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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The acclaimed and award-winning show that revolutionized the cop drama by showing the emotional consequences of police work starts off with a bang with this strong and impressive pilot: Firm and diplomatic, but harried and stressed-out Captain Frank Furillo (splendidly played by Daniel J. Travanti) has his hands full dealing with his bitter ex-wife Fay (Barbara Bosson working wonders with a potentially irritating character), a tense hostage situation, and the shooting of two of his best officers. All the sterling hallmarks of the series are present and accounted for here: restless and agile cinematography, a gripping and literate script, sharp, slangy, overlapping dialogue, a welcome and refreshing emphasis on stark realism over sappy sentiment, moments of comedy that are effortlessly blended with the basic gritty drama, stories that take place in a single day, characters who are utterly believable warts'n'all real life people (even the so-called villains are presented as human, as evidenced by the lovely moment when Trinidad Silva's fearsome gang leader Jesus Martinez requests that Furillo provide a police escort for his ailing mother who needs to go to the hospital every Tuesday for cancer treatment), rundown and dangerous urban locations, long unbroken takes, Mike Post's lovely and gently melodic score (the theme is quite haunting and beautiful), and startling outbursts of sudden brutal violence (officers Robert "Bobby" Hill and Andy Renko both get shot by dope pushers when they inadvertently stumble into a drug deal in progress). The super and seamless ensemble cast portray the colorful and engagingly flawed characters with admirable skill and conviction, with especially stand-out work by Michael Conrad as the bluff and avuncular Sgt. Phil Freemason Esterhaus, Michael Warren as the easygoing Bobby Hill, Bruce Weitz as the fierce and animalistic Sgt. Mick Belker, Kiel Martin as the slick and cocky John LaRue, James B. Sikking as the gung-ho Lt. Howard Hunter, Joe Spano as the compassionate Detective Henry Goldblume, and Charles Haid as loud and rowdy good ol' boy cowboy cop Andrew Renko. Special kudos are in order for Veronica Hamel, who completely hits it out of the ballpark with her fiery portrayal of fetching and aggressive no-nonsense public defender Joyce Davenport (in a fantastic climactic reveal we find out that she's romantically involved with Captain Furillo). Essential viewing for fans of the show.
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