'Homicide': the best of the best

May 16, 1999|By David Zurawik, and Chris Kaltenbach | David Zurawik, and Chris Kaltenbach,sun television writers

These 10 shows demonstrate what television can do in gifted hands, and don't let the elitists tell you it isn't art.

Go back through the 122 episodes of the just-canceled "Homicide: Life on the Street," and you will be astonished by how many great ones there were. "Homicide" might have a higher batting average of best episodes than any series this side of "Law & Order." And the highs on "Homicide" were definitely higher. There's plenty of room for disagreement, and we could easily include another dozen, but here are our Top 10 picks.

"Gone for Goode" (aired Jan. 31, 1993)

Crafting a TV pilot is as intricate a process of distillation and vision as any form this side of haiku. "Gone for Goode" is not just a well-crafted pilot, it is one of the best in the history of the medium. It introduced a sprawling cast of complicated characters and made us want to come back and visit this world again. Paul Attanasio did a splendid job of adapting and creating from David Simon's book, "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets," but Barry Levinson's direction is even better. Levinson won an Emmy for it. He should have won two. -- D.Z.

"Three Men and Adena" (March 3, 1993)

This show won executive producer Tom Fontana an Emmy for writing. He should have won three. Fontana came to TV from the theater, and his playwriting prowess infuses every minute of this landmark hour. It introduced the interrogation room that came to be known as "The Box." It put Andre Braugher's Detective Frank Pembleton in that box with a suspect (Moses Gunn), another cop (Kyle Secor) and a few sticks of battle-scarred, municipal-green furniture and somehow managed to show us the human soul and the heart of darkness. The next time it plays on Court TV, tape "Three Men and Adena." And the next time some elitist know-it-all tells you TV has nothing to do with art, play the tape. -- D.Z.

"Bop Gun"

(Jan. 6, 1994)

It is hard to believe this is a first script for any writer, but that's the case as Simon teamed up with David Mills, a friend since their days together at the University of Maryland. The newbie screenwriters got some help from Fontana, who wrote the storyline of an Iowa tourist whose wife is killed when the couple and their children wander off their tour of Camden Yards. Robin Williams was brilliant as the tourist, and the direction by Stephen Gyllenhaal ("Paris Trout") was as good as anything he's done on the big screen. The episode also made you stop and listen to the music -- really listen to the music -- under the direction of Chris Tergesen. For fun, the next time you view it, count the Parliament-Funkadelic references. Mills, who wrote a book last year about the group, is a P-Funkaholic. Mills and Simon got an Emmy nomination. They deserved to win. -- D.Z.

"A Many Splendored Thing" (Jan. 27, 1994)

NBC told the producers to include more "upbeat storylines and romance," and this is what they gave their Peacock bosses: Bayliss and Pembleton visiting the S&M scene with Mr. Tim donning leather to cruise the neon river of sin known as The Block. The producers also gave them Detective Kay Howard (Melissa Leo) in a relationship with Ed Danvers (Zeljko Ivanek). Oh, sure, that's a match made in heaven. But there's also Detective Stan Bolander (Ned Beatty) and the much younger Peabody student (Julianna Margulies), and somehow it is as touching a love story as you could want. Now if only the couple could lose Munch (Richard Belzer), who keeps following them around philosophizing about the impossibility of love. John McNaughton ("Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer") directed. -- D.Z.


(Dec. 8, 1995)

Possibly Munch's finest hour. In an homage to hometown favorite Edgar Allan Poe, the detectives find a body that had been sealed years ago behind a brick wall. Munch suspects small-time drug dealer Joseph Cardero (Kevin Conway), and works at convincing him the man's heart still beats under a floor somewhere. Turns out he might be right. Directed by actor Bruno Kirby ("City Slickers," "When Harry Met Sally"). -- C.K.

"Prison Riot" (Oct. 18, 1996)

Bayliss is the only one who seems to care when a pair of murders take place during a riot at the state pen. The astonishingly talented Charles S. Dutton ("Roc") shines as Elijah Sanborn, an inmate who knows what happened, but wants no part of the police investigation -- until Bayliss uses one of Sanborn's kids to gain some leverage. Wonderfully acted, and as a bonus, the prison scenario lets us catch up with some of the crooks the cops have collared over the past 55 episodes. TV Guide chose this as one of the 100 greatest TV episodes of all time; it's easy to understand why. -- C.K.

"The Subway" (Dec. 5, 1997)

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