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BOOMTOWN
Season One

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Donnie Wahlberg, Neal McDonough, Mykelti Williamson, Gary Basaraba, Nina Garbiras, Lana Parrilla, Jason Gedrick
Creator: Graham Yost
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Studio: Lions Gate
Features: See Review
Length: 810 Minutes
Release Date: July 20, 2004

"YOU SHOT A SIX YEAR OLD! WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?"

Shows ****

Boomtown; a TV show with a pure cinematic appeal. Who knew such a show could exist?

There are times when I seriously thought television had lost its touch. There were hardly any shows on the air, with the exception of Third Watch, that had a certain edge to them. Like my mentor, Mike J., I had very much given up on TV for a good long period. However, the last several years have shown in increase in what I consider to be top quality television.

For me, and I'm sure many will agree on this one, a little show called 24 revolutionized the overall appeal of TV entertainment. With its brilliant narrative structure and never-ending cliffhanger element of suspense, it was like no other show I had ever experienced. Another strong element was the presence of Kiefer Sutherland who, on a side note, is very deserving of the Emmy award.

With that show's debut in 2001, I began noticing that rival networks began ushering in a slew of series that, from my perspective, seemed to have a bigger level of edge and appeal to them in the year following. One of those shows was Boomtown, which I had been anxious to catch because of the high acclaim and buzz it had received prior to airing, just like 24. However, due to its Sunday evening time slot, I was unable to catch a single episode.

Now, the show has made it to DVD, and I'm happy to say that while it may be second to 24, Boomtown is every bit as groundbreaking and dramatically involving. It's an L.A. cop drama unlike any other I've seen, clearly making it the single best cop show I've ever seen. And I thought Crockett and Tubbs would rule that throne forever.

While Boomtown may not have the strong narrative style of 24 in that of tying each episode together, it does manage to have a unique narrative trick of its own. Each episode involves a crime that has occurred somewhere in Los Angeles. The crime and the events that are followed are examined from the viewpoints of the different groups of people involved in the entire aftermath. These people are the detectives, street cops, politicians, the media, and sometimes even from the very suspect of the crime.

The creator of the show is Graham Yost, who also penned screenplays for Speed, Hard Rain, and The Last Castle. Given Yost's track record as a long time screenwriter, it's easy to assume that he wanted to bring a different show to television; one that maneuvered the same way a piece of cinema did. To give a good example of a plot scenario and to get an idea of the central characters, I'll examine the pilot episode; not only one of the strongest episodes of the season, but possibly one of the best pilot episodes of all time.

We learn that a young girl has been wounded in a drive by shooting. First on the scene is ruthless Deputy D.A. David McNorris (Neal McDonough) who's there to answer questions about the incident, as well as manipulate the event for his own political gain and media exposure. The lead reporter covering the shooting is Andrea Little (Nina Garbiras), whom the married David just happens to be bedding.

Investigating the shooting are homicide detectives Joel Stevens (Donnie Wahlberg) and Bobby "Fearless" Smith (Mykelti Williamson). The high level cops work alongside uniformed officers Ray Hechler (Gary Basarba) and Tom Turcotte (Jason Gedrick), despite the possible resentment between the two ranks. The wounded girl is treated by lead police paramedic Teresa Ortiz (Lana Parilla), who is then able to provide key information to the detectives.

The story takes many surprising turns, as the suspect trail leads to that of teen whose prints were found on the weapon used in the shooting. The result a gut wrenching twist involving an accidental death and the pain that must be dealt by a suffering grandfather. It goes without saying that like 24, Boomtown doesn't make compromises when it comes to suspense and grim subject matter.

Now although it may sound as if the show maneuvers in the way of a traditional hour long show, it is quite the opposite. Each episode is essentially divided amongst the key characters, and a certain plot element is sometimes replayed as part of being retold through another character's perspective.

This is done in a neat process where in which a character's name appears on the screen to preside a sequence, after which then certain events are seen. It then ends and begins again with another character's name, and the events are seen in a new light. It's like chapters in a book helping to let a whole story become entirely revealed. It reminded me a lot of Memento, and the effect that its storytelling structure had on me.

And although the strength of Boomtown may come by way of the narrative, there are two other elements that make it an even stronger series. The first is in the way the series is shot. In many episodes, the visual aspect becomes almost as important as the events in the story. With the visuals consisting of periodic moments of deep saturated images, as well as distinct coloring, the intensity of a storyline would be upgraded to a full effect. If anything, the look of Boomtown is one of uncompromising brilliance, rarely found in television.

The second element is the strong cast lineup helming the show. For my money, there are two big standouts in the cast; Donnie Wahlberg and Neal McDonough. It's a shame to note that neither actor was rewarded with an Emmy nod.

In the role of the power-hungry, self-centered, politically driven David McNorris, McDonough, who was great as the over-the-top villain in Walking Tall, is a sharp live wire in a strikingly complex character who you find yourself rooting for at times, while at the same time acknowledging the fact he's nothing more than a politically driven slime ball. Two episodes, "The David McNorris Show" and, especially "Blackout", both centering on McNorris are two of the best episodes of the first season, and that's attributed to McDonough's powerful performance.

As for Donnie Wahlberg, brother of Mark, Boomtown is a strong revelation if I've ever seen one. Wahlberg has had a number of supporting roles in a number of films, most notably Ransom and Dreamcatcher, but it's his outstanding work here that has solidified him as a serious actor. His character, Det. Stevens, is another complex character of the show. He's clearly the hero of the series, though there are times during the season where it's questioned whether or not he may be the clean dedicated cop he appears to be. Wahlberg is credited with delivering the most intense line of dialogue during an interrogation scene in the pilot episode.

If there is a disappointing element regarding Boomtown, it's the fact that the show got dumped by NBC late last year, after a year and a half run. It's clear that the show has a dedicated fan base; otherwise we would've probably never seen a DVD release. One thing's for sure; it's a pure work of brilliance, the kind rarely seen in television. Here's hoping the second season will see the light of day on DVD quite soon.

Video ****

Lion's Gate's handling of this series has resulted in perhaps the best looking performance of any TV show I've experienced on DVD, possibly even the unsurpassable handling of 24. Boomtown, like many current TV shows, was aired in the widescreen format. With the grand anamorphic enhancement, the visual effect of the show has been elevated even further. No matter what the sequences calls for, be it light or dark, the image is that of endless sharp beauty. Every episode didn't falter one bit, adding up to groundbreaking series of television made even better by the format. Like Fox has done with 24, Lion's Gate should be congratulated for their efforts for applying the anamorphic job, and giving it an extra dose of pure quality.

Audio ***1/2

The Dolby Digital 2.0 track supplied delivers a bigger bang than one might expect, even for a presentation limited to TV viewing. Every element here, from dialogue delivery to numerous action scenes, to a good many bits of music playback, by way of both original music and provided songs (the opening theme is quite a riveting one) add up to make this a much more memorable sound presentation than one would most likely expect.

Features ***1/2

Now that I'm a solidified fan of this now non-existing show, I have to give Lion's Gate props for not letting this collection go empty handed in the extras department. Included are six commentary tracks, selected for six specific episodes, including commentary from creator Graham Yost, producer/director Jon Avnet, writer and producers Larry Andries, Chris Brancato, Bert Salke, Kevin Dunnigan, Fred Golan and Fred Keller, as well as cast mates Donnie Wahlberg and Neal McDonough.

Also featured are two very well made documentaries, "Building Boomtown", which takes a look at the creation of the series, and "The Boomtown Shuffle", which explores the show's unique storytelling method.

Summary:

Boomtown is, or was, a pure television original, with a heavy mixture of gripping drama, intense action, and strong moments of character development which remained intact throughout the first season. It may no longer be on the air, but thanks to the miracle of DVD, the show and all its unique glory live on.

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