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A&E Home Video presents
Homicide: Life on the Street—The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (1993-1994)

Munch: You're saving your really good lies from some smarter cop, is that it? I'm just a donut in the on-deck-circle. Wait until the real guy gets here. Wait until that big guy comes back. I'm probably just his secretary. I'm just Montel Williams. You want to talk to Larry King.
Bernard: I'm telling you the truth.
Munch: I've been murder police for ten years. If you're going to lie to me, you lie to me with respect. What is it? Is it my shoes? Is it my haircut? Got a problem with my haircut? Don't you ever lie to me like I'm Montel Williams. I am not Montel Williams. I am not Montel Williams! I am not Montel Williams!

- Richard Belzer, Steve Harris

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: May 25, 2003

Stars: Daniel Baldwin, Ned Beatty, Richard Belzer, Andre Braugher, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto, Melissa Leo, John Polito, Kyle Secor
Other Stars: Zeljko Ivanek, Ami Brabson, Robin Williams, Gerald F. Gough, Clayton LeBouef, Ralph Tabakin, Sharon Ziman, Wilford Brimley, Jake Gyllenhaal
Director: Various

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (contains violence and television language)
Run Time: 10h:50m:00s
Release Date: May 27, 2003
UPC: 733961708486
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+BB+ B

DVD Review

In 1988, Baltimore Sun writer David Simon received unrestricted access to three homicide squads in a city that saw 234 murders take place during the year. The result was Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets—a compelling portrait of a troubling and extremely difficult profession. Acclaimed director Barry Levinson (Diner, Liberty Heights) and writer Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere) believed that Simon's book provided the perfect model for a different type of cop show. This series would have no car chases or shootouts and would focus instead on the mental aspects of solving cases. It also concentrated on the detectives themselves and the realistic effects of spending their lives around dead bodies. The ultimate result was Homicide: Life on the Street, one of the most innovative and complex dramas in television history.

"That's the problem with this job; ain't got nothing to do with life." -Crosetti

Homicide premiered following the Super Bowl on January 31, 1993 and achieved impressive ratings and critical acclaim. Unfortunately, the subsequent ratings did not match NBC's high expectations for the series, which immediately placed its future in jeopardy. Levinson, Fontana, and writer Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco) crafted a series that would confound many viewers while thrilling others. The pilot begins with a fairly mundane discussion between two detectives arriving on the scene of another typical murder. This moment immediately conveys the show's everyday and realistic atmosphere. The characters involved in the discussion are African-American Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson) and bald, middle-aged Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito). These guys look like homicide detectives. They lack the perfect appearance and striking clothes that are too commonplace on television cop shows. The conversations often have nothing to do with cases or pertinent events, which makes the individuals more compelling.

Much of the show's success occurs due to the diligent efforts of the diverse ensemble cast. The centerpiece is Lieutenant Al Giardello (Yaphet Koto), a hulking veteran policeman who displays an intense loyalty to his detectives and a stern willingness to stand up to the bosses. Known as "Gee" and the product of Italian and African parents, Giardello concerns himself with his shift's cases while dealing with the job's political side. The squad includes the weary, recently divorced "Big Man" Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty), brand-new rookie Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor), and lone female detective Kay Howard (Melissa Leo). Far from a token entry, she is riding a perfect winning streak that sometimes draws the ire of her fellow detectives. Both rage and comic relief is provided by John Munch (Richard Belzer), whose rants about women, pop culture, and life in general provide numerous classic moments.

Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) is the squad's charismatic, one-man army in catching the area's worst criminals. He disdains the idea of a partner and prefers to solve cases on his own. After several failed attempts with others, he strikes up an intriguing relationship with the idealistic rookie Bayliss. Their interrogations in "The Box" would provide many of the series' finest scenes throughout its seven-year run. An early highlight is Three Men and Adena," the Emmy-award winning episode that takes place almost entirely in "The Box." Rounding out the lead cast is Beau Felton (Daniel Baldwin), a hometown guy with a casual charm that masks serious insecurities about his detective skills and family troubles.

Homicide delivers an original filming style that varies drastically from the predominant shows of the time period. We view the action through hand-held cameras that inject energy into even the most straightforward moments. Little backlighting exists, which creates a muted and drearier color palette. It also saw the inauguration of the "jump cutting" device, which repeats the same line or act multiple times for emphasis. These innovations bring a fresh vitality to the show that nicely complements its clever stories. Long scenes of dialogue feel more alive and draw us into the detectives' lives.

As the seasons progressed, the show moved away from its early style and became more audience-friendly. The scripts remained complex and emotionally powerful, but they sometimes missed the unique feeling of the first two seasons. The thirteen original episodes have finally found their way onto DVD to hopefully gain new converts to this brilliant series.

Homicide: Life on the Street—Season One
Although it only includes nine episodes, Homicide's first season is able to weave several intriguing story lines across each entry. It begins with Bayliss' arrival, and quickly throws him into the Adena Watson case, a child murder that would haunt him for years. While Pembleton and Bayliss struggle to find the killer, Crosetti and Lewis catch Calpurnia Church—a harmless-looking woman who has organized the killing of numerous relatives for the insurance money. Crosetti spends much of the time discussing his theories about the Lincoln assassination, which provides some fun entertainment. Bolander finds brief love with medical examiner Dr. Carol Blythe, and Howard continues to solve cases (with some possible supernatural help). One of the wonders here is seeing how television can provide a much deeper story than a shorter feature film. The detectives actually remember past episodes, and these experiences continue to haunt them every day.

Goone for Goode
Guest Stars: Wendy Hughes (Dr. Carol Blythe), Steve Harris (Bernard), Ralph Tabakin (Dr. Scheiner), Jim Grollman (Jerry Jempson)

The opening episode introduces each major character while plunging us quickly into several different stories. Bolander presses Munch to investigate further into the murder of Jenny Goode, which occurred a month earlier. Lewis and Crosetti begin their investigation of Calpurnia Church and have some difficulties at the graveyard. Pembleton is paired with Felton and drives him crazy after "forgetting" his car's number. Bayliss joins the Homicide squad and catches his first case, the brutal murder of 11-year-old Adena Watson. The intelligent script contains numerous classic lines, including Munch's "I am not Montel Williams!" monologue. It features many essential elements and immediately draws us into the Baltimore environment.

Forget the Super Bowl. This opener earns 4 out of 5 guns.





Ghost of a Chance
Guest Stars: Zeljko Ivanek (ASA Ed Danvers), Wendy Hughes (Dr. Carol Blythe), Lee Tergesen (Officer Chris Thormann), Clayton LeBoeuf (Captain Barnfather), Michael Sheldon (Ralph Fenwick)

The rookie Bayliss plunges into the Adena Watson investigation and quickly becomes frustrated with his lack of progress. Based on the actual Latoyna Kim Wallace case and Detective Tom Pellegrini, the Watson murder spans across the first six episodes. Bolander and Munch arrive at the crime scene to discover that the elderly man is still alive, much to the dismay of his wife. Howard receives an otherworldly message from victim Agnes Saunders, which could help in discovery of the murder weapon. Another solid episode, this tense entry showcases Kyle Secor's skill in presenting insecurities without making him a pitiable character.

This episode earns 3.5 out of 5 guns.





Night of the Dead Living
Guest Stars: Lee Tergesen (Officer Chris Thormann), Cleve Wall (Santa), N'Bushe Wright (Loretta Kenyatta)

A blistering September night in Baltimore oddly contains no murders, which gives the squad time to consider personal issues. Bayliss feels that his new suspect might break open the Watson case, but things are not what they seem. Bolander struggles with the idea of asking Dr. Blythe for a date, and Munch frets over troubles with Felicia, his never-seen girlfriend. Quirky events also occur, including a sad Santa Claus and a baby locked in a cage in the basement. This story moves slowly and is especially daring for just the series' third episode. NBC originally moved it to the end of the season, which caused numerous continuity problems.

No one dies, but this episode still earns 3.5 out of 5 guns.





Son of a Gun
Guest Stars: Edie Falco (Eva Thormann), Lee Tergesen (Officer Chris Thormann), Wendy Hughes (Dr. Carol Blythe), Luis Guzman (Larry Madera), Mary Jefferson (Calpurnia Church)

Crosetti receives the stunning news that his friend Officer Chris Thormann was shot in the head during a routine arrest. Jon Polito gives one his finest performances, including a great scene with Yaphet Kotto concerning the case. Felton and Howard interrogate a woman who hired a hit man due to a disagreement over the bust of Spiro Agnew. Bolander has his first date with Dr. Blythe, but it is interrupted when he's called for a case. Bayliss becomes increasingly frustrated with the Adena Watson case.

Another excellent episode! It receives 4 out of 5 guns.





A Shot in the Dark
Guest Stars: Edie Falco (Eva Thormann), Lee Tergesen (Officer Chris Thormann), Zeljko Ivanek (ASA Ed Danvers), Wendy Hughes (Dr. Carol Blythe), Larry E. Hull (Charlie Flavin), Clayton LeBouef (Captain Barnfather)

Although his date with Dr. Blythe appeared to go well, Bolander is an angry man. He refuses all of her calls, and seems pretty miserable. The suspect in the Thormann shooting turns himself in, but Lewis is not convinced they have the right guy. Pembleton and Felton follow a lead in the Adena Watson case to a numerous car lots, which gives them plenty of time to discuss racial issues. Captain Barnfather gives a critical piece of information to the media, which angers Tim so much that he calls him a "butthead." This episode includes several hilarious moments, including Munch's karaoke fun and Tim's outburst. It also provides worthwhile insights into Pembleton and Felton's divergent views on life.

This interesting entry deserves 3 out of 5 guns.





Three Men and Adena
Guest Stars: Moses Gunn (Risley Tucker)

A new revelation about Risley Tucker, "the Araber," has given Bayliss and Pembleton the belief that he killed Adena Watson. They spend the entire episode interrogating him from every angle in hopes of generating a confession. If he does not crack in 12 hours, they must release him and consider the case a lost cause. Anyone who believes that Homicide is just another cop show should watch this episode. The two determined detectives speak with one voice and weave themselves into Tucker's brain. Surprisingly, he strikes back and accurately describes their own insecurities. Basically just three guys talking in one room, "Three Men and Adena" earned Tom Fontana a well-deserved Emmy Award for "Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (Single Episode). It stands as one of the series' (and television's) finest moments.

No doubt about it. 5 out of 5 guns.





A Dog and Pony Show
Guest Stars: Edie Falco (Eva Thormann), Lee Tergesen (Officer Chris Thormann), Wendy Hughes (Dr. Carol Blythe), Geoffrey C. Ewing ("Pony" Johnson), Stivi Paskoski (Danny Blythe)

Bayliss and Pembleton must put the Adena Watson case behind them and move back into the normal rotation. Their first new murder oddly involves a police dog, Jake, which irritates Bayliss to no end. Felton and Howard face a nasty torture death possibly committed by flashy drug dealer "Pony" Johnson. For comic relief, Dr. Blythe's son Danny accompanies Munch and Bolander on a case. His incessant questions irritate the Big Man to no end, which may cause problems in the relationship. This solid entry also shows a softer side to Crosetti as he helps Chris Thormann through a tough situation.

This effective episode earns 3 out of 5 guns.





And the Rockets Dead Glare
Guest Stars: Steven Marcus (Detective Russ De Silva), Zeljko Ivanek (ASA Ed Danvers), Bai Ling (Lin Chang), Geoffrey C. Ewing ("Pony Johnson), Clayton LeBouef (Captain Barnfather), Gerald F. Gough (Colonel Granger), Ami Brabson (Mary Pembleton)

Crosetti and Lewis travel to our nation's capital to investigate the murder of a student leader in the Tiananmen Square protest. They arrive at the Chinese Embassy, and quickly face some sad political realities. Luckily, it does offer enough time for Crosetti to visit Ford's Theater, which makes the Lincoln fanatic giddy with joy. In Baltimore, the trial of "Pony" Johnson begins, and Howard makes an unfortunate mistake that could jeopardize the trial. After the other shift's lieutenant retires, the bosses may be looking to promote Pembleton. This episode offers several intriguing elements, including an interesting look at the court process.

Crosetti rarely is this happy. 3.5 out of 5 guns.





Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Guest Stars: Steven Marcus (Detective Russ De Silva), Joe Fersedi (Colin Dietz), John Waters (Bartender)

In the originally intended season finale, Munch and Bolander investigate the brutal beating of a teenager possibly killed by his own friends. Meanwhile, Howard and Bayliss are trying to quit smoking, which causes no end of grief to their partners. Waiting in separate cars at a stakeout, the smokers and non-smokers each convince themselves that the other is doing the right thing. Giardello also discovers some toxic fumes, this time caused by an asbestos infection in the building. The season ends on a somber note, with Bolander drinking and conversing sadly with bartender John Waters.

Bravo! A wonderful season concludes on a high note. 4 out of 5 guns.





Homicide: Life on the Street - Season 2
After nine compelling episodes and tons of considerable acclaim, Homicide was still lucky to survive for another season. Unfortunately, NBC ordered only four episodes this time. The actors became increasingly frustrated, especially Baldwin and Beatty, who would depart after the third season. Bolstered by four more strong entries and huge ratings for "Bop Gun," the network finally agreed to renew the season for another year. This short season contains several of my favorite episodes. The visuals are a bit more viewer-friendly, but the rough edges remain firmly intact.

See No Evil
Guest Stars: Wilford Brimley (Harry Prentice), Michael Chaban (Chucky Prentice), Jeff Mandon (Officer Fred Hellriegel), Michael S. Kennedy (Sgt. Jimmy Tyron)

Although "Bop Gun" actually aired first due to Robin Williams' star power, this intriguing tale was the intended season opener. Felton must make a difficult choice to help a friend dealing with a sick father (Brimley). When he involves Lewis in the deception, we learn more about his views on murder. Their confrontation is especially tense, and showcases some great acting from both guys. The other major story concerns a police-involved shooting that suggest foul play. Pembleton wants to pursue the cops, but Giardello provides stern resistance to this disloyal action. Both story lines work superbly, which helps to create a remarkable episode.

Daniel Baldwin gives one of his finest performances. 4 out of 5 guns.





Black and Blue
Guest Stars: Isiah Washington (Lane Staley), Julianna Marguilles (Linda), Jeff Mandon (Officer Fred Hellriegel), Michael S. Kennedy (Sgt. Jimmy Tyron)

Pembleton's investigation intensifies as he truly believes that policeman Jimmy Tyron shot the suspect in the back. Giardello continues to push the civilian angle, which leads Pembleton to enact a surprising confession. Andre Braugher really comes into his own during the interrogation, which is both especially painful and poignant. Meanwhile, Bolander is very depressed, but his fortunes may change due to a chance meeting with Linda (Julianna Marguilles), who shares his musical interests. A possible love connection brings a positive spin to a tense and premier episode. The final moments play out over an orchestral number and represent some of the series' best.

Easily one of my top 10 favorites. 4.5 out of 5 guns.





A Many Splendored Thing
Guest Stars: Julianna Marguilles (Linda), Zeljko Ivanek (ASA Ed Danvers), Adrienne Shelly (Tanya Quinn), Scott Neilson (Jeremy Schaab)

Bolander is beaming after meeting Linda, who is only 26 years old. On the outs once again with Felicia, Munch does not share in his partner's gleeful attitude. He asks Giardello to order Bolander to be miserable again. Meanwhile, Bayliss and Pembleton journey to a wilder side of town when investigating the death of a young girl involved in S & M and phone sex. Bolander gets Howard and Danvers to join him on a double date, but the fun is dashed when Munch crashes the party. Bolander has found love, but it will be short-lived when Marguilles moves on to ER.This original season finale is another excellent episode. 3.5 out of 5 guns.





Bop Gun
Guest Stars: Robin Williams (Ralph Ellison), Lloyd Goodman (Vaughn Perkins), Antonio D. Charity (Kid Funkadelic), Caron Tate (Renee Perkins)

Robin Williams brings considerable emotion (and ratings clout) to this saddening episode concerning the shooting death of his character's wife. We view the activities more from the eyes of the husband as he deals with the kids and his frustrations with Felton. The story only focuses on this one case, a method that would become more common in future seasons. The case appears fairly straightforward, but Howard does not believe the young man's confession. The episode is very sad and difficult to watch, but Williams has rarely been better in a dramatic role.

The big-time guest star does well. 4 out of 5 guns.




Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: This release features the series' full-frame transfer and offers and clear presentation. The images contain a significant amount of grain, which initially is fairly saddening for such an important show. However, much of the hazy atmosphere stems from the original style of the early seasons, which utilized muted colors and little back-lighting. The brighter daytime moments work especially well, and the grain never becomes a major distraction. This transfer does not match the best releases, but it does provide an effective viewing experience.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Homicide: Life on the Street does not incorporate an overwhelming amount of sound effects within each episode. However, the memorable opening sequence and musical interludes are an essential part of its success. This 2.0-channel stereo transfer enhances the original television sounds to give us wortwhile viewings. While not overly complex, this track does its job and presents the dialogue in a clear and understandable fashion.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 104 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
2 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Featurette(s)
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: varied

Extra Extras:
  1. "To Catch a Killer: Homicide Detectives" Episode of American Justice
  2. Song Listing
Extras Review: This four-disc collection includes a few notable extra features, but it lacks the depth needed to please fans of the series. It does contain a commentary from creators Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana during Gone for Goode. Neither speaker has viewed this episode for a long time, which makes it interesting to have them watching it virtually fresh. They discuss an array of topics, including Baltimore's role as a character, the minimalistic look, and numerous settings and characters. While not a fascinating track, it does offer some nice insights about the show's creation. Disc One also provides cast and crew biographies and the commercials for the Super Bowl premiere.

Disc Two's extra feature is Homicide: Life at the Start, a 10-minute documentary narrated by Richard Belzer. Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana inject even more insights while speaking about casting and their original ideas. While far too brief to give us a comprehensive depiction, we do learn more about the stylistic devices used. Located on Disc Three, To Catch a Killer: Homicide Detectives is a 45-minute episode of the A&E series, American Justice. Hosted by Bill Kurtis, it describes several peculiar murder cases and the methods used by homicide detectives to solve the case. It does not relate directly to the show, but we do learn about their thought processes. The murders are presented very directly with photographs and interrogation footage included to depict the murders.

A list of the musical numbers from the two seasons appears on Disc Four. While these episodes lack the abundance of songs utilized in future years, there still are some worthwhile inclusions.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Homicide: Life on the Street has lost none of its relevance more than 10 years after its inception. Certain stylistic devices may seem less mind-blowing now, but this idea exists because other series have adapted similar methods. The best police shows of today like The Shield take the visual chaos to another level, but they cannot match the depth of Homicide's writing and its compelling ensemble cast. Finally released on DVD, the first two seasons again showcase one of television's greatest creations.

 


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