Before he became known (and exceedingly well-respected) for movies like Heat, The Insider, The Last of the Mohicans, Ali, and Collateral, writer/producer/director Michael Mann was cutting his teeth on a pair of wildly different TV shows about cops. Mann's Miami Vice was a glitzy, glamorous, and sometimes garish affair, while Crime Story was a whole lot smarter, meatier, and more intense.
Guess which show went on to become a bona-fide smash and which one went on to become a cult-favorite obscurity?
Starring Dennis Farina as a gruff detective and Anthony Denison as an ascendant mafioso sleazebag, with lots of familiar faces populating the periphery, Crime Story is a damn good TV series, and one that was cancelled well before its time. (It ran for two seasons on NBC beginning in 1986.) The DVD cover claims that Crime Story is "a precursor to The Sopranos," and I've no problem at all with that assessment.
Each week would see Denison's "Luca" do something to irritate the already apoplectic Lt. Torello (Farina), and it'd be off to the races with hijackings, kidnappings, double-dealings, heists, chases, etc. On paper, Crime Story sounds like any other cop show, but there's an old-school vibe that Mann brings to the show. The vibe that says "We just might really surprise you this week with a shocking scene or an unexpected demise. Or maybe it'll be next episode."
Surprisingly gritty and violent for a mid-1980s TV series, Crime Story avoided the standard "cop show" trappings by setting itself in early 60's Chicago, a time and place that lends a pulp-novel sheen to the proceedings, and adds some much-needed variety to a generally warmed-up genre.
Farina and Denison deliver great work, and fans of The Character Actor will have an absolute field day with Crime Story. Martin Ferrero, David Caruso, Ted Levine, Jon Polito, Michael Rooker, Eric Bogosian, Michael Madsen, Ray Sharkey, Ving Rhames, and on and on goes the parade of familiar faces.
Scrub it all up with some tight writing, lots of classic tunes, some snarly & sweaty attitude, tons of cool cars, and just enough action to keep things juicy, and you've got Crime Story, a stylish new rendition of a very old song. (OK, so it's not really "new" anymore, but I'd never seen it before.)
Original Pilot (09/18/86)
Final Transmission (09/19/86)
Shadow Dancer (09/26/86)
St. Louis Book of Blues (09/30/86)
The War (10/07/86)
Abrams for the Defense (10/14/86)
Pursuit of a Wasted Felon (10/28/86)
Old Friends, Dead Ends (11/04/86)
Justice Hits the Skids (11/11/86)
For Love or Money (12/05/86)
Crime Pays (unaired)
Hide and Go Thief (12/12/86)
Strange Bedfellows (12/26/86)
Fatal Crossroads (01/09/87)
Torello on Trial (01/16/87)
The Kingdom of Money (01/30/87)
The Battle of Las Vegas (02/06/87)
The Survivor (02/13/87)
The Pinnacle (02/20/87)
Top of the World (03/06/87)
Ground Zero (03/13/87)
Video: The episodes are presented in their original full frame format. Expect the standard fuzz & shadow treatment, because the picture quality is only so-so. More than watchable enough, but also just a little bit distractingly ... muddy.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Just the basics in the A/V department here, folks.
Extras: Nary a one. The first disc (the one with the 95-minute pilot episode) doesn't even have a menu screen!
I'd heard lots of good things about Crime Story over the years, so I'm not surprised that I quite enjoyed my time with the pulpy good fun from Mr. Mann. Fans of the series might be a tad disappointed in the A/V quality and the lack of supplemental materials, but hey, this set sure is better than nothing.