“What can I tell ya? Nobody says the law is perfect, but it beats whatever the hell’s in second place.” — Lt. Theo Kojak
Duty calls. There’s no rest from the wicked for the detective squad of Manhattan South’s 13th precinct, headed up by the lollipop-loving Lieutenant who guarantees that anybody looking to play him for a sucker can count on getting licked!
The good folks at the Shout! Factory have taken over DVD presentation and distribution duties from Universal (who released the series’ first season six years back) and the obvious loving care given to the audio and video here further solidifies the Factory’s rep as the classic TV collector’s best friend.
All the elements that made season one of this ground-breaking cop opera such a success are firmly back in place for round deux:
— Razor-sharp writing with an emphasis on earthy dialog that respects, rather than insults, audience intelligence.
— Brisk, no-nonsense direction, resulting in Emmy nominations for Savalas (“I Want To Report A Dream”) and David Friedkin (“Cross Your Heart And Hope To Die”).
— Stark, location-based lensing that offered a refreshingly realistic alternative to the prefabricated, studio backlot look present in most competing detective dramas of the era, not to mention a top-flight ensemble of regular supporting players so tightly-knit they seem spring-loaded.
— And then there’s Telly. Savalas. Ah yes, Telly Savalas; the Emmy winning, Oscar-nominated (for Birdman of Alcatraz) Greek typhoon that stormed in at age 51 and gave the small screen its very own Marlon Brando.
Exaggeration, you say? These 24 episodes, spread over six discs say otherwise.
Here’s a run-down of the Kojak: Season Two case files from 09.15.74 through 03.09.75…
* “The Chinatown Murders (Parts 1 & 2)” — Bang! Season Two premieres with a movie-sized saga that finds the boys of the 13th working overtime to prevent Mafia wars.
* “Hush Now, Don’t You Die” — A college student is raped by two men, only one of whom survives the assault. While Kojak labors to uncover the identities of the other assailant and the rape victim (who refuses to come forward) the student’s father is out looking for bloody revenge. Oscar nominee Kathleen Quinlan (Apollo 13) guests.
* “A Very Deadly Game” — Lower Manhattan’s finest are working with the Feds on an undercover sting to net millions of dollars worth of pure heroin. There’s the usual sparring about jurisdiction and protocol until a cop gets burned, and then Kojak retrains his laser focus on catching a cop killer.
* “Wall Street Gunslinger” — Not much about Wall Street has changed, if this tale of securities theft (and body count) is anything to go by. This episode earned the series its second of four consecutive Emmy nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography.
* “Slay Ride” — Suicide is contagious? Kojak ain’t buying, baby! Unexpected treat: Paul Benedict (The Jeffersons) playing against type as a cold-blooded party host.
* “Nursemaid” — An army of gun-toting goons has been dispatched to stop one sweet little old lady book keeper (Kay Medford) from testifying in court. Easy, right? Attention: “Jerry, Hello!” Alert: Look for Len Lesser (Seinfeld‘s Uncle Leo) as one of the knuckle-dragging baddies.
* “You Can’t Tell A Hurt Man How To Holler” — Kojak knows the wrong man is being framed by a bum murder rap, but there’s this one teensy-weensy problem…the accused absolutely refuses admit his innocence! Oscar nominee Margaret Avery (The Color Purple) and Roger E. Mosley (Magnum P.I.) guest star.
* “The Best Judge Money Can Buy” — Abe Vigoda (between his career-defining roles in The Godfather and Barney Miller) plays a well-connected killer who wants off Riker’s Island. So far, he’s managed to get a judge and a lead prosecutor to buy into his plan, but guess who’s not for sale, coochy-coo?!
* “Souvenir From Atlantic City” — Guest stars Daniel J. Travanti (Hill Street Blues) and Jaime Sanchez (The Wild Bunch) highlight this tale of domestic terrorism, political cover, and a betrayal of biblical proportions. Location photography suggests a Sanitation workers strike circa 1974, but the garbage in the streets got nothing on the dirty trick pulled in reel three!
* “A Killing In The Second House” — They say crime doesn’t pay, but does it pay better than crime prevention? One ex-homicide detective played by Oscar winner Martin Balsam (A Thousand Clowns) has gone over to the dark side.
* “The Best War In Town” — Director Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) injects heavy doses of gritty Big Apple atmosphere into an errant Hawaii Five-O scenario with rival crime families hitting out at each other like contestants in a city-wide Whack-a-mole tournament.
* “Cross Your Heart And Hope To Die” — The adoring neighbor of a beautiful but deeply disturbed woman (Andrea Marcovicci) is dead set on eliminating any romantic competition. Dead set.
* “The Betrayal” — Telly’s directorial debut features a brilliant performance by former teen idol Paul Anka (The Longest Day) as a police informer providing tips so hot that Kojak fears they’ll burn the cop he’s snitching to. Richard Romanus (Mean Streets) guests as the ambitious junior detective.
* “Loser Takes All” — A rather pedestrian story of double-crossing jewel thieves is enlivened by one of TV’s most incredible romantic pairings: Leslie Nielsen (The Naked Gun) and Ja’net DuBois (Good Times).
* “Close Cover Before Killing” — An especially well-written tale of arson, adultery and academia, featuring ’70s slimeball player Alec Rocco (The Stunt Man) and Erik Estrada (CHiPs).
* “Acts Of Desperate Men” — Ace character actor Eugene Roche (Slaughterhouse Five) dazzles as a lonely, middle-aged accountant who develops a paternal affection for the sniper who shoots one of his clients dead in front of him.
* “Queen Of The Gypsies” — Zorah Lampert (Let’s Scare Jessica To Death) won a much-deserved Emmy for her portrayal of bank heist witness Marina, a fearless gypsy who proves herself to be more than equal to the cunning of criminal masterminds and Kojak alike.
* “Night Of The Piraeus” — Wherein stamp collecting becomes a deadly business with international repercussions.
* “Elegy In An Asphalt Graveyard” — The rest of the squadroom is frankly worried about Kojak, when the death of a drug-addicted call girl named Azure Dee moves him to singing her praises…literally! (Savalas croons a wistful ballad named for the character over the opening and closing credits.)
* “The Goodluck Bomber” — Somebody’s planting bombs around the city so fool-proof that the best of the department’s bomb squad is being eliminated one by one. Said bomber (who signs each fingerprint-free note “Good luck”) asks for no ransom, makes no demands, and leaves no identifying traces behind. Hmmm…
* “Unwanted Partners” — Spotlight on Junior Detective Crocker, (Kevin Dobson) whose acute powers of observation have developed quite a stye in regards to appraising the his best childhood buddy, now steadily moving up the ranks of La Cosa Nostra.
* “Two-Four-Six For Two Hundred” — Another jewel heist caper, but a darned good one with an invaluable guest cast, including Robert Loggia (The Jagged Edge) Dick O’Neill (Cagney and Lacey) and Rose Marie (The Dick Van Dyke Show).
* “The Trade-Off” — A notorious drug kingpin in Kojak’s custody for Captain McNeil’s wife. Let negotiations begin…
* “I Want To Report A Dream” — Oscar winner Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby) plays Miss Eudora Temple, a psychic who phones in the details of a dream…which happen to match the details of a murder that occurs two hours later! Andy Robinson (the original Dirty Harry psycho) is also on hand, bringing his unique…charm.
You want extras? There aren’t any. While I’m certainly not going to argue against the merits of providing closed captioning for the hearing impaired, I’m more than satisfied by what Kojak: Season Two does provide: a crisp, clean look at one of series television’s finest sophomore seasons.