Well I always said the toughest thing for the show is not to get stale and how to keep challenging ourselves. It was one of the big things that every year we kept saying "All right, what haven't we done? How can we approach something differently? What is the evolution of this and how do we continually challenge ourselves?" To see where else we can go, as opposed to just get comfortable and say "OK, this is it."
Of course that may be why we were last in our timeslot.
- Writer/Producer Tom Fontana
Homicide: Life on the Street is finally being released on DVD and I bought the first set of episodes on the day they came out. I never really understood the whole “own a TV series on DVD” phenomenon, but that might have been because Homicide was probably the only show released on DVD that I cared enough about to actually shell out the money to get it. The only other shows even coming close to being good enough to buy are The Simpsons and Seinfeld, and they’ve been so heavily syndicated that I could watch three episodes of both every day. Reruns of Homicide, on the other hand, were banished to CourtTV and aired only late at night, before eventually being dropped altogether.
Seasons 1 and 2 – 4 discs
Seasons 1 and 2 were released together because they consisted of only 9 and 4 episodes respectively (all other Homicide seasons were 20-23 episodes). I didn’t start watching the show regularly until season 4, so this gave me the chance to see the show when it was in its most raw form in terms of production (as TAFKAH notes in his node above), and to finally see the beginning of the most important story arc of the entire show: the murder of Adena Watson.
It can be argued that Homicide is the story of Tim Bayliss, one of the detectives on the show, portrayed by Kyle Secor. The first episode of the show is Bayliss’ first day on the job and the last episode takes place when he finally quits the Homicide unit six years later. Many of his reactions to the cases he is assigned foreshadow the changes the character will undergo over the next six years, and none were more important than the rape and murder of 11 year-old Adena Watson. The Watson murder occurs at the very end of “Gone for Goode”, the first episode, and the ensuing investigation takes place over the next five episodes, eventually coming to a head in “Three Men and Adena” where Bayliss and his partner Frank Pembleton subject the main suspect in the murder to an intense 12-hour interrogation in a last-ditch attempt to get him to confess (writer Tom Fontana won an Emmy for this episode). The interrogation was a failure and the crime remained unsolved. Adena’s name stayed on the board under Bayliss’ name for the rest of the series, always written in red (the symbol of an open case), never to be turned to black (a case that had been solved).
His inability to close the Watson murder haunted Bayliss and forced him to question whether he was worthy to be a homicide detective (or “murder police” as the characters are apt to refer to themselves). Whenever he was assigned to the death of a child in the following years, he couldn’t help but think back on his failure in his first case. The questioning of his abilities that came from both himself and his fellow detectives could later be seen in how he tried to constantly prove his worthiness and how committed he was to justice, such as when he threw himself in front of a bullet to protect Pembleton or, in the series final episode, when he shot recently released serial killer Luke Ryland in order to prevent Ryland from killing again.
This is not to say that Bayliss is the only important character on the show, Homicide always had a large ensemble cast and this DVD set allows us to see several characters that would leave the show before the end of it’s run, such as the uncaring Beau Felton (William Baldwin), conspiracy-theorist Steve Crosetti (Coen Brothers regular Jon Polito) and the crotchety Stanley Bolander (played by Ned Beatty, who is simply amazing in the role and steals every scene he is in). Episode 10, “See No Evil” also features an excellent performance by the underutilized Melissa Leo playing Kay Howard, then the only female in the unit, on what it feels like to be in the man’s world that is murder.
Odd bit of trivia:
Something I noticed was the occurance of musician names being dropped during the show. In one episode, the name of the killer turned out be Layne Staley
(the late lead singer for Alice in Chains
) and in another the name of a key witness was Krist Novoselic
(the bass player for Nirvana
). I wonder if this continued deeper into the series.
The only downsides to this set are the paucity of extras (a so-so commentary track on the first episode and a documentary on the making of the season 6 episode “The Subway” are the only add-ons) and a strange picture quality. Many times the backgrounds look strangely static, like the actors are working in front of a bad matte painting, and sometimes the characters don’t move right, with one half of the pixels in their face moving, then followed by the other half. This creates a subtle motion blur effect and whether it is due to the compression on the DVD or the film stock used for the show, I don’t know. There is also some noticeable jitteriness in certain scenes that look like a poor transfer was done to DVD.
QXZ sez: It seems to me to be a combination of shooting the show on 16mm, which is by nature a grainier stock than the 35mm used on most movies and filmed TV series with budgets, the fact that the 16mm was push processed to eke a few extra stops of exposure out of it for underlit scenes (and also to contribute to a gritty look), and the eventual MPEG2 compression for DVD release. Probably. Or maybe someone just did a really bad DVD transfer, but I think the former is more likely.
Despite these shortcomings, I wholeheartedly recommend this set to anyone who wants to see what quality television could be. Homicide was never given it’s due when it was on the air, this DVD gives people the chance to see it from the beginning.