The First Season
Prior to this review, it had been a long time since I've watched an episode of The Commish and quite frankly, I didn't remember very much about the series. However, I do have very fond memories, where I just remember it being a very good show. Not too long into the first episode, I knew exactly why. The Commish is an excellent television series. There are a lot of different aspects that make this a strong show that include its cast, amazing stories, and most importantly, a slightly different approach to crime dramas. For those who are not familiar with The Commish, the series centers around the Eastbridge police commissioner, Tony Scali (Michael Chiklis, The Shield). Unlike other crime dramas, The Commish isn't really about the crime or the whodunit, but rather the people involved in the situations. The series focuses upon Tony and his interactions with his officers, suspects, and his family. Tony takes a very different approach to law enforcement as the police commissioner. He takes a very active role in each case, which makes him feel more like a detective than a commissioner. However, the hands-on approach is one of the factors that make this a very good series. In addition, the cast is wonderful, with plenty of very likeable characters and some great stories.
When considering the life of Tony Scali, the series focuses on two different key points of his life, at home and at work. The cast that make up the family include Rachel Scali (Theresa Saldana) and David Scali (Kaj-Erik Eriksen). Rachel is Tony's wife, a school teacher who offers Tony guidance and a unique motherly perspective to help him through trying times. David is his son, who also offers his father a unique ten year old perspective. Together, the family plays a vital role in helping Tony through some very tough situations. Overall, their roles are small, but important. In the first half of the season (and sporadically throughout the rest) David Paymer plays Rachel's brother Arnie Metzger. While he also has a small reoccurring role, he adds quite a lot of comedy. Tony and Arnie's relationship isn't very healthy. In fact, they don't get a long at all. What makes it funny is Arnie does some pretty stupid things that just set Tony off.
On the work side, we have a variety of reoccurring characters that support Tony in his endeavors. The majority of them are police officers. On a regular basis, there isn't a huge focus on police detectives, simply because Tony takes on that role, amongst many others. One of the reoccurring characters is Officer Stan Kelly (Geoffrey Nauffts). At first Kelly seems like a weak character, but through first season we get to watch him develop into a fine officer. In the episode "Officer April", Kelly goes through a life changing event on the job. It is a very dramatic episode that becomes emotionally gripping, because Kelly is just one of those guys you have to like. It's hard to watch him spiral downwards. Reoccurring characters like Kelly are integrated into this series very well. While some of the other characters do not get a lot of camera time, they're still very likable. Some of the other characters include Officers Carmela Pagan (Gina Belafonte) and Ricky Caruso (Nicolas Lea, The X-Files). Season one also includes a couple of detectives, but for the most part, they seem like errand boys for Tony.
As mentioned earlier, the series takes a slightly different approach to crime drama. Instead of focusing on the actual crimes, the series focuses more on the people and their interactions. This becomes a very crucial part, because the characters like the previously mentioned ones are outlined in a fashion that is easy to follow, easy to like. In addition, there are some elements that stray away from the typical dramatic approach. Some of the interactions with Tony at home or at work result in some great laughs. Tony also adds a special touch as an investigator. While in many situations it may seem there are no options left, Tony always manages to pull a rabbit out of his hat. He uses special tricks more often than not to get confessions from suspects. For instance in "Do You See What I See?", Tony uses a pager, but convinces his suspect that it's a lie detector. While it may seem ridiculous now, in the early 90s, not everyone was accustomed to them. It's just fun to watch Tony pull a fast one on the bad guys.
In general, the first season has some pretty good stories to tell. The season opens with a fairly powerful two-part episode. It involves the wrongful death of two cops. What makes this a great episode is that it is filled with many twists and turns. It also proves to be a very important episode, because it is our introduction to all the characters of the series. Admittedly, I think that this episode could have been more powerful later into the season, once we had already gotten to know our characters. Why? Because it's a very dramatic story to follow and since we enter it blindly (not knowing the characters), it isn't as strong or gripping. Despite, the opening episode is still one of the best. "The Poisoned Tree" is another great episode, because it outlines deceit and intrigues the mind by touching upon two things we never want to see mixed together, child molestation and school teachers. The episode "True Believers" is another great episode, because it covers the serious issue of racism. When a racist politician visits Eastbridge, he causes quite a stir amongst the citizens and a few of the police officers. It's a fairly powerful episode with an important message. In my favorite episode of the season "Judgement Day", our beloved commissioner finds himself in jail! It's another great episode that is filled with lies, deceit, and a scary truth. At the end of the season, it wraps up with two very good episodes. In "Video Vigilante", a man with a camcorder takes the law into his own hands. At first it's harmless, but after a while it spirals out of control. "The Puck Stops Here" is the final episode of the season. Unfortunately, it doesn't end with a cliffhanger or a lead into the next season. However, it does provide a solid episode about kids and drugs. Of course, it ends with a major twist. Overall, the first season contains some very entertaining stories.
While I was initially fuzzy about the details of The Commish prior to the review, I was quickly reminded why it's a great series. I found watching each episode was an exhilarating experience. I also found that at some point in a given episode, I would remember the details of it, which is because in the past I've watched all the episodes in this season. However, while part way into an episode I would know the details, it was still very entertaining to see how Tony would get from here to there in a crime or interact with his family or peers. Overall, The Commish is a great series that is both dramatically gripping and comically entertaining. It's great fun for everyone.
2. In the Best of Families
3. Do You See What I see
4. The Poisoned Tree
5. Nothing to Fear But...
6. Behind the Screen Door
7. The Hatchet
8. Two Confessions
9. Commissioner's Ball
10. No Greater Gift
11. The Fourth Man
12. Charlie Don't Surf
14. The Wicked Flee
15. True Believers
16. Officer April
17. Sex, Lies and Kerosene
18. Judgement Day
19. Shoot the Breeze
20. Video Vigilante
21. The Puck Stops Here
The video is given in 1.33:1 full frame color and is probably the most unimpressive aspect of this DVD release. The digital reproduction of this television season from 1991 does not look very good. The picture tends to suffer from heavy grain, with some episodes prominently showing it more than others. It is especially noticeable during darker scenes. There are also compression artifacts that appear randomly throughout each episode. Overall, the video isn't exceptional. However even in this condition, this release is viewable and it shouldn't ruin the experience.
The audio is given in English 2.0 Dolby digital stereo sound. For the most part, the quality is good. All spoken dialogue is easily heard throughout the entire season. It is generally very flat and the music and sound effects come off in the same manner. There is also a very slight hiss in the audio track. In addition, there is one audio glitch on disc 5 at 55 minutes 43 seconds, where the audio cuts out for a split second. This DVD release is also closed captioned enabled.
The special features for this DVD release include four individual interviews with creators Stephen J. Cannell and Stephen Kronish and actors Michale Chiklis, and Theresa Saldana. Together the interviews run for about forty-five minutes. In general, they will probably be most interesting to those who enjoy the series. There is some great background information revealed about the lifecycle and development of the show. I found it interesting and especially enjoyed Cannell and Chiklis's interviews. Unfortunately, the replay value is low. Once you've seen it, there isn't much cause to watch them again.
The first season of The Commish is a great introduction to a gripping crime drama that deviates from the generic detective series, by looking at more than just crimes of the week and the whodunit factor. Overall, the series is very intriguing and the first season is in a word, amazing. I used to really enjoy watching this series on television and years later, I find that it's even better. There are some very good episodes in this season and you should be able to re-watch them for years to come.