14 June 2006 | epat
This is TV??
Bear with me on a bit of background: For a full decade as a penniless hippie, I didn't have a TV. None of my friends did either. To our minds, TV was a puerile waste of time, pablum for the masses, a substitute for life. Besides, we couldn't afford one. When I settled down tho & my son started going to school, his friends talked constantly about TV programs he knew nothing about. So he wouldn't feel culturally deprived, we decided to get him a little black & white set for his room. Thereafter, whenever I came home from work, I knew where to find my wife & son — both in his room glued to the tube.
One evening I was leaning in the doorway waiting for a commercial so I could talk to them & I got caught up in what they were watching — some tough portly mustached detective had been captured by a lunatic with a shotgun & bound to a chair. Tense! When the commercial did come, I said, "Hey, this is a pretty good movie, what is it?" "That's not a movie", they told me, "it's Hill Street Blues, a TV series!" No way, I thought, they had to be pulling my leg. I couldn't believe TV had reached that level of sophistication. They'd taken your standard soap opera format, where no one character predominates & the interwoven stories carry over from episode to episode, & applied it to cops. Cops lead what has got to be hands-down the most bizarre lifestyle imaginable & the viewer's sense of involvement is certainly heightened by knowing that at any moment one of your favorite characters might be gunned down. The show was brilliant & I was hooked. From there on, I watched every episode of HSB I possibly could.
Years later, suffering thru a near-suicidal post-divorce funk, coming home to the aching loneliness of an empty apartment with not even a dog anymore to wag his tail in greeting, too depressed even to look up old friends let alone make new ones, I found myself watching the show again. They were showing HSB reruns 5 nights a week just then, so I got to spend an hour each evening with all these familiar faces I'd come to know so well & care about, my own grief momentarily forgotten amidst their trials & tribulations. It's the only thing I can recall with any pleasure from that period & it's not much of an exaggeration to say HSB pulled me thru.
So now that the series is finally being released on DVD, I'm pre-ordering it as fast as it comes out. Seeing it again now, I'm much more aware of its flaws — improbable scenes like the EATers shooting up that liquor shop in the very first episode & other contrived situations that strain to produce a few chuckles. Yet I like it all the more for that; it transcends such flaws so easily. Watching it now for maybe the 4th or 5th time, I'm still amazed at the depth & range of characterization, not to mention the added kick of spotting well-known actors like Danny Glover, Forest Whitaker & David Caruso who appeared on the show before they made it big. More sophisticated shows now like NYPD Blue, ER & Sopranos may make HSB seem dated by comparison, but they would never even have existed if HSB hadn't led the way. Not for nothing was it one of the longest-running dramas on TV.
I still don't think much of TV, but Hill Street Blues will always hold a special place in my heart.