Judge Ryan Keefer thanks Barry Levinson for bringing a quality drama to Baltimore, and hopes that people will come for other reasons than good crab cakes.
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 Sixth Season (published March 2nd, 2005) are also available.
"Life is a mystery, just accept it."
The Homicide television series concludes with its seventh season, despite the show's driving force (Andre Braugher, Primal Fear) having left after Season Six. The cast and crew did what they could to continue the innovative show, adding new characters in the process.
Facts of the Case
There's no two ways around it; I'm a fan of the Homicide TV series, and through six seasons, I begged and pleaded for the show to be given the proper respect and recognition that it deserved. During its run on network television, Homicide was the prototypical redheaded stepchild. While the show was winning the Peabody Award (for Season Six's excellent "The Subway"), NYPD Blue was getting all of the dramatic Emmy awards (save for writing, so maybe there was some justice in the world). In later years, despite being faithful to its Friday 10 p.m. time slot, the cop show Nash Bridges was beating it in the weekly ratings race.
To quickly recap where the show was at the time (after a two-part cliffhanger in Season Six), Frank Pembleton's (Braugher) partner Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor, Veronica Mars) was shot and in the hospital, and his fellow detective Mike Kellerman (Reed Diamond, Spider-Man 2) was finally brought to justice for his unwarranted shooting of drug dealer Luther Mahoney way back near the end of Season Five. Luther's shooting led to repercussions for the Homicide squad: Luther's cousin Junior Bunk was responsible for a squad room shooting spree. With Pembleton having resigned from the force and the squad room renovated, the "murder police" did what they could to put the past behind them.
Those unfamiliar with Homicide will notice things in this show that are more commonplace now in cop dramas like The Shield, such as the almost exclusive use of handheld cameras and the jump cutting that made Homicide so memorable to watch. With this season, though, the show seemed to pick up a more glamorous feel. Sure, the "box" (the detectives' affectionate name for the interrogation room) was still there, but there was too much color now. The squad room was newly painted, and both this and Pembleton's departure seemed to take away from the grittiness the show first reveled in. One thing that you can almost tell from a creative standpoint is how the show's writers seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when Pembleton left. The show still took some risks, but that, combined with the constant threat of cancellation hanging over its head (perhaps starting as far back as Season Four, depending on who you ask), ultimately led to the show's demise, save for a TV movie in 2000.
In Season Six, several cast additions were made in the hopes of infusing some newer blood into the show. Along with the return of minor cast member Stuart Gharty (Peter Gerety, K-PAX), the additions comprised Rene Sheppard (Michael Michelle, E.R.), Laura Ballard (Callie Thorne), and Paul Falsone (Jon Seda, Bad Boys II). And even after Braugher's departure, there were still some notable figures that had their hands in some episodes, in front of or behind the camera. One can recognize Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), and there's an offbeat acting performance by Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. Some of the notable directors during the season included Brad Anderson (The Machinist), Kathryn Bigelow (K19: The Widowmaker), and regular Sopranos directors Timothy Van Patten and Alan Taylor.
There are some episodes that are fairly good and worth discussing here, the first being "La Famiglia," which was notable for the cast addition of Mike Giardello (Giancarlo Esposito, Ali), an FBI agent and semi-estranged son of Al (Yaphet Kotto), the department's lieutenant. This episode was the first of several during this season that managed to flirt with the relationship that Al and Mike had and what was being done to mend the proverbial broken fences between them. Another episode of note is "The Twenty Percent Solution," in which a man states via videotape who killed him, directed by Meldrick Lewis himself (Clark Johnson, S.W.A.T.). There are several two-part episode story arcs, including the Law and Order crossover (a gimmick that became more frequent in recent seasons) and "Wanted Dead or Alive," where the squad clashes with several bounty hunters, with Christopher Meloni (Law and Order SVU) being one of them. Creator Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere) was involved with his own two-parter, where Kellerman (now a local private investigator) becomes involved with the squad again, as they clash over the investigation of the murder of an infant at a motel. If you look close, you'll notice the girl is played by Jena Malone (Saved!). "Homicide.com" follows a pattern of murders committed on a web site (one of several red ball investigations by the detectives), and arguably the best episode of the season, "Lines of Fire," focuses on a father (Ron Eldard, Blind Justice) who has taken his two children hostage and will not talk to anyone except Mike Giardello. The acting between Eldard and Esposito is excellent and compelling (similar to the episode in Season Six where Lewis talks Kellerman out of killing himself—"Have a Conscience" was the episode's title, I believe).
There are also some exasperating storylines in this season as the writers looked to find their way. Gharty's Muy Lai flashback, Ballard's flirtations with Falsone, and the continuing bisexual exploration of Bayliss couldn't make up for the fact that some of these episodes were low on substance, and some may have been attempting to do nothing more than shock. The internet killer's story arc was the springboard for the TV movie (and there are some great acting scenes between Secor and Braugher in it as a result), but with Braugher gone, Bayliss's character continued to walk the earth without much of a purpose or goal until the very end, and the filler in between wasn't as appetizing as it normally was.
The upside of this last set of DVDs is that while the extras are pretty light (as they have been on other sets), the highlight is a panel discussion with Fontana, producer Barry Levinson (Rain Man), and writers David Simon and James Yoshimura. The discussion covers the inside information on the cast, the show, the locale, and the like. It includes favorite clips by each panel member and their reasons for showing them, and it's actually the type of extra that should have been included awhile back on earlier seasons, but is nice to see included here. Where else can you see the strange inspiration for Luther Mahoney discussed? I'll give you a hint; think Jack Lord. The only episode commentary on the set includes Fontana, Yoshimura and Julie Martin, and it's a track where everyone enjoys watching the show but they don't provide too much information, however Fontana comes up with another gem here too. Listen to him describe how NBC wanted to save the show, and your thoughts of network TV executives will be reaffirmed.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As a Homicide snob (and one who shares some Baltimore roots with the show), I'm part of a consensus who believes that when it comes to jumping the shark, the water skis were on in Season Six when Ballard and Falsone were brought into the fold. Ballard was too whiny from the start, and Falsone was clearly made into the "rebel cop" role during this time, even when Pembleton was the Big Cop on Campus. All of a sudden, the viewer is supposed to think this guy is better than Frank? Please. And when Braugher left, that essentially sealed the show's fate. There were some spasms of quality TV during the last season, but Homicide ironically fell into the pattern of other TV shows before it: When your main character leaves, your show is living on borrowed time.
Previous Homicide seasons were hallmarks of quality writing and superb performances from unknown actors. Award-winning actors came onto the show to jam for a reason: to do something on TV that they had not done before, and because they recognized the attributes the show had. On its own, Season Seven is average at best; considering the seasons before it, this is clearly a dip from previous quality.
Season Seven of Homicide is found guilty of lowering itself to basic levels of appeal in its final season, but the show's reputation provides mitigating circumstances and suspends any sentence I can give.
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