Homicide: Life on the Street - Bop Gun
(S02E04) Originally aired on January 6, 1994
It's been named one of the top 100 shows of all time by Time. You can't have a conversation about cop shows without mentioning it. Stacked up against other classics such as Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, the Law & Order franchise, The Shield, and The Wire, it often meets and sometimes exceeds. It's arguably one of the top three police dramas ever made. And this was the episode where people really started to talk about Homicide: Life on the Street.
You might notice that I listed the episode number as S02E04 and be wondering, "wasn't it the season two premiere?" Well... yeah it was. But it wasn't supposed to be. After a critically acclaimed nine episode first season, hopes weren't very high since ratings wise, the show tanked. Then it won two Emmys. Worth another season? Yeah, probably, but NBC execs were still cautious. Much like Seinfeld's first season pick-up, Homicide: LotS only got a four episode renewal. It helped that Robin Williams had signed on to guest star in an episode, which ultimately ended up being penned by the source material's author. Perhaps you've heard of him: David Simon. Despite the producers' intention of the episode serving as the season finale, NBC pushed it to air as the premiere.
This wasn't uncommon for NBC though. They shuffled around much of the first season and eventually made a ginormous blunder early on in season three when we found out that Jon Polito's Detective Crosetti had died (via a comment made by another character) before Polito's final episode aired. All because they switched around the intended episode order. I think they learned their lesson with that one.
Alrighty, back to "Bop Gun." It's hands down the best episode of the first two seasons and dictates renewal all by itself. Unlike the previous twelve episodes which drew from the larger, more exciting stories of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, "Bop Gun" was different. Simon focused on his book and instead picked out smaller details. Stuff he never got to elaborate on in the novel. The death of a tourist. The nonchalant attitude seasoned homicide detectives often take with their cases. The thing you have to remember is that all the previous episodes had just been ideas adapted by TV writers. This one was written by a guy who had spent a year of his life hanging out with homicide detectives. By default, it should be better. And it was.
Robin Williams guest starred (in an Emmy nominated role) as Robert Ellison, a husband and father, who took his family on vacation to visit Baltimore. The show also featured a young Jake Gyllenhaal, as Williams' son Matt. While strolling the streets of Charm City, the family was accosted by three "yos" and Mrs. Ellison was shot and killed for not giving up her jewelry to the thugs. Because of the bad press that a dead tourist creates for the city, the case instantly became a red ball. This was only the second one the series tackled, the first red ball being Bayliss' Adena Watson case from season one.
From there, we witnessed Ellison as he deteriorated into a man possessed with rage, juxtaposed with Daniel Baldwin's unsympathetic Det. Felton. Despite the fact that the whole team played a role in cracking the case, the episode featured very little of Worden, Munch, Pembleton, Lewis, Crosetti, Bayliss, and Giardello. The bulk of the case was handled by Felton and his partner, Kay Howard (Melissa Leo). It was interesting though, because it was the first time we really saw partners divided on different sides of a case. Felton just wanted it to go down, regardless of who took the rap. Howard wanted to figure out who actually did it even if it alienated her partner.
You can see how Homicide: LotS inspired Simon to eventually create The Wire. He went on to write and produce numerous episodes of this show, but it started with this one. Little things stood out. The interrogation scene was superbly done, a classic prisoner's dilemma and a plot device that Simon used countless times in his later creation. For those that were quick enough to catch it, the episode even featured a quick cameo by former Baltimore detective Gary D'Adarrio. He went on to guest star in later seasons of Homicide: LotS as Lt. Jasper and The Wire as Gary DiPasquale. But that's nothing special. Numerous actors/former cops made the jump from one show to the other, most recently (and unexpectedly) John Munch.
"Bop Gun" started a trend though. From there on out, every episode was good in its own right. You never felt dissatisfied, like you had deprived yourself of a Friday night out on the town by staying in and watching Homicide: LotS. It was good. It still is. Got any other episodes that ranked up there for you? Besides this one, I can really remember my jaw hitting the floor the first time I saw the season five ep "Prison Riot." Now that was an amazing hour of television.