Reviewed by David Williams (January 30, 2004)
Here’s a little refresher from my previous review of Homicide: Life on the Street (The Complete Seasons 1 & 2):
Inspired by Baltimore Sun writer David Simon’s award-winning account of Baltimore Homicide Detectives, Homicide: Life on the Street was brought to television by acclaimed director Barry Levinson and St. Elsewhere writer Paul Attanasio. The duo felt very strongly that Simon’s book would make great TV and they were right, as Homicide threw out all of the normal cop show conventions to create something that was truly unique for its time. The show used hand-held camera work and drab palettes and focused more on the emotional and mental toll of solving a murder case rather than the car chases, shootouts, and other tenets of the genre. While the show never received the high viewer ratings it rightfully deserved, it has been rewarded critically with multiple Emmy Awards, Writer’s Guild Awards, and even three Peabody Awards.
But isn’t it funny how all of the great shows on TV can hardly ever manage to stay on the air? Well, that was exactly the case in late 1994, as Homicide: Life on the Streets was living on borrowed time from NBC. Hovering perilously close to cancellation after a couple of abbreviated seasons, Homicide came on strong in what was arguably its best season ever; season three. Without much pomp, circumstance, or push from NBC, the series pressed on and made some changes in front of … and behind the camera in order to capture a larger viewing audience.
Added was a new co-executive producer, Henry Bromell; he was brought in to tighten things up a bit while various directors were encouraged to “mainstream” the show a bit more by polishing up the shooting and editing techniques that made the show somewhat of a groundbreaker in its first two seasons. What this amounted to was essentially doing away with many of the quick edits and hand-held camerawork that punctuated seasons one and two. There was also more of an emphasis on “red ball” cases; cases that required the attention of the entire department; as well as implementing more linear storylines and arcs. Not only did this writing allow for more interesting and drawn-out arcs, but it also allowed for a lot more – and very welcome - character development and expansion.
As far as characters go, there were some drastic changes there as well. Supposedly, over a “contractual dispute” behind the scenes, Detective Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito) would leave the show in grand fashion – and in one of the best arcs of the season. A new face would also be added; Lieutenant Megan Russert (Isabella Hoffman), a second shift commander who added a little sex appeal to the cast, as well as a parallel to returning honcho Al “Gee” Giardello (Yaphet Kotto). The remainder of the cast would remain intact and find themselves dealing with some heavy material. Top-notch detective Kay Howard (Melissa Leo) would find herself needing a break and after escaping the city for some rest and relaxation with family and friends, she would find herself embroiled in another murder investigation; Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) found himself at a spiritual crossroads with his faith and his God when a murderer went unpunished; Bollander (Ned Beatty) would hunt for the killer of a Salvation Army Santa Claus; we find Beau Felton (Daniel Baldwin) losing his family and turning to the bottle for relief; and in some comical side stories, Munch (Richard Belzer) and Lewis (Clark Johnson) found that buying a bar wasn’t as easy as they hoped it would be and Bayliss (Kyle Secor) carried on a rather perverse relationship with a fetishist. While many of the plots seemed like nothing more than filler, season three eventually presented some of the strongest material seen during the show’s seven seasons.
The season was also marked with excellent guest appearances that included Steve Buscemi as a suspected shooter; Joe Morton as a crusading journalist; Al Freeman Jr. as a dastardly deputy commissioner; and cameos by Baltimore’s own John Waters and NBC’s Tim Russert. Chris North would also make an appearance by reprising his role of Mike Logan from Law & Order. Marked by strong performances from regulars and guests alike, Homicide: Life on the Street was one of the stronger, more eclectic casts around and it quite simply makes for some of the most riveting television around … even years after the fact.
Following is an episode by episode walkthrough of the glorious third season of the series. However, the episodes have been slightly rearranged to reflect the original intent of the producers and therefore, there’s some slight variation from the order in which they actually aired on NBC. There are also some major spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk.
- Disc One -
Nearer My God to Thee (Original Air Date: October 14, 1994)
In the first part of this three part opener, we learn that a recently named “Samaritan of the Year” has been murdered and found in a dumpster - wearing only a pair of white gloves. An investigation ensues and a new shift commander, Megan Russert, is feeling the heat to solve the case ASAP. Giardello offers her whatever assistance she requires, although they both have problems dealing with lead investigator, Roger Gaffney (Walt MacPherson). Meanwhile, Felton’s marriage is falling apart and Munch and Lewis make plans to buy the Waterfront Bar.
Fits Like A Glove (Original Air Date: October 21, 1994)
The “White Glove” murder investigation continues and things get a bit more interesting when another body is discovered exhibiting the same MO. Pembleton must take the case over when Gaffney screws up royally by insulting Russert. At the same time, all involved are working hard to keep the details of the case out of the press. Meanwhile, Much and Lewis apply for their liquor license and Felton’s estranged wife (Mary B. Ward) wants to reconcile.
Extreme Unction (Original Air Date: October 28, 1994)
A witness (Lucinda Jenney) to the “White Gloves” murder comes forward and after some interrogation and a search of her apartment, many think that she could very possibly be the killer. The end results of the case cause Pembleton to doubt his faith and his belief that God always punishes evildoers. Meanwhile, Felton comes closer to a decision about what to do with his marriage.
- Disc Two -
Crosetti (Original Air Date: December 2, 1994)
The detectives are shocked to learn that one of their own, Detective Steve Crosetti, has died, as his body was found floating in a river. While it looks like a suicide, Lewis has a hard time believing that his partner would kill himself. Pembleton catches grief for not attending the funeral mass and the story follows each of the detectives and they deal with Crosetti’s death in their own, unique way.
The Last of the Watermen (Original Air Date: December 9, 1994)
After the repugnant murder of a local environmentalist, Howard decides that she needs to leave the city for a while to reunite with family and friends in order to escape the pressures of work. However, once she gets there, she finds herself investigating a local murder and she soon realizes that the pressures of day-to-day life can many times be as stressful as those on the job. Pembleton and Felton partner up to solve a case and end up getting along much better than either expected.
A Model Citizen (Original Air Date: November 11, 1994)
Lewis has the hots for a police artist, Emma Zoole (Lauren Tom), although she falls for Bayliss - and it creates some tension between the two. Meanwhile, Pembleton and Russert (Isabella Hoffman) are accused of violating the “White Gloves” killer’s civil rights and Munch has some fun while attending an alcohol awareness class.
Happy To Be Here (Original Air Date: November 18, 1994)
Gee’s friend, Sam Thorne (Joe Morton), is murdered by a teenager in a public venue who exhibits some peculiar moral contradictions. Meanwhile, Bayliss’ relationship with Emma Zoole goes South and he takes his problems out on a convenience store clerk.
- Disc Three -
All Through The House (Original Air Date: December 16, 1994)
On Christmas Eve, the detectives all find themselves working and Bollander and Munch probe the murder of a Salvation Army Santa. Bollander unsuccessfully tries to contact the child welfare department and Much has a hard time breaking the bad news to the murdered man’s son, Fidel (Ryan Todd). Meanwhile, Russert and Lewis investigate the death of a prospective witness while commiserating over their recent losses. Bayliss tries to hustle a card game at the station, but ends up losing to Gee.
Nothing Personal (Original Air Date: March 21, 1995)
Gee gets around to reassigning Crosetti’s unsolved cases and Howard and Felton receive one of the tougher ones. This keeps Howard on her toes, as she really wants to maintain her perfect record of solving cases among her male counterparts. Felton sinks deeper into depression, as well as the bottle, while searching for his wife and kids.
Every Mother’s Son (Original Air Date: January 6, 1995)
Bayliss and Pemberton investigate the shooting death of a thirteen-year-old boy at a local bowling alley and Pemberton takes a personal interest in the case when he learns that the shooter was only fourteen. Much and Lewis learn that George Washington evidently used the restroom at the Waterfront Bar, therefore, making it a national landmark … and much, much harder to purchase.
- Disc Four -
Cradle To Grave (Original Air Date: January 13, 1995)
Pembleton gets himself in a lot of trouble by helping to cover up a trumped-up kidnapping story by blindly trusting the word of Deputy Commissioner James Harris (Al Freeman Jr.). When a prominent congressman reports a kidnapping that evidence simply cannot support, Pembleton is told to drop the case immediately and things only get worse from there. Munch and Lewis, along with the FBI, find themselves investigating the murder of a biker gang member.
Partners (Original Air Date: January 20, 1995)
Russert learns that her former partner, Doug Jones (Robert Clohessy), is beating his wife when she has an accident that seems pretty contrived. As Russert learns more, she insists that Jones go straight to counseling. Pembleton is torn between saving face with the department and their public perception versus telling the truth.
The City That Bleeds (Original Air Date: January 27, 1995)
In a strong and very pivotal three-part episode, Felton, Howard, and Bollander are shot and seriously wounded while serving a pedophile and child murderer with an arrest warrant. Theresa Walker (Gloria Reuben), a sex crimes detective, works with Pembleton in order to find the shooter and Bollander’s former partner, Mitch Drummond (Tony Lo Bianco), returns to the squad after a tour with the bomb squad. (Producers feared that the show might actually be cancelled around this time and created an episode that grabbed the attention of NBC execs when this episode aired. It evidently worked, as Homicde was picked up for the full season.)
Dead End (Original Air Date: February 3, 1995)
While Felton, Howard, and Bollander’s lives hang in the balance, the remaining detectives are still searching for their main suspect in the shooting and after his arrest, it becomes clearer and clearer that they have the wrong person in custody. The powers that be ask that Russert investigate Gee’s managing of the case that caused things to go so wrong that three detectives were shot.
- Disc Five -
End Game (Original Air Date: February 10, 1995)
Steve Buscemi guest stars as Gordon Pratt, a racist loner, who is questioned in the shooting of detectives Felton, Howard and Bollander, and he immediately becomes the new prime suspect. After a forceful interrogation, Pembleton and the others get what they need; a confession. Also, a heated discussion drives a wedge between Munch and Pembleton. (Is it just me, or does Buscemi seem to have the magic touch when he’s in front of … or behind … the camera in a televised series?!?)
Law And Disorder (Original Air Date: February 24, 1995)
Bayliss must investigate the death of Gordon Pratt and he finds his fellow officers less than cooperative. Felton gets a rather rude welcome after returning back to work from his stay in the hospital, as he finds that he may not be able to reassume his role as quickly as he had hoped.
The Old And The Dead (Original Air Date: March 3, 1995)
Gee uncovers some deeply rooted corruption that leads to a shake-up at the highest levels of the department. In Munch’s first case back, he is assigned the role of lead detective, as he and Bollander investigate the grandson of a wealthy couple who were recently found murdered.
- Disc Six -
In Search Of Crimes Past (Original Air Date: April 14, 1995)
The desperate daughter of a death row inmate kidnaps Colonel Barnfather (Clayon LeBouef) in hopes that she can save her father’s life. Bollander, who originally investigated this particular case sixteen years earlier, is forced to re-open and re-investigate the case. Meanwhile, Munch teams up with an off-kilter bartender (Jerry Stiller) to help with his microbrews … and it ends up as expected … like a bad episode of Seinfeld.
Colors (Original Air Date: April 28, 1995)
Bayliss gets more involved in a case than he ever bargained for when his cousin (David Morse) shoots and kills a Turkish exchange student who he thought was breaking into his home. When Pembleton investigates the case as he does any other, it causes some major problems between he and Bayliss. Both sides have valid points and their conflict creates some really intense moments.
The Gas Man (Original Air Date: May 5, 1995)
An embittered ex-con (Bruno Kirby) is released from prison after serving a six-year term and he comes up with a bizarre plot to humiliate – and then kill - the detective who put him away … and unfortunately for Pembleton, it’s him.