Plot: Baltimore is home to a high murder rate, so if you work in the homicide division of the police department, you’re never short on work. The streets are dangerous for not just citizens, but the police as well, as some neighborhoods simply refuse to help the law, even if one of their own has been killed. Detective Bayliss (Kyle Secor) is a young detective in the homicide division and he has just been assigned a new partner, the flashy Al Giardello (Andre Braugher). The two have numerous differences, both personal and professional, but to make it out on the streets, they’ll need to be able to navigate those social divides. Kay Howard (Melissa Leo) is a tough female member of the squad, but the constant pressure hits everyone, no matter how tough. Then we have partners John Munch (Richard Belzer) and Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty), who bicker like a married couple, but are more than dedicated to the work. These and other detectives will be given an endless task to try to solve murders, some with no leads and no hope of ever being figured out. To even have a chance, they’ll need to cope with each other and the harsh landscape of the Baltimore streets.
Entertainment Value: With seven seasons and over one hundred episodes, Homicide: Life on the Street had a substantial run on television. The airwaves are packed with various cops, detectives, and other law enforcement based programs, but few ever came close to Homicide. Even now, the show stands out as unique in numerous ways and remains a one of a kind series. This is not the tale of some detective with special powers or a cop who is able to perform miracles, but instead this is the story of Baltimore and those who reside within. A gritty, almost documentary approach is used a lot of times, to make this feel real and raw. That technique works, as it lacks the polish and slick veneer of most shows and that gives a much more grounded, in the trenches feel. This is even further established within the cases that are explored. Unlike most shows of this kind, cases aren’t often wrapped up by the end of the hour and in many instances, justice is never served at all. The result is a somewhat dark, but much more realistic show and one that makes all the details matter. The police work here is involved and often can be a little mundane, but it does what it needs to. This isn’t slick, super genius detective work, but worn down officers of the law doing what they can. I appreciate that grounded sense of police work, as it makes everything seem important.
Even with such a long run, Homicide managed to retain a number of its prominent cast members for the entire series. This also adds so much, as you can watch the evolution (or lack thereof) within the leads and see how the established characters adjust to new faces and new techniques. The core group that appears in all the episodes includes Richard Belzer, Yaphet Kotto, Clark Johnson, and Kyle Secor. These four are around for every last case and that consistency means a lot, since some police officers do indeed serve the same area for decades. Around this core group rotate a number of skilled performers who come in for various stretches, some are around for several seasons and others make shorter appearances. But seeing these new regulars interact with the established stars is a lot of fun, as the new blood opens up new opportunities and chances for new kinds of development. Homicide also boasted an incredible roster of guest stars, just a host of big names, skilled character actors, and familiar faces of all kinds. James Earl Jones, Robin Williams, Chris Noth, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, and those are just the tip of the iceberg, believe me. Homicide is one of the most critically acclaimed shows around, so its recommended to anyone interested in cop/detective shows. Whether you’re a devoted fan, someone who missed some seasons, or you’ve never seen an episode, all 122 installments are well worth a look.