Directed by Tony Mordente et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 567 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 40.99
Release Date: July 8, 2008
Review Date: July 7, 2008
William Conrad’s second long-running network series was also a CBS crime drama, Jake and the Fatman. Unlike his five year hit Cannon, however, here he has a supporting cast of regulars who aid him in his cases with this show, and a good thing, too, because by this time in his career, William Conrad appeared less healthy and less able to carry the entire burden of an hour long network series on his shoulders. The network hired a talented and charismatic pair of male supporting leads for Conrad to bounce witticisms and invective off of, and it works well.
Conrad plays J. L. McCabe, district attorney for Los Angeles. He’s perpetually grouchy, cunning, and rather merciless with his enemies, but he’s not above playing games with his prey once he’s figured out who they are. Together with his official investigator Jake Styles (Joe Penny) and young, inexperienced assistant district attorney Derek Mitchell (Alan Campbell), McCabe sniffs out the guilty parties in cases that come to his attention and often uses his crew to go undercover to ferret out confessions or evidence that will lead to convictions. Lu Leonard plays his feisty, insult-hurling secretary Gertrude during season one, and no episode would be complete without some comic business with McCabe’s beloved bulldog Max.
The stories are modeled on the fabulously successful Columbo formula: we’re shown the crime and the guilty party early on in the episode and then the remainder of the running time is given over to our protagonists somehow latching on to the guilty party through some overlooked clue and then going to elaborate means to catch the perpetrator either in lies or in covering up evidence. Truth to tell, the Jake and the Fatman episodes don’t have the sophisticated layout of crimes and clues that Columbo had (those mysteries were usually a half hour longer in length to develop the plots and solutions), and sometimes McCabe or Jake seems to intuit the guilty party’s identity rather than have anything concrete on which to base his assumptions. Still, the plots are entertaining enough (some quite emotionally resonant), and the chemistry between the three male leads is irresistible. Joe Penny makes a sexy, swinging investigator slightly in the Bruce Willis/Moonlighting mold, and Alan Campbell as the juvenile lead has a puppyish appeal. William Conrad seems game for the action but of shaky health in these eleven episodes. He’s allowed to be unshaven, slouchy, and rather rumpled, the opposite of how a district attorney is usually expected to appear in court or in his office. It does establish his irascible character, but it seems a bit eccentric for the sake of eccentricity.
The show was never a huge haven for name guests, but a few surface during these opening episodes of the first season. Among them are Robert Reed, John Rubenstein, Anne Francis, Robert Culp, Mitchell Anderson, Don Stroud, Mark Goddard, and Joan Darling.
Here is the rundown of the 11 episodes (with titles generally the names of popular song standards and sometimes sung or played in the context of the episode) in this first volume of season one:
1 - Happy Days Are Here Again
2 - Fatal Attraction (series pilot)
3 - Laura (my favorite episode of the set; a real emotional showcase for Joe Penny)
4 - The Man That Got Away
5 - Love for Sale
6 - Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
7 - Body and Soul
8 - The Man I Love
9 - Love Me or Leave Me
10 - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
11 - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
The program’s 1.33:1 original aspect ratio is reproduced faithfully in these transfers. Most episodes display good to very good sharpness, and color for the most part is well saturated. There are problems with occasional pinkish flesh tones, blacks that aren’t always very deep and are sometimes crushed, and some occasional white flecks. Without anamorphic enhancement, moiré patterns and jaggies are on display is nearly every episode. Each episode has been divided into 5 chapters without the promos or 6 chapters with them. Obviously the pilot episode being longer has additional chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. It’s a strong, clear mono track, typical of its era and without any serious sound artifacts even if fidelity is limited.
Every episode except “The Man That Got Away” contains a network promo which runs about a half minute. The viewer may choose to watch it as part of the episode or skip it completely.
The first disc in the set contains previews for the DVD releases of Mission Impossible, the CSI franchise, and the final season of MacGyver.
Jake and the Fatman doesn’t contain the best plotted mysteries in television history, but it’s a light, entertaining mix of procedural and personalities that’s very easy to take.