Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Loving Look at the Chronically Outraged Pathologist: Jack Klugman (1922 - 2012)

I was so sad to hear about Jack Klugman's passing last week. Klugman was a mainstay in my house and I loved him as both Oscar Madison and the incorrigible Dr. Quincy. He did a lot of other amazing things as well, such as 12 Angry Men and a fantastic episode of Insight titled Packy, where he crossed over to the other side only to be greeted by a God who looked an awful lot like Bob Newhart! But I think it's Quincy M.E.  that will always have my heart. My mother was a nurse and a mystery lover, so Quincy played all the right morbid notes for her. I rediscovered the show during the summer of 2009 when it ran on a local channel and I've seen almost every episode.

I do podcast segments for the Movies About Girls show, and actually recorded a Quincy-centric segment earlier this year as a way to help celebrate Klugman's 90th birthday. I was hoping he'd have 90 more, but that, unfortunately, was not in the cards. He did leave us so much to cherish though, and I decided to post a transcription of my podcast segment below. RIP Jack, you are loved and missed.

Since Jack Klugman just hit the big 9-0 on April 27, I thought it was high time we paid a little tribute to one of the best and most aggravating shows in television history, Quincy M.E. It was the best because Klugman exudes charisma. Despite the middle age paunch and hound dog face, he was charming enough that you could see how he might have been able to bed a bevvy of babes. He was also infuriating because he often spewed a lot of self-righteous crap, and it was a bit ironic to see a forensic examiner act like God. The whole point is to save people, not dissect them. But all is forgiven because Quincy was 8 seasons of criminological heaven. It’s true!

Quincy was the creation of the great Glen A. Larson and was inspired by both a Canadian TV series called Wojeck and a real life LA coroner named Thomas Noguchi, who must have been one bad ass coroner! For trivia buffs, Noguchi was called Coroner to the Stars and he actually performed Marilyn Monroe’s autopsy. Lest we forget, Quincy was also a precursor to shows like C.S.I. The series originally ran in the NBC Mystery Movie lineup as 90 minute TV movies along with shows like Columbo and McCloud, but was popular enough that it was soon turned into a weekly series.

It was fairly formulaic and here’s a short list of what happened in every episode:
  • Someone dies and it looks like natural causes or was a murder that got pinned on the wrong person. 
  • Quincy notices something is wrong and cries murder. His boss, Asten (John S. Ragin) gets upset and yells at Quincy.
  •  Quincy goes to his favorite gin joint called Danny’s and gets drunk and investigates whatever crime he thinks has been committed.
  • Quincy always proves he’s right and solves the crime. Asten groans. 
  • Quincy puts his arms around a woman who serves no other purpose except objectification.
 End of episode.

To be fair, the series did have some unique turns, such as when one Hispanic character called her husband a Taco Head, or there was the time Quincy put a poisonous snake on a stick and tried to attack someone with it. And I guess that’s where the charm of Quincy lies. He just does whatever he wants, he’s always right and he gets laid a lot. Sounds like Madonna.

Quincy’s partner was named Sam and he was played by Robert Ito. It should be noted that Ito was well into his 40s during the show’s run, although he always looked around 35 to me. OK, maybe that’s not that interesting to note, but there you go.

Part way into the series run, Quincy became all about social justice and by the last season, the show was totally off the cuff and completely amazing. My favorite of the holier than thou episodes is called On Dying High. Roger Miller, who narrated my favorite Christmas special, Nestor, The Long Eared Donkey, plays a musician named J.J. who decides to freebase before a performance and accidentally sets himself on fire. He runs onto the stage in full flaming glory, right in front of Quincy and the world. Shocking enough, as he plays one of the cutest donkeys ever in Nestor, but Quincy is able to save J.J. and then give him a bunch of speeches about the horrors of drug abuse, which I think J.J. must know by now. Anyway, Quincy gets all crazy about the disturbing nature of casual drug use in the 80s, but it seems almost every self-righteous speech is given while he’s stirring up his next cocktail. I don’t think Quincy understood irony.

The most infamous episode of Quincy is, of course, Next Stop, Nowhere, which showed the world the evils of punk rock. I’m pretty sure punk rock was not as big of an issue in 1983 as it was in, say, 1977 and anyway, Chips beat out Quincy on the punk scene with their 1982 episode called Battle of the Bands. And let’s face it, wasn’t Quincy’s brand of renegade forensic-ism a little punk rock itself? Like I said, irony escapes this man.

Oh well, Quincy was determined to end the horrors of punk after a guy is killed by an ice pick while slamming! I actually remember watching this episode when it first aired and it seemed so edgy. Now it's pretty silly but truly, the punk rockers make so much more sense than Quincy. They say "there is no tomorrow, only yesterday’s pain." Totally deep, man. This episode is also rumored to feature Courtney Love in the club scenes, but I didn’t see anyone kicking Quincy in the stomach. And it’s episodes like these that made people refer to Quincy as the chronically outraged pathologist.

The last episode of the series wasn’t really a Quincy episode at all. It’s about a construction worker played by Alan Fawcett, who was the host of Putting on the Hits, which was a super awesome lip synching show that had this great performer who did both Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross singing Endless Love... But I digress... So, Alan gets his arm ripped off in this crazy accident and it’s re-attached by Dr. Gabe McCracken, who was played by Barry Newman, whom I adore.

Anyway, McCracken was intended to be a spin-off but it was pretty bland despite the fact that some guy got his arm severed off of his own body. I don’t remember Quincy being in the episode hardly at all, and I’m sure die hard Quincy buffs were peeved at how the series ended. Time for a reunion movie? I think so.

Our favorite drunk coroner is currently streaming on Netflix, so what are you waiting for?

Klugman in a bar, seducing a woman in red. This is exactly how I want to remember him. 
You can also check out my image gallery for the Quincy episode Hot Ice, Cold Hearts.


Wings1295 said...

Great tribute post. I wasn't a huge fan of the show, it kind of flew under my radar at the time. I'd love to see it now, though. Did see a ton of The Odd Couple, though. Used to love it, reminds of times with my grandmother, for some reason. Maybe she liked it, too! He will be missed.

Amanda By Night said...

Hi Joe,

Klugman was great in everything. Quincy and Rockford Files were must see TV in my house, so I grew up with those shows embedded in my brain! And they come with lots of nice family memories too! I agree, he will be missed! Thanks for stopping by, btw.

Shell said...

I was so sorry to hear when Jack Klugman pass. Besides enjoying his work in The Odd Couple and Quincy, my favorites were the episodes he appeared in for Twilight Zone.