Warner Bros. // 1999 // 989 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // March 19th, 2008
On the front lines with everyday police, fire, and paramedic heroes.
Part police drama, part medical drama, and part...burning stuff, Third Watch solves the problem of how to satisfy every prime-time dramatic urge in a single show. The solution: combine three separate shows into one. What the series lacks in, ahem, subtlety, it more than makes up for in surprisingly complex character drama. For fans, Third Watch: The Complete First Season is a long-overdue release.
The third watch: the unglamorous 3 P.M. to 11 P.M. shift. For the police, firefighters, and paramedics who work there, life at the King and Arthur station (dubbed "Camelot" by its denizens) is frantic, fast-paced, and thrilling, but emotionally exhausting, as they respond to emergency calls both mundane and deadly. Keeping the streets safe and answering cries for help is all in a day's work for these brave women and men, but the toll of the work shift taxes their personal lives, affecting their relationships, their marriages, and their families.
Third Watch: The Complete First Season contains all 22 episodes from the show's debut season spread over six discs:
* "Welcome to Camelot"
Police officers and paramedics rush between emergencies as each unit breaks in a new recruit: Ty (Coby Bell, The Game), a rookie cop following in his father's footsteps, and Carlos (Anthony Ruivivar, Traveler), a former foster kid working towards medical school.
* "Anywhere but Here"
After fellow paramedic Jerry gets injured on the job, Doherty (Eddie Cibrian, Invasion: The Complete Series) gives ex-wife Kim (Kim Raver, 24) a bulletproof vest. Doc (Michael Beach, First Sunday) and Carlos must rescue a man after an explosion. Bosco (Jason Wiles, Beverly Hills, 90210) captures Jerry's attacker without firing a shot.
After Bosco gets caught having sex in his squad car with the boss's daughter, hilarity ensues. Bobby (Bobby Cannavale, Snakes On A Plane) and Kim argue. Doc brings Carlos along on a personal mission to locate the owner of a lost watch.
* "Hell Is What You Make of It"
Rookies Carlos and Ty experience disillusionment with their new jobs and their training officers. Bosco struggles with homophobia. A teenage junkie destroys Kim's faith in humanity, but Bobby restores it.
* "Responsible Parties"
Mercy Hospital's newest doctor reprimands Yokas (Molly Price, Life Before Her Eyes), Bobby, and Kim. Yokas acts like a vigilante to punish a gang leader. Jerry decides not to return to work.
* "Sunny, Like Sunshine"
Bobby visits his older brother in prison and tries to express his feelings to Kim. The working relationship between Ty and Sully (Skipp Sudduth, Flawless, Oz) slowly improves, but Doc and Carlos get into a fistfight. Yokas tells Bosco not to cover up her lies.
Bosco brutalizes a murder suspect. Sully goes to a movie with Ty's mother. Carlos attempts to revive a premature fetus whose mother he accidentally injured. Bobby welcomes his brother home from prison.
* "History Of The World"
On Thanksgiving Day, Bosco tries to resolve a family conflict in a restaurant while Yokas attempts the same at home. Bobby's mother will not allow her estranged son Matty to attend the family dinner. Ty refuses to perjure himself to support Sully.
* "Demolition Derby"
An explosion traps members of a demolition team in a collapsed building, and the Third Watch responds. Fred Yokas' drinking escalates. Doc cancels his date with an attractive woman, still mourning his past.
* "Modern Designs for Better Living"
Ty inadvertently endangers a youth he tries to rescue from the streets. Doc learns that his father's drug overdose was not accidental. The combined effort of police, paramedics, and firefighters is required to rescue a morbidly obese woman trapped in a building.
* "Alone In A Crowd"
An illegally parked car delays the firefighter response to a fire, causing a woman's death. Doc and Carlos rescue a woman being treated at home by acupuncture, but the Western medicine has unexpected side effects. The suicide of an old partner causes Sully to reflect on his life.
* "Journey to the Himalayas"
Ty learns of his father's sordid past. Matty gets into trouble while trying to apologize to a former girlfriend. Bobby finds his brother covered in someone else's blood. Yokas and Bosco help a mentally handicapped 15-year-old girl who has had consensual sex with an older handicapped man. Doc and Doctor Morales (Lisa Vidal, The Division) tentatively begin a relationship.
* "This Band of Brothers"
Candyman (Wendell Pierce, The Wire: The Complete First Season) risks his life to save Ty from a gunman. Matty hides from the police, increasing his brother's suspicions. Bobby and Kim get closer, if you know what I mean. Carlos is upset about Doc's relationship with Morales. Yokas is enraged by Bosco's treatment of a wounded thief.
* "32 Bullets and a Broken Heart"
A gunman targeting gay men sends the city into a panic. Yokas arrests her husband for drunk driving, causing some marital strife. Kim and Bobby deal with the fallout of friendship and romance. Carlos finds the affections of a wounded patient.
* "Officer Involved"
Ty accidentally shoots an innocent man trying to protect his partner. Tensions escalate between Bosco and Yokas. Kim bites her lip as Bobby finds affection in the arms of a new woman, while Doherty reveals his new love interest in the form of a cop. Carlos's new woman reveals herself to be a few nuts short of a psychiatric ward.
* "Nature or Nurture"
Doc and Carlos' good deed has unfortunate results for a young boy. An off-duty Bosco gets robbed by two men, but quickly turns the tides. Doherty faces serious consequences for his gambling debts, endangering his son.
Stuck in a hotel kitchen and garage for long hours during a senatorial debate, the cops debate politics and the paramedics recall the worst stories of their careers.
Candyman returns to work, and to his old habits. Doc goes to extremes to save his dying father. Doherty promises an injured factory worker that his legs will not be amputated.
* "Spring Forward, Fall Back"
Police mount a massive search when a toddler vanishes from the scene of a traffic accident. Violence follows Sully's encounter with his former priest. Carlos finds out he is going to be a father, much to his dismay.
* "A Thousand Points of Light"
Two abused boys lie about a motel fire in which their mother dies. Doc and Morales find a new home together, while Carlos makes an impolite suggestion to his girlfriend about their baby.
* "Just Another Night At The Opera"
Bobby saves a carjacker trapped inside a burning car. Carlos gets in trouble when his crazy girlfriend complains to his superiors. Candyman and Ty butt heads over corruption. Bosco attends the opera with his girlfriend.
* "Young Men and Fire..."
Doherty has a chilling encounter with an ex-firefighter. Yokas discovers she is pregnant. Morales and Doc settle down to domestic life, while Ty celebrates one year on the force.
Third Watch is a show of fractions; thirds to be precise. Blending three genre-oriented dramas into a single show, the series packs a firefighting drama, a police drama, and a medical drama into a uniform package, interweaving and blending the narratives and characters into overlapping storylines and romantic entanglements. Fractions can be tricky things, so this method of delivery has as many inherent flaws as obvious benefits. With so much burning, shooting, and bleeding action crammed into one show, Third Watch is far from boring. At any given point, something is exploding, or being shot at, or being chased through dark alleys with the dedicated public servants of the Camelot station houses ready to assist at the drop of a hat. On the other hand, the narrative dramas that would normally fill up an entire show only get a third of the requisite screen time compared to other similar television dramas, so the show almost moves too fast for its own good. There is no opportunity for subtlety here; everything goes furious and heavy-handed. The biggest drawback to this frenzy is that Third Watch is prevented from getting too far entrenched into any particular facet of its triangular-themed narrative, or breaking any sizable ground over its competition. At its best moments,Third Watch evokes fond memories of other shows, like Hill Street Blues, ER, and Rescue Me, but never devotes enough time to a storyline to surpass them. There just simply is not enough time -- at least not in this first season.
As a jack-of-all-trades drama, Third Watch is admittedly entertaining, always moving and exploding and having its characters hop in and out of bed with one another. Surprisingly visceral, the show is excessively violent, suggestive, and profane for a network show, showing graphic violence with aplomb. The writing is fast and quick, filling narrative gaps between plot points with witty banter and natural dialogue between protagonists, very much in that long-take style of ER. In fact, the comparisons between these two shows in particular is worth noting, as the shows share the same producers and exist in the same continuity, crossing characters over in later seasons. Every single medical, police, and ambulatory cliché in the book is thrown at viewers, but we roll from one to the next with such arresting speed that there is simply no time to complain. It may not be the most credible show in the history of television, but it certainly satisfies the adrenal senses.
Where the show excels is in the quiet moments, between the gunfights, police chases, and burning buildings where the strength of the show survives on nothing more than pure character development. Though originally presented as fairly archetypal characters -- the fat cop, the young rookie, the hothead, the studly firefighter, the seasoned medical man, etc. -- we soon delve into personal lives and motivations, and observe characters thrust into moral quagmires that test their limits quite convincingly. Sure, they get thrust repeatedly into improbable situation after improbable situation with little consequence or reality-checking, but things still feel very organic and natural. The show especially enjoys the paradoxical relationship between good and doing harm, illustrating how one often results accidentally by attempting to do the opposite. Such writing improves as the show goes on as the characters begin to find their voice, although the large ensemble cast makes it difficult for every character to get equal billing. Those familiar with other serialized dramas set on the East Coast (The Wire, Law & Order) will recognize a lot of familiar faces here, both in primary and secondary cast appearances. Practically half the cast of The Wire shows up at some point here; I kid you not.
The show has a passable transfer to DVD, exhibiting some noticeable graininess throughout. Colors are balanced, black levels are acceptable. For a show almost ten years old, Third Watch: The Complete First Season looks as one would expect. Not fantastic, but not bad. Likewise with the simple stereo presentation -- environmental effects and dialogue are clear throughout, and the pounding electronic score fills the space, but little elevates the presentation beyond average.
For a long-awaited DVD release, Third Watch: The Complete First Season skimps on the extras. The debut season always has the most extra materials compared to later releases, but we start off dry here. All we get is a 16-minute cast and crew retrospective, "The Nights of Camelot," and a gag reel; barely 25 minutes of supplements in total. More could have been done here -- a commentary track, anything.
Third Watch struggles to find ways to connect the dots in getting police, fire, and ambulance to the same scene at the same time, and the presented solutions usually involve ridiculous explosions, bad guys shooting firemen, and other such credulous narrative devices. By modern standards, the situations are often just plain laughable. In this regard, and in many other regards, Third Watch looks and feels embarrassingly dated and cheesier than it should. Troubling, considering the show is barely eight years old.
The electro-funk soundtrack and theme by The Crystal Method does not help in this particular regard. It seems producers had a quota of foot chase sequences to fill in with every episode, so regardless of context, at some point the cops stop their car, say "THERE HE IS" and go running down the street after a perp, techno music pounding the entire way. This goes on for like three minutes per episode, with no exceptions.
Think about this for a moment: over the course of a 22 episode season, we spend over an hour watching people chase each other through the same back alleys, to the pounding beat of bad techno. Yikes.
Despite the action sequence corniness and lame explosion and car chase quota, compelling character development and gripping moral complexity rescue Third Watch from disaster. The show effectively grips the punishments and perks of being in the public-service domain, examining how painfully un-glamorous being a paramedic, a lowly patrol cop, or a firefighter can be. Sure, you have a lot of explosions to deal with, but Third Watch never lets us forget how soul taxing the grunting mediocrity of long hours and low pay can be on our heroes.
Not the best drama on television, but one definitely worth a rental.
Review content copyright © 2008 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 989 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "The Nights of Camelot" Retrospective Featurette
* Gag Reel