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The Defenders: Quality of Mercy (1961)
A prime example of how what's considered 'right' and 'enlightened' on TV does change with time.
The very first episode of this highly acclaimed series concerns a doctor who is accused of....make that admits to...killing an infant with Down's Syndrome out of a sense of mercy. The doctor is portrayed as a man of deep compassion; the father of the child agrees with his act and even gave him the go-ahead, essentially. The Prestons, the show's father-and-son team of attorneys, agree to take the case.
It is highly unlikely that this episode would be made today, considering how the knowledge of and attitude toward Down's Syndrome has changed since 1961 when this aired. Although the chromosomal basis for Down's as due to trisomy for chromosome 21 had in fact been discovered two years earlier, it appears the writers of this episode knew nothing about it, as a fellow doctor testifies that the cause is still unknown. That may not be unusual; news about new medical discoveries did travel slow then, especially in getting from the medical journals to Hollywood. Still, it seems that the writers were a bit too confident in their assessment of the condition considering the ever-changing nature of medical knowledge and treatments. The 'expert witness' doctor also says that Down's children cannot be educated. Today, we have already had shows like 'Life Goes On' which portrayed a character with Down's, who was portrayed by a real-life actor with the condition, who was quite capable of being educated even if not quite to the extent of everyone else.
Today, if a similar episode were made, the condition would not be Down's but perhaps Trisomy 13 or 18, both of which are much, much more severe and life-shortening. But I've even read of exceptions in these conditions---who knows what the future may tell us? But the point is, this was considered to be an enlightened, compassionate, progressive episode at the time. After 55 years, it does not seem so anymore.
The point is, when writers want to be moralistic, enlightened, compassionate, or progressive, they also need to be a bit more humble and admit to the nuances, as it is always possible that the future will hold their position to have been wrong.
I just received The Defenders on DVD. I fully intend to collect all four seasons if they are put out and watch them all. And I would encourage people offended by this first episode (as I imagine many will be) to not judge the series by this one alone. The show is regarded as a landmark and explores many other questions throughout its run, and I hope people give it a chance. Please do so. I do expect to see more nuance in its treatment of issues in later episodes. Still, this first episode serves as an example of how we all, writers included, have to have a bit more humility in our readiness to declare enlightenment.
The Mod Squad: Crime Club (1972)
Could the writers have been any more obvious?
Not a particularly great episode (and Mod Squad is usually much better than this despite the reputation for trendiness it has acquired today), but made even worse by the obviousness of the affirmative-action thinking, which must have went something like this: "This is an episode about college students with high IQs who are committing crimes. Well, we've got to have at least one token black and one token Hispanic in the group, because if we don't, we'll be seen as implying that blacks and Hispanics aren't smart. Also better have at least one female member of the gang, or we'll be seen as implying that women aren't as smart as men. But, of course, the leader of the group will be a white male. Yes, I know, in real life criminals are not very particular about being racially or sexually inclusive in their choice of comrades (anything but), but this is television, and we've got to try to break stereotypes, even if it strains credulity...". On top of this, this group of students embraces vulgarized Nietzschean philosophy of the "superman" and "superior people". Highly improbable that the white leader of the group would simultaneously embrace affirmative action, and just as highly improbable that any racial or ethnic minority students (or even women) would join such a group as it is well known that this philosophy goes hand in hand with racism and sexism. One of the most laughably obvious excesses of "cultural sensitivity" writing. Also, you see no real evidence that any of these kids are really of excess intelligence. Stories about people with high IQs should only be written by writers with high IQs, and obviously this one was not. Very typical of the worst of the early '70s.
The F.B.I.: The Fatal Showdown (1972)
The problem: viewers watching this series for past two seasons could/should not have been surprised
Warning: SPOILER This episode just shows how utterly stupid it was for the producers to kowtow to whoever made the demand (likely, someone at the Bureau, not a producer) right about the end of 1969 that from then on, no character on the show was ever to die.
In this episode, we THINK someone has been killed, but to anyone who had noticed, it was no surprise whatsoever, and in fact was totally predictable, that he would turn out to be alive. Producers must not allow a show to be hamstrung by absolute rules like this on adventure/drama series. The episode might have gotten four more stars from me if the "surprise" had not been so predictable because of this. Indeed, the loss of real suspense because of this rule causes me to dock probably two stars off of every other episode as well for the last half of the series' run.
Hawaii Five-O: The Listener (1973)
Lost all sympathy for Foxworth's character when he lied again to the boy
Just want to say that while this was a fairly good episode otherwise, it was marred for me by my loss of all sympathy for Foxworth's Dr. Fowler when he played the "little innocent" bit with the boy (Radames Pera) and lied to him about his prognosis after the boy had heard the tape.
ANY child who is capable of understanding has a right to know whether they are going to have a life or not. It's THEIR LIFE, and they have a right to know if they have little time left so they can have some say in how they want to live their life. All evidence is that children are far better at handling the truth about terminal prognosis than adults think they are, and often a lot better than adults in similar situations. I have said it before, and will say it again: Adults who refuse to tell children that they will not or may not recover from a disease because they are "protecting" them are not protecting the child, they are protecting the "innocence". They want to retain the image of the child as a poor sweet little innocent rather than a brave human being dealing as best they can with a terrible truth.
The Twilight Zone: Living Doll (1963)
An early, subtle look at domestic abuse
The main thing to note about this episode is that Erich (Telly Savalas) is quite obviously an abuser, even though the extent of his abuse is likely understated because of the sensitivity of the subject at the time. One sees that his wife and stepdaughter live in terror of him, yet also are too fearful of what he may do to try to leave him or tell anyone else. As such, Talking Tina is not just an evil doll like Chucky, but the only hope for escape that this mother and daughter have. Talking Tina sees Erich for the abuser that he is and is not afraid of him, and realizing this, he sets out to destroy her.
The one thing that disappoints me is the ending, which seems a bit rushed and could have been handled more dramatically. (I have an idea for a different ending with the same basic result, but I'll hold it for now). I feel that the writers chickened out a little there. For overall effect, however, this is one of the true classics of the original Twilight Zone.