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Archive for September 6th, 2017

By Marilyn Ferdinand

As soon as the opening theme of electronica and crackling police radio intones and a kinetic roll of street scenes, abstract streaks, and cast member faces appearing and disappearing like fortunes in a magic eight ball hit the screen, it’s clear that Homicide: Life on the Street is no ordinary cop show.

Homicide defied expectations. A police drama with very little action and an unabashedly majority African-American cast, it was always a ratings trailer perpetually in danger of cancellation. However, by eschewing convention and dealing in a mature way with such issues as suicide, faith, homosexual awakening, friendship, and corruption, it became a critical darling and a multiple award winner, including three Emmys, three Peabodies, and six Television Critics Association awards. It was a prestige-builder for its network, NBC, and it attracted some major stars for guest shots, including Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Paul Giamatti, James Earl Jones, Lily Tomlin, and Alfre Woodard.

The landmark series was based on the nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, who spent a year following the Baltimore Police Department homicide unit. Its creator was Paul Attanasio, a gifted screenwriter (Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco) and producer (Gideon’s Crossing, House, both TV series). Its intensity and soulfulness, however, belonged to its writers and its actors.

The core group at the start of the show comprised the squad leader, Lt. Al “Gee” Giardello (Yaphet Kotto), a very black half-Italian man with a gusto for life, lone female Det. Kay Howard (Melissa Leo) and her footloose partner Det. Beau Felton (Daniel Baldwin), commonsense Det. Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson) and his slightly sad partner Det. Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito), and vulnerable, newly divorced Det. Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty) and hardline conspiracy theorist Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer), a character so good that Belzer only just retired him last year after his long run on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. (more…)

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