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.
Facts of the Case
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:
"Life Under Castro"
"Why Can't Even A Couple of Us Get Along?"
"Touched by a Checkered Cab"
"Clown Without Pity"
"A Reverend Runs Through It"
"Wild Irish Woes"
"Dublin or Nothin"
"Tears on My Willow"
"Don't You Be My Valentine"
"Dead Man Sleeping"
"Skel in a Cell"
"Queens for a Day"
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!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary on Pilot Episode by David Milch
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