Tuesday, September 4, 2012

THE LIEUTENANT - THE COMPLETE SERIES

The first television series produced by STAR TREK creator Gene Roddenberry, THE LIEUTENANT has been little seen since its original network run on NBC during the 1963-64 season. Fortunately for aficionados of classic TV drama, the Warner Archive manufactured-on-demand label has now made the entire series available in two volumes.

THE LIEUTENANT is William Tiberius Rice (Gary Lockwood, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY), a rifle platoon leader and one of the training instructors at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, California. A career officer in charge of his first command, the intelligent, college-educated Rice is idealistic, compassionate and a natural leader. Captain Raymond Rambridge (Robert Vaughn, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.), Rice's company commander, is his more experienced mentor. The stories revolve around the various personal and professional conflicts of a peacetime military life.

Exceptionally well-written and produced, with consistently good direction by a slew of TV veterans including Richard Donner and Don Medford, THE LIEUTENANT is engaging and compelling drama. The guest casts include a number of familiar television faces like Bill Bixby, Rip Torn, Norman Fell, Neville Brand, Linda Evans, Richard Anderson, Barbara Bain, Ricardo Montalban, and future TREKkers Leonard Nimoy, Majel Barrett, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig - all of whom do extremely good work here.

THE LIEUTENANT was well-received, but lasted only one season as the escalating conflict in Vietnam made the subject matter too risky for NBC. As with TREK, Roddenberry's desire to address controversial subject matter also made the network uncomfortable - NBC refused to air (or pay for) an episode dealing with racial bigotry starring TREK's Nichelle Nichols.

Warner Archive brings this all-but-forgotten military drama to MOD DVD in two volumes. Volume One contains the first 16 episodes on 4 discs; Volume Two includes the remaining 13 episodes, plus a feature film version of the series finale, TO KILL A MAN, on another 4 discs. Each episode is presented in its original 4x3, 1.37:1 "full frame" aspect ratio in black & white. Overall picture quality is astounding, with only minimal age-related wear in the form of small specks occasionally visible. Audio is a perfectly satisfactory Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Aside from the aforementioned "feature film" compilation, there are no bonus features.

I am a fan of classic TV drama, and found THE LIEUTENANT to be a pleasant surprise. The writing, acting and direction were all terrific, and I really enjoyed seeing a lot of my favorite television actors playing supporting roles - and was astounded by how young they all were. The character of Lt. Bill Rice has a lot in common with STAR TREK's James Kirk - beyond a middle name - and I think fans of Roddenberry's space adventure would find a lot to enjoy with THE LIEUTENANT, as well. Recommended.

BUYThe Lieutenant - The Complete Series, Part 1

BUYThe Lieutenant - The Complete Series, Part 2