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Hill Street Blues Review

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by Casimir Harlow Jun 27, 2006 at 12:00 AM

    American cop dramas. Sure, they may be twenty-to-the-dozen at the moment but that was not always the case. Currently the excellent Michael Chiklis vehicle, The Shield, is going strong, but before that we had the solid NYPD Blue that heralded some eleven seasons. Steven Bochco is the man behind NYPD Blue, probably the person most responsible for its successful formula. With a razor-sharp script that - to outsiders - almost sounds like the characters are speaking in a foreign language, NYPD was a tremendous success that only recently concluded after its mammoth 11-season run. But before NYPD Blue came into existence, the creator - Bochco - made another police series which proved extremely popular. A very similar breed of animal, called Hill Street Blues.

    Set in a fictional precinct of a fictional city, the series follows the various cops in the precinct as they solve everything from petty crimes to hostage situations and gang wars. All the while the relationships between the cops themselves and between them and their (sometimes) external partners develops, particularly between the Lieutenant, his emotionally volatile ex-wife and his new girlfriend, who happens to be the precinct's designated public defender.

    Arguably one of the first of its kind, Hill Street Blues adopted a much more mature, adult and consequently realistic portrayal of the police, dealing with very significant issues of racism, sexism, corruption and police brutality back at a time when it was quite controversial to showcase this side of a law enforcement department. They're under-staffed and over-worked, they don't always play by the rules and there is a huge grey area between law and order that often results in blurry police procedures.

    It was also one of the first shows to adopt multi-layered storylines and story arcs that evolved across the season, rather than merely stand-alone tales, one of the first to make significant use of hand-held cameras, utilising snappy, frantic dialogue and sporadic violence that would often engulf key characters unexpectedly.

    To bring these characters to life we have myriad mid-level stars, who all do their job well, from Daniel Travanti as the aforementioned Lieutenant in charge, Frank Furillo, Veronica Hammel as his sexy public defender girlfriend, Joyce Davenport, Michael Conrad as the reliable Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (who does the famous introductory roll-call before every episode) and, playing probably the most interesting character, Charles Haid as the renegade cop Andy Renko. They all come together to fill out a very colourful, engaging cop drama about very human relationships and a fairly realistic police precinct. It's widely regarded as a hallmark in cop dramas and well worth checking out, despite its slightly dated feel.