Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Homicide! Look Behind You! See That Shark?! Homicide: Life On The Street Season 6.

The Good: Interesting stories, Good acting from older cast
The Bad: New characters are dull, Poor casting, Light on DVD bonus features
The Basics: With twenty-two episodes, Homicide: Life On The Street buries itself with new castmembers and characters that dull the impact of this show.

By this point in my reviews of individual boxed sets of Homicide: Life On The Street, I am relatively certain that my readers are getting sick of seeing me write that the series is not what I anticipated when I started watching the show. I get that and today I shall refrain from that tired refrain, despite its truth. I will, however, say that many people consider the end of the sixth season to be when the series jumped the shark. For me, though, the mark is in the first episodes of season six.

It is in this boxed set that the cast is severely shaken up and the result is a program that is so different from any lingering greatness it once had - even the prior season - that the best the viewer can hope for is a storyline that focuses on Meldrick Lewis. Yes, the throwaway character from Seasons 1 & 2 becomes the character worth watching in the rocky, disappointing season Six. It is worth noting, as well, that it is impossible to write about Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Season 6 without revealing details from the finale to season five. That said . . .

Detectives Kellerman and Lewis, along with narcotics cop Stivers deal with he consequences of Kellerman killing Luther Mahoney. This takes the form of Mahoney's sister, Georgia Rae Mahoney. Georgia Rae begins to extort Kellerman, claiming to have a tape of him shooting Luther. While Kellerman works to get out from under her, Lewis goes rogue, initiating a war amongst the remaining factions of Mahoney's organization and leaving the rest of the Homicide Unit to clean up the mess.

While Lewis and Kellerman find themselves resolving their Mahoney problems, the rest of the squad comes back together after six months of being reassigned. Unfortunately for them, Kay Howard stays elsewhere and Brodie has taken a job with a film company. Bayliss and Pembleton return to the Unit to find their desks and prestige taken over by Detectives Falsone, Laura Ballard, and Stuart Gharty. Stivers, as well, finds herself working with the squad as well, despite having her lingering issues with Kellerman. Dr. Cox continues to provide the detectives with the forensic evidence from the corpses for the Homicide Unit, until she is put in an awkward position that she is unable to get herself out of.

And in the entire season, the only notable episode outside the continuing arc of Luther Mahoney's legacy is the peabody-award winning episode "The Subway." The cases in "The Complete Sixth Season" are pretty standard homicide/detective stories. Unfortunately, the new characters do not gel terribly well with the old ones and they often seem more like "types" as opposed to genuine characters. As a result, Ballard seems determined to add a feminine presence and Gharty is pretty much Generic Old Irish Cop. To wit, Ballard - we are informed in the season premiere - is an excellent detective with an amazing clearance rate, yet after the three parter, she is unable to impress the viewer with closing cases left and right. Moreover, Falsone, far from being a clever addition to the cast, seems like he was brought on from a focus group, given his youth and generic Hollywood-good looks.

To better understand what one is getting in Homicide: The Complete Sixth Season, it helps to know who the characters are. The principle characters in this DVD set include:

Detective Frank Pembleton - No longer suffering the effects of his stroke, he is back in prime form. Soon, though his peeping into Bayliss's world gets him and Tim estranged and he struggles to deal with partnering up with others. Professionally jealous of Ballard,

Tim Bayliss - Desperate to find some happiness, Bayliss flirts with both Ballard and a man. Embracing his newfound bisexuality, he becomes increasingly emotionally fragile as he and Pembleton begin to get distance between them,

Detective John Munch - Spending more time bartending and switching detective partners, Munch acts more as counselor than police detective this season,

Meldrick Lewis - Dealing with the suspicious death of Mahoney, he is shot at by surviving members of Mahoney's crew. Soon, he is forced to take time off as he is suspended. While on his own, he begins to set the disparate elements of Mahoney's gang against one another using information supplied by Falsone,

Kellerman - Working without Lewis, harassed by Falsone and having had a fallout with Cox, he becomes more and more edgy. Clearly guilt-ridden over killing Luther, he becomes a liability to the squad when Georgia Rae realizes his weakness,

Dr. Juliana Cox - The medical examiner does such extraordinary work that she wins an award . . . before being run out of town for actually having ethics,

Stivers - The weak link in the witnesses to Mahoney's shooting, she becomes rattled when the surviving members of his gang target her,

Falsone - Constantly sparring with Kellerman when the stories about Luther's shooting do not add up, he finds his attentions split as he undergoes a rough divorce with his wife. Has a child he seldom sees,

Detective Laura Ballard - Has an amazing clearance rate an a tolerance for Bayliss, though she soon becomes interested in Falsone,

Stuart Gherty - Partnered with Ballard, he clearly loves her and is blandly prejudiced against many different groups of people,

and Lieutenant Al Giardello - overjoyed at the increase in the clearance rate because of the shakeup, he finds himself looking to learn the truth about what happened with Luther Mahoney as Baltimore is shaken up by it.

The thing about "Season Six" is that after the great fifth season, the cast shake up almost immediately guts this season. It prides itself on being different - and admittedly, episodes like "Subway" are - but the shakeup changes the show too radically. Pembleton and Bayliss - the brain and heart of the series - no longer illustrate even competent chemistry between them.

Moreover, some of the stories are flat-out disappointing given their references to other works. Granted, this season precedes Magnolia (reviewed here!) but an entire episode is spent having Dr. Cox tell the story that forensic experts have been tossing around for years and is part of the pre-story in the film. As a result, fans of Magnolia, police show, or forensics wait for the surprise, but discover that this is just Homicide: Life On The Street's take on a four minute cocktail story.

On the acting front, the performers are almost universally dull. Callie Thorne - while being very easy on the eyes - underwhelms as Ballard and Peter Gerety plays Gharty like a stereotype as opposed to a genuine character. The less said about Jon Seda's Falsone, the better. The surviving members of the original cast: Andre Braugher, Kyle Secor, Yaphet Kotto and Richard Belzer all do fine . . . when they are given the opportunity to shine, which is far too infrequent in this season.

The standout for the season is Clark Johnson as Meldrick Lewis. He does a masterful job of adding more and more frustration to his character, adding a slouch and a more subtle sense of devotion through an undertone in his performance. He is especially good playing off Toni Lewis (Stivers) and he and Reed play off one another well for the speed of their dialogue. But Johnson is almost handed the easy opportunity to act as his character goes rogue, necessitating his movement toward a different type of performance.

On DVD, Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Sixth Season is fairly low on extras. It does include the "Anatomy Of A Homicide" documentary (reviewed here!), as well as a commentary track on "Subway" and "Fallen Heroes, Part 2." The commentary for "Subway" is remarkably repetitive given the presence of the documentary and the lack of anything else of substance disappoints.

All in all, Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Season 6 is the show after the shark. It's all downhill from here and it seems like there are moments when many in the cast recognize that.

For the sixth seasons of other television shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Lost - Season 6
The West Wing - The Complete Sixth Season
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Six


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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