Saturday, July 21, 2018

Homicide Episode Guide: La Famiglia

Written by Tom Fontana
Directed by Nick Gomez

What strikes you almost immediately within the first few minutes of the series premiere, are the changes. It's not just that the squadroom has a new paint job, or that the interrogation room has been completely remodeled. It's that many of the leads, even those we've known for only a season, are acting completely out of character. So much so that even the characters themselves notice it.
The most obvious change, and by far the hardest to take, is that of Bayliss. For six seasons, he has been the true north of Homicide, our way into unit, and its conscience. Considering the dual whammy of nearly dying in last season's finale, and the departure of Frank Pembleton, one can only expect that he would be reeling from the loss. Instead, his Zen approach to everything appears to be not a realistic reaction to what ever life-changing events have happened, but rather a chance to rewrite Bayliss. This seems particularly odd, considering that Tom Fontana is writing the first episode.
This would be a jarring change in itself, but Tim is only the most obvious case of what's going on here. First, there's the new detective to the unit, Renee Sheppard, late from the fugitive squad. Now, I'm not one of the people who thought that Michael Michele, like Jon Seda, was another horrible character. While initially seeming like one of those 'beautiful people' that Fontana said he'd initially never write into the series, Michele was actually a better actress than this, and throughout the season would actually seem to have more range than that. Fontana, however, does her character no favors by having both Falsone and Meldrick all but throw themselves at her throughout the episode. For six years, the writers have stayed away from the cliches that even David Milch would fall prey to on NYPD Blue of having two detectives from the same shift have any kind of relationship. Now, maybe trying to get to the attention that those higher rated series got, they seem to be determined to do it. They even sweeten the pot by having Renee be a beauty pageant winner. It's pat and its cheap and its everything Homicide wasn't.
And it gets worse! Now, Ballard who apparently worked an entire year alongside Falsone without having any attraction to him at all is now trying to throw herself at him. Considering that the two haven't had, or ever will have, any real chemistry,  it boggles the mind that the writers would go down this route either.
Honestly, with all the talk about the squadroom and the misfiring hormones, one wishes they'd get back to working old-fashioned murders. But even here, the series stumbles. It's not that the murders themselves are just more gruesome than the ones we usually get on this show, its that, for the first time, they're being tagged to someone on the squad. This is something that was old-fashioned in the days of Quinn Martin. What gives the episode its saving grace is that its tied to Al Giardello, who we only occasionally get ties to anything remotely resembling a backstory. One of the few things that the series will do right in its final year is give some more insight into the life of Al.
It stumbles a little here, too. Al's son, who has not even been mentioned on the series, shows up from Arizona, when its revealed that the third victim is one of Al's cousins. It's a shabby way to introduce a new character, but what saves it is the presence of Giancarlo Esposito as Mike. From the moment he shows up, we sense the coldness and bitterness between the two. We've gotten bits and pieces at how bad Al's family life has been ever since his wife died, but now we see the results, and they aren't pretty. When Mike wants to look into his cousin's murder, he goes first not to his father, but to Falsone. When Al learns of his sons involvement, his anger is probably not just motivated by the involvement of an outside agency, but by the fact that his son has learned a secret that he never wanted to tell.
The actual investigation is kind of second-hand for the series as well - the three murdered men were involved in putting away a mobster for twenty-five years, and when he gets out of prison, he seeks revenge - the twist being, that because he had brain damage, his family has carried it out. But at least, there's still an element of the old-fashioned Homicide as well. With no confessions from the suspects, and blood from only two of the victims on the weapons, Danvers agrees to try the family for only two of the three murders. Gee agrees to this, even though it means his cousins name will be in red forever.
As is the case with all season premieres, La Famigilia has too much going on to quickly absorb. In addition to all this, Meldrick is finally getting divorced, it looks like Gharty is heading in the same direction, and Munch seems to be dating Billie Lou, the Waterfront bartender we met last season. (Unlike all the other romances going on, I don't consider this one out of character for the series; Munch has always been perpetually lovelorn, and when he falls in love, he tends to punch above his weight.) Its troublesome that so much of the episode seems to be building around a dance party, and seeing our detectives troll for dates like a senior prom, much less boogying on  the dance floor, really seems like Fontana and the rest are finally listening to the network for more 'life-affirming moments'. It's the fact that Fontana chooses to have the episode close as the Giardello men have their first real conversation in more than a decade - where Al reveals how he, in his own way, is responsible for his cousin's death as anyone else, how much resentment Mike has towards his father, and how the two of them take the smallest possible steps towards reconciliation - that ring far truer than anything we've seen the detectives do in this episode.

This episode probably isolated a lot of the fans who had stuck with for six years, and even the ones who were still defending couldn't have been thrilled in the evolution - Clark Johnson started the series partnered with Jon Polito, who looked like the typical detective, and is now working with someone who looks like the network's idea of a detective. And while there are good moments, the seeds of what Season 7 will look like are more present in the bad ones, and will continue to sprout throughout the first half.
My score:2.75 stars.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Trial, But No Errror

Kristin Chenoweth has always been one of the most incredible talents of the 21st century. Her work on Broadway has always been astounding - it never fails to amaze that such a melodious voice comes from such a tiny body. But nearly as impressive as her work on the boards has been her work on the small screen. As Annabeth Schott, she was one of the highlights of the often chaotic final seasons of The West Wing. Her work as Olive, the waitress who yearns for Ned on the criminally underwatched Pushing Daisies  was wonderful, deservingly getting her an Emmy.  And about the only thing wrong with her work on the satiric GCB was that ABC had no faith in it.
Now, she returns to series TV,  and as always, she's picked a gem of a series to work in: NBC's Trial & Error, a satire of the true-crime documentaries that perforate the airwaves, combined with the same mockumentary style that NBC has become famous for.
In this series, New York attorney Josh Segal has settled into the town of East Peck (where the residents are all Peckers, of course) and his second trial is that of the wife of the town's elders, Lavinia Peck-Foster. Chenoweth grabs on to a role she has yet to have a chance the play: the femme fatale. It's clear from the beginning of the series that everybody in this town loves her, which is why people have such a hard time thinking she's guilty of murder, even after the crushed body of her husband is found in a suitcase in her husband's trunk. Josh naturally considers her a dream client, even after she does everything in her power to appear guilty. This includes buying gifts for the jury, openly trying to seduce Josh, and in the final minutes of the second episode, being caught shoplifting. She may be guilty, but its hard for the viewer to accept it, because, come on, Kristin Chenoweth.
If it were just for the glorious work of Chenoweth, this would be a delight to watch.  But this is the second season of this series, and its very clear the writers have taken out a leaf from the Parks & Rec playbook. East Peck is just as messed up a town as Pawnee was (Peck rum is drunk at elementary schools, the voting age is around 8, East Peck is to the south of North Peck), and almost every resident of this town could be wonderful to build a series around. Nicholas D'Agosto as Josh is, more or less, playing straight man to almost everybody else. There's his secretary Anne Flatch (Sherri Shephard) whose naivety is matched only by the incredibly rare ailments that she seems to have by the bucketload (she seems to have to ability to nearly spontaneously combust, for one).  There's Dwayne, who seems to have a forcefield a stupidity around him. He's working for the police now, but he probably won't be for long, considering one of his major mistake was shooting his own toe of while demonstrating gun safety in front of an elementary school. And there's Carol Anne, the head prosecutor, who has a major affair with Josh last year, and is now seriously pregnant, using her pregnancy to manipulate the judge, and trying to keep poor Josh running through hoops. (Jayma Mays is a real revelation here.) And of course, there's the investigation itself, which involves trying to find out time of death based on the murder weapon, which is a grandfather clock.
If you want to see a real satire of all those murder-based series, Trial & Error is the show for you. If you want to see a genuinely brilliant comedy, it works as that as well. And, of course, if you want to see Chenoweth satirize her own ability to sing, well, you don't really need a reason to watch her. Really, about the only mystery about Trial and Error is why such a great show is working in the summer instead of being at the center of NBC's fall lineup. But then again, considering the dark materials that make up so much network programming, maybe this is the time we really need a little Pecker in you.
My score: 4.5 stars.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Objects May Be Sharper In Screen Than They Appear

Marni Noxon has, particularly in the past few years, become an expert at creating characters that, even in the age of Peak TV, are hard to find: the antiheroines. In UnReal, she pulled back the curtain on reality to television to reveal a world just as manipulated as so much network TV, but essentially controlled by two very twisted creative forces, magnificently portrayed by Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer. This year, on the intriguing new series, Dietland, she has created a world of #TimesUp gone mad, where women begin acts of terror based on their aggressors, where body shamers meet horrible fates, and where even the most powerful women know how perilous their positions are, and will gladly turn on those below them.
Now, on HBO's Sharp Objects, Noxon leads us into the bucolic small towns that we call part of Real America, and reveals them to be just as ugly and frightening as everything else. In this world, she is guiding by two women who are dominant in their chosen professions: Gillian Flynn, best selling novelist, who wrote the novel this is based on, and every episode, the queen of the modern noir and the broken women at the center of them, and Amy Adams, one of the most beautiful and talented actresses working today, who, despite her five Oscar nominations, has been most commonly known for playing innocents with dark underbellies.
In the series, Adams plays Camille Preaker, a vodka swilling, emotionally damaged, newspaper journalists, sent by her editor Curry to follow a story in her hometown of Wind Gap, where a murder took place last year, and another girl has disappeared. Curry is notably the only person in the entire narrative who doesn't think harshly of Camille. Camille clearly hates being back and town, where her mother (Patricia Clarkson, darker then we've ever seen her) has a position of power in the town, and clearly disdains her daughter.
As the crimes begin to unfold, it is clear that there are very dark undercurrents to Wind Gap that not even the police investigating the crime seems interesting in pursuing. The major detective on the case, Richard Willis (Chris Messina, one of the industries most undervalued talents)  is blocked by every avenue by Chief Vickery, who doesn't value anything he says that doesn't fit his world view. Camille, reluctantly, finds herself drawn more and more into the investigation, which she clearly sees linked to an as yet unspecified death in her past.
Much of this captivating, and like so many HBO projects, it is extremely well cast. (In addition to the actors I've mentioned, Matt Craven and Elizabeth Perkins have small roles that also add a lot of flavor.) Yet I have to admit, there are underlying obstacles with the series so far that lend doubts to ranking it as brilliant as some of the previous works of art that pervade many limited series of the day. For starters, there's the fact that this is an eight episode series of a book that, in its paperback edition, was under three hundred pages. Not having read it, I deeply wonder whether or not this series will be subject to a ridiculous amount of padding. Also, the editing of this series is very bizarre - every few minutes, we cut to scenes from Camille's past or the investigation that offer no context and seem more random than anything else. It seems far too much out of Terence Malick than Jean-Marc Vallee, who had more control in Big Little Lies. Perhaps they'll be some kind of payoff later on, but now it just seems a distraction.
Doubts aside, this is still the most fascinating project to come out of HBO so far in 2018. One can see why the network was drawn to it: in setting and story, it bares a resemblance to the first season of True Detective, minus the overwhelming nihilism. (It's dark, but not that dark... yet). Compared the fantasies that have the strongest following, this is set in a world that is far too real. I just hope that Noxon and co have the good sense to let the end be the end.

My score: 4 stars.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Homicide Episode Guide: Fallen Heroes, Part 2

Teleplay by Joy Lusco; story by James Yoshimura
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

With the airing of the second part of ‘Fallen Heroexs’,  more comes to a conclusion than season 6. It is the end of the Mahoney saga that began two years ago,  it is the resolution of he shooting of Luther Mahoney that has dogged the squad since a year ago; and it is the end of Mike Kellerman and Frank Pembleton’s careers on the police force.  We also know that this is the last episodes of both Andre Braugher and Reed Diamond as regulars, and in many ways it is the end of  how Homicide  proper used to work. But let’s deal with this one event at a time.
Gee’s declaration of war on the Mahoney’s following the shooting up of the squad room  a few hours earlier, is followed through. The homicide detectives round up every Mahoney player they can find, smash in every Mahoney stash house, haul in every corner. None of this, however, can hide the fact that visible fractures are now appearing in the squad.  Stivers and Falsone have a squabble over Paul’s apparent ability to stay calm while they operate on a crime scene.  Kellerman and Lewis are now visibly sniping at each other, and Bayliss and Pembleton--- the guts of the unit--- are starting to get angry about how to approach the job. (In a very out of character display Bayliss whales on an interviewee)  And the fragile bond that held Kellerman, Lewis and Stivers together about Luther’s shooting finally cracks. Not surprising, the one who breaks is Stivers, the one person who has never felt completely right with the shooting.
We don’t see the full effects of this until halfway through the show. The squads effort to find Georgia Rae have been fruitless, not breaking until they follow a flimsy lead that finally leads them to the last of the crew. Even there is no satisfaction  for the Baltimore police--- by the time they find her, Georgia Rae is dead, apparently at the hands of her own people. While chasing down the last of the Mahoney’s group, Frank aims his gun on one---- and freezes. The only thing that saves him from death occurs when Bayliss steps  in his path--- and for his trouble, takes a bullet in the guts. The shooter is killed a mere seconds later, but Frank barely gets time to process this.
At the hospital, Frank demonstrates the fear for Tim’s safety and compassion for his partner that he never displayed on the job.  However, Giardello--- now realizing the sin in his own house--- pulls Frank aside and demands that he go back over Luther’s shooting and find the truth. It is hard to tell what has a greater effect on Frank --- not being able to be  with his partner in his hour of need., or having to interrogate his fellow detectives about an earlier shooting. Whatever he goes into the box--- his room---- for the last time.
The interrogations of Meldrick and Mike are, in many ways, classic Pembleton. Aided by Falsone, Frank talks calm and reasonably to Meldrick trying to get to he truth on what really happened in Luther’s apartment. Though it is obvious Lewis feels guilt, he does not give up Kellerman---- to the last, he is loyal to his old partner. He then goes after Mike, something that disgusts both cops. Kellerman has always respected Pembleton, and he can’t believe that he’s being accused of this crime by him. By sheer persistence, Frank manages to get Mike to admit what he hasn’t been able to admit even to himself since the shooting----  that Luther had lowered the gun to his sides, and Mike had shot him anyway. Mike tries not to put anymore of this on Terri and Meldrick, but Frank doesn’t let it go.
When Gee asks him about it, Frank says that he will not write the shooting up anyway other than the truth--- to the last, he remains true to his ethics. Gee than goes to Kellerman, and tells him that he can either take a charge--- which he has a good chance of beating---- but take down Stivers and Lewis with him, or he can leave the force and it stays with him. In either case, Mike is done as a cop. This comes as a huge blow to Mike--- before he meets with Gee for the last time, he has a talk with Meldrick. He asks Meldrick for his gun and a moment to himself. Meldrick declines. The man who wanted nothing more than to be a good cop is  cop no more.
As for Frank, he has faced some truly ugly things in his years as a detective. But the combination of the violence surrounding the last acts of the Mahoney organization, his failure to  move under the sights of a gun, and the conspiracy by people he used to work along side  to cover up a murder is too much for him. He hands Giardello his badge. “there’s no truth for me anymore.” He tells Gee. “I’m not going back on the street. I’m never going back into the box. I’m through. Finished.”
And with his resignation comes to end of Andre Braugher’s career on the show and the use of the interrogation room as Grand Central. The squad will be repaint and rebuilt after the shootings and the urine-yellow bricked from will be panels over and hammered up. The box will be gone. Interrogation rooms are all that remain. The difference may seem semantic but it is not. On a purely personal level, the show could have survived Braugher’s departure, but the writers seemed insistent on making the squad room more ‘user-friendly’ (it will become clear what I mean in the last season) helped destroy the show that I had come to worship for four years. This was a sin I can not forgive, even nearly eight years later.
Again the second part of ‘Fallen Heroes’ demonstrates a level of violence that is not  consistent with Homicide. We  have a lot of detectives shooting felons and a lot of what can be described as unnecessary carnage. Again, I was willing to forgive this because the ‘meat’ of the episode remained dramatic tension and superb acting. Unfortunately, it would be a harbinger of bad things come. Throughout the shows final season, there would be a level of fighting and shooting permeating that seemed more consistent with a series such as NYPD Blue rather than this show  The acting; the mysteries, the things that made the show click for five years would be cast aside. For that reason, I don’t regard the sixth-season finale with esteem. There is good stuff here, but its overshadowed by the violence, and that is more upsetting than Bayliss lying near death.
My score: 3.75 stars.

Fan ranking 6th

Friday, July 13, 2018

Reactions To Emmy Nominations: Part 2, Comedy

I'm not sure what I'm more impressed by. The fact that they nominated eight comedies in this category, or that Modern Family or Will & Grace  weren't among them. For the first time in nearly a decade, there's going to have to be a different winner in this category, one that might actually presage the future.
To the specifics. Atlanta is one of the best series on television. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's fourteen nominations almost make up for all those years they ignored Gilmore Girls. GLOW actually should've gotten more nominations than it did (I'll get to that in a bit) and black-ish  remains superb four seasons in.
I have, not surprisingly, more problems with the HBO nominees. Barry is actually a fine series, so I'll let it pass. But I'm not entirely certain that Silicon Valley was anywhere near as good as it has been in previous seasons, and frankly, given the middling response for Curb Your Enthusiasm, I really think a show like The Good Place would've done better.  I'd complain about Kimmy Schmidt, but since it only got one other nomination, I'll let it go.

Yes! They recognized Ted Danson for The Good Place! Of course, they only gave it two other nominations, but that's still better than last season. Donald Glover, incredible, deserved all the nominations he got this year. Anthony Anderson, still exquisite. William H. Macy, I actually think he earned it this year. And Bill Hader was actually very good in Barry.
I really do think they're pushing their luck by nominating Larry David again. Residual SNL feelings? Still, they got five out of six. Not bad.

Will the Emmys know how to give a Best Actress in a Comedy with no Julia-Louis Dreyfus in it? We'll find out this September. On an even better note, hip hip Issa Rae! She finally got in. Not feeling insecure any more?
Rachael Brosnahan, most likely the odds on favorite to win this year, and that's Marvelous. Tracee Ellis Ross, still reigns, well, supreme. I'm actually glad, despite the potential controversy, that Pamela Adlon was recognized for her excellent work in Better Things.
I guess my real problem isn't with who's in, but who got left out. Nobody who sees Allison Janney or Lily Tomlin can deny they're brilliant comic talents, but couldn't they have found room for Alison Brie for her fine work on GLOW. It seems odd that after getting nominated for every other award, she couldn't even get nominated. Oh well, there's always next year/

As always, this is where things start to get a bit mixed. I have no problem with Alec Baldwin being nominated. Brian Tyree Henry and Tony Shalhoub definitely earned their spots. Tituss Burgess is sort of Kimmy Schmidt's breakout character, so I'll let that go. And I'll be honest, even its more sentiment than quality (though really, he's been so good in everything the last twenty years) I'm glad Henry Winkler was nominated for Barry.
I can understand why Louie Anderson was nominated: he has been the last two years, and he's probably Baskets greatest assets. But why Kenan Thompson? I'll admit I'm torn her - he's been SNL go-to guy for nearly fifteen years, so one could make an arguments that he's overdue. But how could they omit Marc Maron, who's one of GLOW's greatest assets? He'll probably get multiple opportunities, but still, I'm disappointed.

All right, I'm glad they nominated eight actresses, but I'm little confused why these eight actresses.
Zazie Beetz was superb on Atlanta, no question. Betty Gilpin, exceptional on GLOW (and frankly, of all the leads, I thought she was the most likely to be overlooked). Alex Borstein, pleasant surprise for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I honestly thought Marin Hinkle might have a better chance. And I have no problem with Kate McKinnon coming into the category for SNL, even without Hilary in her repertoire, she's superb.
Now Leslie Jones can be very funny, but I do think she verges on overkill. And is there now some requirement that three comediennes from SNL be in this category every year? I like Aidy Bryant fine, but still. And while Megan Mullally and Laurie Metcalf are wonderful actresses, I kind of feel nominating them is a step backwards. (And I would think, given all the problems Roseanne caused, they'd want to avoid having her in the category.)
I guess I'm just disappointed that, with all these nominees, they couldn't find room for Mayim Bialik. Oh well.

I'll get to the Limited Series and Movie tomorrow. Believe me, I've got something to say.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

My Reactions To This Years Emmys Nominations: Part 1, Drama

I know I should be dismayed that the Emmys keep making many of the same choices year after year. They are, after all, driven by complacency more than anything else. But part of the reason that I've been increasingly impressed with the Emmys record the last few years is that my general satisfaction level with their choices has gone up to around 70%. It's not perfect, I know, but considering that for many years they would be lucky to crack the 50% mark, does seem to indicate a certain level of improvement.
And, to be perfectly honest, many of my choices were recognized. Yes, Game of Thrones again led all comers with 22 nominations, but for the first time in nearly twenty years, the network didn't lead in total nods. That honor went to Netflix, which frankly, has a greater variety and more interesting choices on its menu. And whereas the last two seasons, its had a near lock on best drama, it will most likely be at war with Westworld and Handmaids Tale, leaving room for a couple of dark horses.
The comedy choices were equally impressive, considering that they had to bring this category to eight nominees. And in the age of the reboot, none of the major comedies that were eligible are in the hunt. ((Mostly.) Which means that for the first time in nearly a decade, the Emmys will have to crown a new show.
I'm still a little irked that SNL got so many nominations. (I'll go to specifics later.) And I'm more than a little frustrated that so many of my choices in the limited series were basically shutout. But like last year, the Emmys continue to demonstrate that they are becoming more and more attuned to the level of the Golden Age that we are currently in. Now I shall go to the specifics.

The Crown, The Americans, This is Us, and Stranger Things  were four of the series I was hoping would get nominated. Westworld remains one of the most visually fascinating series on the air. And really, if you didn't expect Game of Thrones or Handmaid's Tale to be nominated, you haven't been paying attention to the Emmys this year.
Would I have liked to see The Deuce nominated? Yes, but I'm not shocked it wasn't. I'm a little more surprised that Homeland and The Good Fight were basically shut out. My really disappointments come with the number of nominations - but I'll get to that below.

Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia, no complaints. Ditto Matthew Rhys. I'm very glad to see that Ed Harris was nominated, even if it was as a lead and not supporting, and I'm also glad to see Jeffrey Wright listed - though I didn't include him, he more than deserved his spot.
Jason Bateman's spot isn't a huge shock, considering he was listed by the Golden Globes and the SAG awards. I guess this is the one category I'm actually pleased by who was omitted - no one from Game of Thrones, no Liev Schreiber,  no Donald Sutherland. Would I have liked to see Paul Giamatti or James Franco listed? Sure. But overall, no real complaints.

Elisabeth Moss - given that she won every award between here and last year. No shock. Keri Russell and Claire Foy get one last deserved chance at gold. Evan Rachel Wood was remarkable in Westworld. And I'm glad to see the voters had a long enough memory to remember Tatiana Maslany.
Sandra Oh was expected to be nominated for Killing Eve, and while I appreciate both the nomination and the significance, I can't help but wonder what the hell Mandy Moore has to do to get a nomination? There'll be more opportunities of course, and the category's going to have more openings next year. Still, I'm a little stunned.

This is where I start to have problems.  Mandy Patinkin and David Harbour, I'm overjoyed they were nominated. I'm glad Matt Smith was nominated as well - he was superb as Prince Philip and frankly should have been considered by other groups.
It's the other nominees I have a real issue with. Peter Dinklage, I expect to be nominated by this point in Game of Thrones run. But do we have to have anyone else? And while I've always been a huge admirer of Joseph Fiennes, his work wasn't anywhere near the level of, say, Noah Emmerich or Justin Hartley. I'm starting to really get the feeling the Emmys have problems in this category.

Okay, I'm glad they decided to nominate seven actresses. I do, however, have real problems with the seven.
Millie Bobby Brown, she has earned it. Thandie Newton, exceptional work. And I'm very glad the Emmys took Vanessa Kirby's work as Princess Margaret in for consideration.
I'm not even that irked about all of The Handmaid's Tale's nominations. I love Alexis Bledel, I've made that clear, and I've been an admirer of Ann Dowd for several years. But couldn't that have been enough? I love Yvonne Strahovski, and she should've been considered for an Emmy at least since Chuck, but couldn't they have considered her some other year. And what is with the obsession with Lena Hradey?
My real aggravation is with two of the nominees they locked out. Margo Martindale has been the greatest assets of The Americans since it started. How could the Emmys justifiably ignore her final season? (Then again, she did win two Emmys for it already, so she may be less upset than I am.) And how in the name of all that is holy could they ignore Chrissy Metz for This is Us? I know, the same way they could ignore Justin Hartley and Mandy Moore, but still is the biggest robbery of the year.

I need to calm down. I'll be back tomorrow to deal with the comedy awards, which actually made me happier than the dramas for a change.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Homicide Episode Guide: Fallen Heroes, Part 1

Teleplay by Lois Johnson; story by Eric Overmeyer
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Given all the events involving the Mahoney organization which have transpired this season, it was perhaps inevitable that the two-part season finale of Season 6 would tie up the loose ends of the story.  Regular fans of Homicide  who watched ‘Fallen Heroes’, however, must have been stymied by how it played out. But let’s start at the beginning.
Pembleton and Bayliss are called in for an ‘old-style’ red ball--- the murder of a federal judge, stabbed to death in broad daylight. It is our old acquaintance Gerald Gibbons. Because Frank and Tim have had  almost no association with the Mahoney murders, they don’t learn the Mahoney connection until near the end of the first act, when the Feds show up and tell them that Gibbons was about to be indicted for  corruption charges. Obviously the case takes on a whole new turn and a far messier turn when we learn who the killer is Nathaniel Lee Mahoney, aka Junior Bunk. You’d think Junior would still be in prison considering he’d been arrested in the season opener, but his sentence was reduced so that he could get out on work release--- reduced, by the way, by Judge Gibbon.
 But this isn’t the weepy eyed, girly man we met way back in season 5, oh no. Even though Junior has only done six months in the joint, the experience --- physical, mental and sexual--- has made him a stone-cold, tightly wound felon. (Some might argue that prison doesn’t change a man that quickly; I would counter by pointing out the character of Tom Marans in  last years ‘Prison Riot’ or Tobias Beecher in Fontana’s Oz)  This becomes clear when Tim and Frank interrogate Junior and he doesn’t even flinch at the threat of death row. He is wound up, but we don’t know how much.
Given the way the detectives dislike the Mahoney organization, and the way Kellerman and Lewis ride Junior when he is being held in the squad, we can see Bunk is ready to snap. And  after the director (in an unusual lack of subtlety) telegraph something might happen when Junior (and the viewer) sees a cop put his gun into a desk drawer, we’re ready to expect something. It comes as a huge shock though when Junior grabs the gun and starts shooting up the squad room. (It must have been a pretty full clip; I counted fifteen shots minimum that junior fired) Three uniformed officers are killed and Gharty and Ballard get badly wounded--- Gharty takes two in the chest; Ballard gets shot in the ankle. (There’s a certain style of the show that the two detectives who nearly die in Junior’s rampage are the ones who had the least to do with the Mahoney investigations.) Of course, Junior gets killed too, as at least four detectives and Lieutenant Giardello shoot at him.
We’ve seen gunfire on the show before, but this is the first time it really seems like overkill (pun intended). The sight of the squad after the gunplay ends is a haunting site, with the lights burnt out and windows shattered, but it really seems it belongs on some other type of program. I don’t know of any  police drama  where a squad-room ended up looking like Beirut and it blows any pretense of ‘reality’ out of the water.  They don’t even kill off one of the regular patrolmen like Westby or Sally Rogers. The war metaphor seems particularly appropriate  because after this Gee and the Baltimore PD  informally declare war on the Mahoney organization, vowing not to sleep until Georgia Rae is in custody.
 Despite all the shooting, like the old school Homicide we have a B-story going on. Falsone and Stivers are called in to investigate the murder of a parole officer. Actually, execution is a better term--- his car is riddled with gunfire from a moving vehicle, a la a drive-by. Turns out this PO was a real stickler for rules and one of his parolees was another old acquaintance --- Pony Johnson,  who was arrested for a double homicide in year one of the show. (Why he was paroled after only five years is a question the show never answers They also make a huge continuity error by saying Munch was the investigating detective; in actuality Kay Howard and Beau Felton were the arresting officers) Johnson got pissed when violated him and sent him back to Jessup and got his crew to kill him. He also hired a member of his crew (who was sleeping with the PO’s secretary to make him an easy set-up. Even throughout the violence in the squad, Falsone and Stivers still put the case bed before going to the hospital to check on their friends.
‘Fallen Heroes’ is a very dark-natured show but compared to some of the best episodes of Homicide  it is incredibly derivative and chaotic. It also features two of the most inappropriate musical interludes the show ever dead, including one that has ‘Save the Last Dance’ playing while we watch Ballard and Gharty undergo major surgery. Parts of the episode (the stuff with the parole officer, the early interrogations) are well done but a lot of it seems out of place. It well directed and acted but the efforts don’t seem even as good as last season.
My score: 3 stars.

Fan ranking: 7th