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