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along with "Profit". It's ironic that they both came out in 1996, at
about the same time. Neither lasted very long, which is possibly a
commentary on popular taste.
The premise was that a semi-disgraced cop would go undercover in his old neighborhood to bring down a low-level but rising gang of hoodlums. Joe Pantoliano as the crime boss was wonderful. The whole cast was uniformly excellent and included the old master-Rod Steiger. The setting was great. Everything about the show reeked of quality. It only lasted a few episodes and then was gone forever. Could the quality have been maintained in the long haul? I doubt it, but taken on its own with no consideration of what might have been, this is one of the best series' ever.
EZ Streets foreshadowed the wave of complex dramas on HBO, TBS, Fox and
others. For those who saw EZ Streets, HBO's Sopranos was derivative and
less satisfying. Unfortunately, CBS didn't know what it had or how to
build a show that requires rapt attention or a means to catch-up on
what went before. The revenue lost by not having a complete story to
sell on DVD after the example of 24 and others is staggering.
Creator Paul Haggis went on to movie acclaim (Crash), but EZ Streets was a pinnacle of imagination and execution that is still unmatched on network or cable television. From the casting and acting, to use of music, through compelling cinematography, to a dark, layered and complex storyline, EZ Streets is as good as I have ever seen. After ten years it is still fresh in my mind and the touchstone; it is my all time favorite television series. I still want to "follow the keys," the one lead left for Ken Olin's Detective Quinn to follow.
The EZ Streets ensemble members are largely dramatic leads and stars now or behind the camera applying lessons learned. It is a measure of the quality of the cast how many have thrived since EZ Streets' short life. I see John Finn on Cold Case and hear Captain Geary's standard parting, "I've got a thing." I still wonder, on which side of the law was Geary? Joe Pantoliano aka Joey Pants moved from character actor to lead as the small time hood Jimmy Murtha. Carl Lumbly was back in a similarly complex story in Alias, but he was first a beautifully corrupt and manipulated mayor in EZ Streets. Ken Olin directed almost a quarter of the Alias episodes. He learned from EZ Streets how to tell a long story arc with cliffhanger episodes (and learned the hard way the need for a weekly recap). This was one of the last roles for Rod Steiger as Quinn's disgraced and broken down father. There are more, like Debrah Farentino's sexy and smart Theresa Conners, Mike Starr's big presence, and Sarah Trigger as a fragile, breaking, drug addled and desperate mother. I regularly see actors that first caught my eye here. Mark Isham's haunting theme music must also be credited.
Quality through and through, EZ Streets is a stunning achievement. The quality made it all the more heartbreaking that the cast and crew were never allowed to finish the story.
EZ Streets became the definition of "brilliant but cancelled."
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