I watched every damn episode of Hill Street Blues in part because I had seen portions of most of them growing up and liked them a bit. It is now when I have gotten old and ornery that I have truly appreciated the show for what it was at the time. I had tried to get my wife immersed in the show (perhaps as a weird way to pay her back for drawing me back into watching the Real World), but alas, it was not to be. Damn kids.
If you want to skip ahead and check out our reviews of Season One, Season Two and the recently released Complete Series, feel free to check them out. Of note behind the scenes for the show, David Milch, who would be known later for his work on the ‘90s cop show, NYPD Blue, along with Anthony Yerkovich, lesser known for the other ‘80s cop show in Miami Vice, took over in Season Three and were in the zone as things went into Season Four. The show, which showed the work by the cops at Hill Street Precinct and their lives outside of it, told stories with people dealing with doubt, conflict, loss and a variety of other things. The show was appointment television, firmly entrenched in the Thursday, 10pm timeslot, and critically was a juggernaut, the only show to receive nominations for Best Writing in the Emmys in Season Three (as in, five nominations, five episodes), and seven(!) of the cast members receiving Acting nominations.
The show picked up where it left off in Season Four, starting with "Here's Adventure, Here's Romance," whose main storyline surrounding a detective who had a family and hid his secret homosexual life from them and his friends in the force. In episode five, things ratchet up even more with "Doris in Wonderland," which showed a police-involved shooting of a young child, and the decision to arrest and charge the child's mother for abandonment, willfully ignoring the fact that she was looking for work at the time. The mother is played by Alfre Woodard, shortly before her addition to the cast of St. Elsewhere shortly after. Though she only appeared in the arc of the character (three episodes), her work was staggering, earned her an Emmy and served as an announcement of talent to the world. But more importantly, perhaps unknowingly, in that today's age of police-involved shootings, there may still be an incident or two where the parties involved do not have neglect or premeditation in mind. The end of Woodard's arc on the Hill in front of officers Hill (Michael Warren) and Renko (Charles Haid) is fascinating, just as the end of the arc of the officer involved in the shooting. Particularly resonant.
Additionally resonant was the known (I think) battle with cancer of Michael Conrad (The Longest Yard), who played the roll call Sergeant Phil Esterhaus. Esterhaus was a charming sort, but cancer took his life during the season and Esterhaus' iconic "Let's Be Careful Out There" was feared mute. Milch and Steven Bochco presumably among others, made the decision to ‘promote' Lucy Bates (Betty Thomas) to Sergeant to fill the role. The show's handling of Esterhaus' death and Bates' emergence was damn near immaculate, with the writing out of Esterhaus the character in "Grace Under Pressure" being as good a sendoff as one would like.
The show was so deep in terms of talent one forgets how underrated some of the story evolutions they experienced were. Howard Hunter (James B. Sikking, Doogie Howser M.D.) went through innocence, a bout with mortality, and a host of other emotions, all the while being a leader of Hill Street's hostage team. Bruce Weitz played the lovable and scruffy Belker and his work this season led to him receiving an Emmy. There was very little unnecessary storytelling with Hill Street Blues, Faye Furrillo storyarcs notwithstanding.
Additionally, the show continued bringing in or reintroducing now familiar faces to the fold. I had completely forgotten that a young aspiring gang member was played by Andy Garcia (Ocean's Trilogy). I had not forgotten that Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) returned to his role as the eccentric, occasional Judge Allen Wachtel.
The show changed following Conrad's death; Ken Olin was introduced at the end of Season Four, Mimi Kuzyk was brought in in Season Five, along with Robert Prosky, who played the new roll call sergeant. They weren't bad, just…different, and not as good. Season Four of Hill Street Blues found the show cresting at the highest possible peak of an already large wave, and it was breathtaking to enjoy the ride.The Discs:
Full frame 4:3 video throughout, not much of a surprise here. The season's twenty-two episodes are spread over five discs. Pining for the days of longer episodic television? Well, each episode runs between 46-48 minutes, unheard of these days. The show's grittiness is reproduced well, with lots of things shot in the moment before handheld cameras became prevalent. The exteriors and stock footage of the station look as could as I remember, which is to say not all that good, but that is more to intent I believe.The Sound:
Mono tracks all about. I was waxing nostalgic for the kitten with the animated police hat to meow at the end of each episode, but understand why Fox has their title card over it. Dialogue and sound effects are clear as can be anticipated, with everything occurring in the front of the soundstage with little in the way of hissing or drop-offs. Sounds like I remembered it.Extras:
Nothing. Womp womp, but I was not expecting anything to be honest.Final Thoughts:
Season Four of Hill Street Blues deals with love, loss of love, loss of life, and a wide variety of issues, handles them all well, with performances by both guest stars and regular cast members that elicit poignancy and depth not seen on network television these days anymore. Technically, the show looks as good as it is going to, and while the lack of extras is a bummer, is forgivable. If you have not seen Hill Street Blues, rectify that post haste.