Homicide: Life on the Street - The Complete Series
R0 - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (15th July 2017).
The Film

Coming on the heels of the original Law & Order, the Baltimore-based Homicide: Life on the Street – produced by Barry Levinson (Disclosure) and created by Paul Attanasio (Sphere) from the nonfictional book "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" by David Simon (later the creator of The Wire) – was a raw and grittier alternative to the aforementioned series' pretense of "ripped from the headlines" while being more refined in its dramatics and performances than NYPD Blue which launched the same year or the genuine verité of COPS. Largely eschewing action set-pieces for intense verbal exchanges – outbursts of onscreen violence became more prevalent later in the series but were usually quite shocking and the loss resonant – the show devotes as much time to the solving of cases as the effect the crimes have on their all-too-human investigators: among them Italian/African-American chief Al Giardello (Alien's Yaphet Kotto) who chooses to close a case against the murderers of two family friends even though the lack of evidence will leave the similar murder of a family member unprosecuted, seemingly straight-laced new guy Tim Bayliss (Veronica Mars' Kyle Secor) whose is haunted throughout the series by the unsolved brutal rape/murder of child Adena Watson as well as his own childhood abuse which makes him especially sensitive to cases involving children, Bayliss' partner Frank Pembleton (Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Andre Braugher) whose health, religious faith, and marriage suffer on the job, embittered John Munch (Scarface's Richard Belzer) whose pessimistic view of life is shaped as much by the cases as his messy personal life, Beau Felton (Hawaii Five-0's Daniel Baldwin) whose crass façade belies a troubled marriage and alcoholism, seasoned Stanley Bolander (Deliverance's Ned Beatty) whose penchant for depression worsens after taking a bullet to the head, deeply religious Steve Crosetti (Miller's Crossing's Jon Polito) whose emotions get the better of him when a fellow officer (Oz's Lee Tergesen) is blinded in the line of duty, Meldrick Lewis (Drop Zone's Clark Johnson) whose career throughout the second half of the series is colored by the apparent suicide of a colleague, and Kay Howard (The Fighter's Melissa Leo) who is so eager to prove herself as the only female officer for the first half of the series and finds herself further alienated from the team when she is promoted to sergeant. While most of the characters from the early seasons have analogues in the Simon book, cast changes – Baldwin's drug addiction, Polito's firing (reportedly because he made negative comments to the press about the show), and the retirement of Beatty's character – necessitated the introduction of new characters, many of whom were destined to be professionally compromised: Captain Megan Russert (Dear John's Isabella Hofmann) who is already having an affair with Felton when introduced on the show, hotheaded Mike Kellerman (Moneyball's Reed Diamond) who becomes embroiled in a corruption scandal and a latter gang war that results in a squadroom shootout that leaves three officers dead and two of his colleagues wounded (and a third in the fallout from the season finale), his partner Terri Stivers (Toni Lewis) who is guilt-ridden after covering up for him, Stuart Gharty (Changeling's Peter Gerety) who is introduced as a patrolman exonerated of a cover-up who lands a desk job and later rotated into homicide, Rene Sheppard (ER's Michael Michele) whose career in the series is dogged by concerns about her ability to do the job, Laura Ballard (Rescue Me's Callie Thorne) whose chance at a seemingly good relationship is quashed by regulations against fraternization, and Paul Falsone (Chicago P.D.'s Jon Seda) whose professional life is an escape from the custody issues that crop up regularly with his ex-wife. Other regulars include Zeljko Ivanek (The Sender) as Assistant State's Attonrey Ed Danvers - whose fiancée is murdered in a botched robbery - Wendy Hughes (Careful, He Might Hear You) as medical examiner Dr. Carol Blythe (later replaced by The Killing's Michelle Forbes), and Giancarlo Esposito (The King of New York) as Giardello's FBI agent son who becomes a regular in the final season. Those who remained throughout the entirety of the series benefitted from the most dimensional characterizations, even if they were characterized by suffering – particularly in the case of Bayliss who is motivated to explore religions by partner Pembleton's trials as well as his own sexuality – although audience disappointment with how the characters were "treated" probably disregarded what the actors themselves saw as opportunities to shine (Braugher was twice nominated for an Emmy and won once). Belzer and his character Munch would end up joining the cast of the long-running Law & Order spinoff Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (J.K. Simmons appeared in the crossover episode "For God and Country" as a white supremacist and would later become a recurring guest on all three Law & Order franchises before landing a regular role as an LAPD police chief on The Closer). Series directors of note include Peter Medak (The Changeling), Uli Edel (Christiane F.),Tim Hunter (River's Edge),Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark),Martin Campbell (Goldeneye),Ted Demme (Blow),Peter Weller (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension),Robert Harmon (The Hitcher),Keith Gordon (Waking the Dead),Stephen Gyllenhaal (Homegrown),Bruno Kirby (Donnie Brasco),Don Scardino (Squirm),Whit Stillman (Metropolitan),Steve Buscemi (Fargo),Brad Anderson (Session 9), and Joe Berlinger (Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows).


The show has previously been issued in individual seasons and as a complete series set in 2006 by A&E and reissued with new artwork in 2009, Shout!'s thirty-five DVD, seven season set sports similar audio and video specs. Shot on high-speed 16mm film stock with handheld Aaton cameras and finished on NTSC video, the series' fullscreen tranfers are at the mercy of the standard-definition nineties digital masters. High grain and lack of shadow detail are part of the intended look but all manner of NTSC video artefacts are evident from moire on fine detail in long shots to chroma noise. The color is deliberately desaturated in the early seasons while the later seasons sport more vibrant color (possibly a network concession) while maintaining the grainy look. Seasons four and five at times look worse than the earlier seasons, with the difference in visual style and budget evident when contrasted with the Law & Order crossover. The final two seasons look best, but that may have to do with advances in video technology from the period rather than any issues with the archiving of masters or DVD compression.


Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo throughout with a heavy emphasis on dialogue, sparse use of atmospheric effects apart from rainy and roadside scenes, as well as the show's scoring. There are no subtitle or closed captioning options (subtitle were only included on the UK release but the transfers were NTSC-to-PAL converted).


Apart from the exclusion of the "To Catch a Killer: Homicide Detectives" episode of the Bill Kurtis-hosted series American Justice on the A&E set (obviously not included because it was an A&E series) and some text extras, Shout! Factory's set carries over virtually all of the video and audio extras from the previous editions, starting with six audio commentaries spread throughout the seven seasons: "Gone for Goode" by Levinson and writer Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere) on the first episode "Gone for Goode" – most interesting as it covers the source book, the visual aesthetic (in contrast to the look of contemporary show Murder She Wrote), the characters and their characterization through wardrobe choices, and the casting – Levinson and producer Harry Bromell (Homeland) on "The Gas Man", actor Johnson and producer Anya Epstein (In Treatment) on "The Hat", writer Eric Overmyer (Bosch) and James Yoshimura on "The Documentary", Yoshimura and director Gary Fleder (Beauty and the Beast) on "The Subway", and on the finale "Forgive Us Our Trespasses" by Fontana, Yoshimura, and producer Julie Martin (Law & Order: Criminal Intent). Video featurettes include "Homicide Life at the Start" (10:26) with Levinson and Fontana from the first season set, "Homicide: Life in Season 3" (14:27) with Levinson, Fontana, Simon, Yoshimura, and producer Bromell (narrated by Daniel Bladwin), "Homicide: Life in Season 4" (17:24) with Barry, Fontana, Simon, Yoshimura, and Brommel (narrated by Isabella Hofmann), and "Inside Homicide" (12:16) with Simon and Yoshimura, and "Live Panel Discussion" (57:58) with Fontana, Levinson, Yoshimura, and Simon.

The most interesting is the feature-length making-of "Anatomy of a Homicide" (70:54) from season six which aired on PBS and focused on the making of the season six episode "The Subway" (guest starring Full Metal Jacket's Vincent D'Onofrio) as a man who gets trapped between a train and the station platform in what may not have been an accident. Narrated by American Experience's Will Lyman, the documentary includes interviews with the cast and crew and follows the production through to the airing and its Emmy nominations for D'Onofrio as guest star and Yoshimura as writer. A bonus disc (also included in the earlier sets) includes Homicide: The Movie (87:53) from 2000 which used the shooting of mayoral candidate Giardello (Koto) to give closure to various storylines involving the characters that were left open-ended at the end of the seventh season. Also included are the three Law And Order crossover episodes: "Charm City" (47:37) in which a gas attack in the New York subway bears resemblance to an attack on a black church in Baltimore, bringing Pembleton and Bayliss to New York (continued in the season four episode "For God and Country"), "Baby, It's You" (46:23) in which a fourteen-year-old model whose cause of death was an infection in the weeks following a rape turns out to have connections to Baltmore where the crime may have been committed (continued in the season six episode "Baby, It's You"), and "Sideshow" (45:35) in which a murdered federal official found in New York has ties to Baltimore (continued in the season seven episode "Sideshow").


The cardboard slipcase to house the seven keepcases and thirty-five discs is not strong enough to hold them, causing damage to the cardboard in transit and the discs to fall out of the back flap as soon as the shrinkwrap is removed.


Despite the packaging flaws, this complete series is cheaper than the two out-of-print A&E sets, and the slight difference in extras is negligible.


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