Crime Time

Funny how a severe decrease in writing corresponds with an increase of television marathoning. Lots of shows crossing my path lately, and for some reason, most of them involve cops and robbers.

I’ve become quickly, hopelessly addicted to Homicide: Life on the Street, the gritty 1990s police procedural about crime-solving detectives in Baltimore. This ensemble drama strikes me as a neglected, underappreciated companion show to NYPD Blue, its prettier, flashier contemporary. The fact is, Homicide is the better show: certainly much more interesting and realistic, less prone to formula and grandstanding. This one’s all about tone, dialogue, and atmosphere, and the cast is terrific, particularly Andre Braugher as the uncompromising Frank Pembleton, but also Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto, Melissa Leo, and others. I zipped through the first three seasons in no time flat, and I’m hungrily awaiting the next four.

Another recent set: I caught the first season of Da Vinci’s Inquest, a Canadian crime drama about Vancouver coroner Dominic Da Vinci (Nicholas Campbell). This is an earlier show from Chris Haddock, the mind behind Intelligence (which I loved), and it’s interesting to look at as a warm-up for Intelligence, and possibly a Canadian counterpart to Homicide and NYPD Blue. That said, I’ve liked it without loving it, and found myself growing a little disinterested in the last few episodes. But there’s good, subdued chemistry from the cast, include Ian Tracey and Donnelly Rhodes as homicide detectives that work with Da Vinci. (An occasional bonus for Firefly fans: a minor recurring role for Jewel Staite as Da Vinci’s daughter.) I suspect I’ll casually stream an episode or two here and there, but it’s not quite marathon material.

I’ve also finished up the first season of the Mission: Impossible reboot from 1988, which is in some ways better but in most ways far, far worse than I remembered it. While the production values and location work are far superior, and there’s decent work from the new team members (particularly Thaao Penghlis and Tony Hamilton), there’s not much to recommend these episodes, which are severely gimped by unimpressively slapdash scripts. The writers understand Mission tactics, but with no sense of strategy, and the original show’s style and class is utterly absent, replaced by cheesy, grinning jokes and synthetic gloss. Yes, you do get to see the episode where the plan involves convincing the mark that Jim Phelps is Satan! But otherwise, there’s no real reason (beyond completism) to show up for this.

That’s it for this installment of Chris Watches Too Much TV, except for a quick mention that I’m just underway on a couple of other crime-centric new shows. Boardwalk Empire, so far, strikes me as a polished, profane, and promiscuous fusion of Mad Men and The Sopranos: period flourishes meet mafia rivalries. I’m not fully invested yet after three episodes, but I’ll hang around out of loyalty to Steve Buscemi. The first two episodes of Luck, so far, have left me bored and bewildered, but mildly intrigued; Deadwood mastermind David Milch brings his particular brand of oblique, poetic dialogue to the contemporary world, its horsetrack/gambling milieu a metaphor for the American way of life. So far, it’s got Dustin Hoffman playing Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte playing Nick Nolte, too many horse races, and tons of tongue-twisting, sideways dialogue. (Nice to see “Yeah, huh?” making a comeback!) Hasn’t exactly captured my passion, as you can tell, but Milch is too interesting not to give the benefit of the doubt for at least a few more episodes.

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