Tuesday, March 27, 2012

WHM 2012 Veronica Hamel "Hill Street Blues"

One of the few TV series I watched regularly during the 80s was a little cop-show called HILL STREET BLUES. Perhaps you've heard of it.

My friend Susie and I happened upon it at about the same time during its debut season (1980) and after it was moved to Thursdays at 9PM we would discuss it on our way to school every Friday morning until we graduated. Her favorite character was Captain Frank Furillo, portrayed by the great Daniel J. Travanti. Mine, of course, was Veronica Hamel as public defender Joyce Davenport. The fun thing about their relationship was by day they were antagonists; she called him "Furillo;" he called her "Counselor." By night, however, they were a couple. She called him, "Pizza Man." He won two Emmys for Best Dramatic Actor; she was nominated five times but never won.

HSB asked a lot of its audience, in that stories would continue (sometimes for weeks or longer) and characters would come and go during each episode rather quickly. If you were looking for a BARNEY MILLER or ADAM 12 type of series, this wasn't for you. However, the main storylines would always have some type of pay-off, and characters would change over the course of the series. Henry, for example, started off as a rather meek and mild hostage negotiating type. As portrayed by Joe Spano, he gradually became more out-going and vocal. One of HSB's "break-out" characters was "crazy" Mick Belker. As portrayed by Bruce Weitz, Belker started out as a caricature but evolved into a well-rounded character. Weitz won an Emmy as Best Supporting Actor in 1983.

All of the action of HSB centered around a large metropolitan police district in an unnamed America city. At the center of *that* was Captain Furillo, who was definitely the "lead" actor of the show. However, if it was legal than Davenport was involved, as well. They were the yin-yang of the show and the central dynamic. Hostage situations, for example, tended to "report back" to Furillo, and then the "perps" would end up with Davenport in court at the end. Sound like LAW & ORDER? HILL STREET BLUES did it first.

Among the other women featured on the show there was Betty Thomas as Officer Lucy Bates, a woman who just wanted to be a cop; Barbara Babcock as Sgt Esterhaus' passionate lover; and Barbara Bosson as Fay Furillo, Frank's ex-wife. Lucy was a great character, but the other two women were SO not my type or even shown really sympathetically. Fay in particular was a whiny good-for-nothing overwhelemed by life's many problems.

HILL STREET BLUES was a trend-setter in that it showcased a large (huge!) cast of characters instead of the same five or six that television series tended to before HSB came along. Before HSB the norm was nameless walk-on supporting characters who you never saw again. After HSB, you are more likely to see the same actor portraying the same character over the life of a series. LOST, for example, was a direct descendant of HSB. And I was pleasantly surprised to see Veronica Hamel appear on that show in the semi-recurring role of the mother of Dr. Shepherd (Matthew Fox). Homage? Maybe....

The first two seasons are available on DVD, so if you have never seen this great show, try your library or a store. If you want engrossing drama with a touch of comedy, this is the show for you. And if you want sexy, powerful women....may I recommend Veronica Hamel as Joyce Davenport?

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