Lionsgate // 2010 // 792 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // September 1st, 2011
What does it take to be a detective on America's streets?
As created and produced by Jason Richman (the writer behind the Bangkok Dangerous remake and Bad Company -- please don't hold it against him), Detroit 1-8-7 excels as a well written, directed, and acted procedural police drama. Beyond its reliance on overused cop movie conventions I can find nothing of fault with the show. What makes this a great show is how elegantly it adds refreshing twists to said tropes. Seasoned readers only needs to skim the synopsis below to know that the ingredients are nothing new, but is the way these clichés are woven together that crafts a unique and compelling cop drama.
Unfortunately, ABC pulled a homicide of its own the show last year. Thankfully, Lionsgate has resuscitated all 18 episodes of the first season onto DVD in a modestly priced set.
Detroit: 1-8-7 depicts Motor City's finest tackling homicides of every kind while managing their own chaotic lives. Brilliant, embittered Detective Louis Fitch (Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos battles his demons as he takes on naive rookie partner Damon Washington (Jon Michael Hill, Falling Overnight). Retiring cop Sgt. Jesse Langford (James McDaniel, NYPD Blue) and womanizing partner, Detective Vikram Mahajan (Shaun Majumder, Pushing Tin), must sort out their relationship as their time partnership grinds to a halt. Narc-turned-homicide-cop John Stone (DJ Cotrona, Dear John) finds himself in the crosshairs of the drug dealers he betrayed, not to mention in an unlikely romance with his partner Ariana Sanchez (Natalie Martinez, Death Race). Managing this motley crew is Lieutenant Maureen Mason (Aisha Hinds, True Blood) who struggles to balance the demands of the job with the demands of motherhood.
Though it focuses on the drama of murder, Detroit 1-8-7 is first and foremost a love letter to Detroit. The show's cop protagonists are hunting down scumbags, getting into shootouts, and investigating grisly acts of violence, but the real thrust of the program is about characters who rise to the occasion to better their city. This kind of hometown pride is refreshing, creating a version of the city that runs the gamut from crime riddled urban sprawl to thriving, lush metropolis. This depiction of Detroit makes it as dynamic a character as the cops that protect it; a high compliment given the impressive cast.
This praise is especially geared toward the show's main character, Louis Fitch. Michael Imperioli tackles the character ferociously; mixing Fitch's uncompromising morals, keen detective skills, and social anemia into a potent cocktail that could have potentially made the character an icon (had the show taken off, of course). Fitch walks a fine line that lands somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and Dirty Harry. He's uncompromising and hard nosed, but he's intent on solving cases with creativity and manipulation instead of brute force. As the season progresses, his back story is revealed. Of course his past returns to haunt him and the layers of Fitch begin to unfold. Imperioli digs deep into the character, crafting an intense, utterly engrossing performance that only gets more interesting as we get deeper into the series. Imperioli alone makes Detroit 1-8-7: The Complete Series worth a purchase for police procedural fans.
It is worth noting that he's backed by an equally solid cast. As his partner, Washington, newcomer Jon Michael Hill has great chemistry with Imperioli, wisely playing off the star rather than against him. It's a sensitive approach befitting a refreshingly sensitive character. James McDaniel delivers an aging cop archetype with earnest style, while Shaun Majumder strays from the womanizing hotshot stereotype with equal amounts humor and vulnerability. Aisha Hinds' Maureen Mason balances tough-as-nails and motherly very well, though her character arc is limited to handful of episodes. D.J. Catrona, while way too good looking to be believable as a street snitch, performs admirably, essentially playing a more urbane foil for Fitch. Finally, Natalie Martinez fleshes out the potentially thankless role of Ariana Sanchez into a full blooded, hard-nosed cop that transcends her overall function as a love interest.
The only thing holding Detroit 1-8-7: The Complete Series back is a lackluster DVD from Lionsgate. Technically, everything is as it should be. The anamorphic video is very sharp, serving the impressively shot, gritty looking show with strong details and solid color. The accompanying 5.1 sound mix is every bit its equal -- surprisingly effects heavy and crystal clear.
So what's holding it back? The lack of extras. Lionsgate treats us to absolutely nothing in terms of bonus content. Given the sheer quality of the show, you'd think a puff piece featurette would be included. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Nevertheless, if you're into gritty cop dramas, Detroit 1-8-7 is well worth your hard earned dime.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 792 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated