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Homicide: Life On The Street: The Complete Season 5
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Big changes were afoot for Baltimore's finest during the fifth season of Homicide. The fourth season ended with a shocker--Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) suffering a stroke while interrogating a suspect. In season premiere "Hostage," directed by the late Ted Demme, Pembleton is back on the job, but he's a changed man. His reflexes aren't what they used to be and his pride has taken a beating. Meanwhile, Megan Russert, who had been demoted the previous year, has moved abroad. Never fear, two strong women will join the squad in the form of detective Teri Stivers (Toni Lewis), on loan from narcotics, and medical examiner Julianna Cox (Michelle Forbes, just as formidable as she was on Star Trek: The Next Generation). This is especially good news for Lewis (Clark Johnson) and Kellerman (Reed Diamond). Alas, Lewis is married and Kellerman has just been accused of police corruption.
Standout episodes include "Documentary", directed by Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple, and "Prison Riot," with Charles S. Dutton and Dean Winters, a precursor to Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana's Oz. (Scott Winters, who appears in the last two episodes, would join brother Dean on that show.) But "Bad Medicine," in which drug kingpin Luther Mahoney (Erik Todd Dellums) makes his first appearance, is the most significant. With the introduction of Mahoney, Homicide would begin to deal with the drug war in earnest. Author David Simon would continue to explore the issue in his HBO series The Wire.
Aside from the brilliant acting, writing, and directing, Homicide was known for its savvy song selections, such as Tom Waits's "Cold, Cold Ground" and "Till the Money Runs Out" in "Bad Medicine." In addition, the episode "The Heart of a Saturday Night", directed by Whit Stillman, was titled after--and inspired by--Waits's composition of the same name. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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The other members of the Homicide unit have their share of problems as well. Lewis' surprise marriage is also in trouble and he finds himself tempted by a female cop (Teri Styvers) assigned to help him nail Mahoney ("Control.") Bayliss finds himself struggling with demons from his past when he works yet another child murder ("Betrayal.") This case ultimately leads Bayliss to drop Pembleton as his partner, destroying the strongest relationship in the squad. Munch must face his past as well when he works the brutal murder of his old high school crush, leading him back to his Jewish faith ("Kaddish.") Also, the new Medical Examiner Juliana Cox (Michelle Forbes) meets with tragedy in her very first episode when she loses her father to a long illness ("M.E., Myself and I.") Even recurring D.A. Ed Danvers (Zeljko Ivanek) watches his fiancé get shot down during a botched robbery in a bridal shop ("Blood Wedding.") SGT. Kay Howard nearly escapes tragedy, but in the heartbreaking season finale ("Partners and Other Strangers"), she finds herself solving the murder of her old partner, Beau Felton (Seasons 1-3.) This two-part closer would see the return of former cast members Daniel Baldwin and Isabella Hofmann, as well as future cast regulars Jon Seda and Peter Gerety.
Some fans felt the show began to decline at this point in the series, but the personal drama does not intrude on Homicide's basic formula of success. In some ways, it helps to enrich the characters that made the show so special. We are treated to intense interrogations, gritty realism and unexpected twists. A particularly noteworthy episode is, "The Documentary," in which crime scene videographer Brodie pays homage to the cops that speak for the dead. His documentary went on to win a fictional Emmy and would be his reason for leaving the show at the end of the fifth season, along with Kay Howard. Other noteworthy episodes include "Prison Riot," a foreshadowing of Tom Fontana's bloody HBO prison saga, Oz. Also, "Double Blind," "The Heart of a Saturday Night," and the two-part premier, "Hostage."
As always, the video presentation is superior to VHS and the scenes are a bit less gritty since Homicide's first two seasons. I was glad to see that A&E took care to present the episodes in chronological order, since many story arks run throughout multiple episodes. I was also glad that they finally included the previouslies, even though they are separate from the episodes. The commentaries by David Simon and others are always interesting. I do have to blast A&E for not including song lists in this package. The music is an important part of the series and if they did it before, they should stay consistent. Still, its good drama and definitely worth adding to your collection.
*Prison Riot (guest star Charles S. Dutton)
*M.E., Myself and I
*The Heart of a Saturday Night (guest star Rosanna Arquette)
*The True Test (guest star Elijah Wood)
*Have a Conscience
*Woo's On First
*Partners and Other Strangers 1 (guest star Daniel Baldwin)
*Strangers and Other Partners 2 (guest star Isabella Hofmann)
Frank Pembleton, who was now partnered with Bayliss, sees their partnership coming apart for two reasons. Pembleton has suffered a stroke and chaffs at the medication, chaffs at the desk duty. While Bayliss is once more haunted to the point of obsession over a child murder case. To add to the strain, Pembleton stroke is destroying his marriage. Mike Kellerman, who joined in the 4th season, is hounded by an old nemesis, Luther Mahoney, and threatened by Internal Affairs over problems that occurred when he was on an arson squad. A corruptions investigation looms and Kellerman feels he is being made to take the fall, pushing him to consider suicide. Lewis' recent marriage is going through a tough period and this is amplified as he is attracted to a new female cop assigned to help bring down Mahoney. Michelle Forbes (ST:NG) starts a two year run as the new Medical Examiner, who has a problem with the bottle and getting involved with Kellerman. The end of these episodes has Melissa Leo faces solving the murder of her former partner (Baldwin), and you meet the new members Seda and Gerety. They have a touch of humor with Brodie dashing about with his camera filming everyone (he leaves at the end of the year, too.)
Some of the changes were good; some - in many eyes - thought them brought about the decline in the show. I cannot say I agree with. Things change. If you stay the same you stagnate. Homicide brought forth strong drama, that was gritty, powers and above anything else you'd see on telly.
Starting with season 3, you will notice the picture quality improves a great deal. With a full season pick-up and slightly bigger budget, the show was able afford better lighting and sound.
The stories are just as good, though. The writing was in no way affected by the slightly glossier look. And they brought on Exec Prod. Henry Brommel, a great addition to an already great staff of writers.
If you've never seen this show, you should. It was amazing. And it holds up ten years later. Better than ever.
That scene when Mahoney smiles and the tension builds with all three detectives at bay,and then he is shot when he starts to lift his arm,is classic TV, and led to the major storyline in Season 6, where all the big guns came in to resolve this plotline.
Speaking of music, does anyone know the name of the song played as a background for the drug distribution mid-way thru the episode, and again at the end, when the depositions for Mahoney's murder are taking place? What a powerful soundtrack!(Just found out:"Evidence", by Faith No More).
Kudos to the "Homicide" team for a great Season and series....
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.
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