"Homicide: Life on the Street" Strangers and Other Partners (TV Episode 1997) Poster

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Season 5: Solid cop drama even if the realism and grit has slid away considerably from the first few seasons
bob the moo17 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Season five wisely skips Frank's coma and we rejoin the unit on the same day he does; seeing the coma etc would have made this more soapy than anything else and would also have removed a key character from the world we need him in. However at the same time we get yet another clumsy write-out of a character, I assume caused by pregnancy or something like that as it is as sudden and unconvincing as the Bolander and Felton in season four. The effect of both these things is that we don't flow into season five and I imagine this is why we open with a two-parter to get things moving because it is certainly very sluggish and unsure of itself at first. Once we get into it we find a Homicide very similar to season four in how it has moved from the grit of the original to more of a "traditional" cop show structure. So instead of the material being about aspects of the job and the world of homicide (like Simon's book was), it is more about the drama of the cases and the investigation. This is fine and does make for engaging television but the problem is that it creates a new problem – the effect of fragmentation and stuttering. What I mean is that in some regards the episodes almost stand alone on the cases and sometimes they are weak, just as they were in season four and could have been watched in any order and without the "approach" or the "themes" acting as the overriding direction, it does leave the cases to provide flow, which they do not week-to-week.

Having said that though, they do try and deal with this so as we go forward we do get threads that run as well as stronger episodes that stand by themselves due to the cases and the themes within the cases (the girl shooting her father is one example, the political background to the siege another). Kellerman is suddenly a big part of the show and the two main threads are on him. Character development is mixed but mostly engaging thanks in part to the history we already have with them from the start – so yes Frank and Mary's marriage is an issue out of nowhere that happens quickly, but this doesn't matter too much as we already feel we know the characters due to previous work. There are still some episodes that hark back to what the show was when it started but these are fewer than ever. The documentary one is one of the weaker episodes generally but it does have some good insight into the job (the to-camera discussion of talking in the box) but I did think the one with the journalist could have been done better (or longer) to provide more insight into the media's role in cases – as it was it didn't come over that smart.

I'm sounding quite negative though so I will say that it is as good a season as season four, even if at times it seems to be losing its way. The cases are mostly engaging and the scenes in the box are as good as always I just didn't feel it was all as real as I once had. Certainly there was nothing of the brilliance of Three Men & Adena, which if you know the book, pretty much came out of real life rather than being a piece of fiction. Anyway. The cast are mixed this time. Kotto continues to be a wonderful presence as he does so much with little time. Braugher continues to get the lions' share of the material and I thought he did very well with the transition back to the job even though the script rushed him. Secor continues his good work as well and works well within mostly interesting and well done character development. The biggest step-up in demand is on Reed Diamond and, frankly, I'm not convinced he is up to it. In season four he was fine and did all asked of him but there is a lot of darker stuff with his character here and his performance is not really up to it. Johnson has more to do as a result and he is up to it and when you look past the obvious leads, he is a strong supporting actor here. Likewise Belzer, who is Munch to his core. Leo is solid, Perlich is still a bit annoying and unnecessary, LeBouef is slippery and MacPherson is suitable hardnosed. Forbes worried me a bit at first but once settled she turned out to be a good addition to the cast. Smaller roles are well turned in from Brabson, Ivanek and Lewis. Dellums will forever be Luther to me, while the guest stars varied in quality from the good (Dutton, Peebles, Phifer, Arquette) to the OK (Chen, Lewis Black) to the misjudged (Stoltz and Levinson). Of course there will be the usual spotters delight for Oz & The Wire fans with people like Tergesen, Gerety, Scott & Dean Winters, Mann, Falco and a few others in the mix. The standard of direction remains high, with the good use of locations, the grit and the famous techniques.

Overall then this is another good season in the Homicide even if it continues to move away from the realism and grit that made the early seasons so good. There are still sparks of insight here and there, while some of the character development is good but it does have the feel of a show that maybe isn't working as hard as it once did. That said, it is a superior cop drama with plenty to engage and interest.
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