Life on the Street: Cops do­ing a job makes for gritty, in­no­va­tive drama

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - JEN­NIFER NIXON

What is it? Homi­cide: Life on the Street, com­plete se­ries, 122 episodes on 35 disks from Shout! Fac­tory When? Now How much? $149.99 Sounds like a doc­u­men­tary. Tech­ni­cally, it isn’t. But this crit­i­cally ac­claimed se­ries from 1993-1999 earned a rep­u­ta­tion for gritty, real­is­tic sto­ry­telling.

The Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment’s homi­cide unit stays very busy in the crime- and poverty-rid­den city. It takes con­stant ef­fort on the parts of the de­tec­tives just to stay a step or two be­hind.

There’s a semi-re­volv­ing door of of­fi­cers, de­tec­tives and po­lice per­son­nel but stand­outs in­clude tough Kay Howard (Melissa Leo), im­pos­ing unit com­man­der Lt. Al Giardello (Yaphet Kotto) and sar­donic John Munch (Richard Belzer), a char­ac­ter that con­tin­ued on Law & Or­der: Spe­cial Vic­tims Unit. Frank Pem­ble­ton (An­dre Braugher), a bril­liant de­tec­tive and in­ter­roga­tor ded­i­cated to the point of ob­ses­sion, also re­ceived a lot of praise and at­ten­tion dur­ing the se­ries’ run.

Gang ac­tiv­ity, drug deals gone wrong, po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­ver­ing and tragic mis­un­der­stand­ings can lead to (or com­pli­cate) a seem­ingly end­less pa­rade of vi­o­lent crimes.

Sounds kind of in­tense. It can be. It’s not a feel-good show. The “good guys” don’t al­ways win. The “bad guys” are some­times right. The hu­mor is pretty dark.

It is, how­ever, a very good show. The writ­ing, di­rect­ing and act­ing are top-notch and the char­ac­ters, large and small, come across as lay­ered, three-di­men­sional peo­ple.

There are mo­ments and episodes, for in­stance one in which a tourist is mur­dered in front of her hus­band (Robin Williams) and chil­dren (in­clud­ing a young Jake Gyl­len­haal), that de­liver a real gut punch.

The se­ries was in­spired by a book by jour­nal­ist David Si­mon, who went on to cre­ate other se­ries such as The Wire, The Cor­ner and Treme. Si­mon says part of his goal was the “de­mythi­fi­ca­tion” of the po­lice de­tec­tive. They’re not al­ways right or no­ble or even sym­pa­thetic. They’re do­ing a job.

At the time, Homi­cide’s straight-for­ward de­pic­tion of po­lice work was ground-break­ing and it was no less in­no­va­tive with its edit­ing and film­ing tech­niques and in­ter­wo­ven sto­ries that can still feel in­no­va­tive.

Are there ex­tras? There’s a 70-minute doc­u­men­tary that fol­lows the process of cre­at­ing and film­ing the (lit­er­ally) gut-wrench­ing episode “The Sub­way.” You also get mul­ti­ple episode com­men­taries, a live panel dis­cus­sion and mul­ti­ple in­ter­views with cre­ators and pro­duc­ers fol­low­ing the pro­gres­sion of the show.

The set in­cludes a bonus disc with three Law & Or­der crossover episodes and the 2000 re­union, Homi­cide: The Movie.

New this week: As Time Goes By, Sil­ver An­niver­sary Col­lec­tion, Vol­ume 3; Big Lit­tle Lies, lim­ited se­ries; Black­beard, minis­eries; The Carol Bur­nett Show, The Best of Har­vey Kor­man; Crash­ing, Sea­son 1; For­ti­tude, Sea­son 2; Ju­manji, com­plete se­ries; The Po­sei­don Ad­ven­ture, minis­eries; The Se­cret World of Alex Mack, com­plete se­ries

Next week: Blindspot, Sea­son 2; Port­landia, Sea­son 7; Power Rangers Op­er­a­tion Over­drive, com­plete se­ries.

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