Despite the enclosed directions, Judge Adam Arseneau only watched this DVD once.
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.
Facts of the Case
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"
• "Anywhere but Here"
• "Hell Is What You Make of It"
• "Responsible Parties"
• "Sunny, Like Sunshine"
• "History Of The World"
• "Demolition Derby"
• "Modern Designs for Better Living"
• "Alone In A Crowd"
• "Journey to the Himalayas"
• "This Band of Brothers"
• "32 Bullets and a Broken Heart"
• "Officer Involved"
• "Nature or Nurture"
• "Spring Forward, Fall Back"
• "A Thousand Points of Light"
• "Just Another Night At The Opera"
• "Young Men and Fire…"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "The Nights of Camelot" Retrospective Featurette
Review content copyright © 2008 Adam Arseneau; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.