Every once in a while a TV show comes along that breaks new ground in the way it tells a story and the way you look at a its subjects. As far as police shows go, Dragnet brought the police procedural to the small screen, examining the steps an officer takes in solving a crime. Hill Street Blues gave a realistic look at the life of a police officer, concerning itself with the daily trials and tribulations, both personal and professional that cops face. Another innovative series was NBC's short lived show Boomtown, a series that looked at a crime from all angles. This program told its story from the point of view of everyone involved with a crime: The officers, the victim, the paramedic, the prosecutor, the perpetrator, and even the reporters who cover the crimes. The first season of this excellent series is now available on DVD.
The stories on Boomtown unfold in an unusual fashion. Told in a nonlinear manner, each episode is centered around a crime. A title card tells the name of the person whose point of view we are going to be following, and then a chapter unfolds. Events both before and after the crime are told through the eyes of different people, so you get to see the crime from all angles. Like the classic Akira Kurosawa movie Rashômon, the meaning of events often change when seen from a new point of view.
Another unique aspect to the show is that the focus of the program changes from episode to episode. Sometimes it is the solution of the crime that takes center stage, other shows concern themselves with the after effects of a crime, or how the officers react to what they have to investigate. Given this and the nonlinear nature of the show, jumping forwards and backwards in time to tell various participants stories, the show keeps you on your toes. You are never certain what is going to happen or where the show is going.
This program isn't just fancy techniques of narrating a story though. The stories themselves are excellent, and the characters are fleshed out three dimensional people. Different shows focus on different individuals, but they are all interesting characters with unique personalities. Over the course of the season each one develops and grows.
Detective Joel Stevens (Donnie Wahlberg who appeared in Band of Brothers) is the perfect cop on the outside, but his personal life is falling down around his ears through no fault of his own. His partner Bobby 'Fearless' Smith (Mykelti Williamson) is a Gulf War verteran who manages to keep the ghosts that haunt him at bay. Mostly. Tom Turcotte (Jason Gedrick) and Ray Hechler (Gary Basaraba) are the patrol officers who are on the streets every day. Rounding out the main characters are paramedic Teresa Ortiz (Lana Parrilla,) the ambitious DA, David McNorris (Neal McDonough,) and his mistress and local reporter Andrea Little (Nina Garbiras.)
It is hard to describe any one show, since each one has twists and surprises. I can honestly say that I was genuinely surprised at least once in each episode. That's something that doesn't happen very often, and after a few shows I started to expect twists to occur. Even so, I was still surprised. Sometimes the twists are large and really grab your attention, and at other times they are smaller but clear up an odd occurrence earlier in the show. In the first episode for instance, detective Joel Stevens gets a call form his wife on his cell phone as he is covering an exit, waiting for a perp to come out. Rather than call her back, he stays on the phone with her while he apprehends the criminal. It was so odd, telling her to hold on as he handcuffs the criminal he just caught, that it was almost laughably bad. But by the time the episode was over, the viewer understands why he kept her on the phone.
This is an extreamily well written show. The best episodes in this series can extraordinarily moving and touching, or painfully honest. Even the lesser shows are engaging. This is one of the better police shows I've seen in recent years.
A large amount of credit goes to the wonderful cast. This show is really an ensemble effort, with a good sized cast of talented actors. Actor Donnie Wahlberg does a magnificent job as detective Joel Stevens. He really brings the character to life, instilling him with contradictions, strengths and weaknesses. One of the interesting aspects about this show is how Joel doesn't change over the course of the season, as much as the viewers gets to see him in a different light. Wahlberg's acting in the last episode of this season is nothing short of extraordinary and worth of an award.
Mykelti Williamson who plays Fearless turned out to be my favorite character. Williamson manages to make Fearless a large and intimidating man who has a very vulnerable side. I always thought the show was more interesting when he was on screen and the shows that focused on him (The Freak, Fearless) were among my favorites.
The only real problem I had was with the writing of some aspects of Neal McDonough's character David McNorris. In one of the early shows they had David physically threatening a well to do business man who had a lawyer on call. Neal is in shape, but he's not physically threatening, and I didn't think the 'tough guy' act worked with him. Michael Chiklis on The Shield can pull it off believably, but Neal wasn't able to. In any case, this was a small criticism.
There were a lot of other things that I liked about the show too. The way it was filmed, how the flashbacks started out being washed out and faded, then would bleed to full color, and the non-linear storytelling that kept you guessing and interested. But the thing I like the most about this show was the main philosophy that it had: Everyone has a story. Everyone is the star of the movie of their own life. By letting everyone tell their story, what could have been a run of the mill cops and robbers show turned into something unique and special.
This five disc set contains all 18 episodes from the first season and comes in a book style case with pages for each DVD. It's similar to the case that the first season of Sledge Hammer came in. I really like this style of case for multi-DVD releases as it is easy to access the discs and it doesn't take up a lot of shelf space. The overleafs contain a list of episodes with a brief description and, more importantly, which DVD the shows appear on.
The stereo English soundtrack was very clear and crisp. There was limited use of the front soundstage, but the directionality that was present was very well placed. The background sounds came through brightly and the music was full. A good sounding set of DVDs.
The widescreen anamorphically enhanced image looks great. The details were very good and the colors were bright. Just what you would expect from a recent show. Fans of the show will be very pleased.
There isn't a whole lot in the way of extras in this set, but the extras that are included are very good.
Building Boomtown is a 26 minute featurette interviewing the creators and cast. They talk about how the feel of the show came about, how it was filmed, and what they were trying to accomplish. It was more than just a fluff piece and very interesting.
The other featurette included with the set is The Boomtown Shuffle. This 17 minute long extra has interviews with the writers who discuss how they crafted the stories and what problems they had with the unique style. How they had to come up with a story, and then 'shuffle' the scenes to make an interesting yet internally consistant program.
In addtion, there are commentary tracks to six different episodes in this set:
The pilot has a alternate audio track by creator Graham Yost, director
Jon Avnet, and actor Donnoe Wahlberg (Joel.)
In all of the commentary tracks they talk about the way the show was shot, cut scenes, and their thoughts on the episode. They mention which lines were ad libbed, and problems they may have had. (Including how exspensive it was to have a guy fall out of the sky into a hot tub in "The Freak.") Some of the commentaries were a little dry in spots, but overall they were entertaining and informative. I liked Graham Yost's comments on the car wreck in the first episode: "It's one thing to write 'Mercedes gets hit by a truck' in a script and it's another thing when you realize how much that costs to do."
I really enjoyed this show. This DVD set was my first look at Boomtown, having missed it when it was airing on TV, and I'm very glad that I had a chance to see this show. The Rashômon-like narrative style, engrossing stories, and wonderful acting creates a show that is both memorable, surprising, and entertaining. A great addition to anyone's DVD collection. Highly Recommended.