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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/25/03

Homicide: Life on the Street - The Complete Seasons 1 & 2
1992-1993 (2003) NBC/A&E Television Networks (New Video)

review by Rob Hale of The Digital Bits

Homicide: Life on the Street - The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/B-/C

Specs and Features

650 mins (13 episodes at 45 mins each, plus 1 American Justice episode), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 4 single-sided, dual-layered discs (3 with 3 episodes each and 1 with 4 episodes), custom slim-line keepcase packaging with slip cover, audio commentary with Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana on Gone For Goode, Homicide: Life at the Start interview with Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana (11 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), To Catch a Killer: Homicide Detectives episode of American Justice (46 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), Superbowl XXVII commercials for series premiere, song listing, cast and crew biographies, program-themed menus, scene access (8 chapters per episode), languages: English DD 2.0, subtitles: none

"Jenny Goode was murdered John, someone needs to speak for her."

Based on a book by reporter David Simon and produced by filmmaker Barry Levinson, Homicide: Life on the Street came into existence at a time when the detective/cop series had just about burned itself out, devolving into cliché and the unbelievable in the wake of such 1980's fare as Moonlighting, Miami Vice, which seemingly left nowhere to go but Murder, She Wrote. With Homicide came the jump-cut, shaky-cam, breaks in screen direction, the banality of 'the job,' and a greater sense of reality to the crime genre. Highly stylized (in many ways a soap opera stripped down to its bare essentials), filmic in its presentation, the series achieves its reality in tone and structure. There are few shootouts or car chases (no true ones in the first two seasons), no brooding or wacky detectives, no good cop/bad cop, nor a happy wrap-up to a solved crime at the end of a show. Characters are complex, as are the relationships between them, they work on cases that extend over multiple shows, some get solved and many do not. Detectives have emotions that can radically shift through the course of shows and seasons. Adding more to the shows realism than anything else though is the fact that the show is extremely job-centered, in all its mundane details. From filling out paperwork to sitting at a desk waiting for a call to come in, Homicide deals directly with everything that we would initially think of as the most boring aspects of the life of a homicide detective and it is absolutely riveting because of it.

Blessed with one of the best ensemble casts in recent TV history, Homicide was able to juggle several storylines in each episode and it was not unusual for four to five stories to be dealt with in a single episode. This is startling considering the difficulty most shows have with handling one or two and it makes episode summaries a bit difficult, but I will do my best:

Season One

Disc One:

Gone for Goode - Rookie Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) arrives from the SWAT team and the shift is shaken up as a partner is chosen to show him the ropes. Bolander (Ned Beatty) and Munch (Richard Belzer) look back into an old case, and Lewis (Clark Johnson) and Crosetti (Jon Polito) begin to investigate Calpurnia Church, whose relatives seem to be dying at an alarming rate.

A Ghost of a Chance - Howard (Melissa Leo) believes that a victim's spirit is leading her to crack the case; everyone else thinks she's already 'cracked.' Lewis and Crosetti continue to sort through an increasing body count. Bayliss begins to feel the political and public pressure over his first case, the rape and murder of 12 year old Adena Watson. Bolander become smitten with the medical examiner.

Night of the Dead Living - It is the hottest night of the year, the air conditioning is broken and no calls are coming in, leaving the shift hot and ornery. Oh, and a renegade Santa Claus is on the loose, but hasn't killed anyone.

Disc Two:

Son of a Gun - Crosetti urges Lt. Giardello (Yaphet Kotto) to put him on the case of a fellow officer, and friend, who was shot. Bolander experiences the death of a neighbor. Bayliss and Pembleton (Andre Braugher) continue to struggle with the Adena Watson case. Howard and Felton (Daniel Baldwin) help Lewis and Crosetti in the investigation of Calpurnia Church when they come across a connection with another investigation.

A Shot in the Dark - Bayliss and Pembleton begin to differ in their feeling on the Adena Watson Case, Crosetti's emotions start to take over in the investigation of his friend's shooting, and Bolander and the medical examiner continue to try to let their relationship grow.

Three Men and Adena - The episode takes place almost entirely in 'the box' as Bayliss and Pembleton investigate the lead suspect in the Adena Watson case.

Disc Three:

A Dog and Pony Show - Howard and Felton examine a torture/murder. Bayliss and Pembleton are assigned to investigate the death of a police dog. Crosetti helps his friend as he recovers from his shooting. Bolander meets his new love's teenage son, who tags along on a case.

And the Rockets Dead Glare - Lewis and Crosetti investigate individuals at the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC following the death of a political refugee. Howard and Felton spend a day in court testifying. Pembleton is offered a promotion.

Smoke Gets in your Eyes - Howard and Bayliss try to quit smoking, much to the dismay of their partners. Bolander and Munch investigate the beating death of a teenager. Lt. Giardello discovers that the health of his detectives may be at risk when a secret construction project begins in the building.

Season Two

Disc Four:

See No Evil - Mandatory sensitivity training is imposed on the entire staff. Felton deals with a terminally ill family friend who has hired a suicide doctor and Lewis and Crosetti begin to investigate when he turns up dead.

Black and Blue - Pembleton investigates a cop-related shooting amid pressure from 'above' and causes tensions to flair when he insists on investigating the police officers. Munch give a present found at a crime scene, with disastrous results. Bolander falls in love, again.

A Many Splendored Thing - Bayliss and Pembleton investigate an apparent S&M murder and Bayliss explores his dark side. Lewis and Crosetti investigate the murder of a man who was killed over a ball-point pen. Bolander asks Howard to double-date, and work follows them along.

Bop Gun - A tourist is killed and the whole staff gets wrapped up in the investigation. The victim's husband must deal with his children and his own emotions as well as his perceived insensitivity of the detectives. When a suspect is finally found, Howard is convinced he's covering for a friend.

And that's that, two seasons - 13 episodes.

A show as radical as this was at the time (although by today's standards, which the show arguably set, it may not seem it) was all but doomed to failure. The lack of 'action' made it very difficult to publicize and no amount of critical acclaim seemed to be able to bring in ratings. In the end, the show was shifted around in the schedule eventually settling in to the black hole that is the late Friday night slot. However, the show did manage to stick around for a good seven years of abbreviated seasons (it wasn't until season three that a full 24 episodes were made) and it stands as an amazing achievement for a show that consistently scraped the bottom of the ratings barrel.

Unfortunately, I find the A&E discs to be disappointing on almost all counts. The show has always had a rough look, but the overall dark nature of the picture and quick camera movements seem to provide for quite a bit of difficulty for the transfer. Even though the bit-rate is consistently hitting 8 or higher, there is still a fair amount of digital breakup, and loss of detail in shadow. During brighter scenes the transfer holds up much better, but even then grays are not quite as stable as you'd like. Overall, the transfer is similar to those for A&E's other releases for Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Prisoner and those are 30+ years old. Don't get me wrong, it's all very watchable, but I really expected better. Audio is a bit better, but only a bit, with a passable stereo mix that leaves the dialogue, which the series thrives on, a bit muddled at times, but is overall pleasing.

The extras are where my real disappointment sets in. We get a commentary with Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana that is engaging, but only covers the first episode which is a shame since both participants seem eager to talk about the series and it seems like they could go on much longer. Still, it is a good informative commentary and we should be happy for that. The 'interview' is a whole other story. Clocking in at a whopping 11 minutes and consisting largely of clips from the episodes and voice over by Richard Belzer, this is nothing more than a fluff EPK. Sigh. We also get an episode of a different series on A&E, which really cheeses me off, I'd much rather see the space used to improve the quality of the transfer rather than watch an episode of a series I didn't spend my hard earned cash to watch. Nevertheless it is okay, and does tangentially connect since it is about homicide investigation and it is interesting to see how artificial it seems after watching episodes of Homicide. Hopefully A&E will improve things a bit in time for season three which they just announced (two commentaries! of course there's twice as many episodes, sigh). Overall, I'm more than pleased that this series is finally getting its due on DVD; I just wish the quality of the release was a bit better.

Rob Hale
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