Tough but not swaggering, serious but not solemn, S.W.A.T.
won over its 1970s television audience with several unexpectedly interesting elements: A degree of storytelling sophistication; visually exciting, guerrilla-like street violence; and a subtle but determined fascination with the psyches of the show's five principal characters. To a non-viewer, S.W.A.T.
looked like a fatuously reassuring, law-and-order shill in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and Watergate. In reality, creator-producer Robert Hammer (a Peabody Award winner for the 1979 POW TV drama, When Hell Was in Session
) managed to make an ideal, mid-'70s Aaron Spelling cop show with an extra emphasis on the human factor in peacekeeping.
Spun off from an earlier Spelling series, The Rookies, S.W.A.T. was the story of Special Weapons and Tactics, an elite branch of the Los Angeles Police Department assigned the most critical cases of urban violence in an American era of cult terrorism, snipers, assassinations, traumatized war veterans, and organized crime. Considering what the S.W.A.T. team is up against in every episode--shooters with sophisticated weaponry, psychotic revolutionaries, vulnerable takeover targets (nuclear reactors, etc.)--one might have expected the show to be swallowed up in gadgetry and fancy police protocol for extreme emergencies. But from the pilot (technically, a two-hour Rookies episode not included in this set) on, S.W.A.T. was clearly much more interested in the way team leader Lieutenant Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Steve Forrest), Sergeant David "Deacon" Kay (Rod Perry), and officers Street (Robert Urich), Luca (Mark Shera), and McCabe (James Coleman) tried to understand the modern world even while keeping its meanest tendencies in check.
Inventive stories with occasional twists and appealing guest stars (James Keach, Cameron Mitchell, Annette O'Toole) keep one glued to the 13 episodes contained here. Among the best: "A Coven of Killers," starring Sal Mineo as a Charles Manson-like monster; "Jungle War," featuring Mitchell as a career cop and war vet facing an emotional breakdown; and "The Bravo Enigma," an apocalyptic tale of a curiously likable hit man (Christopher George) unknowingly spreading a plague through L.A. --Tom Keogh