Sunday, 19 September 2010

Homicide: Life on the Street - Revisited

Some of our readers may have noticed that I've added a page called 'Reviews by Sparky' to the blog some months ago. In November 2009 Sparky Lightbulb startet a project "Trade It in for Twinkies", watching the work of a single actress (Michelle Forbes) and then writing about each piece. Courtesy of Sparky I'm posting excerpts of her latest review, revisiting 'Homicide: Life on the Street'. --chris

"For a viewer who has followed Homicide from the beginning, Season 5 is different. Detectives still work interesting cases, relying more on their brains than on their guns. And the variety of deaths still make a viewer conclude, as Det. Stanley Bolander [Ned Beatty] points out in Season 1, that any human is capable of murder, whether it is a child firing her father's revolver out the window [the stray bullet hitting a woman loading groceries blocks away] to planned executions by drug lord Luther Mahoney [Erik Dellums]. Circumstances, though, have crippled a number of the characters, and Season 5 inserts us into their shoes so well that we understand how badly shaken are their lives.

Sometimes the damage to a character is physical, as is the case with Pembleton, who returns to half-day desk duty until he can pass his firearms test. We immediately notice the lack of precision—in speech, memory, and small physical tasks like punching the correct numbers to return a call to his wife. The contrast is stark, for we remember the competent Pembleton of past seasons whose movement was as meticulous as his dress, whose voice had more agility than the hands of an archeologist as it excavated the truth. We get to see the indignity of his weakness: His wife Mary [Ami Brabson] doesn't trust him with the baby, Lieutenant Giardello [Yaphet Kotto] doesn't want him at investigation scenes, and the office staff sends him on lunch runs. Even after he returns to the streets, his tape recorder—a crutch for his still shaky memory—makes colleagues wonder if he is competent enough to do the job. These trials play out over nearly three months of episodes, which adds to the reality of the injury. And Braugher depicts a stroke victim with such authenticity that we want to believe, as his character does, that "bagel" is that dark brew people enjoy for a jolt of energy. [...]

Season 5 also introduces the new chief medical examiner Dr. Julianna Cox [Michelle Forbes], a character who initially seems the least damaged of the regular cast. In her first episode, Dr. Cox conveys such authority that we never ask how this young snot acquired the medical expertise and political savvy to run a big-city lab, and so we don't question what inadequacies her ambition must be filling. Her authority appears grounded in an appreciation for the big issues in life, not the small stuff too many people sweat. For example, she champions a dead prostitute, firing an established older peer for helping a lazy detective ignore a murder he could pass off as an overdose. She insists on professionalism, disciplining Det. Meldrick Lewis [Clark Johnson] when he moves a body before her arrival at the crime scene, but admits her own fault to another officer as she politely accepts a [deserved] speeding ticket. When she remarks at an exhumation that she likes cemeteries, it's not a goth fascination with death but an evolved recognition that our inevitable demise should inspire better behavior the short time we're alive. Her idealism and edgy beauty attract Kellerman, but when Cox learns the toll of the false accusations against him—his flirtation with suicide and spiral into self-pity—she withdraws, choosing drink and a long-haired poseur over earnest Mike. As many women would rush to fix a broken man, we can only wonder what damage Cox has suffered that makes her retreat in the season finale.

Despite all the crises in the characters' lives, the work still gets done, and done well. The focus of Season 5 might be different, but the stories are still first rate.

Video Teasers
You can view a very moving scene featuring Det. Bayliss and Dr. Cox at YouTube:"

Head over to Trade It in for Twinkies to read the full review.