A&E // 1997 // 990 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 21st, 2003
An unflinching portrayal of life on the beat.
The first network show to receive the TV-M rating, Brooklyn South was met with a firestorm of controversy upon its debut. Controversy is second nature to co-creator Steven Bochco, who weathered bad publicity before with hit shows like NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues. Brooklyn South is no different. Unfortunately, the controversy was unfounded and viewers missed out on one of the best shows of the late 1990s.
Life at Brooklyn's 74th Precinct is no picnic. Supervising it all is Sergeant Richard Santoro (Gary Basaraba), who works the front desk. Patrol Sergeant Frank Donovan (Jon Tenney) hands out the assignments. They answer to Captain Stanley Jonas (James B. Sikking), a former Internal Affairs investigator recently promoted.
The other officers are an unusual gallery of characters. Jack Lowery (Titus Welliver) is a good officer who has a knack for getting into personal problems. Jimmy Doyle (Dylan Walsh) is a man with a religious complex and a gutful of agita now that his brother Terry (Patrick McGaw) has joined the Police Academy. Ann-Marie Kersey (Yancy Butler, Witchblade) loves Donovan but finds that being a female officer in a male-dominated precinct can be a real challenge at times. Phil Roussakoff (Michael DeLuise), a friend of Jimmy's, finds himself falling for his friend's ex. Hector Villanueva (Adam Rodriguez) sometimes lets his personal feelings get in the way of duty. His partner and drinking buddy Clement Johnson (Richard T. Jones) is often moody but deep down, a decent guy. He loves Nona Valentine (Klea Scott), who may or may not have feelings for her partner Lowery.
Brooklyn South premiered September 22, 1997 on CBS. It had a lot of promise going into the premiere. A strong ensemble cast, coupled with the fact that this was a Steven Bochco production, created high expectations. It received good notices from the critics and respectable ratings at first. Then a monkey wrench was thrown into the proceedings. His name: Howard Golden. The then-Brooklyn borough president condemned the show for portraying Brooklyn in a negative manner and demanded that CBS and Bochco cease production. Golden later admitted he never saw a single episode before making his judgment. Anyway, CBS didn't put much promotional power into the remainder of the season and the show was cancelled after one season.
Golden reminded me of the people who protested Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. Here they were protesting something without having even seen one snippet of footage. Where do they come off telling us what we can or can't watch if they haven't even seen it? I'm afraid there's no way to stop these dum dums.
I remember my college newspaper asked me to write an article about the controversy. I wrote the article, remaining impartial. They asked me to take a stand and I watched an episode, saw nothing wrong with it, and said so. Was I surprised when they changed my position to agree with Golden's? Not in the slightest.
Anyway, Golden's fears were entirely unfounded. Bochco's show does no disservice to the borough itself. The show was based on the real life experiences of co-creator Bill Clark, a former Brooklyn police officer, which gives it an aura of realism. Any of the events in these episodes could happen at any time. What's scarier is Golden's half-assed attempt at preserving his own self-image rather than actually doing something about the problems our police force confronts on a daily basis.
However, I do recognize that not everyone will like this show. Some will find the Bochco trademark nudity offensive. To those people, close your eyes! The violence is strong and unabashed, as a good police drama should be. But more important are the well drawn characters. Brooklyn South contains characters of such depth that you will feel as if you know them personally. And that's due in a large part to the performances.
The performances are excellent all around as one should expect from this strong cast. Standouts include Bochco veteran Sikking (Captain Jonas), newcomers Welliver and Tenney. A special mention goes to veteran Basaraba, who has the difficult task of balancing comic and serious tones in a single character.
All 22 episodes are spread out over six discs. All have been rated from zero to five badges:
Deranged gunman DeShawn Hopkins goes on a rampage, killing several people and injuring countless others. He is apprehended, but when he dies while in custody, questions arise.
"Life Under Castro"
The Hopkins family vow to find out what happened and dig up a witness who fingers Lowery as the culprit. Internal Affairs investigates what happened.
"Why Can't Even A Couple of Us Get Along?"
The Orthodox community turns to vigilantism when a Hasidic man and his granddaughter are mugged. The investigation against Lowery continues.
"Touched by a Checkered Cab"
Lowery faces the grand jury at last. Kersey withholds information that could clear him, but would shed guilt onto her. The plot runs deeper than that, with a surprise revelation at the very end.
"Clown Without Pity"
Officers Johnson and Villanueva bust a clown orgy ring and start a chain of events that will resurface a few episodes later. A high dose of comedy is blended with the serious moments.
"A Reverend Runs Through It"
Santoro's brother in law gets into major trouble and it's up to the sarge to get him out of it. The local reverend demands more action after the drug related slaying of a poor black family.
A gay couple's quarrel becomes a matter of life and death after police brutality rears its ugly head. Terry Doyle is offered undercover work, despite having just entered the Police Academy.
"Wild Irish Woes"
Terry gets in deeper with the gang he's assigned to infiltrate. Kevin Patrick, an officer paralyzed in the opening shootout, returns to duty at Santoro's urging. Six people are found with their throats slit, sparking an ugly investigation.
Patrol Sergeant Donovan's friend needs help. His ex-wife has been murdered and he wants to find out who killed her. Only problem is that all evidence points to him.
"Dublin or Nothin"
The showdown between the Precinct and Irish Mob finally goes down with Terry caught in the middle. Guest star: Mos Def
The arresting officers involved with the gay quarrel are facing the grand jury after one man dies. There is one witness: but he has a certain skeleton in his closet himself. Meanwhile, there's a new Internal Affairs investigator in town.
Captain Jonas finds himself in a dilemma when his good friend wants revenge against the man who exposed himself in front of his daughter. Officer Johnson bares his soul to Valentine.
"Tears on My Willow"
Officers Johnson and Villanueva arrest a drug addicted prostitute who happens to be the same girl they arrested as part of the clown orgy.
Valentine asks Johnson to check the background of the Russian immigrant Lowery wants to marry. Meanwhile, Captain Jonas tries to prevent a gang war from erupting,
Santoro's brother in law gets him into trouble again and Lt. Denton (Bryan Cranston) is hellbent on nailing Santoro for talking to his in-law's bookie.
"Don't You Be My Valentine"
Donovan makes a startling revelation that will turn the Precinct on its ear. Lowery and Johnson continue headed toward a major fight over Valentine.
"Dead Man Sleeping"
Valentine goes undercover to crack a prostitution ring. Donovan's father discovers his son's secret and must decide whether to support or spurn him. Roussakoff takes a night job as a night watchman at the local funeral home and it catches it up with him.
Lowery's former fiancée is found dead in an alley and he makes it his mission to find her killer.
Kersey accepts an undercover assignment and almost loses her life in the process. Lowery and Valentine finally admit their feelings.
Now detective, Kersey struggles to gain acceptance until she cracks a major bombing plot with the help of a local snitch (Richard Schiff). Lowery, Valentine, and Johnson's triangle comes to a head.
"Skel in a Cell"
Jimmy Doyle is in major trouble as a suspect dies in his holding cell while he goes to the restroom. The coroner rules the death a homicide. Officer Johnson is set up and nearly killed in a botched sting.
"Queens for a Day"
Johnson looks like he will survive and the Precinct celebrates the retirement of one officer and the promotion of Santoro to Lieutenant.
A&E sports a full frame transfer that remains faithful to the original aspect ratio of the television airings. Unfortunately, this is a very uneven affair. Some scenes look terrific, as clean and clear as it came back from the lab. Then there are other scenes that have high amounts of grain and imperfections, which is something you wouldn't normally expect in source material from 1997. The worst damage was a bright, white line in the middle of the image during one major sequence. That is the kind of damage one would expect from an old kinescope, not a show filmed in 35mm and on top-notch film stock.
Sound presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround stereo is a different story. It sounds terrific. Bochco and his crew experiment with sound to recreate the sounds and noises of Brooklyn as it is. They succeed beautifully and this clean sound mix does their work justice. There is also a massive amount of dialogue with some overlapping (a la Robert Altman) and the stereo mix is helpful in sorting out the dialogue.
There are some extras included in this package. Co-creator David Milch provides a commentary track on the pilot episode. This is a must-listen-to commentary as Milch provides a great deal of information that is consistently interesting.
Steven Bochco: The Brooklyn South Interview is just that: Bochco sitting for 12 minutes and discussing the merits and controversy surrounding the show. Appearing on Disc Six, this is a feature anyone interested in learning more about the background of this show should see.
"Police Radio Response Calls" is merely a list, at first glance. But this list explains what these calls mean and that is helpful to understand what's going on in the actual episodes.
The $99.99 price tag will no doubt turn many away. I don't blame you for doing so. But if Netflix or the local video store is offering this set as a rental, don't hesitate to do so. If you do have the money for a purchase, I wholeheartedly recommend you do!
Steven Bochco and his co-creators are found not guilty on all charges. They are free to go.
A&E is given a warning about improving their video transfers for recent television product.
CBS is given a stiff fine for not lending its full support to this excellent series.
As for Howard Golden, I was going to levy a fine, but I think being forced from his office due to term limits is punishment enough.
Bailiff, on with the next case!
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 990 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary on Pilot Episode by David Milch
* Steven Bochco: The Brooklyn South Interview
* Police Radio Response Codes