Saturday, January 2, 2010

HOMICIDE: Episode 1

Gone for Goode
screenplay by Paul Attanasio
directed by Barry Levinson

"If you're gonna lie to me, you lie to me with respect!" -Munch (Richard Belzer)

The first episode of Homicide aired directly after the Super Bowl on January 31, 1993. That tells me something. Usually that much coveted spot goes to a hit show, usually with a gimmick. Something that's going to hold on to the already massive audience the game delivers, and more importantly, keep the ad revenue streaming in.

But NBC gave the spot to a cop drama, something that wasn't all the rage back then. (Shows like Law & Order, CSI, etc etc all should owe 10% of their paychecks to this show.)

I would think it would have been a risk on their part to air something so different when they could have just filled the hour with fluff. But they took a chance.

Their instincts were correct.

HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS, to this day, is still one of the finest dramas ever aired on television, and it was visible right from the start.

Lets be clear, this episode, Gone for Goode, was not a pilot. Most pilots start you off right from the very beginning, holding your hand as they take those first few awkward steps . Characters are not fully developed. Hell, they might even disappear when casting changes get made. The stories are often forgettable, just a device to introduce the basic concept of the show. None of that happens here. As a viewer, you are dropped smack in the middle of the show.

(Watch the episode, and count how many cases are being worked on. Munch and Bolander are working the Goode case, Lewis and Crosetti another, Baylis and Pembleton yet another. You get the point.)

This show makes you work. Things such as the board, the box, and the fishbowl are barely explained, with the rookie Bayliss (Kyle Secor) filling in for the audience. He's just come over from a cushy Mayor Security Detail and what's to be murder police. He wants to learn so badly that he carries a textbook around with him. And what an education he is given. No one wants him, so he's traded around until he lands with Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher), the one cop that doesn't want or need a partner. He'll tolerate the new guy, but he's going to show the new guy what he's got.

I could go on and on about what made this episode so damn special. Instead, a quick list because I don't feel like rambling.

-Munch talking about retiring. (Munch has appeared on about a billion shows as Det. Munch)
-The dark, cynical humor.
-Bolander meeting the Coroner for the first time.
-The attempted "robbery"

But none of those were my favorite moment of the episode. Det. Howard (Melissa Leo) brings a suspect into the box. This guy is a cops dream come true. He comes in voluntarily and most likely high. A child could see the man is guilty. She asks him a simple question, did he know the victim. The camera never leaves his sunglass-covered face as he stammers through, mostly just repeating the victim's name. Cut to the board, where the victims name goes from red (unsolved) to black (solved).

So simple, so perfect.

Currently Reading: Grifters Game by Lawrence Block
The Devil's Home on Leave by Derek Raymond

Currently Listening to: Radiohead- Hail to the Thief

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