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October 31, 2014

Homicide: Life on the Street - Bop Gun

by Jonathan Toomey, posted Mar 19th 2008 5:24PM

standout episodes(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.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Robin Williams

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.

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adria

i love this show - i finally got all 7 seasons on dvd, and as soon as i think i've watched it enough i put another disc in!! luther mahoney was one of my favorite plot lines, and the three disc soundtrack is amazing!! it makes me miss really good television, since there's so little of it on prime time!

March 27 2008 at 1:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jaclyn

"Three Men & Adena", "Night of the Dead Living", "Crosetti", "Colors", "Stakeout", and "Requiem for Adena" are a few episodes I can list off-hand that I believe are better than "Bop Gun".

But yeah, this show was amazing. At its best from seasons 1-4 (though several episodes of season 5 and 6 were terrific as well, but the seasons were more inconsistent in terms of quality).

March 26 2008 at 2:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
adhonus

I forgot how much I loved this show. I watched it on Canada's version of Bravo! every night eight years ago, and devoured the show religiously. In fact, it was watching this show that had me rethink how good television could be. The writing was crisp, confronted real issues, and the acting was first-rate. I don't know any of the titles of any of the shows, but I think it's high-time I go back and watch the show from the beginning.

For me, though, I have all of the Wire to watch. Netflix to the rescue!

March 20 2008 at 3:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lorraine

So many great episodes, I can't choose. But I must say that I loved almost every scene that took place in "the box". Those scenes contain probably the best dialogue ever written for tv.

March 20 2008 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gino

Gary D'Addario is my uncle!

I can still remember him taking me down to the Homicide set in Baltimore as a kid. Despite watching the show every week, I hadn't figured much out, other than my uncle was technical advisor, and Kyle Secor was the coolest guy on set.

March 20 2008 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jun

"For those that were quick enough to catch it, the episode even featured a quick cameo by former Baltimore detective Gary D'Adarrio."

D'Addario was actually the Lieutenant, and it's partly him who Giardello is based on, with the supportive attitude and championing his staff against the pressures of the brass. (They called D'Addario D, just like the G from the show.) I think Giardello is also based some on Roger Nolan, one of the real sergeants in the department.

March 20 2008 at 11:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Matthew P. Christensen

Bop Gun, The Last of the Waterman, Every Mother's Son, The Gas Man, The Hat, Justice, New Moon, The Documentary, Double Blind, The Subway, Fallen Hero's, Kellerman P.I.

I guess "Every Mother's Son" is my Favorite Episode of H:LOTS. It kills me every time I see the two mothers talking in the fishbowl, and I know what is going to happen, but for some reason, I just want it to be different, but I know they can just never be friends.

Det. Frank Pembleton: You know now, don't you? You got the fear, now. Don't you? Son, I don't usually find myself giving advice, especially to 14 year old killers, but please, please listen to me. Just this one time. Keep your ass to the wall. Don't trust anybody, don't believe anybody, don't help anybody, don't ask anybody for anything. Do you understand?

March 20 2008 at 5:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joey Macht

I agree with everyone. I fell in love with the first season
(I own a DVD rental store in Switzerland) and then found by
chance a company in the U.S. that sold me all seven years
of the show. I just finished watching all of them, straight
through. They are addictive and I am pushing my customers to rent them.

March 20 2008 at 4:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Matthew P. Christensen

Det. Frank Pembleton: You know, every day I get out of bed and drag myself to the next cup of coffee. I take a sip and the caffeine kicks in. I can focus my eyes again. My brain starts to order the day. I'm up, I'm alive. I'm ready to rock. But the time is coming when I wake up and decide that I'm not getting out of bed. Not for coffee, or food or sex. If it comes to me, fine. If it won't, fine. No more expectations. The longer I live, the less I know. I should know more. I should know the coffee's killing me. You're suspicious of your suspicions? I'm jealous, Kay; I'm so jealous. You still have the heart to have doubts. Me? I'm going to lock up a 14-year-old kid for what could be the rest of his natural life. I got to do this. This is my job. This is the deal. This is the law. This is my day. I have no doubts or suspicions about it. Heart has nothing to do with it any more. It's all in the caffeine.

March 20 2008 at 4:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Matthew P. Christensen

Bayliss: Frank, I work with you, not for you.
Pembleton: Excuse me?
Bayliss: You never say please, you never say thank you.
Pembleton: Please don't be an idiot. Thank you.

Det. John Munch: You're saving your really good lies for some smarter cop, is that it? I'm just a donut in the on-deck circle. Wait until the real guy gets here. Wait until that big guy comes back. I'm probably just his secretary. I'm just Montel Williams. You want to talk to Larry King.
Bernard: I'm telling you the truth.
Det. John Munch: I've been in murder police for ten years. If you're going to lie to me, you lie to me with respect. What is it? Is it my shoes? Is it my haircut? Got a problem with my haircut? Don't you ever lie to me like I'm Montel Williams. I am not Montel Williams. I am not Montel Williams.
Bernard: Who's Montel Williams?
Det. John Munch: I'm not Montel Williams.

March 20 2008 at 4:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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