The White Shadow: The Complete First Season

This forgotten late '70s "problem" show is well-meaning, committed, but ultimately compromised in its attempts to deal with the issues. Ken Howard plays a wounded pro basketball player who finds himself coaching an inner-city high school team populated by the usual misfits and losers. This means more than basketball, of course, as Howard has to deal with myriad problems both personal and social, but though the topics run the gamut from gang violence and homosexuality to teen pregnancy, disability and racism, Howard and his bulldozer approach manage to hog the spotlight. Most of the shows have him dealing with some form of institutional slowdown, meaning much time facing off with school administrator Joan Pringle while Principal Ed Bernard looks on approvingly. In fact, the stories aren't so much about the issues but Howard's right to deal with them: he personalises the run-around he gets to the point that you can't tell his selfless interest from his sense of entitlement. That the show gives him an absolute contrast against his largely black team and completely black school administration tells you all you need to know about its faith in bending social codes, and whole papers could be written on the weird gender and race dynamics between Howard, the disapproving Pringle and the lenient Bernard. Of course, it all comes down to how the issues are presented, and it's only halfway there, with problems dealt with in one episode that we all know would drag out over years, decades and lifetimes. The intentions of the participants seem to be pure, but the theoretical framework is shaky enough to make it only a couple cuts above after-school special fodder. Extras include commentaries by several participants on two episodes, and a brief "making of" featurette that goes over the difficult casting and pride with dealing with the themes. (Fox)