The Good

The cop show that advanced the medium for all cop shows.

The Bad

It would have been nice to have heard from more of the actors on the audio commentary tracks.

Hill Street Blues - The Complete First Season is one of those shows that reinvigorates people’s idea of what TV can accomplished. In some ways viewing this show reminded me that television can have the quickest and most immediate impact toward change, simply because it can reach so many people. In other ways, I wondered if today’s “cop shows” are as bold as something like this. Showing us the behind the scenes world of Police Officer life, I was at once surprised and left scratching my head as I screened this DVD set.

Captain Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) leads this ensemble cast which includes the likes of Joe Spano (Detective Henry Goldblume), James Sikking (Lt. Howard Hunter) and Bruce Weitz (Sgt. Mick Belker), among others. Much like a Robert Altman film, this show weaves in and out of the lives of it’s many characters as they try and walk the line between their personal and professional lives. What was groundbreaking about this show was how gritty it was for a TV offering. One minute you would be watching people working in Hill Street Station, the next minute a suspect would be climbing the walls trying to attack anything around them. Also, this show mixed in both still and handheld cameras which further tested the audiences resolve as this wasn’t something they were used to seeing on the small screen.

All in all, Hill Street Blues - The Complete First Season is one of those shows that is so multilayered it almost gets lost in itself. Still, within all this is a lot of material that still manages to be relevant.

Features

Roll Call: Looking Back at ‘Hill Street Blues’” Featurette

Featuring the likes of Michael Warren, James Sikking, Bruce Weitz and Joe Spano among others, this is an interesting discussion about the show. All of the actors are seated in an almost semicircle as they sit in “directors chairs” discussing they show. They talk about how it had very low ratings, what was done to salvage it, how the show was originally called “Hill Street Station”, etc. They have also shaken up how this segment was shot in that they utilize multiple angles, handheld cameras and long shots of the entire group so we can see their reactions. In a weird way, this segment plays like an episode of the show.

Audio Commentary Tracks

There are commentary tracks on two of the episodes. These are “Hill Street Station (Pilot)” and “I Never Promised You A Rose, Marvin.” Both tracks feature the same people commenting on them, show Creator/Executive Producer/Writer Steven Bocho and actors James Sikking and Joe Spano. My only real complaint with this DVD is that there are 17 episodes and one would think that some of the other actors would like to have been heard on a few more of them. Still, these 3 guys seem to be having a lot of fun, with their laughter seeming to recall an inside joke that viewers obviously aren’t in on. A lot of this commentary track sounds like these guys are becoming familiar with this show again after a long hiatus of not watching it.

Video

Full Frame - Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1. As this show is from 1981 it has that look. This in my opinion was right before television got too showy for it’s own good. None of the colors really stick out and there is just enough camera movement to keep things interesting. This show moves in a highly stylized way without making the style seem anything less than natural. Also, as I talked about in the commentary track, they really don’t overdue the use of the handheld camera. This more than anything else probably has a hand in the reality of how this show is presented.

Audio

English, Spanish and French Mono - Subtitled in English, Spanish and French. Close Captioned. Part of the realness that this show employs is it’s use, or maybe I should say non use, of sound. I love how there seem to be multiple conversations happening at once. They make it apparent which one we should be focusing on, but making it a struggle to hear the main characters was a very bold move. Another device this show employs is it’s use of carrying a conversation from scene to scene. This is used to very good effect in how the roll call of each show begins. All we hear are the voices over darkness which sets the tone almost immediately.

Package

A stylized shot of an older police car is the only image on this front cover. I really think this works as it gives this show a look of simplicity. The back cover features six members of this show’s cast, two succinct descriptions of what Hill Street Blues - The Complete First Season is about, a “Bonus Features” listing and some technical specs. All three discs are housed in two slim cases and these cases have the same cover as the vinyl cardboard one that encloses them. On the back is a list of all the episodes that pertain to the disks, as well as a description of those episodes. Simple, small packaging makes this show one that won’t take up too much space in anybody’s collection.

Final Word

What is it about “cop shows” that makes them so easy to watch? That make them the kinds of shows that once they are over, you find yourself thinking about them days later? The characters on these shows have so much room to breathe, so many episodes to establish all the complexities of the human personality, that in watching these shows it’s as if we get a chance to examine ourselves. In fact, we maybe even see ourselves in these characters. Also, since a lot of these people on Hill Street Blues - The Complete First Season aren’t well known (or at least they weren’t well known when they made this show), that also adds a certain texture to their performances. This lack of knowledge makes the characters that much more interesting because we don’t know what to expect from them.

Fans of Hill Street Blues, cop shows and examinations of social behavior will find Hill Street Blues - The Complete First Season a nice addition to their DVD collections.

Hill Street Blues was released .