece of work that covers a lot of territory in a disciplined manner. It also benefits from sharply paced direction by episodic t.v. vet Lee H. Katzin but the key element here is the strong performance from another Police Story regular, Lo Bianco. He mixes wit, pathos and determination in a way that carries the viewer through the complex narrative and gives it the right inspirational energy.

The Long Ball: Sergeant R.C. Pickett (Claude Akins) is a cop who is very good at his job. Unfortunately, he’s also an alcoholic who can’t admit he has a problem and it puts both his marriage and career in danger. The script by t.v. vet Eric Bercovici handles the alcoholism theme with skill,  bringing us into why Pickett drinks too much and avoiding a pat ending with a miraculous recovery. Instead, the script is simply built around the character finding the strength to admit he has a problem. Akins gives a great performance, showing both vulnerability and scary intensity at key points.  T.V. movie fans, take note: Nora Heflin, who plays Pickett’s top informant here, plays a key part in the most controversial scene of the juvie-themed classic Born Innocent.

Eamon Kinsella Royce: Jackie Cooper gets a worthwhile showcase here as the title character in a directing gig for erstwhile actor Tony Lo Bianco. Royce is a veteran cop who tries to balance his career with a moonlighting gig as an insurance investigator. He comes to discover the two jobs endanger each other and is forced to make some hard choices. The themes of lackluster pay for cops and conflicting loyalty between police work and side gigs give this episode unique material to explore – the rich, character-intensive scripting gives it depth. Cooper carries the episode with a spirited, heartfelt turn and he gets ace support from Harold Gould as his retirement-minded partner and Cathy Burns as his daughter (look out also for Dabney Coleman, Dean Stockwell, Antony Carbone and Luke Askew). Bonus points for a unique final scene that finds laughter in difficult circumstances.

Officer Dooly: David Birney had done memorable work in Police Story‘s season 2 highlight “Captain Hook” and returns for another, similarly memorable character portrait in this episode. Andrew “Dooly” Doolittle is the police equivalent of a back-bencher, a likeable misfit who tries to prove he is worthy of being a patrolman as he deals with an uncompromising captain (Paul Burke) and a tough-guy partner (Alex Cord) who dislikes his gentle ways. This episode nails a challenging tone that blends satire, particularly in the scenes between Birney and Burke, with a thoughtful drama about how hard it is to be a cop who doesn’t fit the conventional mold.  It’s a tour de force for E. Arthur Kean, who both writes and directs here. He handles both comedy and tension well, also crafting a car chase scene that is one of the series’ all-time biggest action moments.