A Homicide: Life On The Street Reboot Would Blow Blue Bloods Out Of The Water


There’s never been a procedural drama that has interrogated the complexities of the American legal system quite like “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

The series cut a cultural swath across television, changing what shows about police officers looked and sounded like. Its honesty paved the way for other gritty programs like “NYPD Blue,” which came out just a season after “Homicide” debuted. Before then, TV shows had never shown police officers who had inter-case conflicts, or a world where perps got away with their terrifying crimes with impunity. “Homicide” was miles away from “Hill Street Blues” and other procedurals where cops saved the day regularly, and that’s what made it special.

Here’s the thing. Decades later, the cop drama that now dominates the airwaves is “Blue Bloods,” a series that fails to do exactly what “Homicide” did so well. Sure, the Reagan family doesn’t always get it right, and sometimes they lose, more often than not they’re painted as being morally righteous and justified in whatever amount of force they choose to use. Meanwhile, “Homicide: Life on the Street” showed that there were (or should be) limits to the power of even the most powerful agent of the law.

In the 2020s, as “Law & Order” runs out of steam, and as “Chicago P.D.” – the true spiritual successor of “Homicide” — is starting to annoy audiences, it feels like a good time for NBC to revisit one of its most popular shows. Because a new “Homicide: Life on the Street” show would change the landscape of television procedurals once again — and blow the staider and more traditional “Blue Bloods” out of the water.

In the world of Homicide: Life on the Street, the bad guys can win

Probably one thing that “Homicide: Life on the Street” did even better than “Blue Bloods” does today is that it was never afraid about letting the messier lives of its main cast become part of their current cases. Even rewatching “Homicide” today, it’s remarkable how often questions of religion and ethical clarity pop up, and that the show allows there to be no real right answer.

No one ever asks questions like that of the Reagans. CBS’ first family of cops are sometimes haunted by the death of Joe Reagan in the line of duty, and very occasionally his memory interferes with their policing duties. But the character’s lives never run into deeper questions of moral calamity. What’s good is good and what’s bad is bad, and the Reagan clan embody this sort of thinking to a tee. There isn’t a dirty cop or crooked politician among them.

“Homicide: Life on the Street” sits at the opposing end of the legal spectrum. The show’s officers get things wrong; sometimes they even try to bend the law to get the results they desire most. Sometimes their messy loves lives and even messier personal beliefs ruin cases they are working on, and various off-the-job issues can further strain these situations. However, on “Blue Bloods,” when Eddie (Vanessa Ray) and Jamie (Will Estes) get together and married, there is barely a peep about professional conduct to be had.

While not every single police procedural needs to be a perfect reflection of reality, sometimes it’s nice when a show drills down and takes a deeper look at why and how characters are the way they are. “Homicide” never failed to do this.

Homicide had a narrative complexity that Blue Bloods lacks

“Homicide: Life on the Street” is a show that spends full episodes showing how incredibly hard it is to be a homicide detective. It also doesn’t depict it as a calling, but as a job — something you check into and out of on a daily basis. At the same time, though, it’s a show that stands out from similar programs today for its willingness to break formulas and routines. “Homicide” could even sometimes be funny, as in “The Wedding” from Season 4, which sees the entire precinct turn itself upside-down to prepare for Meldrick Lewis’ (Clark Johnson) impromptu marriage. The visual language of “Homicide” is also still impressive today compared to contemporary shows like “Blue Bloods,” as the older program’s use of handheld cameras captures a raw, grainy look that makes its version of Baltimore feel all-too-real.


That rawness is the key to why we need “Homicide” back on the air. “Homicide,” whether we’re talking about the original or a potential reboot, is a show that’s all about messiness, and how not everything gets tied in a neat bow. On “Blue Bloods,” nothing gets between the Reagans and their celebratory family dinners, which specifically serve to protect the audience from the grimmer stuff. On “Blue Bloods,” the warmer family-related plots don’t collide so fiercely with the grittier police work, while “Homicide” leans into the clash.

A Homicide reboot can ameliorate some of the source material’s mistakes (in ways Blue Bloods would never dare)

While we’ve praised “Homicide: Life on the Street” for its more accurate depiction of the complicated and sometimes unrewarding work involved in policing, a reboot could also do something truly meaningful by leaning into the harsh realities of criminal justice in ways that even the original series didn’t — ways that, in fact, would send “Blue Bloods” producers running in fear.

As The Independent reported in 2022, David Simon’s book “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” (upon which the series was based) arguably lionized the real-life police officers whose cases he retold. Since then, some of the convictions he recounts have been overturned, and corruption revealed within the ranks of the Baltimore police department. A reboot of the drama series could set the record straight, taking a deeper dive into the mistrust between officers and perps, and show that brutal tactics used to coerce confessions have a negative impact on cases. Perhaps, for instance, the reboot could dive into a case from the original series, and reveal a guilty verdict was handed down to an innocent person. It could interrogate the interrogations. With “Homicide,” this could work, and work well.

Compare and contrast to the Reagan family. Once again, they’re constantly seen as paragons in the field who rarely do anything wrong. Danny’s occasionally rough policing style is often applauded by the show, and while the series does try to sympathize — occasionally — with the criminals, most of the time it portrays police officers in overtly flattering ways which feel out of touch.

If given the chance, Homicide could bring back a narrative honesty we’re missing from TV these days

When it aired, “Homicide: Life on the Street” opened the doors for a more honest look at policing on popular TV, and it’s easy to imagine a world where a continuation of the series provides us with more of the same. At this point, in fact, given the cultural conversations that have emerged in the last few years, a new “Homicide” reboot could lean further into the things that made –and still make — the original series great, becoming the one cop show on TV that really takes a hard look at the system.

Without the original “Homicide,” our entire landscape of procedural shows may look very different, but none of the shows that “Homicide” inspired have lived up to its inherent subversiveness. And now, as shows that followed its mold, like “The Shield,” have largely fallen by the wayside in favor of the more conventional “Blue Bloods,” there’s never been a better time to bring “Homicide” back in some form or another. Particularly since today’s broadcasting restrictions are far looser than in the 1990s, so a refreshed “Homicide” could be well … even more “Homicide” than the original was.

Honesty is what made “Homicide” such a cultural force, and honesty is just what we need right now.

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