Watch Dragnet’s 1967 LSD Episode: #85 on TV Guide’s List of the Greatest Episodes of All Time

Jack Webb’s sem­i­nal cop show Drag­netwhich first ran on tele­vi­sion through most of the ’50s, was known for its grit­ty real­ism. In every episode, the show’s robot­ic, lacon­ic lead, Detec­tive Joe Fri­day, would nav­i­gate the seedy under­world and even­tu­al­ly get his man.

Though Drag­net rivaled only I Love Lucy in pop­u­lar­i­ty, Webb pulled the plug on the series in 1959. But he could­n’t stay away.  In Jan­u­ary 1967, Webb launched a reboot of Drag­net. This time, Fri­day, quite pos­si­bly the squarest per­son on the plan­et, takes on youth cul­ture. Case in point, the series’ inau­gur­al show, which you can watch above, where Fri­day and his new part­ner Bill Gan­non stum­ble upon that strange new soci­etal scourge LSD. Inci­den­tal­ly, this is also the first episode of Drag­net to be shot in col­or. Make of that what you will.

When Fri­day and Gan­non inves­ti­gate a com­plaint about some­one eat­ing bark, they dis­cov­er a teenag­er who paint­ed his face Brave­heart-style and is bab­bling about the pilot light at the cen­ter of the Earth. This is Blue­boy AKA Ben­jamin Carv­er and clear­ly, he is trip­ping. He’s also sell­ing lousy acid to Mar­cia Brady look-alikes.

The show is a fas­ci­nat­ing time cap­sule on a num­ber of lev­els. First, this episode was made while LSD was still legal. (Acid was banned Cal­i­for­nia in Octo­ber 1966. Not long, one imag­ines, after the episode was shot.) Fri­day and Gan­non shake their heads in frus­tra­tion over their legal impo­tence, espe­cial­ly lat­er when they dis­cov­er Blue­boy dead from an over­dose. Just in case you didn’t get the show’s moral (drugs = bad) Webb lards the episode with ter­ri­fy­ing facts about the drug. “LSD is so potent that a sin­gle pound of the prepa­ra­tion can turn every per­son in Los Ange­les coun­ty into a total psy­chot­ic. The pop­u­la­tion of the coun­ty – sev­en mil­lion peo­ple.”

Media crit­ic Michele Hilmes argues, how­ev­er, that the show might just be speak­ing out of both sides of its mouth. To an old­er gen­er­a­tion, Drag­net is a cop show preach­ing law and order. To the younger gen­er­a­tion, Webb’s heavy-hand­ed­ness cross­es the line into par­o­d­ic camp.

Jack Webb so embod­ied the role of Joe Fri­day that he all but became the LAPD in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion. When Webb died in 1982, he was buried with full police hon­ors and his badge num­ber, 714, was offi­cial­ly retired from the force. It’s curi­ous that a cop so unre­lent­ing­ly smug would become the paragon of LA’s finest.

Thom Ander­sen mem­o­rably summed up the series in his sem­i­nal essay film Los Ange­les Plays Itself. “Drag­net admirably expressed the con­tempt the LAPD had for the law-abid­ing civil­ians it was pledged ‘to pro­tect and to serve.’ It pro­tect­ed us from our­selves, and it served us despite our best efforts to make the job more dif­fi­cult. … Friday’s heavy-hand­ed irony nev­er lets up. None of the wit­ness­es or sus­pects he ques­tions pen­e­trates his wall of con­de­scen­sion. Of course, Drag­net isn’t a doc­u­men­tary por­trait of the LAPD, and its detec­tives weren’t real­ly like Joe Fri­day. What’s scary is that he rep­re­sent­ed the department’s ide­al.”

Accord­ing to Andrew Gra­ham’s Drag­net blogTV Guide vot­ed this episode #85 on its list of the great­est TV episodes of all time.

via Neatora­ma

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Artist Draws Nine Por­traits on LSD Dur­ing 1950s Research Exper­i­ment

Watch The Bicy­cle Trip: An Ani­ma­tion of The World’s First LSD Trip in 1943

Ken Kesey’s First LSD Trip Ani­mat­ed

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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  • Tom Henshaw says:

    “Fri­day, quite poss­si­bly the squarest per­son on the plan­et,”: I remem­ber watch­ing Drag­net 1966 (it was enti­tled The Big Drag­net, when it was shown on Grana­da tele­vi­sion here in Eng­land in the sev­en­ties). Fri­day and Gan­non return to the premis­es of the dat­ing agency that they’d vis­it­ed ear­li­er dur­ing the enquiry. hear­ing the rock records being played inside, Fri­day remarks to Gan­non — in an iron­ic tone: “Was there real­ly ever a Tom­my Dorsey?” A beau­ti­ful moment! The real irony is that Webb, a hard drink­ing jazz afi­ciona­do, should now be con­sid­ered square or camp. If he’s square then I am too, and glad!

  • gus says:

    Just fyi, Blue Boy was based on Paul Fos­ter, the ‘two-toned” dude tak­en in by the LAPD the morn­ing after the Watts Acid Test. See Wolfe’s book for details of the evening.……

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