-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
Homicide: Life On The Street|
cast: Kyle Secor, Andre Braugher, Yaphet Kotto, Clark Johnson, Richard Belzer
producers: Tom Fontana, Barry Levinson
960 minutes (15) 1994
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Fremantle DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Homicide is the police series that time forgot and every single one of its successors
owes a debt of gratitude to. Based on David Simon's seminal book Homicide: A Year On
The Killing Streets Of Baltimore it followed a single Baltimore homicide unit, exploring
the effect that dealing with the worst excesses of human life had on the police officers with
a great deal of black humour and occasional moments of startling, wide-eyed horror.
With its roaming camera, grainy film stock and horribly flawed characters, Homicide
was one of the most stylish shows of its time and The Shield and, more directly,
The Wire, take
a great many of their style plays from it. Even its characters have proved unusually long-lived,
with Richard Belzer's magnificently morose Detective John Munch appearing in a staggering eight
TV series and currently a series regular on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
However, what Homicide really communicated, far more than its rival NYPD Blue,
was the sheer banal normality of murder. Crimes were carried out for ridiculous, trivial
reasons, lives ended on a whim and sometimes the murderer wasn't brought to justice. Kyle
Secor's rookie detective Tim Baylis would find this out to his cost, haunted throughout his
career by the murder of a teenaged girl and his agonising failure to bring her killer to
justice. This wasn't a world of blue knights who always got their man, but rather one inhabited
by flawed, tired police officers that found it increasingly difficult to understand the world
around them. It's a show whose humour is always cut with tragedy and despite the phenomenal
scripting and acting, it consistently struggled to find its feet, eventually coming to a
close in its seventh year.
The second season arguably sees the show at its best. This is the year where the characters
really began to gel, and some of the show's best episodes revolve around little more than
the detectives themselves. Crosetti in particular is one of the show's finest hours,
opening with the discovery of a body in the bay and closing with a scene that has the emotional
impact of a sledgehammer. This continues through the next couple of episodes as characters adjust
to the new status quo and Clark Johnson's Meldrick Lewis in particular must find a way to continue
with his life.
The detectives get even more to deal with in the three-part story that begins with The City
That Bleeds. A routine investigation puts three of them in the hospital and the others find
themselves, again, forced to contend with their own mortality. This unflinchingly dark storyline
is cut with much needed humour from Lewis, Baylis and Munch's plans to purchase a bar and Yaphet
Kotto's splendidly deadpan Al Giardello, a wilfully flamboyant, theatrical shift commander whose
fierce loyalty to his detectives is matched only by his rage when they let him down. Kotto is an
almost Shakespearean patriarch in this, a figure whose gravity is so vast everyone else orbits
him. He even gets an episode largely to himself in The Old And The Dead and absolutely
What really makes Homicide shine, however, is the acting. Kotto is impressive but he's
far from alone, with Secor's passionate Baylis, Belzer's splendidly laconic Munch, and Johnson's
amiably intimidating Lewis all highly memorable characters. However, Andre Braugher as Frank
Pembleton owns the series in its entirety. Fiercely intelligent, utterly uncompromising and
completely uninterested in social relations of any kind, Pembleton is a pit-bull of a character,
a man who is fascinating because he's so unreliable. His best work would come in later seasons
but here he's on top form, especially in Colours. Guest starring David Morse as Baylis'
cousin, the episode follows the investigation into his murder of a Turkish exchange student and
the effect it has on Baylis' family and his relationship with Pembleton. Helped by a terrific
performance from Morse, the episode is amongst the smartest dissections of race relations you're
ever likely to see and crackles with tension, in particular during the scenes where Pembleton
is interrogating Morse. There are no easy answers, no clear-cut bad guys and the end result is
a story that is both oddly hopeful and desperately sad.
Homicide remains one of the smartest pieces of TV drama ever produced. It caught lightning
in a bottle, adapting a superb book and using some of the best actors working to fill out its cast.
Endlessly intelligent, desperately sad and often extremely funny it was too good for the market
of the day and was overshadowed by lesser but more accessible shows. In short, Homicide
is the perfect show to discover on DVD.