By Tom Keogh
Tough but not swaggering, serious but not solemn, S.W.A.T. won
over its Super70s television audience with several unexpectedly
interesting elements: A degree of storytelling sophistication; visually
exciting, guerrilla-like street violence; and a subtle but determined
fascination with the psyches of the show's five principal characters. To a
non-viewer, S.W.A.T. looked like a fatuously reassuring,
law-and-order shill in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and Watergate.
In reality, creator-producer Robert Hammer (a Peabody Award winner for the
1979 POW TV drama, When Hell Was in Session) managed to make an
ideal, mid-'70s Aaron Spelling cop show with an extra emphasis on the
human factor in peacekeeping.
Spun off from an earlier Spelling series, The
Rookies, S.W.A.T. was the story of Special Weapons and
Tactics, an elite branch of the Los Angeles Police Department assigned the
most critical cases of urban violence in an American era of cult
terrorism, snipers, assassinations, traumatized war veterans, and
organized crime. Considering what the S.W.A.T. team is up against in every
episode--shooters with sophisticated weaponry, psychotic revolutionaries,
vulnerable takeover targets (nuclear reactors, etc.)--one might have
expected the show to be swallowed up in gadgetry and fancy police protocol
for extreme emergencies. But from the pilot (technically, a two-hour Rookies
episode not included in this set) on, S.W.A.T. was clearly much
more interested in the way team leader Lieutenant Dan "Hondo"
Harrelson (Steve Forrest), Sergeant David "Deacon" Kay (Rod
Perry), and officers Street (Robert Urich), Luca (Mark Shera), and McCabe
(James Coleman) tried to understand the modern world even while keeping
its meanest tendencies in check.
Inventive stories with occasional twists and appealing guest stars
(James Keach, Cameron Mitchell, Annette O'Toole) keep one glued to the 13
episodes contained on these DVDs. Among the best: "A Coven of
Killers," starring Sal Mineo as a Charles Manson-like monster;
"Jungle War," featuring Mitchell as a career cop and war vet
facing an emotional breakdown; and "The Bravo Enigma," an
apocalyptic tale of a curiously likable hit man (Christopher George)
unknowingly spreading a plague through L.A.