Archive for Sunday, September 19, 1999

S VAST WASTELAND IS LARGER THIS SEASON

September 19, 1999

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I'm distressed to remember that, after a summer of re-runs and little else, one of the networks (I forget which one) has chosen not to give us any more of "Homicide: Life on the Street." This was one of those television shows that kept us going, one of four, not counting the usually interesting "ER" and the occasionally interesting "JAG." They do go for those initial titles, don't they?

"Homicide" was one we didn't see at first. Something about the earlier shows turned us off. Then, a few years ago, we turned it on again and found it quite in a class with the others of our big four, "Law and Order," "NYPD Blue," and "The Practice." All four, I think, offered plot, settings, and performances as good as, if not better than, what could be seen on theatrical scenes.

I don't know the names of the players, except for Yaphet Kotto, that big (really big) black actor who can dominate any scene he's in. "Homicide" was set in Baltimore, and that's a nice change. It appeared to move about the streets of that city (the grimy ones), and it had plots clearly linked to Baltimore and vicinity.

Its setting was a police station. Kotto and the others usually had to fight off stupid officialdom. A lot of people got killed, but "Homicide," like the others, was not violent. There were at least three black detectives, several women, a wise-off who happened to be Jewish, a guy who just may be homosexual, and a real redneck type. I was always able to follow the plot lines. I can't say that for some TV shows I watch. I'm either not attentive or the hearing aid isn't doing much good.

With "Homicide" gone we still have the other three. "Law and Order" is the best of the bunch. We've been watching it for a decade. I even watch the re-runs at 6 o'clock on A&E. "Law and Order" is set in New York, and it has six central characters, two detectives, two assistant D.A.s, the D.A. himself, and a lady boss of the detectives.

The cast changes too often, and I do know some of the names of the actors. There was a good-looking young guy who left the show a while back. His first partner was that big fat George Dzundza, briefly succeeded by the fine actor Paul Sorvino. Right now we have Jerry Orbach, that veteran of musicals going back to "The Fantasticks," and Benjamin Bratt, leaving the show to spend more time with his tootsie, Julia Roberts. He'll disappear into the TV limbo.

Michael Moriarty and Richard Brooks were the first assistants to the D.A. I think Moriarty didn't like the plots, or something, and left, to be succeeded by Sam Waterston. And there have been three beautiful young women. Steven Hill is the old D.A. We see the detectives out on New York streets a lot. We also see them eating take-out food, usually Chinese. I note that most of these people know how to eat rice with chopsticks.

The show is hard and tough. It often has unsatisfactory endings, just like life. I often come out of watching "Law and Order" remembering the line from "Oliver Twist," "The law is a ass." (Yes, "a.") There's seldom a defense attorney who isn't a creep.

You all know "NYPD Blue." This has tough old Dennis Franz, a veteran on the show. New York police station. Several cops, male and female. A black man who's their boss. Rough language. There was a time when I had really seen Jimmy Smits' bare butt just enough. Or that of Franz, a fat one.

The cast changes here. Smits wanted out, so we suffered several weeks as he lay dying. He had succeeded that young redhead (David Caruso) who left and since then has flopped. There's a cute young boy on the show now. A dandy show.

The last of our favorite four is called "The Practice," and some in-the-know think it's the best drama on the tube. Well, next to "Law and Order." Its setting is Boston, and the players portray defense lawyers. They take on some really wild cases. For a while there we had to see a lot of flesh, but that seems to have tapered off. The kooky young secretary gets on my nerves. A woman in the D.A. office is as skinny as that lawyer on another show, "Ally McBeal," which I personally think is a really dumb affair.

These defense attorneys aren't quite as scummy as some of those on "Law and Order." And this will tell you how, in our house, we have spent many Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings. Friday is gone, and I just don't care to see any shows with Don Johnson starring.

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