DVD Review: Kojak (Season Two)



Losing your hair is traumatic. You do you best to disguise it. You comb it around, douse it with miracle creams and wear baseball hats in the shower. Nothing really works to restore your coif glory. The hair keeps piling up on the pillow. You fear the receding hairline won’t stop until it hits the South Pole. In the middle of the follicle funk, Telly Savalas becomes an angel of hope. He encourages people shave it all away and work the dome. His bald Lieutenant Theo Kojak didn’t feel any shame as he patrolled Manhattan. Telly’s brother and co-star George Savalas had a mop of hair and no charisma. Kojak: Season Two proves you didn’t have to have Jack Lord’s hair to clean the scum off an island.

Cop shows haven’t always been honest in their depiction of the Big Apple. Producers toss up some b-roll of the city and film on the New York City backlot at a Hollywood studio. Kojak took the cast on the real streets. These are the gritty streets that cause Anthony Bourdain to wax nostalgic. Time Square hadn’t been scrubbed clean by Disney. They also shot in the urban sections of Los Angeles and a few backlots. A TV show can’t afford to shut down an Upper East side block to explode a car and stage a gun fight. But at least Kojak made an effort to give us views of the scummy era when the city was told to drop dead by President Ford.

“The Chinatown Murders” opens the season with a double length episode. A mob war brews as bodies turn up in the neighborhood. Michael Constantine (Room 222) plays a criminal overlord. Tige Andrews (Mod Squad) resumes his career as a cop. “Hush Now, or You’ll Die” isn’t your normal sexual assault. Kathleen Quinlan (The Doors) won’t press charges since one of her attackers killed the other. She really fears what he’ll do if she points at him in a line up. “A Very Deadly Game” allows Kojak to track a criminal into Los Angeles so they don’t have to fake the location. “Wall Street Gunslinger” is a manhunt in the middle of the financial district. Millions of dollars of securities are stolen and a bystander gunned down. It’s up to Kojak to find out if it’s an inside job. “Slay Ride” sounds like it should be a Christmas special. But it’s about guys jumping to their deaths at a convention. Kojak thinks there’s more to this meeting of the Brotherhood of Lemmings.

“The Best Judge Money Can Buy” casts Abe Vigoda in the role of a killer who will get to walk if a judge won’t expose that his own son is corrupt. Shortly after this role, Abe would get the comical cop role of Fish in Barney Miller. Here he’s still playing off his time in The Godfather. “A Souvenir from Atlantic City” focuses on police jurisdiction. Kojak needs to speak to a witness to a bombing, but the guy is being kept guarded by a cop. Daniel J. Travanti (Hill Street Blues) gets to butt heads with Kojak’s dome. “The Best War in Town” is more mobster turf battles. David Doyle (Charlie’s Angels) gets brought into the conflict started by a rookie cop doing his job. Did you know Paul Anka acted besides being a singer? He gets to be extra slimy on “The Betrayal.” He’s an informant using his hot tips to take out rivals and move deeper into the underworld. Future funny guy Leslie Nielsen (The Naked Gun) gets serious for “Loser Takes All.” His girlfriend lines up a diamond heist that will also incorporate her husband’s murder. Leslie is lined up to the loot and the lady. As a bonus, Antonio Fargas (Starsky and Hutch) gets drawn into the case. “Close Cover Before Killing” covers up a murder with arson. Erik Estrada (CHiPs) might be a suspect. “Queen of the Gypsies” pulls off six bank heists on the same day to stretch the police force thin. Kojak gets a bit messed up over a dead woman on “Elegy in an Asphalt Graveyard.” The man has a heart as sweet as his lollipops. It’s not a real crime series until Robert Loggia (The Sopranos) guest stars. He makes his appearance in “Two-Four-Six for Two Hundred.” Can you spot Joe Flaherty (SCTV)? “I Want to Report a Dream” makes Ruth Gordon predict a crime.

Kojak is far from a realistic cop show with the amazingly outlandish crimes. How many bombings and mob wars broke out in Manhattan during 1973? But the gritty nature of the sets and locations help the show seem possible. Kojak brings a touch of reality to the fantastical since he’s not the usual pretty boy lawman. He doesn’t rely on a fancy haircut to disarm any attackers. He’s all about inner cool in the urban jungle. He’s a role model for anyone that needs to be talked out of a toupee.

The Episodes
“The Chinatown Murders,” “Hush Now, or You’ll Die,” “A Very Deadly Game,” “Wall Street Gunslinger,” “Slay Ride,” “Nursemaid,” “You Can’t Tell a Hurt Man How to Holler,” “The Best Judge Money Can Buy,” “A Souvenir from Atlantic City,” “A Killing in the Second House,” “The Best War in Town,” “Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die,” “The Betrayal,” “Loser Takes All,” “Close Cover Before Killing,” “Acts of Desperate Men,” “Queen of the Gypsies,” “Night of the Piraeus,” “Elegy in an Asphalt Graveyard,” “The Good Luck Bomber,” “Unwanted Partners,” “Two-Four-Six for Two Hundred,” “The Trade-Off” and “I Want to Report a Dream.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers bring out the the details of the streets of New York. The grubby nature of Kojak’s office is on full display. The audio is mono. The levels are OK for a series that was shot on soundstages, locations and backlots.

No bonus features.

Kojak: Season Two continues the gritty adventures of Lt. Theo Kojak in the Big Apple. He and his crack crew of Crocker (Kevin Dobson) and Stavros (George Savalas) will take on the mob, terrorists and gypsies to restore the peace. Kojak’s mixture of street smarts and charm helps him crack most of the cases.

Shout! Factory presents Kojak: Season Two. Starring: Telly Savalas, Kevin Dobson, Dan Frazer and George Savalas. Boxset Content: 24 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released on DVD: September 27, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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