The Twenty-Five Best Dragnet Programs, Part Two

Continued from: 25-21.

20) Big Trio

Original Air Date: July 3, 1952 (Radio)
Original Air Date: November 20, 1952 (Television)

This was cited by Jack Webb in an interview in the mid-1950s as his favorite Dragnet episode and it was definitely classic Dragnet particularly as it appeared on the radio. “The Big Trio” followed the detectives on three separate traffic investigations. The first and last were gut-wrenching stories of tragedies that had occurred due to foolish and careless drivers, with the second being a lighter vignette which helped make the impact of the last story even greater. The last scene in particular was intense. The episode was also one of the few episodes that they were very intentional about the timing. Airing the day before the Independence Day holiday, the Big Trio served as a perfect cautionary tale for a holiday that far too often is accompanied by traffic fatalities.

19) The Big High

Original Air Date: November 2, 1967 (Television)

This episode begins with a father concerned about his grandchild because his daughter and son-in-law are drug users. It then leads to a dramatic discussion of the pros and cons of marijuana use between Friday and the yuppie couple. Unlike another similarly themed episode, “The Prophet,” this episode packed a punch by wrapping up the debate with an actual plot that leads to a stunning and unforgettable dramatic moment that makes this a sobering episode that shows the power of Jack Webb as a director and producer.

18) Big Missus

Original Air Date: August 9, 1955 (Radio)
Original Air Date: October 11, 1956* (Television)

This episode begins with a woman coming to Friday and Smith to tell them that her husband is wanted for parole violations in Michigan. It’s made him paranoid and he’s on the verge falling back into crime, and she’s finally realized that the only thing to do is for him to go back and serve his time, so that they can have a hope of having a normal life. However, she doesn’t want him to find out that she had anything to do with the police finding him, for fear of what it’ll do their marriage. The way Friday and Smith handle this case shows incredible humanity that goes beyond Dragnet’s “by the book” stereotype as they could have just slapped him in jail and that would have been the end of it. What results is a truly compelling and interesting human story spurred on by a wife’s tough love for her husband.

17) The Big Betty

Original Air Date: November 23, 1950 (Radio)
Original Air Date: September 24, 1953 (Television)

There are certain types of crimes, that is really easy to communicate to the public how pernicious their actions are. Robbers, Child Abusers, and murderers are among the easiest. The con man is a bit trickier. Some movies both in the golden age and today portray them as whimsical fellows who play tricks and don’t harm anyone in any serious way. Against this backdrop, the Big Betty succeeds as all the best Dragnet bunco stories do by focusing on a case that connects with us on an emotional level. In this case, they deal with the obituary swindle in which confidence men visit the relatives of recently deceased people and tell them that their loved ones had ordered a gift for them but hadn’t paid for it. The grief-stricken marks then buy cheaply made and overly priced gifts. This episode really hits the emotional notes flawlessly, and it delivers a memorable and satisfying conclusion on New Year’s Eve.

16) DR-31

Original Air Date: March 6, 1969 (Television)

DR-31 is one of those 1960s episode that simply can’t be forgotten. It starts out as a case about a series of small time burglaries of movie memrobilia. Then, the perpetrator is caught, and he’s dressed as one of the old time superheroes, the Crimson Crusader. The interview that follows is classic Dragnet. While other episodes such as the 1950s shows The Big Present, The Big Show, The Big Shoplift, and the Big Mother presented people who committed crime out deep pain, this may be the best of the lot. It strikes a chord as our view of the character changes as he reveals his story. Truly, a classic story.

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