Homicide: Life on the Street

Season 5 Episode 11

The Documentary

Aired Friday 10:00 PM Jan 03, 1997 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
30 votes

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Episode Summary

The Documentary
On New Year's Eve, the detectives sit back in the quiet of the evening and watch a documentary that Brodie has made about them and their work. In this documentary, entitled "BACK PAGE NEWS: Life and Homicide On The Mean Streets Of Baltimore", one of Frank and Tim's cases is covered where some "lies and hidden truths" are revealed. During a sequence about one of Mike and Meldrick's cases, they chase a suspect right into the filming of something called "Homicide" by director Barry Levinson and his crew. Mike and Julianna agree to try a date. Also, the identity of the "lunch bandit" is revealed to be Gaffney. Brodie reveals that the documentary has been sent to PBS and gives his reasons why. As the new year rolls in, things return to normal as the phones start ringing.moreless

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  • This one is worth watching again

    It isn’t very often that a television show will make deliberate attempts to satirize itself and its atmosphere. Such attempts of mockery often fall flat or leave viewers scratching their heads. Only three programs that I have watched have made this attempt. The X-Files satirized itself several times, most memorably in the extraordinary episode ‘Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”. Buffy The Vampire Slayer did so on a couple of occasions, perhaps having the greatest success with ‘Superstar’ and ‘The Zeppo’, two episodes that looked at the show from a completely different angle. And Homicide does so in ‘The Documentary’, a multi-layered, interwoven episode that while presenting itself straightforward is, in many ways, one long in-joke.

    The episode centers around an unusually quiet New Year’s Eve as the detectives gather to watch a documentary made by J.H. Brodie in his spare time during the last year. While much of the documentary is pretentious (it is titled Back Page News: Life and Homicide on the Mean Streets of Baltimore), in many ways it runs like an episode of the series. It also features many elements openly mocked by the detectives that are, in realty, probably based on what network executives thought of the show. It features editing that repeats some shots, over and over that are considered mistakes. It also features the camera lingering on things and the detectives frequently complain that the show doesn’t have enough action.

    On a more personal level, the detectives are also annoyed that Brodie has captured many secretive moments that they don’t want revealed--- jokes about overtime, their off-screen relationships, and their approach to the job--- all obstacles David Simon had to overcome when he wrote his book on the Homicide unit. It is clear that Gee realizes how embarrassing this could be to the squad when he tries to get the tape from Brodie. He is therefore particularly upset when Brodie reveals he has sold the documentary to PBS (ironically, one year later PBS would broadcast a documentary based on the filming of Homicide) It is here that Perlich makes an impassioned speech saying that his pursuit of the truth in the film is exactly the same as the detectives pursuit at their job, that invading their privacy serves the greater good by documenting the truth about police work.

    In the actual documentary, Brodie films a series of sequences that are among the best the show would ever do. Set in the interrogation room, it features all six detectives, describing in detail the rights of a murder suspect, how the detective gets around them, and how he manages to elicit a confession from these less than brilliant minds. Essentially, the detectives are splitting a five page passage in Simon’s book about this very subject, often line for line. One of the highlights of the book, the actors’ delivery (particularly Braugher’s, Richard Belzer’s and Melissa Leo’s) is near perfect, putting the viewer literally in the hot seat.

    Another great sequence appears when art imitates life imitating art. Kellerman and Lewis chase after a suspect around a corner--- right into the production team of Homicide including Barry Levinson playing himself. This is in fact a fictional adaptation of a real-life incident that occurred in October 1996, when security guards chased a thief right on to a location where the show was filming--- whereupon the suspect promptly surrendered to the fake cops! Brodie’s adds to the general surrealism when he tells Levinson how to make the show more realistic.

    Many of the montages that we see in the film feature clips from actual episodes of Homicide filmed over the past season. (The creators don’t care that much for continuity, as not only are many of the clips Brodie uses he never filmed but in fact wasn’t even in the episode they took place in!) The main one is filmed in a music video style, practically identical to the musical sequence that we have seen on the show.

    The main case featured in Brodie’s documentary--- the murder of Llewynn Kilduff--- is filmed very much like a typical case. The suspect (played by Melvin Van Peebles) in the murder--- a mortician--- is on the scene when Bayliss and Pembleton arrive, he is still holding the gun, and he is more than willing to surrender himself to their custody. He does not, however, offer an explanation as to why he killed the man and while this is good enough for Frank, Tim (as always) is focused on the why. Ever persistent he pursues the cases and uncovers the lonely undertaker’s secret--- he took corpses home, dressed than up, took pictures of them, and (though this is not explicit) had sex with them. The nature of the murder is probably a subtle in-joke about how many executives and viewers considered Homicide too dark a show because of this kind of story.

    We also see a lot about personal relationships—those Brodie caught on film (Howard with her unidentified boyfriend, Gee with two young ladies) and one he hasn’t--- Mike and Julianna Cox, who are actually trying to make a relationship out of the attraction they share.

    Brodie even manages to solve one mystery of his own--- the identity of the Lunch Bandit (first mentioned in last seasons ‘Map of the Heart’) To everyone’s surprise, the bandit is Captain Gaffney.

    Magnificently shot and well-written ‘The Documentary’ does require that the viewer know a lot about Homicide in order to get all the references. But even if you don’t this is still a very entertaining show and one of the most memorable in the series history.

    My score: 10

    Ranking by Fans: 5th

Melvin Van Peebles

Melvin Van Peebles

Bennett Jackson

Guest Star

Barry Levinson

Barry Levinson


Guest Star

Zite' Bidanie

Zite' Bidanie


Guest Star

Kristin Rohde

Kristin Rohde

Sally Rogers

Recurring Role

Walt MacPherson

Walt MacPherson

Roger Gaffney

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • Lewis: …so the bear says, 'You didn't really come here to hunt, did you?'

      Lewis says this while entering the Waterfront with Kellerman in a scene shown in Brodie's film. This is the punch line to an off-color joke Lewis tells more than once in the series (the joke itself is never heard). The line is first heard in episode 25/3-12, "The City That Bleeds", just before Gee announces the shooting of Bolander, Felton and Howard, again in episode 68/5-13, "Have A Conscience", Kellerman asks Lewis about the joke, with Kellerman saying the line and in episode 99/6-22, "Fallen Heroes (1)".

  • QUOTES (13)

    • Howard: It's Gaffney. Gaffney the dang lunch bandit.
      Kellerman: I don't believe it. Congratulations Brodie you just solved the longest running open case in homicide history. You are a genius.
      Brodie: Thank you
      Munch: Gaffney, that stooge, I should have known it was him.
      Bayliss: Yeah, what do you think Gee, you gonna bring charges up on him?
      Lewis: I say we put him in the box. We sweat it out of him.
      Kellerman: Make him take a polygraph.
      All: Yeah.
      Giardello: I'll look into it.

    • Pembleton: You're history. And if I wasn't so busy writing up your statement I'd probably tell you so. I'd say 'son you are ignorance personified and you just put yourself here for the murder of a human being'. I might even admit to you that after all my years working murders I'm still a little amazed that anyone utters a word in this room. Think about it son, when you came through those doors what did the sign say? Homicide Unit. That's right. Who lives in a homicide unit? And what do homicide detectives do for a living? You get it bunk. And tonight you took somebody's life. So when you opened your mouth what in God's name were you thinking.

    • Brodie (voiceover): What are you focusing on when you first sit down with a suspect?
      Pembleton: The detective has informed you of your rights, he wants you to be protected he says, because he says 'there is nothing that concerns him more than giving you every possible assistance in this very confusing and stressful moment in your life'.
      Howard: The detective wants you to know, and we've been doing this a lot long time you have to take our word for it. Your rights to counsel aren't all they've cracked up to be.
      Pembleton: Once you actually up and call for that lawyer son, there ain't a damn thing we can do for you. No sir, your good friends in the homicide unit are gonna have to lock you all alone in this room and the next authority figure to scan your case will be a no nonsense prosecutor from the violent crimes unit with the official title Assistant State's Attorney for The City of Baltimore.
      Munch: And God help you then because a ruthless bloodsucker like that will have a O'Donald mover head like yourself half way to the gas chamber before you get three words out.
      Kellerman: Your best bet is to speak up. Speak up now.

    • Munch: I'm not saying life can't get better I'm saying it won't. You see the difference.

    • Bayliss: You see you have the right to talk to an attorney at any time. Before any question, before answering any questions and during any questioning.
      Munch: Now, the man who wants to arrest you for violating the peace and dignity of the great state of Maryland says you can talk to a trained professional attorney who has read the relevant code or at least gotten his hands on some Cliff Notes.
      Lewis: Let's face it pal, you're just carved up some drunk in a dun dark avenue bar or bludgeoned your wife to death with a pick axe. That don't make you a brain surgeon. You're gonna need the help of an expert. Believe me, take whatever help you can get.
      Bayliss: He's right.

    • Bayliss: You're no ordinary mortician are you? You like to see through from start to finish. You like to bump 'em and clump 'em. Stab 'em and slab 'em. Prep 'em and paint 'em. More bodies, more profit.

    • Bayliss: See, anything that you say or write maybe used against you in a court of law.
      Kellerman: Yo punky, wake up. Your talking to a police detective in an interview room is only going to hurt you.
      Howard: If it would help we'd be pretty quick to tell you that. Stand-up. We tell you have a right not to worry. Anything you say or write will be used to help you in a court of law.
      Kellerman: Your best bet is to shut up. Shut up now.

    • Pembleton: We got the shooter, we got his gun, we got vocal eye witnesses and the man's given it up.
      Bayliss: We need the why.
      Pembleton: No, no, you need the why. I don't need to know anymore about the man or his problems than this, he shot his neighbours, they waited on his swing for the police to arrive so that he might surrender his freedom. Mr. Jackson has been so helpful and so efficient to ask for more would be ungracious.
      Bayliss: Come on Frank, one neighbour murders another and you don't want to know what that means.
      Pembleton: I know exactly what that means. Ten hours overtime and if Mr. Jackson will be kind enough to take it to trial, another twenty hours court pay.

    • Munch: Is that Mean Street? What are you doing ripping off Scorsese.
      Brodie: I wasn't ripping him off, I respect the man but he doesn't hold a candle to great documentary film makers like Robert Frank, or Perry Baker, the Masers Brothers, Ken Burns.
      Munch: Oh, yeah Ken Burns he's the only guy ever to manage to make something more boring than a baseball game. A documentary about a baseball game.
      Brodie (Voiceover): The rights of the suspect. Give me your thoughts.
      Pembleton: You are a citizen of a free nation. Having lived your adult life in the land of guaranteed civil liberties you commit a crime of violence where upon you are jacked up, dragged down to police headquarters and deposited in a claustrophobic anti-room, containing three chairs, a table and cold brick walls. Have a seat please. And there you sit for half an hour or more until a homicide detective, a man who in no way can be mistaken for a friend enters the room. He offers you a cigarette. Not your brand. And begins an uninterrupted monologue which wonders back and forth for half an hour or so eventually coming to a rest in a familiar place. You have the right to remain silent.
      Bayliss: You have got the absolute right to remain silent.
      Pembleton: Of course you do, you're a criminal. Criminals always have the right to remain silent.
      Lewis: We're talking about sacred freedoms here, notably your fifth amendment protection against self incrimination. Hey, if it was good enough for Ollie North and Mark Fremon then who the hell are you to incriminate yourself at the first opportunity.
      Munch: Get it straight, a police detective is paid government-money to put you in prison and explaining your absolute right to shut up before you say anything stupid.

    • Pembleton: Wait, wait, wait that doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense. What does life and homicide have to do with each other?
      Brodie: I wanted to juxtapose life and death, you know, the yin and the yang. Homicide is so, you know, a negative.
      Pembleton: Yes it is, it doesn't get much more negative than homicide.

    • Pembleton: Domestic. Discount at that.
      Bayliss: Well it's not, Frank.
      Kellerman: This isn't even champagne. This is the fake champagne what is it, Method sparkling wine. This is sparkling wine.
      Bayliss: The French make them do that. It is a trade war thing, Mike.
      Kellerman: You know you're not supposed to buy champagne at the gas station.

    • Pembleton: It's too quite in here, the only thing dead in this joint are the phones.
      Munch: New Years Eve, Frank. When that ball drops the bodies'll start dropping too.
      Kellerman: I hate New Years Eve.
      Pembleton: Everybody hates New Years Eve.
      Brodie: Yeah, another year older and deeper in debt.
      Munch: It's like having a birthday only nobody buys you any presents.

    • Bayliss (to Brodie): I will never, ever speak to you again as long as I live. I will treat you like Nixon treated Agnew.

  • NOTES (6)

    • The unfortunate aspect of this episode is that the way it's shot tends to go against its conceit. Brody's documentary could not possibly be shot by one single camera. He cuts between different angles in the same conversation. Unless Brody had actually asked the officers to repeat their statements after he repositioned his camera, this wouldn't have been possible.

    • The scenes in which the detectives talk about interrogating suspects in "The Box" feature almost word for word passage recitations from David Simon's book.

    • The experience of Brodie sharing his documentary with the detectives somewhat mirrors the real life experience of David Simon, when he shared an advance copy of his book HOMICIDE with the actual detectives he worked with.

    • A transcript of this episode can be found at http.//www.windowseat.org/homicide/scripts/

    • The production crew for the series along with executive producer Barry Levinson appear as themselves. Additionally it was reported that they decided to do this scene, because a similar incident had happened during production. A fugitive on the run from the police surrendered to Richard Belzer and Clark Johnson, believing they were the real thing.

    • Music in this episode: Iguanas "Boom Boom Boom" alb: Nuevo Boogaloo.