Your mission, should you decide to accept it is to watch every episode of the classic 60’s and 70’s TV series Mission Impossible in a row and in order. The Countdown to Decades made it possible but the limitations of my DVR made the title a truism. I simply couldn’t get it done.
The Countdown to Decades is a brilliant publicity stunt heralding the launch of a new cable channel that will air nothing but classic CBS TV shows. Right now, the network is binge airing one entire series after another. Mission Impossible last week, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea this week, followed by Man from U.N.C.L.E and more.
Mission Impossible was a favorite of mine growing up. I even had dozens of episodes on audio cassette and I can still hear snatches of dialogue loud and clear. I was reintroduced to the series when it came out on DVD but never made it past the first few seasons. I prefer the later seasons but didn’t realize why until I skimmed dozens of episodes in a row. (Apparently, I’m alone in this feeling as the real MI aficionados seems to prefer the first few seasons.)
Early seasons of the show are all about political intrigue in some fictional but vaguely familiar Balkan or South American country. Steven Hill led the team. Greg Morris and Peter Lupus signed on for the duration while Barbara Bain and Martin Landau stole the show for a while. Peter Graves replaced Hill and became the iconic face of the series. Leonard Nimoy replaced Landau but it took a series of different women to replace the coolly, elegant Bain; Lee Meriwether, Leslie Ann Warren, Barbara Anderson, and my favorite Lynda Day George.
And how many of you remember that Sam Elliott was a semi-regular? I adored him as Dr. Doug.
In the later seasons, the series switched from political thriller to crime drama with an emphasis on stopping mobsters from doing what they do. The show also made the team a little less perfect. In the early seasons most of the “slip-ups” were intentional scares to fool the audience. In later seasons, IMF members were routinely caught but never killed and oddly, the Secretary never disavowed any knowledge of their actions.
Like all con shows, the fun is figuring out how the team’s wild scheme is going to lead to the intended result. A circus caper leads to a prison break, a trained cat repairs international relations and a trip back in time puts mobsters away for murder. As smart as the stories are, it’s the guest stars that make the series such a joy to watch. Robert Conrad, William Shatner, Roddy McDowell, Christopher George and every character actor from the 1970’s along with half the cast of Star Trek.
Over the past week, I’ve watched about 5 episodes from each season. When you binge, you notice things you wouldn’t normally pick up on. For example, I noticed that there is actually very little dialogue in each episode in comparison to any other TV drama. Except for the exposition all opening, the team members rarely say more than a few sentences to each other and there are long sequences with nothing but marvelous incidental music to set the pace.
I also noticed that Barney (Greg Morris) spends an awful lot of the series crawling around in tiny, dirty places while Willie (Peter Lupus) lugs people around inside of suitcases, filing cabinets and bogus computers. Later in the series, both men are given more to do but by then the die has already been cast.
Even with the changes in cast and styling, Mission Impossible is an excellent series from beginning to end. It’s smart. It’s suspenseful and it’s packed with talent. If you’ve never watched it, you might find it slow compared to modern thrillers. But former fans will find that the show has held up well over all these years.
If you’d like to watch an episode, you can download them on Amazon or watch them free on Netflix.
What’s your favorite episode or Mission Impossible memory?