TV addicts seeking decent drama are increasingly looking to the US to provide it. Tom Lappin previews the latest example: Homicide: Life On The Streets.
Time was when Britain could at least kid on it had moral superiority to the Americans in its TV habits.
cerebral, moving and human dramas as they are at
in film production there was obviously no competing i
with Hollywood, but when it came to quality TV programming we could cast many a complacent sneer across the Atlantic at crass game-shows, religious fundamentalist fundraisers, and tacky, historically inaccurate mini-series. Yanks, we told ourselves, were a nation of slack-jawed, undisceming addicts of low-grade trash, 57 channels with nothing on, consuming small-screen entertainment in the same unquestioning way they munched their buckets of buttered popcorn. .
Recent developments have wiped the smirk off our faces. Not only do American comedies, from Cheers and Roseanne through Married With Children to Seinfeld regularly wipe the floor with their British equivalents, but the Americans also seem to be taking us on and beating us on home turf, the quality drama series. Hill Street Blues we've known about for a while, and could pretend was the exception that proved the rule. Since then though we've had to concede the superiority of the likes of St Elsewhere. Northern Exposure and now Wild Palms, all of which prove that the Americans are as adept at making
churning out action thrillers. Meanwhile what do our own home-grown TV producers offer us? Brighton Belles may have ﬂopped, but Noel ’s House Party. Gladiators and Heartbeat top the viewing charts consistently. The transatlantic quality gap has been bridged, and it‘s time we acknowledged the fact. Part ofthe reason is the willingness of acclaimed film directors like Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, David Lynch and Oliver Stone to use the medium of television, and extend its traditional boundaries. The latest example is Barry Levinson, director of such critical and commercial cinema successes as Rain Man, Diner and Tin Men, who has ventured into television with an extraordinarily powerful and realistic drama, Homicide: Life On The Streets.
. Levinson, along with Emmy Award winning writer
Tom Fontana (co-creator of St Elsewhere) has produced a cop series with a radical new approach. based on David Simon’s book Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, a behind-the-scenes look at the
everyday activities of a group of homicide detectives.
Set in Levinson’s familiar Baltimore milieu, Homicide offers a long-overdue new take on the familiar police procedural TV drama.
The series eschews the traditional car-chases and shoot-outs in favour of a more oblique and dialogue-
Barry levinson's Baltimore Homicide team
. driven style, focussing on the characters who daily try to solve the plethora of senseless murders, their
cynicism, bleak humour and disillusionment. Led by battle-hardened Lieutenant Al Giardello (Yaphet Kotto), the Homicide team are a mixed bunch. At opposite ends of the spectrum are the calm and fatherly ﬁgure of Bolander (Ned Beatty) and the arrogant but effective loner Pembleton (Andre Braugher), in-between an assortment of idealists, cynics and wise-guys.
The ensemble approach is familiar from Hill Street Blues, but there the resemblance ends. Homicide is courageously low-key for a cop-show, occasionally
. seeming closer to a theatrical impro session, or out
takes from a Quentin Tarantino movie, so intent is it
, on emphasising the ﬂip interplay between the
characters. lf anybody‘s counting, this is a strong contender for the ‘most diner sequences in a single episode title‘. Not that it‘s a problem. Literate, wordy and restrained, Homicide offers the most realistic portrayal today of the life of an urban cop. As one
character says of the increasing murder rate: ‘lt's like
mowing the lawn. You do it once. you have to go
. back and do it all over again a week later. That’s all
we’re doing. mowing the lawn.’ Homicide: Life On The Streets begins on Channel 4
' on Monday 15 November.
_ Going back to 2 my roots -
‘lt’ll take me another 25 years to recover,’ Scots singer Suzanne Bonner says at the end of ‘The Blacksburg , Connection’, the emotional first film in i a new series of as arts ‘. documentaries on 3861 Scotland. ; Bonner is not casting asperslons on i the film crew, but talking about the moving experience oi being reunited with her American father, .lbn, a black
84 The List 5-l 8 November I993
,n A ‘ ' l ‘ m ' J
know how they’d react to me having a ; white mother, but they accepted me as ; Suzanne, as a person.’) and her
triumphant and tearful visit to the . local church, where she led the gospel Z choir in a couple of rousing hymns. : Essentially it’s a film about family, ; but also about culture shock. Apart from regular teasings about the loch ; lless Monster, Bonnar‘s Scottish roots showed when she went in search of ! her grandfather’s grave. She was told : she was in the wrong place, as ‘thls l was the white church’. ‘l thought they i meant the paintwotlt’, she said, ; disturbed and shocked by the racist l legacy of the Deep South. She and her ; father walked round an old slave ; plantation house, poking around in the 3 cramped slave quartets. Lost for
g moved, confused, and a mighty long
3 way from lltﬁloon. (Tom Lappin)
! ex-s: The Blacksburg Connection is on i 8881 on Tuesday llovember 9 at
Bl who was stationed in ilunoon in the l a visit to Blacksburg, South Carolina , Blink-Sill"! conﬂeﬂlOﬂ’ '8 a Simple duly 00s, where he met Bonnar’s g to meet her second family. 5 and afﬂicting W0. '0” sparingly and mother. The BBC cameras tagged The resulting film is several degrees , not IIIWSIVOIY. the moms keeping 8 ; “Gilliam Words. 30038! '00.!“ along when Bonner went to London for ; more involving than you’d expect oi an ‘, respectful distance when the the reunion (he had remained in . arts documentary, and markedly % emotions get too much. It records ' Britain because he hoped that his . superior to some of the clever-clever : Bonnat’s initial ""0388 (‘I found "'0 daughter would try to contact him), stuff that has previously gone out ‘ Illa“ Minion culture 8 “mo and followed Bonnar and her father on under the HS banner. ‘The ? frightening at "RU She 8818. ‘I didn’t
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