Season 2: A very short "season" perhaps, but a real step up on season 1 (which was no slouch in itself)
A gritty look into the workings of the Baltimore homicide department as experienced by the shift of Lt. Al Giardello. The crimes vary but the job and the skills are consistent even if the outcomes are not. Now partnered together full time, Bayliss and Pembleton investigate a police related shooting that Pembleton believes was murder and ignores G's warnings to pursue the matter as the public pressure builds. Meanwhile the unit sees more tension as Munch and Bollander fall in and out of love with various women, Felton intercedes in one of Lewis and Crosetti's cases and G comes under more pressure from the bosses.
When I first saw season one on channel 4 on Monday nights, I initially thought it was just a "rip" of NYPD Blue which Ch4 had shown in the same slot. However it quickly won me over and I was hooked (until ch4 turned on the audience and dropped it a few years later). Anyway, season one was a critical hit but, despite what the volume of praise on this site would suggest, the ratings were disappointing and a studio already concerned by the darker tone, reluctantly gave it another very short run season two was only four episodes long! I'm not sure just what the studios were expecting from it (although I assume they got it because the series continued to run) but for me the quibbles I had with season one were dealt with really well in season two.
It was (hopefully) going to be a given that the season could maintain the realistic tone and writing that it had done so well in the opening season and of course, it did. The cases continue to be mostly taken from Simons' excellent book and the dialogue has the constant ring of real people. The nature of the job is well explored through this dialogue and also produces the strongest episode of the four as the season finale where we see the job through the eyes of a "normal" person for the first time. The issue I had last time though was that the characters were set by the cases and that there wasn't a sense of them developing or us getting more from them over several hours. This is remedied throughout the season as threads run for longer than an hour or have a knock-on effect in regards relationships etc for the characters. This is where the first season was lacking I felt but it is another strength here, with numerous examples including the dynamics between Pembleton/Giardello, Felton and Lewis and a few others as well as internal politics being a part of the narrative flow. In this way it doesn't just repeat season one but seems more confident and able to build on them by starting to produce characters who we can see develop with time and not just witness them doing the job in the way that Simons book was written (which is not a criticism because it always was an impressive and engaging work of journalism rather than a character-driven novel).
In order to (I assume) boost the ratings, season two has a few more guest stars but it is still the main players who impressive the most. Braugher continues to impress, although it also helps that he has much of the strongest material. Like his character, he is at his best when in the box although he is convincing throughout. Kotto benefits most from the improved character development and he is strong across the season only once going hard in a scene where the script gives him limited motivation to do so. Secor is OK but steps back having had a large share of season one. Leo and Baldwin both step up with good performances that respond well to the improved material for them both. Belzer doesn't have the character depth of some of his peers but his performance does what he is required to do and it is understandable why his character was transcended the limits of just one series; it also helps he works well with a solid Beatty. Johnson steps up with his character while Polito continues to be good despite not having layers added to his simple character. The guest stars are mixed but Robin Williams is quite brilliant and becomes the heart of his episode. Others such as Margulies provide solid enough turns but never threaten to overshadow the regular cast.
Overall an improvement on season 1, which itself was a strong season. The weaknesses and gaps I felt were unaddressed and apparent in the first season are all addressed or being addressed here, making it a stronger prospect as a result. Shame it is so short but it shouldn't matter if it can continue this standard into the third season.
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