Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seventeen years ago tonight... 'Homicide' was born

A friend reminded me that on this night 17 years ago, after the first Cowboys-Bill Super Bowl, a little show called "Homicide: Life on the Street" debuted. Inspired by David Simon's great book about the year he spent embedded with a real Baltimore PD Homicide unit, "Homicide" has since been overshadowed by Simon's work on "The Wire," but the original show was pretty incredible in its own right.

Though my heart ultimately gravitated towards "NYPD Blue," "Homicide" at its peak was the better of the two classic '90s cop dramas, and it gave the world the majestic splendor that was Andre Braugher as Frank Pembleton, which you can enjoy in this scene from that very first episode, "Gone for Goode."

(I don't want to give short-shrift to the many other wonderful "Homicide" characters and actors, like Clark Johnson as Meldrick Lewis or Yaphet Kotto as Lt. Giardella, but Braugher's star always burned hottest and brightest on that show.)

And, for good measure, a few other bits of classic "Homicide" I could find on YouTube:

Pembleton gets a confession from a man he knows is innocent, just to prove a point to his boss. (This is a very long clip, but every second is worth it.)

Bolander and Munch employ a new kind of lie detector (in a gag Simon would re-use on "The Wire").

Kay Howard's perfect streak continues (also from the pilot).

Howard and Tim Bayliss quit smoking and drive their partners crazy in the process.

Meldrick is a Luddite (and a smooth operator).

God, I miss that show. It was never the same after the third season, as they began to introduce younger, more attractive, duller cops and eeeevil drug lords in futile attempts to goose the ratings, but good lord, when it was good, it was incredible.

68 comments:

Figgsrock2 said...

Wow, 17 years ago. My goodness. I thought the show only went downhill in the last 2 seasons, but that's just me I suppose. (I know you disliked the Mahoney story line Alan, but I really enjoyed it.)

If I recall correctly, I think the second season had one of Robin Williams best dramatic roles, yes?

By the way centric (which used to be BET Jazz) is rerunning the show weekenights at 9. (Not that the time slot isn't crowded with good current shows.)

David J. Loehr said...

I remember that night well. It was one of the only times I immediately wanted to write a spec script after watching a single episode.

After the third season, it was still head and shoulder above most tv. But man, when it was on fire, it was something.

I've actually shown "Three Men and Adena" to theatre students, because the structure and the story might as well be a play.

Cathy said...

Yes, indeed. Except now I've watched 5 youtube clips and don't see any sign of stopping, so thanks a lot. :)

Laura said...

I know next to nothing about "Homicide" (I was 4 when it premiered) but I always trust your recommendations, so I have to ask: Given your belief that it deteriorated over time, is it worth getting into now? Should I aim to watch just the first few seasons?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Laura, the first DVD set (featuring the 9-episode first season and the weird 4-episode second "season") is incredible even if you stop there. Season 3 has a lot of brilliant stuff, too. After that, it's up to you how much longer you wanna watch, but the show was largely self-contained, so it's not like you'll be stopping without finding out whodunnit.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I remember that night well. It was one of the only times I immediately wanted to write a spec script after watching a single episode.

It was really something, wasn't it? Not in any way the ideal post-Super Bowl show - the opening Crosetti/Lewis scene alone probably scared off half the football fans who hadn't already shut off their TVs - and yet I believe it had by far the longest run of any show to debut after the game.

Sometimes, good things happen to good shows.

Eric said...

@Laura: is it worth getting into now?

I agree with Alan. It's definitely worth watching the first 3 seasons. Several episodes are among the best that I've ever seen on television, and the characters and snippets of the dialogue remain vivid in my memory after many years.

In general, I recall the 1992-93 season being a good year for TV (although my memory is often faulty). The Simpsons and Seinfeld were in their primes, the '92 election provided sketch comedy shows with much material, and "Homicide" debuted after the Super Bowl.

Anonymous said...

I always liked Melissa Leo as Kay Howard and the episode in the 3rd season featuring her trip home to the Chesapeake Bay area to visit her family, The Last of the Waterman, is one of my favorite episodes. It was nice to see Leo's film work recognized with the Oscar nomination.

Otto Man said...

Great show. I actually liked the Mahoney storyline, and the show had some amazing episodes even as late as the sixth season (D'Onofrio as the guy knocked into the subway, for one).

Otto Man said...

Given your belief that it deteriorated over time, is it worth getting into now?

Oh yeah.

Cathy said...

Oh, and, it's driving us crazy. Does anyone know who is the actress that Meldrick is trying to date in that lie detector clip?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Allison Smith

Mike said...

The episode "Crosetti" is one of the finest examples of melodrama (and I mean this as unequivocal praise). I get choked up just thinking about. And the episode also has one of the best acting performances by Clark Johnson. Very powerful stuff.

It does go down after a while, especially the overuse of red ball episodes. But season six's "Subway" episode is widely and rightly considered a masterpiece. It requires no background.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhplAN8ie2w

Billiam said...

Just looking at the phrase "futile attempts to goose the ratings": other than stunt-casting, are there ANY instances where the showrunners of any show made creative comprises during the show's run to try to draw in more mainstream viewers, and actually had it pay off? It certainly didn't work for "Veronica Mars (and I'm sure there are plenty of other cases where it didn't work).

Andrew said...

I'm sure Alan will disagree with this, but I have no qualms about encouraging people to watch the whole damn series. Even during its decline it wasn't devoid of occasional greatness. Even season 7 had a great series finale.

Kay Howard remains one of my favorite characters ever. It's says something that with all the creative pedigree behind Treme, the thing I'm most looking forward to is seeing Melissa Leo as a regular on television again.

Thanks for posting this. I've been meaning to watch the DVDs for a while now, and this was the push I needed. I'm going to be very unproductive for the next few weeks.

BF said...

I believe it had by far the longest run of any show to debut after the game.

Family Guy?

Mike said...

Well this is really quite bizarre. I'd never seen the show at all, though I know you had mentioned it many times and that is was Simon's work.

So I started watching it literally at the start of this year in between catch ups on a number of other shows.

I just finished Season Two last night (Munch crashes the double date and speels off over the real meaning of life, and the guy with the ultra intense pen fetish).

The camera work is so different - cuts everywhere in these first dozen episodes that just dont feel at all right but are obviously intentional. Has taken a bit to get used to it but it definitely works to move things along, and I guess it made editing a lot easier to do.

To anyone that has never seen it like myself I can categorically say it most definitely holds up as watchable, indeed it holds that charm of gritty reality that is utterly timeless, and let's face it crime hasnt changed much and I doubt that being a police really has either at the blunt end.

It definitely feels like a major omission to have missed it for so long and one I am becoming more and more happy to correct.

It sure is weird though having just seen a half dozen Men of A Certain Age episodes with Andre Braugher and then stepping into a time warp with him acting nearly 20 years ago.

But really great television always has something that holds the viewer and this show sure has no trouble at all doing that 17 years on.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeah, I'm not saying seasons 4-7 are worthless, as they gave us occasional gems like "A Doll's Eyes" or "Subway," as well as characters like Gharty and Kellerman. The show just wasn't as consistently excellent as it was in its early years, and there was a more sensationalistic air to things compared to the down-to-earth lumpiness of the Ned Beatty years.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Family Guy?

I guess technically it's passed Homicide this year, but it's also such a weird case with the cancellation and resurrection that I don't know if it should have the record.

Jim Hill said...

H:LotS had great episodes all the way to the end. Not many, granted, but they were there. The real difference as I remember it is that the "bad" episodes of the first few seasons were still pretty damn good and the "bad" episodes near the end made you want to eat your own eyes so you'd never see such drek again.

Rebecca said...

Another thing "Homicide" did well and did early was use well-chosen pop music for dramatic and ironic effect. The ending of the season 3 episode "The City that Bleeds" will always stick in my mind for that reason.

Maybe it started a trend that ended in unfortunate places like the aural noise of shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and excessive covers of "Hallelujah" everywhere else, but it's worth watching the original to see/hear it done right.

Bruce Reid said...

I honestly feel that Homicide, with its deliberately rough-edged juxtapositions, voracious appetite for novel settings, and you-are-there urgency of the filming style, does a better job conveying life in a city (one I've admittedly never visited) than The Wire. The Wire is a meticulously detailed map of Baltimore, highlighting all the pertinent information, an invaluable tool for getting around; whereas Homicide is garrulous native dragging you through random streets by the collar and filling your head with civic pride, local legends, and fifty brands of bullshit along the way.

Which doesn't make it a better show, but is how I prefer my visits to play out.

When to stop watching the show becomes complicated by the TV Movie, which I think is terrific, essential viewing, one of Homicide's high water marks. Except that, since I'd already given up on the show before then, the seventh-season plotline it wrapped up came as a complete, and not quite plausible, shock to me; perhaps it would have worked better had I seen that played out beforehand.

TMoss said...

22 years ago tonight an equally little show called "The Wonder Years" was also born.

I know, random -- but still.

Matthew L said...

The Complete Series is at a very good price on Amazon at the moment - $65 for all seven season, plus the movie and the three Law & Order crossover episodes. (Contrast that price to individual seasons, which sell for $55 each - except for the shorter combined seasons 1&2, which sells for $30.)

http://www.amazon.com/Homicide-Life-Street-Complete-repackaged/dp/B002BLNGTS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1264992823&sr=8-1

I've never seen Homicide - I remember hearing at the time how good it was, but I just dismissed it as a good cop show, which didn't interest me. But then Alan got me interested in The Wire, which led me to read the original book Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, and now I'm interested in watching the TV series. So when I saw the price Amazon were selling it at, I jumped at the opportunity. The discs were delivered the other day, and I'm looking forward to working my way through the show.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or did the Black and Blue episode that Alan links to (Pembleton grilling Isaiah Washington's character in the box and getting him to confess to a crime he didn't commit, at Giardello's behest) contain one of the great in-jokes of all time?

Washington's character spends just about all his screen time in the box (aka the man in the box). His name is Layne Staley, which is also the lead singer of the band Alice in Chains ... one of whose most famous songs is ... wait for it ... The Man in the Box.

I think another episode also had a character named Chris (sic Krist) Novoselic (Krist Novoselic played bass in Nirvana).

Guess someone on the Homicide staff was into Seattle rock music. :)

RP

debbie said...

I believe Frank Pembleton and Tim Bayliss were the best partners of all time. In a way, the original bromance.

ANNA said...

I loved the Bayless-Pembleton exchanges.

TB: You never say "please" you never say "thank you."

FP: "Please don't be an idiot. Thank you."

Classic!!!

Bix said...

I'd argue that the beginning of the third season was a major, negative change as well:

- There was a definite shift in tone, making it a much different show from what we saw in the first 13 episodes. The 3-part opener was too ridiculous, especially the climax.

- Jon Polito was fired for not being pretty, though we got the best episode of the series out of it.

The changes in Season 4 probably had the biggest impact, though, with NBC's lack of commitment causing Beatty & Baldwin to leave, too many red balls including the sniper, and the really terrible treatment of Melissa Leo and her character. That got even worse in Season 5, where she literally didn't do anything until the season finale even though two of the main characters were confined to their desks for a considerable portion of the season. Otherwise kind of an interesting season (Michelle Forbes was very good and I liked her character even if her presence didn't make sense a lot of the time, the different pairings were interesting, and sue me, I liked the Mahoney stuff, though I always felt that the shooting was a lot more ambiguous than they intended for it to be).

I don't know if I'd say that Season 6 was actively bad (and both "Full Court Press" and "Fallen Heroes" were excellent), but the addition of Falsone and Ballard was...umm....yeah and poisoned it. Well, them and Mahoney's sister.

Season 7 was just pathetic. No episodes of note (though the one with Dan Futterman where they couldn't determine matter of death was very good and the tone of it was a lot closer to the earlier seasons). Two new characters who were even worse than Ballard and Falsone. Tom Fontana insulting the previous female cast members when explaining that they weren't "women you want to fuck." Falsone-Ballard romance. Bayliss was given nothing to do with Pembleton gone and then the character was destroyed. The movie was better (and the climax well-acted), but the general premise (Gee for MAYOR??!?!) and Bayliss's end felt wrong (plus why is Adena Watson in squad room purgatory?).

Aside from the last season, I don't think there's anything as bad as the period of NYPD Blue where David Milch's heroin addiction was bottoming out. Blue was probably more consistent overall aside from that period, which was probably the weirdest, most out of place dramatic TV I've ever seen. When they did that special where Milch explained it and they even gave an example of one of the most ridiculous lines he wrote at that point (Andy babbling about a ringmaster whipping an ostrich), it was pretty easy to nail down what period that was. I'd love to see Alan go over those episodes in some form with the benefit of what we know now.

Alex Mullane said...

Alan, as someone who has never seen Homicide, but loves The Wire and has rewatched it several times...

Well, I'm just wondering how similar they are thematically? I'm assuming The Wire to be much broader in scope, and that Homicide would be something more akin to if the focus never left Landsman's floor with Bunk and the other murder police. Am I on the right track?

I'm definitely interested in giving it a go for the early seasons at least, I just want to make sure it's not going to be scenarios and themes that I'm already overly familiar with (For example, if the show is filled with things that were rehashed and repackaged later for The Wire.)

Anonymous said...

How can you say anything bad about the 6th season? It has the episode "SUBWAY"!!! Maybe the best episode of television I have ever seen (at least until The Wire), but I think as a single episode it managed to elevate the whole season to another level. It also had that fun episode where Pembleton and Bayliss make a huge drug bush by mistake. The Subway episode was what made me realize that TV could be sublime...

Bix said...

Subway is good but overrated, IMO.

The episode with the accidental drug bust is "Full Court Press," which I mentioned earlier.

Lorrie said...

I missed it when it aired originally, but I watched the entire run of "Homicide" on WGN a few years ago. I may never have discovered it had I not lost my job. Watching "Homicide" each weekday was one of the few good things about being unemployed.

It is so funny to me that I miss a show I didn't even watch during its original run, but I do.

AdamW said...

The funeral procession scene in "Crosetti" remains one of my favorite TV moments ever.

kishkeking said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M.A.Peel said...

The first three seasons had such a distinct aura about them. The episode that ends with Bollinger playing the cello outside with a new cellist girlfried was charming--completely implausible, but quirky and charming. And the Crosetti episode is deeply moving.

For me the most telling sign that the series was in trouble was the re-done title sequence for season 5. Apparently NBC mandated it be re-done in a "flashier" way. They just made it more ordinary, and drained all the soul out of it.

The original, created by Mark Pellington and Lynn Kowal, didn't look like anything else on tv. And it predated Kyle Cooper's revolutionary sequence for S7even by 2 years.

Allison DeWitt said...

One of my favorite shows ..ever. Terrific writing and an usually good cast, underlining both "unusual" and "good", IMO.

Melissa Leo did a remarkable job, so low key and un-actressy. Yaphet Kotto - riveting. I remember a scene where he talked of the bias of blacks toward other blacks because their skin was too dark. It was one of the most amazing scenes I've ever seen on television. Ned Beatty ..was being his usual Ned Beatty self. Excellent.

And of course, Braugher...I just couldn't take my eyes off the guy.

And "Crosetti"... out of the blue, no way I saw that coming. Memorable all the way around, from the music (Which I remember as being John Lee Hooker doing "I Cover the Waterfront") to superb acting.

What a treat to be reminded of this great show. As dark as it could be, it was also very funny, at time. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Homicide was such a brilliant, strange, wonderful show. And Bruce, I think you just summed up brilliantly why I persist in liking it better than The Wire, despite all of The Wire's obvious virtues. As for the seasons, they're all different. I like the third season the best, since I'm a sucker for drama and Crosetti, Cradle to Grave and The City That Bleeds are all very powerful episodes. Crosetti may very well be my favorite episode of television ever. It's also in Season 3 that the complexities of the Frank Pembleton/ Tim Bayliss partnership start to emerge. I don't think the fourth season is quite as good as the first three - it's more likely to have dud episodes, and Kay starts to be marginalized - but it's got several episodes that are top-quality Homicide. I don't think the show really starts to go downhill until Season 5, and there's still a lot of good stuff happening in that season. I made a calculated decision, though, to stop with the fifth season. To anyone who plans on doing so, I would actually advise stopping with the episode "Deception" - that way you miss the abomination that is Falsone.

Alex, Homicide and The Wire are actually very different, and they're trying to do different things. It is kind of like being in the squadroom or out on the street with Landsman and Bunk, except that Homicide is much less plot-based and much more character-based than The Wire. Homicide is all about showing you who these homicide detectives are and how they live and work. What actually happens to them is secondary.

Allison, I loved that montage in Crosetti with I Cover the Waterfront. It's actually Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker, which strikes me as the perfect combination for Homicide.

arrabbiata said...

In my opinion, still the best network cop show ever. And a classic example of a superior show that was horribly mismanaged by its network.

Within a few years half of the original cast was gone, we started getting more and more of the action/sensationalistic plots that were meant to boost ratings, and it remained stuck in a dead end time slot. I still stayed with it to the end, as even in the later seasons there were scattered excellent episodes. (What, was I going to watch Nash Bridges instead?) And though some of the later cast additions were just awful, at the end we still had the combination of Bayliss, Lewis, Munch, and Giardello in every episode.

Rich Walsh said...

I came to this show a bit late and was already a big fan of 'NYPD Blue' - whose original season I still greatly admire. The first HLOTS episode I saw was 'Every Mother's Son' which astonished me for its smart use of music ('Full Moon, Empty Heart' by Belly) and the audacity of the plot. I was immediately hooked on the series and ended up seeing every episode.

If you take the first three seasons and the first part of season four up to the very prescient 'Autofocus' (in today's YouTube world) and the great 'A Doll's Eyes', there are very few, if any, shows that can boast such a sustained run of excellence from its start.

Season four had other great episodes like 'Stakeout' and 'Requiem for Adena' and all the remaining seasons had their own high points though it is hard to argue with the consensus here that the show weakened over time.

Still, its innovative use of camera work and music and its great writing and acting are hard for me to forget.

GregM said...

Just saw the Subway episode. Great episode. And it falls into the "Requiem for a Dream" category of--that was amazing. I don't ever want to watch that again. In fact, "Subway" might be at the top of that damn list.

Trilby said...

I just caught an episode over the weekend. Amazing how good it holds up. And if "Braugher's star always burned hottest and brightest" Meldrick's always burned the coolest for me. I had a big crush on Clark Johnson in that show. I like NYPD Blue too, but Homicide was grittier.

cathy b. said...

In honor of the anniversary I watched the first two episodes yesterday. I was afraid that it would not measure up to the Wire, but I was surprised at how much fun Homicide was to watch in those first seasons. I would rather watch a Homicide rerun than a Wire rerun.

The Alt-Tv usenet crowd, which was part of viewing experience for me, has revived in Facebook. They are still the wittiest people I know - although so diverse it's a wonder we ever got along.

Jerron said...

Long time lover of the show...can't put into words how much I enjoyed the show.

Now this is a opinion question.."Did the Arabber kill Adena?" I have always thought that he had and got lucky to get a rookie cop but at some point later on in the series Bayliss said he didn't even know.

I also agree that the show went downhill very fast but every now and then they would throw a great eppy in to remind you of how they were. Another great episode post season 3, what the one with Alfree Woodard. I believe it was one of the first times the show let someone be as smart as Frank. A gem!

Bryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan said...

Wow - has it really been that long? Put me in the minority of people that take Homicide over NYPD Blue (though, BOTH are great and enduring shows) - it certainly wasn't as good in the later seasons but I thought it was just as strong as later seasons of Blue (but that's an argument that can go on forever and even I flip flop on depending on my mood)

For those of you wondering whether you should watch it - definitely yes- I watch it whenever it's on - it's not dated at all and having seen the Wire will not at all effect your enjoyment.

There are 4 shows in which I saw the premier episodes where I can remember when and where I was when I watched them. This one, Hill Street Blues, Cheers and Lost.

Elias said...

Homicide has 3 distinct periods:
- Season 1-3
- Season 4-5
- Season 6 to the end

Although the series did change significantly as of season 4 (departure of Daniel Baldwin and Ned Beatty & addition of Reed Diamond), season 4 (and 5 ) still has many memorable episodes culminating in the amazing finale where Pembeleton has a stroke. Season 5 also see the addition of Michelle Forbes. Season 4 & 5 were also some of the funniest.

Of course starting at Season 6 and the arrival of Jon Seda it became pretty painful...

JanieJones said...

I would definitely encourage anyone who is debating about watching the show to do so. I definitely enjoyed S1-3 more than the rest of the series but even with all the goose eggs in the rest of the series, it was still a pleasure.

I have to also comment on "Subway", a very taunt and heartbreaking episode.

I recall writing my dissertation at the time. My reward for writing x amount of hundred of pages consisted of going out with friends for an hour or two and watching HLOTS and NYPD Blue in particular.

paul said...

If you have the DVD's, listen to the commentary track on the first episode. It is one of the best such tracks I've heard and gives a good summary of why the show was so revolutionary. Get out of the studio and onto the street, and use lots of handheld cameras. I can't remember if they drew the comparison themselves, but it struck me as very similar to what the French New Wave directors did and was almost as shocking and refreshing to audiences.

From season 5, "Kaddish" has always been one of my favorites.

David J. Loehr said...

I'm glad they got to do "Homicide: The Movie" to wrap things up, but I thought it was a bit much how they managed (or tried to manage) fitting every character who'd been a regular into the storyline. It's all a little rushed, a little choppy, a little too simplistic But...

The reason that movie exists, to me, is for the last act. The movie's story wraps up with about fifteen minutes to go, giving us one final, long, rich scene between Pembleton and Bayliss, giving us a real sense of closure to their relationship, Bayliss' storyline from season 7 and the series as a whole. It's tonally different from the rest of the movie and just beautifully written.

(Yes, I have the complete series in the file cabinet packaging. Could you tell?)

Bryan said...

I started watching the reruns on Centric about six weeks ago. Instantly hooked, I bought the (aforementioned) box set off Amazon.com -- $65 for the entire series on 35 well-packaged discs is a total steal. Still in what many consider the show's halcyon period, but it's more than worth the plunge.

Chatterbox said...

I'll agree with the general consensus here, which is that the first 3 seasons are untouchable, 4-5 still pretty entertaining, 6 spotty with moments of high brilliance, and 7 being more bad than good. The coda in The Movie with Bayliss and Pembleton is unbelievable, though.

One highlight from Season 6: the two-part finale "Fallen Heroes" directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Bigelow, unsurprisingly, did a hell of a job directing the action in the shootout sequence in "Fallen Heroes," but, like everything else about the Mahoney story, it bore so little resemblance to the show that Homicide used to be that it just disheartened me.

Jort said...

it's been mentioned above already, but here's the link to the end of "Crosetti".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7r2B6zFNuw

(skip to 09:00 if you must)

It kills me every time when Pembleton is standing there. The look on G's face when he sees him...

eyeball Wit said...

The earlier episodes were the best, but the later ones were pretty great.

Homicide was also the first big break for the great Edie Falco who had a short arc as Eva Thormann, the wife of an officer who was shot.

Anonymous said...

I agree; I had forgotten about "Kaddish". What a great episode!!

Rebecca Jill said...

I just finished watching Season 5 of "The Wire" on Friday night, and I'm completely interested in watching at least the first 3 seasons of "Homicide: Life on the Street."

I was a freshman in college when this show started, so not only was I more focused on school, but I also didn't bother to watch the Super Bowl this initially aired after, since I don't like either the Bills or Cowboys. Had I first seen this show back then, I think I would have been a viewer.

By the time I got out of college, those that I knew watched it, liked it but all said that the first 3 seasons were great, but it wasn't the same, so it really wasn't worth watching.

Now that shows like this are easily available to start watching from the beginning, I like to take advantage of that. Thanks for all of your great TV recommendations and reviews.

Trilby said...

Anyone who has Time Warner in NYC who's interested in watching random Homicide episodes, go to channel 89 ("Cntric").

Mike said...

And don't forget, even waaaay back then, there was that damn man once again - TV's very own Observer... Zeljko Ivanek :-)

dez said...

I don't even remember why I watched the pilot, but I did, and the show has remained my favorite drama series ever (and yes, I have seen and loved "The Wire").

Otto Man said...

As long as we're recounting favorite episodes, "Full Moon" -- Lewis and Kellerman at the seedy motel -- was always a favorite.

Music and acting by the Rev. Horton Heat, too.

atd said...

I agree that the Pembleton episode was great, but for me - the 5th episode where pembleton and bayliss go after the guy they think killed adena watson is one of the best, absolute best, scenes in television http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRpAXKKITvU

BobC said...

I actually missed most of the first two HLOTS seasons when my cockeyed cop show quota was being filled by NYPD Blue, but I know I did admire the Robin Williams episode. I think it was when I stumbled on the alt.tv.homicide usenet group that I really got into it. And boy, was it a joy to get into. This was a show that:

- had the courage to play out its two long-term investigations (Adena Watson and Gordon Pratt) as exercises in futility; and whatever you thought of the Mahoney story, Kellerman's arc went very much against cop show tropes;

- cast Yaphet Kotto as the Stern Black Lieutenant, but then gave the finger to that stereotype by making him a Sicilian (modeled on the real Lt. Gary D'Addario) and having him veil his imperatives in excessive politeness as forceful as any thundering;

- build its first sexual tension storyline around Ned Beatty, for God's sake;

- reveled in unpolished textures: the unglamorous (initial) cast, the triple-jump-cut editing, the grain of the film, the lack of gunfire until (I think) late in Season 3, and even the sickly bleat of the phones;

- had a wealth and variety of black characters whose stories sometimes involved race, but never just that;

- treated us to silent images and extended conversations that played like music, as well as music that returned the favor;

- and gave fiction and reality a mobius-strip twist when a criminal fleeing real Baltimore police surrendered to HLOTS actors who were filming a scene, and a later episode contained a documentary film in which the show's fictional cops chased a suspect who surrendered to actors being directed by co-creator Barry Levinson.

If you're the kind of TV viewer who reads the comments on Alan's blog, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy watching HLOTS from the beginning. If you like the first 5 seasons, you'll probably be able to find dramatic wheat among the season 6-7 melodramatic chaff. If there's a Wire-shaped hole in your life, this look at complicated Baltimore cops ought to help ease that. But for anyone who's a fan of HLOTS or The Wire, I'd really recommend getting Simon's original nonfiction book. You'll find great writing, and innumerable "holy @#$%!" moments where you see the real versions of events, characters, and references from the shows. It's like a print-based DVD commentary track, filling in some allusions and expanding the Homi-Wire-verse into stories even juicier than the fictional ones.

But that's just my eleven cents worth. See for yourself.

Katy said...

One of my favorite post-Season-Three episodes is For God and Country, the second half of a two-part crossover with Law & Order. It's really instructive to watch both halves, because the Law & Order half is very much a Law & Order episode - earnest, spare, very focused on the case of the week, without much room for humor or pathos - but the Homicide half is something else entirely. You get to see inside Pembleton's mind, for one thing, in the form of red-tinted flashbacks with a gospel soundtrack. You get to see all the New York and Baltimore detectives getting trashed in the bar together, trying to figure out how many divorces they have among them. You get to see Bayliss drunkenly hitting on the pretty lawyer from New York. You get to realize very slowly that this five-years-old church bombing is Pembleton's version of Adena Watson, and at the end you see the one thing that could possibly make Pembleton cry.

And the amazing thing is that it all works. It doesn't come across as a gimmick, like other crossovers; in a way, the show just seems more like itself than usual. It's Homicide turned up to eleven, as if instead of making Homicide accessible to Law & Order fans the writers decided to bombard them with everything about Homicide that made it better than Law & Order.

Rob S. said...

My all-time favorite TV show.

And I second the recommendation for David Simon's book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. The chapter devoted to the medical examiner is just incredible.

Bryan said...

Don't know if anybody's still reading this thread but...

Saw the ad on tv last night - after the Superbowl this year UNDERCOVER BOSS! (or something like that)

wow, how far we've fallen.

Angela said...

Wonderful to see this blog post and all the interesting comments as I started recording the reruns for my 75 year old Mother a few weeks ago. She said she wasn't sure if she would still like it after all this time. Told me today that Yes!, she still loves it. Amazing isn't it?

I was into NYPD Blue at the time so missed much of HLOTS. Thankfully it's on Netflix. Peoples comments on episodes not to be missed, and the book recommendation, is most helpful.
Thank you all.

Count Screwloose said...

My wife and I loved this show like no other. I was astonished that it was passed up year after year by the usual awards.

We made several trips to Baltimore because of it: a couple times to see an annual charity show the cast would put on, and finally when they had a prop sale after its cancellation. I am proud to say that I am the owner of Luther Mahoney's shoes, watch, and pinkie ring.

snarkysmachine said...

Long live the Fontanaverse! Too much to say about H:LOTS! I am currently blogging all the episodes - and tomorrow's entry starts the City That Bleeds 3 parter - and I am still in awe of the brilliance of the writers, namely James Yoshimura, David Mills (RIP) and Henry Bromell, the directors Tims Hunter and Van Patten and of course Simon for providing the source material.

The only quibble is regarding Braugher. He's spectacular to be sure, but in reviewing the episodes from the distance of 15 years, I'm finding some sublime moments of subtle craftsmanship from Johnson, Baldwin and Leo that went unnoticed the first time around.

And while the golden age of Lewis is often assumed to start with the partnering of him and Kellerman, I think some of Johnson's finest moments come in seasons one and three, particularly in Crosetti, Cradle to Grave, Rockets Dead Glare and Night of the Dead Living.

This was a great entry!