DVD Review: Quincy, M.E. Seasons 1 and 2

Before there was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, there was Quincy, M.E. CSI owed its existence to Quincy. Quincy owed its first DVD release to the success of CSI. The box hailed Quincy as the original Crime Scene Investigator. The three-disk double-sided DVD box set was pressed in 2005, at the height of CSI’s popularity.

Double-sided DVDs remain one of the worst ideas of the early-to-mid 2000s. Still, if you want to enjoy Season 2 of Quincy without getting a bootleg, this is your only option. Shout Factory bought the rights to the series and reissued Seasons 4-8, but only offered Season 1 as a double-sided DVD release. Four years later and nothing has been done for Season 2.

The whole Season 1 and Season 2 thing with Quincy feels like a bit of a money-making conceit. Season 1 and Season 2 were released during the 1976-77 Television season. Every other dramatic show on television was considered to have one single season. Not Quincy. (He never does anything the easy way.) In the fall of 1976, the series had 90-minute episodes and was part of NBC’s Mystery Wheel along with Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan and Wife. This is Season 1. In the Spring, the series became a regular one-hour weekly drama which the DVD makers refer to as Season 2. The longest-existing Quincy fan site insists there’s just one season. Whether there’s any legitimacy to creating two seasons in the same broadcast season, NBC Universal was right when they sold the episodes together.

The technicalities out of the way, let’s move on to discussing the show.

Quincy starred Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple) as a medical examiner for the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office. Quincy is a tireless pathologist who often proves a thorn in the side of his boss, the officious Dr. Robert Astin (John S. Ragin,) and in the side of Lieutenant Frank Monahan (Garry Walberg.) of Homicide.

Quincy as a character required a bit of work. In the first story, “Go Fight City Hall…To the Death” has Quincy as a somewhat problematic character who borders on being insufferable. Quincy is not only a brilliant pathologist, he’s a brilliant Doctor in general and the only one who actually cares about finding the truth. Quincy is quickly thrown into accusing his boss of being in on a cover-up of the crime.

The series dialed back Quincy’s arrogance a bit. Quincy was still brilliant and a great outside-the-box thinker. He never accepts an easy answer and has great instincts. Yet, sometimes he gets carried away with his ideas as in one episode where a long-buried human thighbone was found at a University Construction site and Quincy shut it down to find out who committed the murder. Quincy has a great sense of justice and drive to ensure that crimes are properly solved, which made him a difficult person to befriend or to date. He’s prickly, and demanding, particularly to his assistant Sam (Robert Ito.)

The supporting cast also develops from the opener. The image of Astin and Monahan as uncaring gave way to a more realistic as indifferent to the truth of a case gives way to them as more realistic characters who believe all Quincy is doing is wasting time. They know how to do their jobs and have done them and find Quincy never letting things go to be exhausting and you can’t blame them. While Quincy is almost always right, he makes life difficult for them. Why they continually assume he’s most likely wrong each week is a question, but no different than the challenge every maverick investigator confronts.

The episodes are well-written. Some have standard mystery plots with some forensic twists but some have ingenious ideas that stretched the forensic knowledge of the era to its limits. In the episode, The Thigh Bone is Connected to the Knee Bone, Quincy excites some of the students in the college class in the teaching by setting out to learn everything about the man and how he died from a single thigh bone.

Some episodes don’t quite fit. In, “Has Anybody Seen Quincy,” the character of Quincy doesn’t appear. Instead, the story follows a senior pathologist named Dr. Hiro (Yuki Shimoda) on a typical workday as he encounters short cases/issues to address. Klugman had refused to appear in it and didn’t like the script. While I’m not a fan of stars doing that, Klugman had a point. While it’s not a bad script, it’s not good. It’s also not something a show plays during its first broadcast season. If this episode were presented during season five or six as a filler program, I could buy it. To present a program that says, “We’re running out of ideas,” during the first broadcast season is not a good choice.

The series also had a couple of episodes where Quincy went on crusades with barely any mystery. “A Good Smack in the Mouth” finds Quincy at the hospital after Doctor Astin’s wife and a tween boy she picked up were in a car accident. Quincy views the X-ray and sees wounds that can’t be explained by the mash-up but are consistent with what he’s seen on child abuse victims and is determined this boy won’t be another statistic. While its heart’s in the right place, this episode is weak. Once the abuse is discovered, the story becomes melodrama. By 1976, many programs had already addressed the scourge of child abuse. The one thing it contributes is a bit of pop psychology that will tell who the abuser is. Quincy doesn’t understand and nearly makes a tragic mistake, so I’m not certain what good this episode did.

The far better crusade episode is the season finale, “Let me Light the Way.” The episode finds Quincy busting into a hospital room where a rape victim was being treated by incompetent physicians who destroy all evidence of the rape. Quincy sets out to get rape kits and training for the medical personnel on how to handle and process all evidence of rape, He’s teamed up with a rape counselor (Adrienne Barbeau.) When the counselor is raped, she calls for Quincy to treat her to ensure that the evidence is properly collected so they can bring her rapist to justice. I have to say this was a gut-wrenching episode. Barbeau turns in a great and all too believable performance. In its time, it highlighted an important issue and how public health systems and police departments were failing victims. Watching it in the twenty-first century, the procedures used by Quincy to preserve evidence seem antiquated compared to the efforts to capture rape evidence in something like Broadchurch Series Three. Still, it represents a great bit of insight into the history of this issue.

Overall, this first season of Quincy has some rough edges, much like Quincy himself. For my money, the character worked better in the one-hour format than in the TV movies. While he does a crusade, there’s little of the preachiness many associate with later episodes of the series, although a very high tolerance for those tendencies. Overall, this set is worth viewing (although perhaps not at current prices) if you like the show already, enjoy scientific mystery shows, or like characters crusading for truth and justice.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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