Kojak: Season One plays with an easiness and affinity that most shows from the 1970’s have. I find that no matter where these things are set, they are imminently watchable time capsules of America. They are enjoyable, funny, quick witted, superbly acted and written. There are very few false notes and those false notes that appear often seem like they are intentionally false so as to create an air of mystery about the performance. At no point when I was watching this first season of detective Theo Kojak with some heavies, did I ever think to myself, “That would never happen.” Sure, this is TV and there are points and plots that are bound to be embellished, but I never found anything about any of the episodes to be too outrageous. This is just good TV and one can certainly see how Michael Chiklis and “The Shield” were able to draw from the Kojak character.
Telly Savalas is perfect in this role. He looks so good in the fancy Kojak suits, with the lollipop embedded in his mouth that I cannot for the life of me imagine any other actor in his role. He lives and breathes this character. He carries himself with a swagger and confidence that is befitting all the “small screen” greats. Kojak never gets frazzled. Never seems caught off guard. Kojak is at all times relaxed. Telly Savalas plays this tough, street hardened character with great heart. Somewhere, I have to believe, inside of this veneer, Savalas must have brought something of himself to this role. He imbues it with a humanity. One minute he’s chasing somebody down, the next minute he’s trying to negotiate with a thief. It’s as though everything is all in a days work for this man. No matter the situation, no matter his role, no matter what he is expected to do...Theo Kojak is somebody you can count on to get the job done. Seeing this on TV, when it is done well and believable(like many of the shows from the 1970s), is truly a sight to marvel at.
From the opening episode “Siege of Terror”(with a very young Harvey Keitel) we see that Theo Kojak can have a “poker face” in any situation. Moving to the episode “Knockover”, Kojak uses his cunning wit when he connects a murder to some high priced robbers. A central tenet of cop shows is how what seems like a “routine” murder or robbery, often ends up putting the protagonist on the road to something bigger. This is on display in a lot of the episodes here, such as “Dark Sunday” when Kojak is working on the case of a car thief who was murdered, and ends up uncovering a plot for something much bigger. Another really strong example of this was an episode featuring Dabney Cole titled “Therapy In Dynamite”, in which people who are all killed by unrelated bombings, on the surface, don’t seem to have anything in common. Yet, the the more detective work Kojak does, the more he finds out.
Kojak: Season One is a truly inspired DVD release. While watching this show I recalled much of the work done by Sidney Lumet his movies such as Dog Day Afternoon or Serpico. Each episode of Kojak: Season One is like a small vignette of New York City. It captures the essence of not only police life, but life in the big city in such a way that you feel like you have had the experience yourself. Each episode is like it’s own tiny movie. Complete with all the action, dialogue and FX you might get in movies made for a lot more money. This show is so well done that I look forward to not only the seasons being released, but finding out what people think of the show now that they have chance to either discover or rediscover it.
There are no extras with Kojak: Season One. Now this is a crime(no pun intended). If shows that weren’t even half as popular as this can come out with a bizillion extras on them, it seems a shame that the release of Kojak: Season One has nothing. There are no “making ofs”, no retrospectives, no “looks back”, nothing. In the future, I hope when the other seasons make their way to DVD, that things are different.
Full Frame 1.33:1. A lot of people cannot stand the full frame look of these shows. They don’t like them, they feel like they are missing something...there are a ton of reasons why people feel this way. I for one think that this aspect ratio really adds something to these films. In fact, these shows are so cleaned up, they look so good on DVD, that they don’t have that older look that you get from shows like “Hawaii 5-0” being broadcast KDOC in California. I personally like that look, and in some ways I am actually bothered that these shows look as good as they do. As dumb as this may sound, the transfer and compression on these DVDs is so sharp that I actually spent parts of some episodes trying to look to see if I could actually see the “older look” that I mentioned above. It never happened and across all 18 hrs. and 38 minutes of these episodes the transfer, picture and image quality held up all the way.
English Dolby 2.0 Mono. There is almost a “non use” of sound in these shows from the 1970s. They are very powerful all the way around, but there are moments when Kojak will just be starring at someone, or thinking about something and by the use of music, just a few notes of an organ or some instrument, we know exactly what his character is thinking and feeling. We are never at a loss for that piece of knowledge. Now, while some people might like to be in the dark about things like this, don’t let it seem like I am saying that Kojak is a simple minded person. Kojak: Season One is just cut and dry. The sound is what you have come to expect from the 1970s. High pitched, slow, moody and setting the stage for future events. However within this there is a certain mix of story, the way the sounds and images play off one another, that allows the viewer to easily get caught up in the subject matter of the show. I never really thought that Kojak was going to be killed, but the bravery he shows in the different situations he is faced with is something we all can admire and is underscored by the use of sound in the episodes.
Telly Savalas stares at us through dark glasses. The words Kojak: Season One press off the cover in a 3D-like fashion. Off to the side it reads, “Who loves ya, baby?”. What is not to love about this? Instantly, you get the sense and feel of this show in a nice thumbnail image. Turn the box over and you get pictures from the show, laid out in front of a gold tinted New York Cityscape. You get a tiny description of the episodes of the show as well as a listing of each of this 3 disc set’s technical specs. Inside are three discs, each with a picture of Kojak on the cover and an episode listing and description on the back. Inside the discs sadly have nothing silkscreened on them. This layout is as straight forward as the show is itself. There aren’t many bells and whistles and there doesn’t need to be. The show speaks for itself.
It is misleading to think that Telly Savalas is the only reason to watch these shows. The other officers that make up his team are more then credible, but I especially enjoyed seeing the early work of such people as Dabney Coleman, Hector Elizondo and David Proval. The acting in all of these shows with all of the players is really top notch. In fact, I tried to think of some shows today that might boast of such a talent rich cast, but I wasn’t to do this. I don’t watch a lot of present day TV, so I started to think about the shows that I have watched like “The Sopranos”. Now while I think that this show is good, it seems a little bit too wrapped up within itself to really expand. It seems to heavily embedded in the tough, East Coast idea of what Italian Americans are supposed to be, that when it seems to try and go beyond that it doesn’t ring true.
Kojak: Season One never has this problem. It is a solidly crafted show that seems to get better and better with each episode. It never lingers, isn’t overblown and doesn’t try and be the things that it isn’t. One gets the sense that Telly Savalas isn’t so much acting as he is playing toward the “better angels of our nature”. He is conflicted, sure, and he is prone to making mistakes, but he’s not a fool, nor does he pander to that side at all. Kojak can be many different things and when he’s focused and charged if he’s not the best, he’s certainly one of them.
I highly enjoyed this viewing experience and I look forward to talking to people about this show, and learning more about the lore and players who constituted one of the best shows to ever grace the hollowed air waves of TV.