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Each episode of this series, set in present day Los Angeles, examines one crime from many different viewpoints - uniformed cops, detectives, witnesses, the media, the fire department and rescue squad, even the criminals themselves. Written by
Network: NBC; Genre: Drama; Content Rating: TV-14; Available: on DVD; Classification: Modern Classic (Star range: 1 - 5);
Season Reviewed: Complete Series (2 seasons)
Creator Graham Yost ('Band of Brothers') probably should have taken his 'Boomtown' to HBO, where it's edgier whims would have been more at home, instead of NBC a network with such a long history of recklessly mismanaging shows the ultimate demise the series took at the network's hands is almost a forgone conclusion. 'Boomtown' was surely the best new show of the 2002 TV season.
'Boomtown' tells the story of one crime from multiple perspectives, employing what movie purists refer to as The 'Rashomon' style. I will go out on a limb and boldly say that in the future this show might be the reference point when referring to this style on TV. The ensemble is tightly wound. We follow two detectives: Joel (Donnie Wahlberg) struggling with the death of his child and suicidal wife, and 'Fearless' (the massively underrated Mykelti Williamson) a Gulf War veteran whose friend took a bullet for him. Around them are two cops (Gary Basaraba, and Jason Gedrick), a paramedic (Lana Parilla), a defense attorney (Neal McDonough in a star-making, breakout performance), the criminals themselves and a journalist (Nina Garbiras). Boasting flawed heroes, 'Boomtown' has a richly layered tapestry of characters that the show loves to dig down and explore.
Walburg and Williamson are terrific leads and in Walburg's case, surprisingly so. But it's McDonough who is given the wild card role as the ultimate shifty DA, David McNorris. Yost knows exactly where to have him pop up in the story and is constantly yanking us around regarding where his loyalties lie. McDonough is a blast to watch, wonderfully chewing up every second of screen time with this galvanizing performance. The fact that this guy got Emmy snubbed is all the proof you need as to how out of touch and on auto-pilot the Academy is.
This is an engrossing series that transcends the limits of the usual cop drama. Watching Yost and his ensemble of writers cleverly pulling all the strands of the episodes together in the final minutes is satisfying in a way that evokes the kind of hair-raising, invigorating feeling you only get from great storytelling. A work from creators that obviously love what they are doing and strive in the smallest details to make something we can be proud of.
'Boomtown' looks as good, if not better, than most premium cable series and, what the hell, most movies too. The theatrical cinematography, the vibrant color palette and the subtle, not overdone, use of little tricks like sped up and reversed time are woven into the show beautifully. The action scenes are also extraordinarily well staged with Bennett Salvay's terrific music thumping them along. 'Boomtown' is just as exciting a visceral experience as it is an intriguing character drama and time shifting puzzle. I can't remember the last time a TV show's opening title sequence took my breath away.
The show took a lot of risks and there is a lot of variety amongst the episodes. 'Boomtown' is a standout from every other cop show on TV today with it's unmistakable fluid style. I admire the show's willingness to take chances and am unspeakably grateful for the way it rejects both the 'ripped from the headlines' stories focusing more on evidence and the 'gritty cop drama' mold. But sometimes the lighter tone feels off. For example, 'Insured by Smith & Wesson' (Ray meets his TV idol during a hostage standoff in sporting goods store) or 'Coyote' (a homeless man thinks he is a dog) might seem just silly to the average cop show viewer. But then there are episodes like 'All Hallow's Eve', 'Storm Watch' and 'Home Invasion' that are near masterpieces of acting, writing and directing. Often times the show succeeds in pulling out the rug and leaving us on a shocking, even nasty, final-second twist.
The show's second season "re-tooling" stands as one of the most unbelievable, egregious and disgusting cases of network interference in recent memory. NBC programming president Jeff Zucker and his band of merry men apparently decided that if this show was going to make it they needed to personally reach under the hood and rip out everything that made it so unique and so entertaining in the first place. That included throwing out the original music, the flawed heroes, the darker story lines, the multi-episode story arcs and, of course, the multiple perspective story-telling style in a transparent effort make the show as much like 'Law & Order' as possible. The show predictably nose-dived in the ratings after their much-hyped, totally un-watchable second season premiere 'For Love of Money' (a shameless network attempt to introduce Vanessa Williams to the cast).
The cast who still gave it 110%, but the characters all felt hollowed out. It's only McDonough who proves to be back in full force in the cold opening of 'Inadmissible'. The crew wrote around the shackles as best they could resulting in some pretty good episodes in the abbreviated second season, but the monkey on their back is just too big. Its became victim of a network that whines constantly about how they want something edgy and then stomp it out like a flaming bag when they get it. Do networks honestly look at viewership flight away from them and toward cable and deduce that they need less cable-like shows and more reality shows?
No matter. This was a brilliantly crafted show that deserved a long life. It was pure unadulterated entertainment that bristled with intelligence, excitement and terrific performances. One of the best cop dramas in memory and the genre(and NBC) is worse off without it.
* * * * ½ / 5
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