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    Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series DVD Review - Recommended

    DVD Shout Factory TV Reviews

    Mar 31 2014 12:50 PM | Kevin EK in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series carefully arrives on DVD in this comprehensive set from Shout Factory. The 34-disc release, which will hit store shelves publicly in a month, presents all seven seasons and 144 episodes of the classic TV series in standard definition. Some special features are carried over from the two earlier Fox releases of Seasons 1 & 2, and some new featurettes have been created, but the series collection simultaneously loses the subtitles, language options and chapter menus found on the earlier releases. The transfers being used for this release are from the same source as the earlier DVDs – older transfers that have problematic moments, particularly in the pilot episode, but they’re watchable. The real find here is to have the full collection of this fine series in one place, and to finally have someone complete a series release that was begun over 8+ years ago. In spite of the transfer and functionality issues, the sheer quality of this series requires that this set be Recommended for purchase.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Fox
    • Distributed By: Shout! Factory
    • Video Resolution: 480P/MPEG-2
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    • Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono)
    • Subtitles:
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 115 Hr. 12 Min.
    • Package Includes: DVD
    • Case Type:
    • Disc Type: DVD-9 (dual layer)
    • Region: 1
    • Release Date: 04/29/2014
    • MSRP: $199.99

    The Production Rating: 5/5

    Hill Street Blues is a rarity in television. It’s a classic television series, with many of its elements continuing to make for effective episodes, even viewed some 33 years after they were made. But it’s also a series that helped television evolve from what we saw in the 1970s to what we see today. This is not an understatement – Hill Street Blues actually moved the goalposts several yards forward and made significant advances in the way we watch episodic television. A viewer watching the show today could easily miss its significance, so I’m going to take a minute to explain what we’re dealing with here. The short version is that this is a series that really must be seen by fans of quality television writing, acting and directing. If you’ve never heard of the series, you absolutely should see it – even if you don’t purchase this complete set, you can still find individual early episodes online, or find the Fox DVDs of the first two seasons at very reasonable prices. It’s on the basis of the quality of the series itself that I’m Recommending this set for purchase. The first four seasons alone comprise four of the strongest years of any series in television history. The remaining seasons decline in quality – but even those are stronger than many series that are on the air today. The picture and audio quality are so-so, given that we don’t have the best transfers of the episodes. But let’s be realistic – nobody is going to pull a Star Trek and do a gigantic high definition remastering project on this series. We’re lucky to be getting this package in the first place. So I’ll take what we can get, note the issue, and continue the recommendation regardless. Readers who just want to check the video, audio and special features summaries can jump ahead at this point.

    HISTORY: Try to watch the first ten minutes of the pilot episode of the series, “Hill Street Station.” And try to do so with the understanding that the style of writing and directing in play is at odds with much of how episodic dramas were being done up to that point. In the 1960s and 70s, your typical episodic drama dealt with a single major plotline each week, along with a smaller B-story or two, all of which would be neatly wrapped up by the end of a single hour of programming. A typical cop show, like Adam-12 or The Streets of San Francisco, would feature a couple of primary good guys on a case that could quickly be solved with enough time to spare for that mid-show local news update and a cozy wrap-up at the squad room before you’d move on to the next program at 9pm. Even the more issues-centric shows like MTM’s Lou Grant and The White Shadow, would regularly find a way to address the social concern of the week before calling it a night. In a bigger story, the series might do a two-parter. But the intention was to present the stories in easy-to-digest nuggets, with very simple staging and easily identifiable character types. (Paddy Chayefsky demolished the basic structures in his brilliant script for the film Network, particularly in a summary of new series proposals that all feature the “crusty-but-benign” boss character.)

    MORE HISTORY: Steven Bochco understood these structures, after more than ten years of working with them on multiple television series at Universal and for MTM. Hill Street Blues presented Bochco with a unique opportunity that allowed him to start bending the rules. Essentially, NBC was in a serious ratings bind at that moment, and the network wanted him to create a new cop show for them. Since he had no interest in making such a program, he was able to enforce a contract wherein he and series co-creator Michael Kozoll were to be given complete autonomy in the way they wrote and produced the new show. This meant that they were free to pull out characters and story ideas that would never have seen the light of day on other television series. And they were free to try some different approaches to storytelling than television had been seeing in episodic programs. Just from a writer’s standpoint, Bochco immediately decided to open up his canvas and not limit himself to stories that had to be told within a single hour’s time. Thus, Hill Street Blues adopted a format previously seen on soap operas – where a story could be told over the span of several episodes in an arc. The difference between the new series and soap operas was that Bochco was having the arcs developed out in fine detail – scenes would play out in far more than just a few sound bites, and stories would frequently derail in unexpected directions. At the same time, Bochco embraced the notion of creating a large cast ensemble, again similar to the world of soap operas but now developing those characters out to a much deeper level. Hill Street Blues then pushed both of these ideas further by repeatedly staging multiple story actions at the same time, so that the script pages would frequently have dual columns of dialogue happening from different characters. This is a bit of a nod to the work of Robert Altman, in films like M*A*S*H and Nashville, but it’s the kind of thing nobody had attempted in television before. Bochco and Kozoll added to the innovation by frequently mixing humor and drama in unexpected ways. It would usually be at the moment that characters were having a funny moment or dropping their guard that the worst possible situation would happen. Two guys could be exchanging jokes and laughs one minute and be shot dead the next. The humor itself was another area where the show regularly pushed the envelope. Officer Renko (Charles Haid) was known for starting his sentences with every kind of description of sexual behavior he could get away with on network television. An episode in the third season was titled “Moon Over Uranus”. When the network objected to that one, Bochco immediately retaliated by using the title for no less than THREE episodes in a row.

    STILL MORE HISTORY: We should keep in mind that Bochco and Kozoll were not completely trying to upend the format. They still adhered to certain parts of the structure. So the new series was designed to start with a morning roll call with the police officers, where Sgt Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) would bring up a few funny items of business, discuss potential cases we might be seeing, would send the cops out with the famous instruction to “Be careful out there.” The show would then move up to the squad room where we might see any number of quick personal interactions between the various partners in a short time. Partners Hill (Michael Warren) and Renko (Haid) might have an argument about Renko’s latest idea. Bates (Betty Thomas) and Coffey (Ed Marinaro) might spar before heading out. Hostage negotiator Henry Goldblume (Joe Spano) and hardcore EAT leader Hunter (James B. Sikking) might have an argument about tactics. Undercover mad dog officer Belker (Bruce Weitz) might have a tirade about being told “no biting”. Station Captain Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) might get an unexpected confrontation from ex-wife Fay (Barbara Bosson) or public defender Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel). All of this was before the main credits rolled and we still haven’t mentioned several further cast members. An episode would then roll through any number of running stories, each involving a different grouping of the ensemble members. Some storylines from prior episodes might wrap up, while new ones might get started. And everything would usually wrap up with Captain Furillo dealing with the day’s fallout with his girlfriend (SPOILER HERE!), public defender Davenport. So there was a predictable skeleton working here, but it wasn’t the one that viewers might have been expecting by any means.

    STILL MORE HISTORY: The next major player to add to this puzzle was pilot director Robert Butler. Butler was already a veteran of many major television series and pilots, but this one afforded him an opportunity to actually go farther than his prior work. For Hill Street Blues, Butler adopted the handheld documentary style he had seen in a police documentary called The Police Tapes. According to Bochco, Butler actually wanted to shoot the entire series handheld but was talked down from that to just doing it for the Roll Call openings and for more action-oriented sequences. The handheld work took the show a major step closer to the kind of work seen in Altman movies, and divorced it from the predictably stable dolly shots nearly all television series used up to that point. Butler and his assistant directors went farther with the background work on the series. Until this series, background players would usually stay in the background and fairly clear of the speaking performers. A standard television scene on a sidewalk would show the speaking cast moving toward the camera and the background players would work in a pattern that made sure the cast were clearly visible at all times. For Hill Street Blues, that rule went out the window. A sidewalk scene would actually have background players filling the sidewalk so that the cast would literally need to find the lens, and the dialogue might not all be on camera. This will sound quite small now, but it was a big deal in 1981.

    YET MORE HISTORY: A person sitting down to watch the very first episode of the series, having only seen the standard format of cop shows from the prior two decades, would have been in for a shock. Right off the bat, the opening Roll Call sequence was all handheld, with an almost casual disregard for who was actually supposed to be speaking on camera. The handheld camera would wander around the room, catching multiple officers not paying attention or joking with each other before returning to Sgt. Esterhaus’ admonitions. The following sequence in the squad room would be a dizzying parade of different characters flitting in and out of the shot before the credits rolled and Mike Post’s quiet, comforting piano theme would be heard over some cast titles and location shots. The first season of the series continued this pattern, compounding it by dropping the viewer into storylines in progress and usually not paying them off for several episodes. A viewer who had not watched the earlier episodes might well have been completely lost if they tried to watch the series starting with the tenth episode, say. Partly as a result of that, Hill Street Blues did not start off as a ratings hit by any means. First, the pilot itself tested poorly with audiences. When the series hit the air, the overall ratings were terrible – coming in below 80th place out of 99 series on the air at times. NBC didn’t help the situation by repeatedly moving the show to different nights of the week. Then they tried airing multiple shows on a single night. None of this helped, but thankfully, NBC still didn’t cancel it. Instead, they promoted the show for the Emmy Awards. This idea worked, as the series was nominated for a massive number of awards, and wound up winning 8 Emmys, including for Best Drama, Best Actor, Actress and Supporting Actor, Best Director and Best Script, Cinematography and Sound Editing. This success, coupled with the growing word of mouth about the quality of the series, helped boost the ratings out of the cellar. And while the show was never a top 10 hit, it garnered respectable enough numbers to keep going for a full seven seasons.

    AND MORE HISTORY: One could argue that the series became a bit more approachable as of the second season. Bochco and Kozoll brought in some additional writers, and agreed to have the episodes each have one storyline that was to be self-contained. They also added a recap to the beginning of each episode before the Roll Call. This meant that a new viewer coming to the series would have a chance to understand what was going on, and that they could at least see one complete story idea within the hour. Along the way, of course, they’d also be seeing the continuing arcs of existing stories and the beginnings of new ones. The series percolated along in this fashion for the next few years, weathering a few problems along the way. Actor Michael Conrad battled cancer throughout the third season and ultimately passed away during the fourth year, causing Bochco and the writers to scramble to come up with a suitable exit for the character. That episode, “Grace Under Pressure”, is considered controversial in that Bochco chose probably the most irreverent way to send the character off – (SPOILER!) in the midst of an intimate moment with girlfriend Grace (Barbara Babcock). Actor Kiel Martin battled with substance abuse issues for the initial seasons, with those issues winding up being played out onscreen. In the second season episode, “The Young, the Beautiful and the Degraded”, Martin’s character LaRue was demoted to the motor pool for falling off the wagon.

    EVEN MORE HISTORY: Various writers who would go on to much bigger careers came through the Hill Street staff, including Anthony Yerkovich, David Milch and Dick Wolf. Milch’s distinct writing style can be heard in the Role Call scenes he would regularly contribute – including the Season 5 opener “Mayo, Hold the Pickle”, where the series introduced Robert Prosky as the new Sergeant, Stan Jabolonski. Various directors who would go on to greater careers contributed episodes, including David Anspaugh, Greg Hoblit and Jeff Bleckner. (Anspaugh and Bleckner both won DGA awards for their work on the series.) I should also note that this series was careful never to actually identify its actual city location. Theoretically the series could take place in Chicago, but it could just as easily take place in any East Coast city’s lower-end neighborhoods. It could even have taken place in Los Angeles’ South Central, were it not for the visible snow in the opening titles every week. The point of this is that the writers never wanted to specify which city the story happened in – thus allowing it to take place in almost any city you can imagine. (For later series, the settings would become much more specific – such as the Baltimore of Homicide: Life on the Street or the New York of NYPD Blue.)

    LAST BITS OF HISTORY: After the series fifth season, the series went through some major changes. Bochco was removed from the series, as it had already passed the 100 episode mark, and went on to develop LA Law. Michael Kozoll had long been gone from the show, having left at the end of the second season. So the remaining show runners wound up being Jeffrey Lewis and David Milch, who did the best they could to find some new life amid a rapidly aging series. To this end, they removed several long-running characters and added a major one – Norman Buntz (Dennis Franz), a loudmouthed cop who would be the most memorable presence on the show for the rest of its run. (He was also a precursor of Franz’s Sipowitz character on NYPD Blue from 1993-2005.) As one can imagine, the final season shows the series no longer looking nearly as fresh as it once did. And yet, there is still a solid quality of writing and a concern to not do the predictable thing in telling a story. Even after the final episode finishes up with veteran character actor Lawrence Tierney uttering the final line, the legacy of Hill Street Blues continues to live on. In an immediate sense, the series spawned further shows that mined the notion of large ensemble casts and multiple episode story arcs, including St. Elsewhere and Bochco’s LA Law. The cop show drama form would itself be pushed to an additional level of documentary-style realism in 1993 by Homicide; Life on the Street, which really played with the idea of handheld camera work throughout and with jump cuts within scenes. In turn, Bochco and Milch would follow up with NYPD Blue, which accelerated both the handheld camera work and the level of frankness in dialogue and nudity that could be shown on a network television show. In terms of cop shows, the pinnacle to date was likely reached by The Wire, but shows like True Detective indicate that we may yet see further evolution of the form. The high end, large ensemble/continuing arc form has itself continued to evolve through multiple series, including Northern Exposure, Thirtysomething, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost and even Game of Thrones as it adapts George R.R. Martin’s sprawling book series. The point here is that all of these series owe a debt going back to 1980 and the creation of Hill Street Blues. If the initial series seems a bit dated or a bit quaint by today’s standards, we should keep in mind that it was quite daring by its own day’s standards. And the episodes continue to hold up as good storytelling – particularly in the earlier seasons. Any student of television history and even a more casual fan of great television series will want to see something of this series. This is a series that should be preserved, just like The Twilight Zone, All in the Family and M*A*S*H – not just because it’s a good show, but because it’s a great show that made a big difference in the evolution of dramatic programming. AND HERE ENDETH THE HISTORY NOTES.

    About 8 years ago, Fox Home Entertainment released the first two seasons of Hill Street Blues, using noticeably older transfers but adding in a few bonus features along the way. After sales of these two seasons failed to meet expectations, they stopped where they were and the remainder of the series was left in DVD limbo. Filling the gap, Shout Factory has now assembled the complete series as a bundled DVD release, using the same transfers as before and including almost all of the bonus features from the Fox releases. Shout Factory has also added just under two hours of new interview material with various members of the cast, producers and writing staff. As one improvement over the Fox releases, Shout Factory has gone with single-sided DVDs, rather than the flippers seen in the earlier packages. On the other hand, the Shout Factory DVDs do not include the subtitles, the alternative language options of French or Spanish, or even the chapter menus. Instead, each disc contains one master menu with a list of the episodes. The episodes themselves are chaptered, but there is no menu to tell you where you’re at. The short version of this is to think of each episode as a teaser plus four acts. So if you jump ahead, you’ll land at the beginning of the next act in the story, or at the end credits. There’s also one short featurette from the Fox Season 2 release, “The Hill Street Blues Story”, which is not included in this release. (It’s actually a five minute interview with Greg Hoblit where he discusses his experience as a producer and director on the series.) Given the longer interview assembly we have here, the absence isn’t noticeable.

    The Shout Factory release will be commercially available as of April 29th, but you can pre-order it directly from Shout Factory’s website and see an earlier delivery. (I say this from personal experience. My copy of the set arrived last Thursday. The pricing is over $130 on sale, but if you keep in mind that there are 144 episodes plus hours of bonus features, you’re paying less than a dollar per episode. Given the quality of the series, and given my hope that Shout Factory will continue this trend with series like St. Elsewhere in the future, I Recommend this series set for purchase.
    Police Payroll Gets Jacked


    The Infamous Chicken Chase

    Video Rating: 2.5/5 3D Rating: NA

    Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series is presented in a collection of 1.33:1 4x3 transfers that show varying levels of damage and distress. Darker scenes in various episodes, including the pilot, are extremely murky. Some scenes show a bit of what looks like pulsing – a late bedroom scene in the pilot episode is one example of this. Other episodes are quite acceptable and appear to be pretty much what you’d see in an uncut syndication airing. The issue here is that these are obviously older transfers – it’s whatever Fox had on hand. Having compared the Shout Factory release with the Fox releases, I can attest these are the same transfers as before, with the same problems. I don’t cite this as a criticism of Shout Factory – they are not in a position to do new transfers and cleanup work on 144 episodes of this series. The note here simply reflects that this is the condition of the picture quality on the episodes as we have them today. I would not expect to see the kind of restoration work we’ve seen done for Star Trek or The Twilight Zone here. Much as I might wish otherwise, that won’t be happening.

    Audio Rating: 3/5

    Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series is presented in English Digital 2.0 Mono (@ 192 kbps) which cleanly presents the dialogue, effects and Mike Post’s music. (The music is sadly a bit dated when heard today…) The alternate language tracks on the Fox releases are not included here.

    Special Features: 3/5

    As I have done with earlier TV season sets, I’ll break down the ingredients on a disc by disc basis. The series set is broken up into seven multi-disc holders, each containing all the episodes of that season. To spare the reader having to scroll endlessly through the list of episodes, I’ll discuss the bonus disc with the special features first. It can be found in the seventh season collection and is its own disc at the back of the disc holder:


    BONUS DISC (FOUND IN THE SEASON SEVEN HOLDER):

    The History of Hill Street – (NEW INTERVIEW ASSEMBLY FOR THE 2014 RELEASE) (1:01:56, Anamorphic) – This is a new assembly of current interviews with Steven Bochco and multiple cast members and writers. It’s in two parts, which can be viewed together in a “Play All” option. The interviews are fairly candid about the work that went into the creation of the show, with Bochco discussing the evolution of the project at length. James B. Sikking and Dennis Franz are fairly candid in talking about how the series continued on into its final seasons, but most of the emphasis here is on the early days.

    Writers on the Hill – (NEW INTERVIEW ASSEMBLY FOR THE 2014 RELEASE) (20:34, Anamorphic) – This is a new assembly of current interviews with several of the writers on the show, including Steven Bochco, Jeffrey Lewis, Robert Crais and Alan Rachins. Bochco initially talks about the difficulty of developing one’s own style while writing within another show runner’s series. Lewis talks about his own background with the New York DA’s office, which gave him plenty of material to throw into episodes. He specifically discusses the second season episode “Fruits of the Poisonous Tree”, in which Hill and Renko are determined not to make any arrests so that they can watch Monday Night Football and not be stuck in Night Court. Lewis based that on the real phenomena of noting that the Monday night court sessions are always much lighter during football season… Robert Crais talks about the process of working in a room full of writers where you could be handled a single act to write rather than the full script. He credits this with pushing him toward his career as a novelist, as he prefers to work alone.

    Interviews With the Officers:

    Benedetto & Buntz – (NEW INTERVIEW FOR THE 2014 RELEASE) (14:30, Anamorphic) – This is a new interview conducted with Dennis Franz for the new DVD set. Franz discusses the character of Buntz at length as a basically decent guy.

    Lt. Howard Hunter – (NEW INTERVIEW FOR THE 2014 RELEASE) (18:48, Anamorphic) – This is a new interview conducted with James B. Sikking for the new DVD set. Sikking discusses EAT leader Hunter, and his approach to playing the man over the seven years on the show.

    Belker Unleashed – (2005 INTERVIEW FOR THE SEASON 2 DVD SET) (5:59, 4x3) – This is an interview with Bruce Weitz conducted for the Fox release of Season 2 on DVD several years ago.

    Cowboy on the Hill – (2005 INTERVIEW FOR THE SEASON 2 DVD SET) (6:26, 4x3) – This is an interview with Charles Haid conducted for the Fox release of Season 2 on DVD several years ago.

    Confessions of Captain Freedom – (2005 INTERVIEW FOR THE SEASON 2 DVD SET) (5:51, 4x3) – This is an interview with Dennis Dugan conducted for the Fox release of Season 2 on DVD several years ago.

    Roll Call: Looking Back on Hill Street Blues – (2005 GROUP INTERVIEW FOR THE SEASON 1 DVD SET) (51:22, 4x3 Windowboxed) – This is a reunion and group/interview with several cast members, conducted in 2005 for the Fox release of Season 1 on DVD. Participating in the event are Charles Haid, Ed Marinaro, Bruce Weitz, Barbara Bosson, Veronica Hamel and Joe Spano.

    Gag Reel – (2005 EXTRA FOR THE SEASON 2 DVD SET) (0:38, 4x3) – This is just a few clips from the Season 2 Gag Reel. It’s the same portion that was included on the earlier Fox DVD release of Season 2.


    With that out of the way, we can now move on to the Season Disc Holders, and the 144 episodes of the series:


    SEASON ONE: The first season consists of 17 episodes, which aired between January and May of 1981. This season was pretty much showered with Emmys and other industry awards – especially for the pilot episode. Commentaries from the Fox DVD release of this season can be found on “Hill Street Station” on Disc 1 and on “I Never Promised You a Rose, Marvin” on Disc 3.


    SEASON ONE, DISC 1:

    Hill Street Station – Here’s the original pilot for the series. Some elements of it are a bit dated, especially Mike Post’s score. But the innovation and the rawness of the storytelling still shines through. This episode features an optional commentary with Steven Bochco, James B. Sikking and Joe Spano. The commentary is scene-specific and contains a lot of information about the production, as well as many in-jokes between the guys. (This commentary was recorded for the Fox DVD release of Season One.)

    Presidential Fever – The second episode of the series starts a multi-episode arc about an upcoming Presidential walking tour of the Hill Street district, which motivates Furillo to call a citywide gang truce in order to accommodate the event. Various guest actors feature prominently here, including Trinidad Silva as a local gang leader, and a young David Caruso as the leader of the Irish gang called the Shamrocks.

    Politics as Usual – The Presidential visit arc continues.

    Can World War III Be An Attitude? – Surprise! The President cancels his visit – which could disrupt the gang truce Furillo’s been trying to engineer.



    SEASON ONE, DISC 2:

    Double Jeopardy

    Film at Eleven

    Choice Cut

    Up in Arms



    SEASON ONE, DISC 3:

    Your Kind, My Kind, Humankind

    Gatorbait

    Life, Death, Eternity

    I Never Promised You a Rose, Marvin – Another multi-episode arc concludes, this one involving Furillo blowing a possible promotion to division commander. This episode features an optional commentary with Steven Bochco and actors James B. Sikking and Joe Spano. (This commentary was recorded for the Fox DVD release of Season One.)


    SEASON ONE, DISC 4:

    Fecund Hand Rose – This was originally going to be the Season One finale, in which Sgt Esterhaus’ wedding erupts into chaos. Barbara Babcock won an Emmy for her performance in this episode.

    Rites of Spring, Pts 1 & 2 – This is actually two episodes, which were aired together on a single night in May 1981. An arc involving a suspicious officer-involved shooting runs through these episodes.

    Jungle Madness, Pts 1 & 2 – This is another 2 episodes, including the actual season finale. Several bombshells are dropped here – including a major revelation between alcoholic detective LaRue and Furillo. The season ends as another of the cops from the Hill has been shot…




    SEASON TWO: The second season consists of 18 episodes, which aired in the 1981 to 1982 TV season. Once again, the series was nominated for a slew of Emmys and other awards. It won 6 Emmys this time around, including for Best Dramatic Series once again, thus getting it two years running. Commentaries from the Fox DVD release of this season can be found on “The World According to Freedom” on Disc 2 and “Freedom’s Last Stand” on Disc 3.


    SEASON TWO, DISC 1:

    Hearts and Minds – Danny Glover guests for an arc about reformed gang leader Jesse John Hudson, who the Hill Cops are fairly sure isn’t so reformed…

    Blood Money – The Jesse John Hudson arc continues, along with an arc about Belker’s pet orangutan running loose in the station.

    The Last White Man on East Ferry Avenue – The Hudson arc continues.

    The Second Oldest Profession – The Hudson arc concludes and Officer Bates makes a serious error in allowing an arrested prostitute to inject herself with a potential overdose. This episode marks the return of pilot director Robert Butler (who also directed the Presidential visit arc), and also marks his final contribution to the series.



    SEASON TWO, DISC 2:

    Fruits of the Poisonous Tree – This episode deals with the legal principle of the officers being unable to get a bad guy prosecuted because they entrapped him, thus voiding all the testimony and evidence they got as a result of the arrest. This is also the Monday Night Football episode. The episode concludes with Officer Bates facing an even nastier situation than the prior episode.

    Cranky Streets

    Chipped Beef

    The World According to Freedom – This episode introduces the local superhero “Captain Freedom”, who believes he cannot possibly be stopped by local criminals or bullets. This episode features an optional commentary with actors Bruce Weitz, Charles Haid and Dennis Dugan, recorded for the Fox DVD release of Season 2.

    Pestolozzi’s Revenge



    SEASON TWO, DISC 3:

    The Spy Who Came in From Delgado

    Freedom’s Last Stand – This episode concludes the “Captain Freedom” arc, wherein the superhero learns whether he really is invulnerable. This episode features an optional commentary with writers Jeffrey Lewis and Robert Crais, recorded for the Fox DVD release of Season 2. The commentary is particularly appropriate as this teleplay won the Emmy for Best Script for this television season.

    Of Mouse and Man – This episode begins the arc concerning the murder of public defender Pam Gilliam, and Furillo’s quest to catch the man who killed her.

    Zen and the Art of Law Enforcement



    SEASON TWO, DISC 4:

    The Young, the Beautiful and the Degraded – This episode concludes the Pam Gilliam arc.

    Some Like it Hot-Wired

    Personal Foul – This episode, centered on a basketball game between the Blues and the local gangbangers, won a DGA award for director David Anspaugh.

    The Shooter

    Invasion of the Third World Body Snatchers – In the second season finale, Officer Renko’s father’s hearse is stolen.





    SEASON THREE: The third season consists of 22 episodes, which aired in the 1982 to 1983 TV season. Once again, the series was nominated for multiple awards. Once again, it won 6 Emmys, including Best Script (for a teleplay credited to David Milch), Best Director (for Jeff Bleckner for “Life in the Minors”) and for Best Dramatic Series, now taking that streak to three in a row. It lost out on the acting honors this time around, mostly due to the presence of St. Elsewhere in the mix, which began grabbing its own bag of statues…


    SEASON THREE, DISC 1:

    Trial by Fury – The third season begins with a near-riot when a nun is attacked.

    Domestic Beef

    Heat Rash – An arc begins here regarding a heat wave on the Hill, along with a second arc about Hunter’s hospital stay.

    Rain of Terror – The heat wave and Hunter hospital arc continues.



    SEASON THREE, DISC 2:

    Officer of the Year – This episode, directed by David Anspaugh, contains two of the most wrenching situations ever presented in the series. In one, Detective Washington (Taurean Blacque) mistakenly shoots and kills a civilian shopkeeper in the middle of a confrontation with a real criminal. But in the main moment of the year, Lt Calletano (Rene Enriquez) is humiliated during his celebratory lunch when he wins the Hispanic Officer of the Year Award. Famously for the series, he discards the thank-yous and instead delivers an angry monologue: “Why is it that I look around this room – full of ranking officers – and the only other Hispanics I see are waiters and busboys?”

    Stan the Man

    Little Boil Blue

    Requiem for a Hairbag

    A Hair of the Dog – The Hill police are tasked with finding the Governor’s wife’s lost dog.



    SEASON THREE, DISC 3:

    Phantom of the Hill

    No Body’s Perfect

    Santaclaustrophobia – This is the inevitable Christmas episode that every series has to do at one point or another. Hill Street Blues, of course, handles it in its own special way.

    Gung Ho



    SEASON THREE, DISC 4:

    Moon Over Uranus – This episode both features the title NBC hated, and begins an arc of misery for Captain Furillo.

    Moon Over Uranus: The Sequel – Think NBC was getting the message yet?

    Moon Over Uranus: The Final Legacy – Okay, by this point, you have to figure that NBC has either learned its lesson or had enough. By the way, a big part of the reason for these titles is that they would not show up when the episode aired. So the only people who could see them were the people on the show and at the network. Of course, the title list did go to TV Guide too for the listings, so maybe there was a point in there from NBC somewhere…

    The Belles of St. Mary’s

    Life in the Minors – Officer Coffey faces serious trouble when he’s accused of killing a black suspect. This episode won both an Emmy and a DGA Award for director Jeff Bleckner.


    SEASON THREE, DISC 5:

    Eugene’s Comedy Empire Strikes Back – Coffey’s arc of misery continues as his case gets sent to the grand jury.

    Spotlight on Rico – Dennis Franz guests as Sal Benedetto, a problem narcotics detective.

    Buddy, Can You Spare a Heart? – The Dennis Franz/Benedetto arc continues.

    A Hill of Beans – The Dennis Franz/Benedetto arc comes to a slam bang finale, as does the third season.



    SEASON FOUR: The fourth season consists of 22 episodes, which aired in the 1983 to 1984 TV season. Once again, the series was nominated for multiple awards. This time, it won 5 Emmys, including Best Supporting Actor for Bruce Weitz’s Belker, Best Supporting Actress for Alfre Woodard’s guest appearance, Best Director (for Corey Allen for “Goodbye, Mr. Scripps”) and for Best Dramatic Series, now taking that streak to FOUR in a row.


    SEASON FOUR, DISC 1:

    Here’s Adventure, Here’s Romance – The fourth season begins with a multiple slaying in a gay bar.

    Ba-bing, Ba-bing – An arc begins here concerning the leadership of the local Diablos gang.

    The Long Law of the Arm – The Diablos arc continues.

    Death by Kiki



    SEASON FOUR, DISC 2:

    Doris in Wonderland – This episode features an Emmy-winning performance by Alfre Woodard as the mother of a little boy killed by a Hill police officer when he is seen waving a toy pistol in the dark. An arc begins here as Chief Daniels runs for Mayor and prematurely starts making offers to promote people like Furillo.

    Praise Dilaudid

    Goodbye, Mr. Scripps – This concludes the Chief Daniels election arc. This episode won Corey Allen an Emmy for directing.

    Midway to What?

    Honk if You’re a Goose



    SEASON FOUR, DISC 3:

    The Russians Are Coming

    Ratman And Bobbin – Here begins an arc about a cop killer who attacks police by ones or twos.

    Nichols from Heaven – The cop killer arc continues.

    Fuchs Me? Fuchs You!



    SEASON FOUR, DISC 4:

    Grace Under Pressure – This is the episode that deals with the death of both actor Michael Conrad and his character, Sgt. Esterhaus. Typically for the series, the death is dealt with both in a serious and irreverent manner.

    The Other Side of Oneness

    Parting is Such Sweep Sorrow

    The End of Logan’s Run – Joyce Davenport is rattled during a murder case and learns that there is no sanctuary.

    The Count of Monty Tasco – Furillo is relieved of his duties at the Hill and reassigned.


    SEASON FOUR, DISC 5:

    Nutcracker Suite – Furillo’s reassignment arc continues.

    Hair Apparent – A gang war arc gets underway here.

    Lucky Ducks – The gang war arc continues.

    Eva’s Brawn – The fourth season comes to a close with Officer Renko’s wedding day.




    SEASON FIVE: The fifth season consists of 23 episodes, which aired in the 1984 to 1985 TV season. The series was nominated for several Emmy Awards, but was knocked out of the running this year by Cagney & Lacey. The sole Emmy win would go to Betty Thomas as Supporting Actress for her performance as Lucy Bates. (This would be the final Emmy win for the series.) Thomas Carter would wind up winning the DGA Award for his direction of the episode “The Rise and Fall of Paul the Wall.”


    SEASON FIVE, DISC 1:

    Mayo, Hold the Pickle – The fifth season begins with a Roll Call introduction to new Sgt Stan Jablonski (Robert Prosky).

    Watt A Way to Go – An arc is begun concerning Goldblume’s ex-wife being assaulted.

    Rookie Nookie – Goldblume’s arc continues. And this is the one where Belker goes undercover as, yes, a chicken.

    Fowl Play – The Belker chicken arc continues, as you might gather from the title.

    Bangladesh Slowly



    SEASON FIVE, DISC 2:

    Ewe and Me, Babe

    Blues For Mr. Green

    Fuched Again

    Low Blow – Here’s a Thanksgiving episode, with a supposed American Indian making life interesting for Hill and Renko.



    SEASON FIVE, DISC 3:

    The Rise and Fall of Paul the Wall – Furillo gets into political trouble when he goes after an old woman for murder – except that she’s the mother of someone on the City Council. This episode won a DGA award for director Thomas Carter – as a trivia note, he did this after having directed the pilot for Miami Vice for former Hill Street writer Anthony Yerkovich.

    Last Chance Salon

    Intestinal Fortitude – This begins an arc where Belker, LaRue and Washington get into the trash business.

    Of Human Garbage

    Dr. Hoof and Mouth



    SEASON FIVE, DISC 4:

    Davenport in a Storm – This episode marks Joyce Davenport’s full switch from being a public defender to being a District Attorney.

    Washington Deceased

    Passage to Libya

    El Capitan – Lt. Calletano takes command of the precinct when Furillo is away on business.



    SEASON FIVE, DISC 5:

    The Life and Time of Dominic Florio, Jr

    G.Q.

    Queen for a Day

    You’re in Alice’s

    Grin and Bear It – The fifth season concludes with Hill and Renko dealing with the police bear mascot and several people failing urinalysis tests.




    SEASON SIX: The sixth season consists of 22 episodes, which aired in the 1985 to 1986 TV season. With the departure of Steven Bochco and others, the series no longer carried the luster it once held. It was still nominated for a handful of Emmys, but did not win any. This season marks the departure of several cast members and the establishment of Dennis Franz as the character of Norman Buntz.


    SEASON SIX, DISC 1:

    Blues in the Night – The sixth season begins with a bit of a fake-out, where the audience is shown a roll-call with officers they don’t know. Because they’re looking at the Night Shift. This episode follows several of the regular characters into their evening lives. This episode also marks the final time Steven Bochco’s name would be credited for contributing to the story.

    Hacked to Pieces – Lt. Calletano is promoted to Captain and moved to another district. His replacement is Dennis Franz’s gruff Lt. Buntz.

    Seoul on Ice

    In the Belly of the Bus



    SEASON SIX, DISC 2:

    Somewhere Over the Rambo

    Oh, You Kid

    An Oy for an Oy

    Fathers and Huns

    What Are Friends For? – Buntz is taken hostage by an old nemesis.



    SEASON SIX, DISC 3:

    The Virgin and the Turkey

    Two Easy Pieces

    Say it as it Plays

    Das Blues



    SEASON SIX, DISC 4:

    Scales of Justice

    I Want My Hill Street Blues

    Remembrance of Hits Past – Furillo is shot and Davenport flashes back to how they first got together.

    Larry of Arabia – This episode marks the departure of actor Ed Marinaro.

    Iced Coffey – The fallout from the prior episode plays out here.


    SEASON SIX, DISC 5:

    Jagga The Hunk

    Look Homeward, Ninja

    Slum Enchanted Evening

    Come and Get It – The sixth season comes to an end with an episode about Davenport struggling with the thought of having to represent “The Creeper.”




    SEASON SEVEN: The seventh and final season consists of 22 episodes, which aired in the 1986 to 1987 TV season. The final season was nominated for just three Emmys – one for Betty Thomas and the other two for the script and sound mixing for the series finale. It would not win any. (As a side note, Steven Bochco’s new series LA Law picked up a large number of nominations, winning several for Best Dramatic Series, Best Director, Best Script, etc.) Following the demise of Hill Street Blues, the character of Norman Buntz continued into a short-lived spinoff, Beverly Hills Buntz, a 30 minute series that was more of a comedy than drama. It was aired for only 9 episodes and then cancelled.



    SEASON SEVEN, DISC 1:

    The Suitcase – The final season begins with Buntz and his informant Sid getting into a heap of trouble over a suitcase containing a lot of white powder.

    A Case of Klapp

    The Best Defense

    Bald Ambition



    SEASON SEVEN, DISC 2:

    I Come on My Knees

    Say Uncle

    Amazing Grace

    Falling from Grace

    Fathers and Guns



    SEASON SEVEN, DISC 3:

    More Skinned Against Than Skinning

    She’s So Fein

    A Wasted Weekend – This episode was written by playwright David Mamet, concerning a weekend hunting trip and what happens to Goldblume on the way there.

    City of Refuse



    SEASON SEVEN, DISC 4:

    Der Roachenkavalier – Journalist Bob Woodward co-wrote this episode.

    Norman Conquest – Buntz takes command for a day while Furillo is away.

    Sorry, Wrong Number

    The Cookie Crumbles

    Dogsbreath Afternoon



    SEASON SEVEN, DISC 5:

    Days of Swine and Roses

    The Runner Falls on His Kisser

    A Pound of Flesh

    It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over – The series concludes with this episode, in which the Hill Street station catches fire, and Norman Buntz finally punches one cop too many.



    SEASON SEVEN, BONUS DISC:

    The contents of this disc are examined at the very top of this list.





    The packaging includes a handy booklet that summarizes all 144 episodes of the series and includes an introductory essay by Tom Shales.
    Hill Street Blues The Complete Series DVD Box Set Teaser


    Overall Rating: 4/5

    Hill Street Blues is a television series that may not be well-known today, but it should be. As we’ve discussed, it is not only a great show (and a venue for solid writing, directing and acting), but it is also one of the few television programs that noticeably evolved the format of dramatic programming. Shout Factory has provided a great service in letting this show out of limbo and releasing the Complete Series as a package on DVD. Granted, the older transfers of the episodes are not of the best quality – but they are in the best condition that Shout Factory or anyone else will be able to get them. Shout Factory has also carried over nearly all the bonus content from the only two season sets released by Fox, adding about 2 hours of new content from recent interviews. It’s unfortunate that no subtitles or chapter menus were included, but again – that’s not a deal breaker. The real focus here is the great quality of this series, and that’s the reason for collectors to pick it up. This release is Recommended for purchase.

    Reviewed by: Kevin EK
    Support HTF when you buy this title:



    12 Comments

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    Scott Merryfield
    Mar 31 2014 02:00 PM

    Wow! This is a terrific review, Kevin. I just wish you could provide a little more background on the show's history. ;)  Seriously, this is one of my all time favorite shows. I fondly remember anticipating each new episode when it originally aired, and I had the first two seasons on DVD (since sold once this set was announced). I do not buy many TV shows, as I rarely have time to watch them more than once. So, only the shows that were very special to me get added to the collection, and this is definitely such a show.

      • Adam Gregorich and Suzanne.S like this
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    Dave B Ferris
    Mar 31 2014 02:18 PM

    Wow! This is a terrific review, Kevin. I just wish you could provide a little more background on the show's history. ;)  

     

    That additional background - seriously - is available in a chapter of a book written by Todd Gitlin, "Inside Prime Time."  On the basis of Kevin's review (I agree, the review is terrific), I'm guessing Kevin may be familiar with Gitlin's work.  (That is *not* an accusation of plagiarism.)

    I actually have Gitlin's book, but I haven't read it in 20+ years. I also have a volume called Television's Second Golden Age, but I actually only read the chapter dealing with St. Elsewhere. I'm honored to be considered in the same company as those writers.
      • Adam Gregorich likes this

    This set came out in Australia before Christmas 2013. It is 42-discs, in PAL, and was placed Season by Season in normal plastic boxes to hold each season. The plastic boxes were the standard 1-disc ones with inserts to hold the discs(7 per season) and these were placed in a cardboard single tray filing cabinet with a half-moon handle attached to pull it open. I never like discs that are placed half over the top of others. This makes for cracking, scratching etc. and, of course, double handling of the discs. The price is roughly $150 including our 10% sales tax component. 

    To be clear on the packaging, the US Shout Factory set divides the episodes up into 7 plastic DVD cases, one for each season.  The cases hold each single-sided DVD separately, on opposite sides of the little partitions.  None of the DVDs are double stacked or placed over each other.  I completely agree that the double stacking idea is a gigantic pain when it's done.  Thankfully, this release doesn't play that game.

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    Dave Scarpa
    Apr 01 2014 05:38 AM

    Fantastic Review. As for the set itself, the bad transfers will make it be a purchase only when I can get a good price drop on it. I like the series a lot, but I Don't buy too many serialized series as I don't have the time to watch entire series and prefer to watch a show here and there.

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    Doug Wallen
    Apr 01 2014 12:40 PM

    Got my set last Tuesday and have been going through the first season.  Will finish tonight.  So glad that Shout brought out the complete set.  Preorder and prerelease were nice.  I have noticed that Amazon now has this priced at $123.99.  Good price.

     

    Truly enjoying reliving all the memories.

     

    Doug

    One thing I'd note is that before "Hill Street" you can argue that "Barney Miller" was also breaking ground in the area of having story arcs even as the episodes themselves were self-contained except for the occasional two-parter.    There was always the backdrop of Harris getting his book published or trying to find an apartment (and then being sued), or Barney's marital separation, and we would also see a number of recurring appearances by crooks getting arrested again and the circumstances of their previous appearances would still be remembered.

     

    It was indeed different from the traditional cop show though at times I feel like the pendulum swung too far in the other direction, especially because this meant you had to inevitably see soap opera discord seemingly affect the lives of every member of the ensemble at some point just to give them their acting moments.     "Law And Order" would be the one major show to buck that trend by having only self-contained stories and not giving us much in the way of long-term arcs (you can pretty much watch any episode at random of those shows) which in some respects makes rewatching much easier.   

    There is something to be said about Barney Miller and Hill Street Blues having some similarities.   Some people at the time in 1981 said as much.

     

    At the same time, we should keep in mind that there is a difference between having some long-running character bits, or recurring characters who the show remembers, and having entire story situations be laid across three or four episodes.   There had been many series that embraced long-term continuity.  Lou Grant certainly had longer running character ideas.  The White Shadow played out the idea of the high school team working its way to the playoffs and then some players graduating.   The Rockford Files had plenty of recurring characters who would come back to help or torment Rockford again and again.   All in the Family played on the long-term situation of Archie's family.   But you didn't see episodes of All in the Family where a situation was specifically begun in one episode, carried further in two more eps right after the first, and then brought to resolution some four or five episodes down the line.   That was the difference made by Hill Street Blues.  And it was carried right into St. Elsewhere, and then of course the other quality series that followed, like Bochco's LA Law, Homicide: Life on the Street, etc.  

     

    I would agree that you'd see something like soap opera discord affecting every member of the ensemble at some point.  But then, this sort of thing happened on most major television series.  I used to joke with a series regular on one show I worked that if real people faced the tragedies that befall television characters over the course of five years on a TV show, they'd be in a straight jacket.  (Looking at St. Elsewhere, let's think about poor Dr. Morrison - loses his wife in a random accident, winds up raising his son alone, then nearly loses his residency over his schooling, then gets attacked in prison, then... you get the idea...)   What makes shows like Hill Street Blues a step above the typical soap opera material is that they would regularly refuse to take the easy way out of a situation.   Sometimes they would even go out of their way to say that there was no easy solution.  And they would do this in a fairly bold mixture of comedy and seriousness.  When this doesn't work, you get soap opera histrionics and a lot of overacting.  When it does, as it usually did on Hill Street and St. Elsewhere, you get a compelling show and some really good television. 

     

    Law & Order is not alone in continuing the earlier tradition of self-contained stories with character bits running over a longer period.   Magnum PI did this in the 80s, Quantum Leap did this in the 90s, JAG did this in the 90s and 2000s, and both NCIS shows do it to this day.  And that's only looking at the Don Bellisario catalogue.  The CSI shows do this as well.  And we can find others.   House did this during its run.  For the most part, it's the CBS shows that tend to take this approach.  A typical CBS drama, like JAG or NCIS, has a self-contained story with a convenient recap just at the bottom of the hour and a few areas where you can expect the big twists to happen.  So the other approach does work - I just find the revised approach, when done correctly, to make for a much more interesting show.   Granted, this means you can't just watch one episode, and it does mean you need to watch in order.  But I don't mind that overmuch.

      • Doug Wallen likes this
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    Mike Frezon
    Apr 03 2014 11:54 AM
    ...and given my hope that Shout Factory will continue this trend with series like St. Elsewhere in the future...

     

    From your lips..., Kevin.

     

    What an amazing review.  While I am really hoping to revisit the entire series of St. Elsewhere sometime down the road, I also hope that you'll get the chance to do such another comprehensive review when that day comes!  :biggrin:

      • Adam Gregorich likes this
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    CinemaCynic
    May 04 2014 11:22 AM

    Great series.  Used to watch it with my dad from about the age of 10-16, he was a lawyer in lower Manhattan and had been an NYPD beat cop prior to passing the bar.  His 'commentaries' during the show would have probably been fascinating to its producers, as theirs are now to us.  The character he felt he knew he best was 'J.D.,' he knew far too many cops (and men) flawed in that particular way.  And he'd always say "some of them make it out of the hole they dug, some of them die there.  But you can never again entirely trust a man who has begun digging his own grave."  It always inspired the best and most provocative urban-educational conversations in our home. 

     

    Only head scratchers on the release are: why isnt it in 24p?  Obviously Shout! is given the masters that they're given but its a missed opportunity and there are a couple of eps (in the final season, no less) that have been mastered off of old analog video tapes with a marked drop in quality.  Shout! does pre-warn before each of these eps but it makes one worry about the overall archival status on those episodes.  How the hell could they misplace the 35mm materials from 1987???  (Tho sadly no story on this board of lost masters, negatives or tapes ever surprises me anymore.)

     

    Run out and get the set.  Its worthy of owning and occupying a place on the shelf. And I echo the hopes that Shout! will do the same for St. Elsewhere.  And i fantasize that they'll get around to a forgotten tonal precursor of Hill Street, East Side/West Side of which I've only seen a couple of eps myself.

    Matt, I hear you, and I'm as frustrated as you are that we're not getting better archival copies of the episodes.   I've just had to chalk it up to the idea that some shows (Star Trek, Twilight Zone) get to have lovely restorations, and other shows (Hill Street, Magnum, etc) just get whatever is available without anything being done.   I'm very happy that Shout! finally gave us the full series here - at least we have that.   We'll both have to keep hoping for St. Elsewhere.  My instincts say Shout! could do it exactly the way they did Hill Street, although I'd selfishly want them to take a little more time and have some commentaries on more episodes...