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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Hill Street Blues: Season 1
Hill Street Blues: Season 1
Fox // Unrated // January 31, 2006
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Walker | posted January 29, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
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P R I N T
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The Show:
It has been so long since Hill Street Blues first premiered—25 years to be exact—that it's easy to forget what an important show it was. But all you have to do is watch the first 13 minutes of the pilot episode (which originally aired on January 15, 1981), and if you have any concept of television history you will see how revolutionary the show was.

The first episode, "Hill Street Station," introduces us to an ensemble cast that includes precinct captain Frank Furillo (Daniel Travanti), his secret lover, public defender Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel), and a motley assortment of cops. That episode hit the ground running with the opening scene set during the morning shift roll call, and filmed with an as-yet-never-before-seen-on-television hand-held camera style. As the rest of the episode played out, revolving primarily around a hostage crisis involving two teen gangbangers, it became apparent that this show was unlike anything that had ever been on television. For starters, there were no clear leads in the cast—everyone seemed like a supporting cast member. But what was even more unique was the way the cast interacted, and the way the whole show was put together. Up until then, television dramas had a clear style of execution, and Hill Street Blues didn't seem interested in adhering to that paradigm.

One of things that set Hill Street Blues apart from nearly every other show on television, not just cops shows, was the way it incorporated overarching storylines that would plays out over the course of several episodes and, in some cases, over many seasons. This style of storytelling was common in daytime soap operas, but aside from their nighttime siblings—shows like Dallas and Dynasty—only a handful of television shows ever had any sense of continuity. And even the shows that did have continuity within the framework of the series, few ever developed the sort of episode-to-episode and season-to-season recall that Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere pioneered. Nowadays, with shows like The Shield and The Sopranos, that form of storytelling is both commonplace and expected. But the type of character growth and change that occurred on Hill Street Blues in the early 1980s was new and innovative.

This new three-disc set features all 17 episodes of the first season. There's no getting around the fact that Hill Street Blues is very dated—the fashions, hairstyle, and constant usage of payphones makes the film seem like something for centuries past. A cop finger pecking at a typewriter instead of a computer, or fumbling for change to use a payphone instead of reaching for his cellular may give the show a nostalgic quaintness, but all of that is offset by an underlying quality that transcends the era-related pitfalls. Because no matter how bad anyone's hairstyle may be, the writing, directing and acting still withstand the test of time. Watching the interaction between officers Bobby Hill (Michael Warren) and Andy Renko (Charles Haid), or the exchanges between Furillo and Davenport, what made Hill Street Blues a great show still shines through.

Video:
Hill Street Blues is presented full frame. The picture quality ranges from good to poor depending on the episodes. There is color fluctuation during some episodes, with the overall quality markedly changing, often times become exceptionally dark. Likewise, certain scenes and certain episodes show signs of video masters that have not been properly cared for. But the worst part of the video presentation comes in the authoring. The 17 episodes of the show are packed on to three, two-sided discs. On several occasions, during multiple episodes, there were problems with minor blips, skips and image pixelization. This didn't happen with every episode, but it does happen with several, and appears to occur during chapter changes. Given the quality of the show, the image transfer and picture quality is disappointing.

Audio:
Hill Street Blues is presented in mono. The sound transfer is of a better quality than the video.

Extras:
Two very uninteresting audio commentaries for two different episodes and an equally uninteresting documentary featurette comprise the bonus material for this collection. Neither the documentary nor the commentaries are that engaging, and ultimately the collection would be better served without either.

Final Thoughts:
It would seem that not that much care or consideration went into putting together this DVD release. It's almost as if Fox is testing the waters to see how interested consumers are in owning Hill Street Blues. But despite the bad DVD authoring, substandard video transfer, and ho-hum extras, the show itself is still great, and more than well worth either discovering, or revisiting.


David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]
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