Bayliss: So, you gonna interrogate him?
Pembleton: Interrogate him?
Bayliss: Yeah yeah, I’m just saying - you know, not a partner thing - but, when you interrogate him, I’d like to sit in.
Pembleton: Then what you will be privileged to witness will not be an interrogation, but an act of salesmanship. As silver-tongued and thieving as ever moved used cars, Florida swampland, or bibles. But what I am selling is a long prison term, to a client who has no genuine use for the product.
Bayliss: …So, that’s a yes.
TV Show Meme
5 TV Shows (1/5)
Homicide: Life on the Street
Under the watchful direction of Lt. Al ‘Gee’ Giardello (Yaphet Kotto), detectives of the Baltimore Homicide Department tackle the harsh reality of working in the murder capital of the USA. It’s thankless, soul-destroying work, and the bodies just keep dropping. But somehow, life must inevitably go on.
Based on the non-fiction novel Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets written by journalist David Simon, Homicide was a hugely influential and brutally honest rendering of the lives lived by those whose business is death. More recent successes of the genre - most notably Simon’s much-beloved baby The Wire - owe their very existence to the foundations laid out by Homicide's fearless innovations, a documentary-esque tale in which justice is not only fickle and frequently unknowable, it's often little more than an afterthought. To call it a procedural is to miss the point entirely - this is not a show in which every case is neatly wrapped up by episode's end, where the 'good guys' win the day by outsmarting clever killers and righteously avenging the innocent dead. This is not an action story full of car chases and blazing guns and suspiciously pretty cops who are way too young to hold such venerated positions in the department. This is a show were a quarter of cases go unsolved, where 33 episodes went by before a gun was ever fired onscreen, where the action is over and the body already cold by the time our Avengers arrive to mull over the corpse and bitch about the paperwork. True to life, most cases are simple and perpetrated out of morbid stupidity, there are few genius murderers, few feats of forensics that reveal The One Big Clue, and hardly many more instances in which the answer to that fabled question “but WHY did they do it?” is of any use at all. That's not how the real world works, folks.
Being off-beat and uncommonly gritty, Homicide was always a hard pill for the network to swallow, a critical darling too damn good to be axed but too non-conformist for NBC to dare throwing their weight behind. As the seasons went by, concessions were made to the network desire for a ‘more marketable’ product, and the number of young, pretty people doing action-y things increased as the confronting ugliness of real-world narratives decreased, and overall show quality went with it (nevertheless, the final season - despite being miles below the magnificence of those preceding it - was still solid and occasionally brilliant tv. It’s a testament to the impeccable craft of Homicide that even at its lowest point, it was better than most other shows at their best). What NBC execs refused to embrace was that Homicide was never intended to be a traditional cop show. Homicide shot straight at the heart of the many issues painting the landscape of Baltimore’s society, it didn’t preach or pander, it portrayed. It wasn’t about coming up with inventive, scandalous cases to investigate - the focus held steadily on the humanity of those involved, the victims, the perpetrators, the families left behind, and the detectives tasked with cleaning up the mess at the end of life. The real world is full of racism, sexism, and homophobia, full of divorces and drinking problems and suicidal depression, and the question is not whether the characters will encounter such issues, but rather ‘how far will it drag them down’? This was where the cynical John Munch (Richard Belzer) originated - a character who has gone on to appear in eight different tv shows over the past two decades. There was the brilliant, arrogant Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher), sensitive rookie Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor), hardworking perfectionist Kay Howard (Melissa Leo), suave, streetwise Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson), and The Big Man, Stan Bolander (Ned Beatty). They - and others - comprised a cast which (for five seasons at least) was perfectly balanced, a squad full of frazzled, flawed people working with a tired, unforced naturality (the most notable addition to this mix was the cheerful - and monstrously unlucky - Mike Kellerman (Reed Diamond) in season four).
Ultimately, it could be said that Homicide was a show about three things - sick, faltering society, the people who live and die within it, and the things we say before we go. It’s a show that - no pun intended - lives and dies on the believably of its dialogue, and that is something I’ve never seen successfully achieved before or since. Homicide took the spoken word and used it to inspire a sense that these people were not only real, but that they were people we all know - that we’ve encountered them somewhere before, half-remembered, and are simply becoming reacquainted. It was in that way that we can witness the fabled Pembleton coercing a confession from an innocent suspect, and believe that we would have confessed too in his place. We can spend an entire episode with three characters in a small room doing nothing but talking, and come out the other side gobsmacked and questioning everything we think we know (and the show can win an Emmy for it). A single scene between two characters can last twenty solid minutes, and we’re too enthralled to notice. And those hardened detectives can escape the infernal heat of the squadroom to go to the rooftop and play like children under a hose wielded by their beloved Lieutenant, and somehow, it’s the most beautiful thing possible. It’s not about writing the most clever turn of phrase, just as it’s not about big action sequences, shock twists, romantic subplots, or even reminding the audience that the world we live in kinda sucks. It’s about finding reality and telling it honestly, even if it’s not smart or attractive or comfortable, and reminding us that it’s all compelling anyway - that there’s always a little bit of light in the dark, that around every death there is a vast, teeming life.