Judge David Gutierrez knows from life on the street. Once, he spent an afternoon sitting in a lawn chair on the sidewalk.
Our reviews of Homicide: Life On The Street: The Complete Seasons 1 And 2 (published August 4th, 2003), Homicide: Life On The Street: The Complete Third Season (published January 9th, 2004), Homicide: Life On The Street: The Complete Fourth Season (published May 18th, 2004), Homicide: Life On The Street: The Complete Fifth Season (published November 3rd, 2004), and Homicide: Life On The Street: The Complete Seventh Season (published July 13th, 2005) are also available.
"Heaven can wait. Homicide can't."—Baltimore Homicide Detective Laura Ballard
In its penultimate season, Homicide: Life on the Street continues to examine the lives of Baltimore's Murder Police. Over 23 episodes, Season Six delivers one of the best episodes ever to air in television history, introduces a new pair of detectives to the unit, and bids farewell to one of the most charismatic and insightful characters ever created.
Facts of the Case
For those coming in late, Homicide: Life on the Street isn't a standard police procedural. It's cop show that doesn't have cops swearing vengeance, doesn't have policemen involved in crazy gun chases, doesn't have detectives hanging off the side of an airplane or a helicopter, crazy capers, or smart criminals. Instead, H:LOTS is about "The Job" and how Baltimore's Homicide Unit closes murder cases. Based on David Simon's book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, Tom Fontana (Oz) and Barry Levinson (Diner) created something special that's one of the apexes of drama—television and otherwise.
Season Six begins four months after the close of Season Five. Fallout from the death/murder of a drug lord continues to plague the unit, while "redball" (i.e. high profile) cases populate the season. New hotshot Seattle detective Laura Ballard (Callie Thorne, The Wire) and veteran detective Stuart Gharty (Peter Gerety, The Wire) end up filling in the vacancies left by the rotating detective mandate handed out last season. Gone is the partnership between Mike Kellerman (Reed Diamond, Judging Amy) and Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson Boycott) in the aftermath of Luther Mahoney's murder. Fan favorites Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor, Veronica Mars) and Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher, Hack) are partnered again, only with a new level of discomfort. The rest of the cast continues their magic through a season of change.
Thanks to a desire to portray police life as honestly as possible, the show doesn't shy away from normally taboo topics such as sexuality, virtue, vice, race, politics and classism. In the season's first three-parter, "Blood Ties," über-detectives Pembleton and Gerety almost come to blows over how blacks and whites are treated within Charm City. It's not a huggy, New Age, "let's talk out our problems" squad. No, these are people with grudges, contempt, arrogance, hate, and confusion. In other words, they seem real.
The best example of what the show can do is in the award-winning episode "Subway." John Lange (Vincent D'Onofrio, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) is trapped between a subway train and the boarding platform, becoming a living homicide victim. Pembleton consoles Lange while he accepts and deals with his inevitable death. What works best is Lange's portrayal as an arrogant bastard. The episode could have gone for the easy out and made Lange a family man with a terminal daughter or something equally as ridiculous. The show had the courage to make him someone you might actually want to see die, just not in those circumstances. It also toys with the disturbing premise of a victim knowing his murderer is nearby. I won't lie and write it has a happy ending. As in all murder cases, it doesn't.
The best thing to happen this season was the addition of Peter Gerety. His Detective Gharty is a tired man who's about two bad days from calling it quits. He's a conservative guy sadly stuck in the realization that his vision of Baltimore is never going to be. He's the guy at work who does his job every day, continually counting down the days until retirement. His tragedy is the audience's nugget. At first, I thought he might be a Ned Beatty (Superman: The Movie ) clone, sent in to fill the "Big Guy's" shoes. Thankfully, I was wrong. When acting with Callie Thorne or pitted against Pembleton, Gerety holds his own and makes it look easy. On the downside, we don't see near enough of him. Later, in Season Seven, we get to see a new side of Gharty.
Callie Thorne is an excellent addition to the cast and friendly rival to Pembleton for the Top Dog spot. Not since Kay Howard's closing streak in Season One has Pembleton experienced any comparable threat. She makes Pembleton look like an impetuous, jealous child—which he generally is.
I love character arcs and growth. It can be argued that Tim Bayliss's sexual awakening came out of left field. To paraphrase my favorite lady from Wisconsin, it's when "Bayliss gets weird." Bayliss's exploration allows for an interesting twist on his perception amongst his fellow detectives and forces Pembleton into some uncomfortable situations. It also makes for a painful distancing between the two, a thing that comes to a sad head during the season finale.
The six-disc set contains the following episodes:
• "Blood Ties—Part 1"
• "Blood Ties—Part 2"
• "Blood Ties—Part 3"
• "Baby It's You—Part 2"
• "Saigon Rose"
• "All is Bright"
• "Closet Cases"
• "Sins of the Father"
• "Shaggy Dog, City Goat"
• "Something Sacred—Part 1"
• "Something Sacred—Part 2"
• "Lies and Other Truths"
• "Pit Bull Sessions"
• "Full Court Press"
• "Strangled, Not Stirred"
• "Finnegan's Wake"
• "Heroes—Part 1"
• "Heroes—Part 2"
A&E does a good job of keeping the picture grainy and "street." The sound is up to par with very few pops. For a show that's nearing a decade, it looks and sounds terrific.
Special features include one commentary on "Subway" by its writer and director, as well as its PBS featurette Anatomy of a Homicide. Both are equally brilliant and bring out how wonderful the show could be without interference. Still, despite network mandates and changes, the show is still a dramatic juggernaut and a benchmark for quality. Also included are cast and crew biographies available to those who would like to see more work from this incredible ensemble. Admittedly, the DVD set is light in the special features department, but on a show this good the extras are just a dog and pony show. It would be nice to hear from some of the cast, though. Maybe for Season Seven?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I like Jon Seda, I do, but there is an awfully big push for him this season. Many of the storylines revolve around or involve him. Maybe it was due to the departure of Pembleton and Kellerman. Maybe it was because this show needed to appeal to a younger demographic. Whatever the case, too much Falsone is not a good thing.
It's a nitpick, really, but the show dropped the ball by not exploring the Ballard/Pembleton rivalry. It was about time someone gave him a run for his money.
How many "redball" cases does one season need? The best thing about this show is it how deals with "mundane" murder.
Homicide: Life on the Street assembles the finest ensemble of writers, directors, and actors on television. An oft-neglected masterpiece in a mire of formulaic refuse, it's a show that deserves a second chance on DVD.
Case dismissed. I sentence everyone to catch up and watch the first six seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street. It's never too late to see the best TV has to offer.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary on "Subway"
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