Friday, February 10, 2006

THE ROCKFORD FILES - SEASON 1

It may be a stretch to call this a "cult" television show, as it was a huge mainstream hit in its day (running from 1974 to 1980 and eight TV movies in the 90's) and has been a syndication mainstay ever since, but considering the dearth of private eye shows on the tube nowadays, THE ROCKFORD FILES - SEASON 1 (1974-5) is certainly a "genre" show, and that qualifies it for review here. Plus, it's my column, and I'm a huge fan, so stop bitching.

Simply put, THE ROCKFORD FILES was the best, most realistic private eye show in the history of television. Grounded by James Garner's incomparable charm and some of the best writing on television (mostly by a young Stephen J. Cannell), the FILES chronicled the decidedly non-glamorous life of Jim Rockford, an ex-con (he was innocent) turned private investigator in Los Angeles. Rockford was one of the first TV eyes who didn't wear a Brooks Brothers suit and operate out of a fancy office. He worked out of (and lived) in an old mobile home on the beach, and constantly had to deal with overdue bills, collection agents and deadbeat clients. It was a welcome touch of reality.

The good news is that the series is finally on DVD. The bad news is that Universal hasn't really put an awful lot of effort into the presentation. The original TV movie that kicked off the series, "Backlash of the Hunter," is not included in this first season set, and neither are there any extras to speak of. The only Bonus Material provided is a very brief interview segment with Garner, in which he reminisces about the series in a very general way. You find out that he enjoyed playing the character, liked his co-stars, and had fun driving Rockford's gold Thunderbird… and that's it. It would have been nice if they'd actually assembled a retrospective documentary, interviewing other surviving cast members and some of the writers, directors, etc. Maybe they could have sprung for a commentary on an episode or two?

Picture quality is good, considering the show's vintage. There's some grain evident, and a fair amount of dirt and debris, but overall, it looks better than the syndicated TV prints that have been airing in recent years. Audio-wise, there's a solid, if unimpressive, Dolby mono track.

Despite the less-than-stellar presentation, however, I highly recommend this set. James Garner and the regular supporting players are a joy in their roles, and the writing is among some of the best to ever grace a network television series.

BUY: The Rockford Files - Season One