Long, long before CSI, its spin-offs and its copycats were dominating the Nielsen ratings, a crime-scene investigation drama known simply as Quincy, M.E. was setting the standard. The show fully relied on its primary character, one Dr. R. Quincy, to drive the narrative and solve the show's mysteries, all within its hour-long time-frame.
DVD Review: Quincy, M.E. - Seasons One and Two
By Kim Hollis
June 14, 2005
Coming fresh off his portrayal of Oscar Madison on the television comedy adaptation of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, Jack Klugman would be so successful in the role of Quincy that he would be nominated for four Emmys for his work. Re-watching the series on the newly-released DVD for seasons one and two just makes me all the more regretful that Klugman didn't do more work in television over the years. Unfortunately, due to the fact that he suffered from throat cancer and had to have portions of his larynx removed, he has been limited in what roles he is able to take on.
The first season of the show is actually comprised of four different movies. These eventually spun off into the hour-long series that ran from 1977 until 1983. Watching these early iterations of the character show that the writers were able to evolve the program over time. In the beginning, the show was a simple crime investigation program told from the point of view of a coroner's office medical examiner rather than your typical private eye or police detective. The crimes Quincy looked into were at first straightforward murders, but eventually the show veered into social issues and morality discussions. And who was better as the true crusader than Dr. Quincy?
In the real world, a man like Quincy would be difficult to love and damned near impossible to work with. Early episodes depict him as consistently at odds with local police, his own boss, the women in his life, and more or less anyone with whom he comes in contact. His abrasive personality belies a much more gentle man whose belief that "a human life is a beautiful thing" drives him to search for justice even when he is thwarted at every turn.
Essentially, the show is really centered all around Quincy, and the supporting players don't matter much. That said, there are a few great and memorable performances from the show, most notably from Robert Ito, who played Quincy's co-worker Sam Fujiyama. He's got a terrific, wry sense of humor that he plays well off of Klugman's cantankerous demeanor. Other regulars who hung around throughout the series included Val Bisoglio as Danny, the owner of the restaurant where the episodes always wrap up, Garry Walberg as the by-the-books police lieutenant Monahan, and John S. Ragin, who portrays the persnickety Dr. Asten, Quincy's boss. There were women on the show, but really, most of the investigatory work was considered manly business, making the show very much a product of its time. Additionally, there are some racial comments made from time to time that while intended to be harmless, would never, ever fly on television today.
The real meat of the show, though, is the mysteries and the crime scene investigation that takes place. Quincy is always a step ahead of where an "ordinary" medical examiner might be. Never willing to simply accept what appears to be suicide as suicide, he always takes the analysis much deeper until he is satisfied that he has the truth. There's something comforting about watching the show even as you know the formula it's going to follow. Quincy will get called to the scene, he'll disagree with cops and other examiners as to cause of death, he'll fight with his boss, and finally, it will be all wrapped up as the group gathers to joke and celebrate at Danny's restaurant/bar. Sometimes these conventional formulas are taken in what must be intentionally hilarious directions. In one scene, Quincy is deep in argument with Lt. Monahan as the police officer attempts to negotiate with a sniper who is shooting at them and blowing up cars in the area. The dogged Medical Examiner sits behind a car with the cop as they huddle for cover, never wavering in his strong convictions that Monahan has to help him out.
It's stuff like this, along with the always-wonderful Klugman, that makes viewing of the first and second season of Quincy on DVD totally worthwhile. The only disappointment is that the new discs have no extras whatsoever. Granted, the show is old enough that it would certainly be difficult to gather people together who were involved in its creation and production, but some token efforts would have been appreciated. Nonetheless, it's a worthy predecessor to the cookie cutter stuff that dominates the airwaves today.