DVD Review: Brilliant But Cancelled - EZ Streets
Release Date: May 23, 2006
Distributor: Universal Studios
· Michael Fields
· Peter Markle
· Paul Haggis
· Ken Olin
· Joe Pantoliano
· Jason Gedrick
· Debrah Farentino
· Brilliant But Cancelled Web Site
Jason Gedrick, Ken Olin, and Joseph Pantoliano
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: July 8, 2006
Every season, TV shows get cancelled, many of them in their inaugural season. Most of them pass without much notice. But a few are remembered and mourned. One of the best examples of that latter sort was EZ Streets, a 1996-97 show that, while not achieving the type of ratings success that leads to a second season, was admired by critics and adored by its fans. Thus, it was a natural for Bravo's DVD collection, Brilliant But Cancelled. (Also in this collection is Bravo's Brilliant But Cancelled - Crime Dramas.)
What made EZ Streets so memorable? For one, its rich, dense, interlocking plots. Ken Olin (thirtysomething) plays Detective Cameron Quinn. In the first episode, Quinn's partner is killed, and both he and Quinn are suspected of being dirty. Quinn, discredited, is recruited to act as a bad cop in order to get close to and take down gang leader Jimmy Murtha (Joe Pantoliano, The Sopranos, The Handler). That's fine with Quinn, since he suspects Murtha was responsible for his partner's death. But how to get close to Murtha? Maybe through his tough and beautiful lawyer and lover, Theresa Conners (Debrah Farentino)? Or maybe use another vulnerable point for Murtha, his friend Danny Rooney (Jason Gedrick, Windfall). Danny is newly released from prison and trying to build a straight life for himself and his family. He stood up for Murtha before, leading to the prison sentence, but if Quinn applies enough pressure, can he get Rooney to flip? That's a question that both Quinn and Murtha wonder about.
From episode to episode, it's hard to know what side of the law Quinn is really on. Is he only pretending to be dirty, or is that pretense itself false? How far will he go to investigate the death of his partner? Murtha is brilliant and mercurial, and Pantoliano imbues him with a cocky charm -- but Murtha is also frightening in his casual savagery. Rooney is the most sympathetic character, as he works his straight jobs and tries to woo back his wife, but he, too, is no simple character. When a boss cuts off his phone call with his young daughter, Rooney's reaction is to administer a beating. And while each of these men is interesting in his own right, they are fascinating when they interact.
The main creative force behind EZ Streets was Paul Haggis, whose "Crash" won Best Picture and Best Screenwriting awards in 2006. While Haggis has a solid background in writing and directing for television (Due South, L.A. Law, even writing for Facts of Life), EZ Streets plays more like a movie. As with "Crash," EZ Streets showcases a large cast with interacting plotlines.
Even more, EZ Streets has a cinematic look to it. There are sweeping crane shots, gritty outdoor scenes, and precision camera work. Take a look at a shot about 27 minutes into "One Acquainted With The Night." Rooney walks to a bench on the street and sits down. A car pulls up in front of him and the window rolls down, framing Rooney. It's a small detail, but exquisite, and perfectly executed.
To top everything off, EZ Streets had one of the best ever soundtracks for a television show. Every episode had lovely, sad, Celtic music, and its title theme won an Emmy in 1997 for Outstanding Main Title Theme.
With all this going for it, what went wrong for EZ Streets? The pat answer is to say that it was "too good for TV," but I think that's too simple and dismissive of television audiences. I would agree, though, that this is challenging television. It's not meant to be played as background noise; instead, it demands attention.
This DVD release only includes three episodes: "EZ Streets Pilot," "Every Dog Has Its Day," and "One Acquainted With The Night." Of the three, the pilot is the most satisfying -- while it opens up a lot of questions, it has a definite self-contained shape as well. The other two episodes are episodes five and six of the series. There is some discontinuity in going from the pilot to episode five, but the story is engaging enough to carry the viewer along, and episodes five and six work neatly together.
I had two main disappointments with the DVD. One, of course, is that it is not the complete series (or as much of the series as was produced). Another is the lack of bonus features. I would have loved to have heard a commentary track, if not from Haggis then from Pantoliano or Olin.
But despite those disappointments, I am just grateful that, after nine years of haunting my memory, I have the chance to see EZ Streets again on my television screen.