It's time to start our love affair with Homicide: Life on the Street all over again.
A DVD boxed set of Homicide's first two seasons, being released by A&E Home Video today, offers the chance to get reacquainted with Pembleton, Munch, Bolander, Howard and all the exhilaratingly flawed characters that made the show so intoxicating. Not to mention the myriad Baltimore locations that made it so ... ours.
Airing on NBC from 1993-2000, the show didn't so much change the face of television as redirect it. It utilized a visual vocabulary that relied on hand-held cameras and location shooting for verisimilitude; story lines that concentrated on the everyday nature of police work, not the flash; and characters who lived in a world that could be as mundane as it was exciting, frequently more so.
And it was all shot right here in Charm City, at a recycled rec pier in Fells Point, the ancient Baltimore Cemetery at the east end of North Avenue, Camden Yards, Patterson Park, the city morgue - over the course of seven years, there weren't many areas around these parts that the filmmakers didn't visit at least once.
The four-DVD set includes all nine episodes from season one (the show debuted on Jan. 31, 1993, right after the Super Bowl) and four from season two, including the landmark "Bop Gun," starring Robin Williams as a tourist whose wife is gunned down outside Camden Yards by a kid who, it turns out, was actually trying to prevent any violence.
Like any good DVD, the Homicide set ($69.95 for the two seasons) includes a few bonuses for the hard-core fan. There are the commercials that aired during the Super Bowl that preceded the series debut, cast and crew biographies, an episode of A&E's American Justice that looks at real homicide detectives, even a list of the songs used in each episode - an often-overlooked factor in its success, as few series have used a soundtrack to greater effect.
Accompanying the premiere episode, "Gone for Goode," is a commentary track featuring executive producers Barry Levinson (who directed the episode) and Tom Fontana ruminating on why it was so important that the series be shot in Baltimore and how established directors who came to work on the series often had trouble keeping up with all the rules of episodic TV the series was breaking.
The commentary starts off wobbly, as Levinson and Fontana, who sound as though they're seeing Homicide for the first time in years, reconnect with the show. But sticking with it reaps benefits, as the filmmakers expound on what they were trying to do, how different they were trying to keep their approach from established norms (Fontana doesn't sound like much of a fan of Murder, She Wrote) and the strengths of the cast - pay attention to the buildup to the introduction of Andre Braugher's Frank Pembleton, who doesn't even show up until after the first commercial.
Watching these 13 episodes, arranged not in the order in which they aired, but the order in which the series' producers would have preferred ("Bop Gun," for instance, appears as episode 13, instead of 10), proves a double delight. Not only is it proof of how insightful and entertaining TV drama can be, it's also a reminder of an intoxicating time when Baltimore got to be Hollywood East for a while.