23. The Mod Squad

TV show aired from: 1968 – 1973 (ABC)
Movie’s release year: 1999

“One White, One Black, One Blonde.” That was the tag line for 1968’s The Mod Squad, a police drama that took three young, hip, multi-racial offenders and offered them a chance to become investigators rather than go to jail. They, of course, took the gig, and the characters of Peter Cochran (Michael Cole), Julie Barnes (Peggy Lipton), and Lincoln “Linc” Hayes (Clarence Williams III) were born unto pop culture. Shows like 21 Jump Street would later borrow The Mod Squad’s idea of using youthful investigators to get close to the criminals they’re investigating, but none had the same multi-cultural approach, or dealt with racial politics in the same way, that made this series so successful.

The 1999 remake features Giovanni Ribisi, Claire Danes, and Omar Epps in the roles of Peter, Julie, and Lincoln, respectively, and the plot follows nearly identically to the original series. The problem here is that what was once fresh and nuanced in the late 1960’s and early ’70’s (namely, that young, hip multi-racial team of investigators) isn’t so uncommon in the late ’90’s. The message loses a little bit of its power and the film suffers.

Granted, The Mod Squad isn’t all that well made of a movie in the first place, but the odds were clearly against it from the jump. And, as a harmless diversion, it’s certainly better than most films based on classic TV shows. In other words, it’s not Sgt. Bilko. Or Taxi. Or Mr. Magoo. Or.. You get the point.