A knowing reference to television shows opens season 3 of this series; a season that in some ways sadly moves away from the original concept but also benefits from becoming more of a traditional cop show at the same time. It is not a totally comfortable transition and the mix does rather make the weaknesses feel weaker and the strengths seem a bit more variable. It is not a total success even if it is still very good television. The story lines are not as strong as they could be and although there are some cases that flow across several episodes, they never feel like they want to like they still want the ability to show them in any order without being that noticeable. This also seems to bang up against the gritty, realistic "life doesn't flow across seasons" feel that it does still have and, unfortunately for the "cop show" aspect, the season is only at its best when it does what it did so well in the first seasons. In season 3 it does that best for me in "Every Mother's Son", a wonderful episode that is intelligent, depressing, gritty and very well acted by all involved. It is powerful and emotional and uses the case as a way of making a point about the real people and the real world something that The Wire does so well and again one of the main reasons I love that show so much as well.
However like I said, some of the narratives are weak. I didn't think the way Crosetti was written out was well done at all, while the "white gloves" killer thread didn't really work as a thread. The story lines do expand well though to bring in political games from upstairs into the character dynamics but while it does this high we also get the rather clumsy episode where a race against time is on to get a man off death row. The direction continues to be of the same style which I like but I found the use of music in season 3 to be weak far too often. Pop tunes are dropped in without them seeming to fit and sometime the mood could have been much better set with more subtle music rather than hits of the day.
The acting is still at a high standard, even if some of the cast get handed stronger material than others. Braugher continued to impress as Pempleton, he is a strong actor and it does help that he is involved in some of the best story lines. Belzer is fun in the character that he seems content to play until his death and Secor is reliable despite still playing second fiddle to Braugher. Kotto delivers a big performance in the middle of the squad and he is fun even if he does look odd in his trainers; he benefits from having expanded material around the politics of his job. Johnson is good value but I did think that Baldwin and Beatty were a little sidelined at times. Leo is given an expanded episode that depicts the impact of the job and she rises well to it, even if I never really got her performance that easily. The ensemble feel continues to work and drive the stories while guest spots from Morton, Buscemi, Lauren Tom, Falco, Morse, Waters (in a different cameo this time), Jerry Stiller, Edson, Kirby and an impressive Nelson (just fresh from doing Fresh).
Perhaps not as perfect as many would have you remember it as being, season 3 still demonstrates what made it stand out. It has the foundation of a gritty realistic show but also the tenants of the traditional cop show narrative; the two maybe don't sit together that well but they both have their moments and make for a superior season, even if it doesn't hit the stride that the tester season 2 suggested it would move forward with.