Ken Tucker talks about 'The Mod Squad,' 'The Wild Wild West,' and the trend of making movies from ancient TV shows

By Ken Tucker
Updated March 29, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
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Who cares about those old series?

Thanks to the opening of ”The Mod Squad,” we are once again confronted with the spectacle of a cheesy old TV show transformed into a sleek, expensive movie. I’m old enough to remember ”The Mod Squad” in its original 1968-73 run — which is to say, I remember having a crush on groovy, lank-haired blonde Peggy Lipton and marveling at the gravitation-defying uplift of Clarence Williams III’s Afro. (The third member of the trio, Michael Cole, was a dark-haired, brooding cipher to me, but, to give him his due, a ”hottie” — before the term was coined — for millions of teenyboppers.)

I haven’t seen the new cinematic ”Mod Squad,” but from the trailers I can just tell that it’ll have more realistic explosions than the TV edition. And with Claire Danes in the Lipton role, I feel safe in assuming that there’ll be an aura of pensive disaffectedness that would never have occurred to the writers of the original show.

I also cannot imagine that buying the rights to the ”Mod Squad” title will do the filmmakers much good if they expected to attract those of us who watched the show the first time around. It’s not a draw: No adult in his right mind feels nostalgic for that junky series. And few teens in 1999 know the original; it rarely turns up on TV and has no following beyond the obligatory 7,895 websites that every TV show that ever existed is required by federal law to have.

Remaking old TV shows as movies is always a dumb idea until someone makes a good one. I groaned through that Mel Gibson version of ”Maverick” a few years ago. But I gotta say, if you’re going to reinvent a Western, the forthcoming ”Wild Wild West” film, starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline and directed by Barry (”Men in Black”) Sonnenfeld, has my advance vote for this summer’s prime joyride. Those stars — each possessing a different but effective air of comic irony — combined with Sonnenfeld’s knack for witty special effects are mighty promising, and form a gestalt that gibes with the comic, ironic, F/X-sympathetic aesthetic of the 1965-69 ”West” series. Unless my movie-critic colleagues tell me ”The Mod Squad” is a film noir masterpiece, I’m passing; but for ”The Wild Wild West,” arriving in July, I’m ready to rock. It’s all a matter of personal taste — hey, for all I know, you may be thrilled that Brendan Fraser’s starring in ”Dudley Do-Right” in June.

The Mod Squad

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  • R
  • 92 minutes
  • Scott Silver