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- Published on Amazon.com
What a firecracker this season of the Baltimore-based police drama is! Starring Richard Belzer, Andre Braugher, Reed Diamond, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto, Melissa Leo, Max Perlich and Kyle Secor, it opens with a hostage situation at a Baltimore middle school and ends 22 episodes later with the investigation into a major character's murder and news of some major changes in the department in the coming year. In between, there's all manner of mayhem including a prison riot, an upsurge in drug-related murders, arson, a carjacking, a murder in a boarding school, an armed suspect who holes up in the headquarters of an African-American community group and the suspicious death of an Nigerian man who was transporting 72 heroin-filled condoms for a notorious druglord.
As always, the scenes are gritty and realistic; like its cousin, HBO's "The Wire", the show was shot on location in Baltimore. The cracking dialogue is authentic too: often it has nothing at all to do with moving the actual story forward, as is often the case in real life. There's tense action and innocent people sometimes die. But as always, for me, the most interesting aspect of this series - apart from the crime detection - is the interpersonal relationships between the various characters, especially between Detectives Pembleton and Bayliss (played by Braugher and Secor respectively).
All the familiar faces are back: Pembleton's return to duty raises a number of challenges, for him, his colleagues and even for his wife. Still recovering from the stroke he suffered last season, I think it's a huge credit to Braugher's acting skills that he's able to evoke sympathy for a character that has hitherto been so exasperating, if not just plain irritating. (But of course, that doesn't last). He attends marriage counselling with her later on in the season, which makes for very interesting viewing and Kellerman faces Federal corruption charges.
Directors this season include Ted Demme, Kevin Hooks, Kyle Secor and Clark Johnson. Guest stars include regulars like Zeljko Ivanek as Assistant State's Attorney Ed Danvers, Ami Brabson (Braugher's wife in real life) as Pembleton's wife Mary, Clayton LeBouef as the he-looks-way-too-young-to-be-a Captain Barnfarther and the achingly beautiful Granville Adams as beat officer Jeff Westby.
Introduced this season are Toni Lewis as narcotics detective Terri Stivers and raven-haired Michelle Forbes as the new Chief Medical Examiner, Dr Julianna Cox. Other big names to look out for include Edie Falco, Rosanna Arquette, Tate Donovan, Charles S. Dutton, Glenn Fitzgerald, Melvin Van Peebles, Mekhi Phifer, LaTanya Richardson, Eric Stoltz, Dean Winters, Elijah Wood and the show's executive producer, Barry Levinson (appearing as himself).
This season also sees the opening gambits of the Luther Mahoney saga with the smooth, cool & totally ruthless druglord excellently played by Erik Todd Dellums. That storyline is worth the price of the boxset all on its own and it runs into the following season.
DVD extras include audio commentary by writers James Yoshimara and Eric Overmeyer on ep. 9, film-within-a-film "The Documentary"; "Inside Homicide", an interview with David Simon and James Yoshimura; cast and crew biographies and scene selection. My only gripes with this boxset are the lack of subtitles and the absence of details regarding the music that was used in the series. They provided them on the boxset for season four so I'm a bit mystified as to why they couldn't let us have them here too.
With "The Wire" now gone, "NYPD Blue" a distant memory and the enduring "Law & Order" beginning to show its age after 18 years, it would seem that the era of gritty urban police dramas is slowly but surely coming to an end. We only have "The Shield" left.
Thank heavens for DVD boxsets.
One other thing: Considering the fact that this season was made and originally aired in 1996/97, it still looks incredibly fresh and contemporary today. Proof, if ever any were needed, that good art never gets old.