Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Endings Are Still Such Disappointments With Homicide: Life On The Street Season 7.

The Good: Good acting from older cast
The Bad: New characters are dull, Poor casting, Dull storylines, Light on DVD bonus features
The Basics: With the final twenty-two episodes, Homicide: Life On The Street buries itself with new castmembers and characters bury the show.

Any number of pundits would say that Homicide: Life On The Street was dead on arrival when Season Seven began without Frank Pembleton, but given how unstable the show had become going into the sixth season (almost half the cast in new in that season), I tend to take the stand that with the seventh season people finally started noticing the flies around the corpse of this police drama. On DVD, Homicide: Life On The Street The Complete Season 7 is just the final letdown for a series that many, many people recommended to me and assured me that I would love.

Well, they were wrong and there is no good reason that you - faithful reader - needs to make the same mistake as I did! No, this is truly an overrated series and I suspect it is in syndication on cable television. If that is the case, anyone with a yen toward it is likely to be satisfied getting their fix from that as opposed to needing to own the series on DVD. And coming in at the end, despite its attempt to reinvent itself yet again, is utterly pointless. Moreover, it is impossible to talk about how the season begins without revealing details about the finale from Season 6.

Where "Season 6" strained the relationship between Bayliss and Pembleton, "Season 7" beats that dead horse. Following the shootout that finally resolved the Luther Mahoney storyline, resulted in shootings of police detectives and led Frank Pembleton to quit the Homicide Unit, Tim Bayliss returns to duty to the new squad room and several fresh new faces. With Kellerman departed as well, Bayliss, Lewis, Munch and Giardello are the only original crew - or replacements from any of the prior seasons before season six! - to make it to the seventh season opener with Bayliss.

Nervous and on edge constantly, Bayliss returns to the Homicide Unit to find himself partnering with Munch, Ballard, or whomever else is available. He strives to be comfortable with Detective Rene Sheppard, who initially shows some interest in him. While Federal Agent Michael Giardello, son of Lieutenant Giardello, begins pulling all of the interesting cases, Bayliss becomes a Buddist, lists for a while and ends up shooting a suspect.

He is not the only one having a rough time. The two Giardellos fight constantly, usually because Michael's role as an officer of the Federal government conflicts with the Baltimore City Homicide Unit, in one case getting a good suspect killed. Ballard and Gharty, both having survived being shot, continue to partner until Gharty essentially becomes an alcoholic. Ballard and Falsone begin a romantic relationship and the soon-to-be-divorced Lewis seems headed that way with Sheppard until Sheppard is beaten while attempting to apprehend a suspect, has her gun taken away and Meldrick is almost shot.

Stivers, now a full member of the unit, partners with Falsone, becoming upset with him when she witnesses him out with Ballard, after they supposedly broke up. And Munch prepares to be married a fourth time . . . while the viewer wonders what is keeping Richard Belzer around at this point.

The fundamental problem with Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Season 7 is that the stories become less edgy and the character interactions are almost entirely like a soap opera. The exceptions to this are Munch - who revives having a character by complaining about conspiracy theories as frequently as he can - and Lewis, who begins having long stretches of normal dialogue that does not involve the cases he is working on. In the last few episodes, these two characters recover some of the original flavor of the series.

It is, however, too little, far too late as by that point in the series Munch is mostly a bartender and Lewis has spend so much of the season being a jerk to Sheppard.

There are a few serialized plots that work, like the Sheppard beatdown and an internet killer who gets off on a technicality. And Mike is an interesting character, but the general feeling of this season is that when it finally wraps up, it is about two years after we last cared.

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

Tim Bayliss - Now openly bisexual and Buddist, he fights for his write to blog on the internet. Emotionally fragile without Frank's stability, he begins to collapse as the series winds up, including shooting a suspect who almost kills him,

Detective John Munch - In love with his barmaid, Munch revives his paranoia about the federal government when Michael Giardello joins the squad,

Meldrick Lewis - Partnering with Sheppard, he is nearly shot with her gun, becomes more misogynistic and leaves his wife. He struggles to forgive Sheppard and Kellerman (who pops up as a private investigator),

Stivers - Partnered with Falsone, she shows up for the season,

Falsone - Having left his wife for good, he mostly forgets about his son to pursue a romantic relationship with Ballard. When G catches them, he puts up the appearance of breaking up with her, but clearly pines for her,

Laura Ballard - Struggling with a lot of red on the board under her name, she takes delight in being the dominant partner in her relationship with Falsone. She frequently partners with Bayliss who doesn't help her mood much,

Stuart Gherty - Jealous of Ballard and Falson AND Munch and his fiance, Gherty finds himself in the middle of an ugly divorce with Flora. Having survived being shot, he begins to drink heavily,

Detective Rene Sheppard - A former beauty queen, she is nearly killed while apprehending a suspect, losing her gun - and Meldrick's respect - in the process,

Mike Giardello - An FBI agent, he has no love lost with his father, yet becomes liaison to the squad and ends up sticking around,

and Lieutenant Al Giardello - Is forced to deal with the murder of some of his Italian family, while dealing with the reappearance of his son. He soon becomes distracted with being a grandfather and prospect of being promoted.

In all seriousness, the best thing that could have come out of "Season 6" would have been Ballard and Gherty biting the dust. Shot in the season finale, Homicide: Life On The Street yet again illustrates a ridiculous squeamish quality when coming to killing its police off on screen. Take the count: Howard, Bolander, Felton, Bayliss, Ballard, Gherty - six police shot in the course of two bloody episodes. Number killed: Zero. I'm not advocating killing police (at all!) but there's something deficient about a drama that keeps shooting its detectives in bloodbath situations, then gutting them by having not a single casualty.

The new cast members (I still consider Seda, Thorne, and Gerety new) continue to overwhelm the seasoned veterans and Michael Michele (Sheppard) fails to impress me enough to recommend this boxed set. I like her and she and Clark Johnson play off one another quite well, but it's not much of a role.

Similarly, I cannot think of any role I have seen Giancarlo Esposito in that I did not like him or his performance. He joins the cast as Michael Giardello in this season and there is only one problem with him. He is essentially playing the exact same role that he played in The Usual Suspects. He plays Giardello with almost the same intonations and mannerisms as his bit role in that film and as the season trudges on, I found myself wanting something more from him.

At least when given the chance, Kyle Secor rises to the occasion. Bayliss is written into a descending spiral and Secor falls appropriately, making the degradation of the detective seem very realistic and permanent.

On DVD, Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Seventh Season is fairly low on extras. It includes a few commentary tracks (including on the series finale) and a featurette on the end of the series, but that's all.

All in all, Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Season 7 is the show well after the shark has been jumped and swam away. It is almost surprising they made a movie of the series given how far it has fallen by the end of this set.

For other final seasons, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Star Trek The Next Generation - Season Seven
Frasier - Season 11
Six Feet Under - Season Five


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

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

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