Forget the Law & Order franchise; forget the CSI chain of shows; forget NYPD Blue. THIS is the police drama that any actual police detective will tell you is the most accurate depiction of life in the robbery/homicide department is like. Each officer who makes it into the elite squad of homicide detectives comes into it with an ideal of putting the bad guys away for what they have done, of avenging the slain and protecting society from those who would do them harm. Over time, the delusion washes away and reality sets in. No matter how many murderers and psychopaths they put away, there are always more. As the years pile on, a jaded attitude (Det. Munch) is the only defense these detectives have against becoming self destructive (Det. Felton), suicidal (Det. Crosetti) or becoming vigilantes (Det. Kellerman and Bayliss). The characters in this show are so remarkably human that you can't help but empathize with them. You can feel their anger and frustration when an arch-criminal like Luther Mahoney walks free...again. You feel their despair when a child is tortured to death they can't solve the case. You share their sense of victory when a thrill-killer is taken down and convicted. No other show I've ever seen before or since has managed to extract so many emotions from me. Law & Order SVU comes close, but that's mainly because of the transition character of John Munch and the fact that most of Homicide's writers now work at SVU.
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