Series: Homicide: Life on the Street
"You go when you're supposed to go, and everything else is homicide."
Before The Wire
- hell, even before NYPD Blue
- there was Homicide
. Based on the factual book Homicide: A Year On the Killing Streets
by journalist David Simon
, the series charted the lives of a team of homicide detectives in Baltimore, Maryland, both on and off the clock. The show actually hung under the threat of cancellation after the first, but two Emmy nominations and the popularity of fellow soapy police show NYPD Blue
got it renewed for a second season of just four episodes, making it the shortest season ever commissioned by a US network.
Over time, the show managed to build a comfortable - if not spectacular - audience, and traded in several of the older, less conventionally attractive cast members for young studs. Still, the series continued to achieve critical acclaim for what was then considered to be a realistic look at police life, with cases going unsolved, killers getting off the hook and officers having very real character flaws. It finished after seven seasons in 1999, with a TV movie wrapping up the remaining plot threads in 2000. It is generally considered to be the high water mark for Police Procedural
shows, at least until David Simon
returned with another Baltimore-based cop show, HBO's The Wire
. The realism stems in large part from Simon's experience writing his non-fiction book about a year embedded with BPD Homicide; viewers familiar with the book will have fun trying to work out which scenes are ripped from its pages (TOW has a list of book!Homicide
's notable cases
The character of Det John Munch
proved so popular that the character - always played by actor Richard Belzer - went on to make guest appearances in every Law & Order
series (including a French spin-off), The X-Files
, The Beat
, Arrested Development
, The Wire
and even Sesame Street
. He is currently a regular character in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
to be confused with the Australian cop show Homicide
, which ran from 1964 to 1977. It was produced by Crawford Productions for the Seven Network
This show provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc: A slightly ridiculous sounding plot about Bayliss being a teen activist was discarded for the infinitely more effective story of his childhood sexual abuse.
- Pembleton's stroke arc was going to run longer, but fans wrote in saying they wanted the old Frank back. As a result NBC and the producers acquiesced and it was discarded in favour of Pembleton's marital problems.
- Accuse The Witness
- Action Girl: Howard qualifies, and even Russert in "All Through the House," where she goes out on the street with Lewis because she misses the adrenaline rush.
- Adaptation Expansion: Incidents off-handedly mentioned by Simon in the original, non-fiction, book would garner whole episodes based around them.
- Aesop Amnesia: To an extent. Pembleton tells Bayliss that he's to embrace his vices and get to know them in order to be virtuous, because virtue isn't real virtue if it hasn't been tested. Because the context was a discussion of exploration of sexuality, Bayliss takes this to heart and learns to embrace the darker side of his sexuality, eventually identifying as bi-sexual. However, Pembleton's advice had a clear, non-sexual, element to it that Bayliss totally missed. As a result, he does not apply Pembleton's advice in dealing with his cases and Bayliss eventually snaps and executes Luke Ryland when he is freed on a technicality
- In the episode where Felton is found murdered Howard mentions that Felton spoke to her about getting back together with his wife. This is in spite of the fact that Felton previously stated that he and his wife probably shouldn't be together.
- Alternate Reality Game: Homicide: Second Shift, a web-based mini show.
- Ambiguously Jewish: In Kaddish Brodie demonstrates his knowledge of Jewish burial rites and Yiddish, but his ethnicity is never stated directly. Munch also somewhat fits this trope - his name does not sound Jewish but he is Jewish - albeit non-practising.
- And Starring: Ned Beatty as Bolander.
- Badass: Pembleton, Giardello, Kellerman, Howard, Bolander, Lewis, Stivers.
- Badass Longcoat: Pembleton usually wore a pretty cool trenchcoat when he was out in the field. Giardello also wore a fairly long wool overcoat.
- Beard of Sorrow: Tim Bayliss during the latter half of Season Four, and then again in the movie.
- Be as Unhelpful as Possible: As stated in the original book and restated by Meldrick early on in the series 'Murderers lie because they've got to, witnesses lie because they think they've got to and everyone else lies for the sheer joy of it'
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted in the first seasons, when the cast members ranged from atypically handsome/pretty (Pembleton, Felton, Howard, Bayliss, Lewis) ordinary looking (Bolander, Giardello) to downright ugly (Munch, Crosetti).
- Berserk Button: While usually very kind and pleasant, Gee's deep voice and imposing frame will haunt your nightmares if you even think of hurting a child.
- Blind or no, you disrespect Teddy Pendergrass in Lewis' presence: His marriage more-or-less ended because his wife insulted his painting of Teddy Pendergrass.
- Bi the Way: Tim Bayliss. One of the first American TV examples, in fact.
- The Big Board: One of the things that made the series unique. Cases would be tracked by use of a giant dry erase whiteboard. Open cases would be in red and closed cases would be in black, with reopened cold cases in blue. They used a similar (but not exactly the same) board in the actual Baltimore Police Department and in The Wire.
- In his guest appearance in Season 7, Kellerman would explain for the benefit of a jury exactly what 'The Board' is and how it works. Of course, long-term viewers most likely already knew, but it was good Description Porn nonetheless.
- Black Best Friend: One of the first primetime Drama series to avert this trope by giving African-American characters leading roles and storylines.
- Black Vikings: Or, at least black Italians, in form of Giardello and his family. Actually, a case of Realityis Unrealistic as there are in fact pockets of mixed race peoples in certain parts of US who are African American in appearance, but identify with a European immigrant ethnic group, such as Italians, Croats, etc.
- Bolivian Army Cliffhanger: They ended a season with the entire cast getting reassigned.
- Bottle Episode: "Three Men & Adena" and "Night of the Dead Living" in the first season both took place entirely in the squadroom. Both are fan favourites, the former is widely considered the best of the series, and even one of the finest TV episodes ever. "The Documentary" in Season 5 could also qualify.
- Break the Cutie: Bayliss has this done to him in only a few episodes from his introduction. And it only gets worse from there.
- Break Them by Talking: What essentially drove the killer in "Baby, It's You" to confess.
- Pembleton and Bayliss tried to do this to the Arabber but he wound up turning the tables on them, and while what he said about Pembleton is debatable (Pembleton generally appears to be proud to be a black man) what he said about Bayliss (how he has a dark side) was spot on.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Munch, Pembleton and Gee all have varying levels of this.
- Buried Alive: Heartbeat, which contains multiple references to Edgar Allan Poe.
- Bus Crash: At the start of season three, Steve Crosetti goes missing after returning from a holiday; he is found in the bay after committing suicide. In season four, Det Beau Felton is suspended, but is subsequently shot and killed after being reassigned (off-screen) to Auto theft in Season five.
- Busman's Holiday: Howard ends up having to solve a murder on her holiday in "Last of the Watermen".
- But Not Too Gay: Bi-sexual Tim Bayliss is never shown with a boyfriend, despite having been stated to have had sex with at least one man. The closest we come is Tim being rejected by one black, closeted, uniformed officer and going on a dinner date with a man who runs a mostly gay restaurant. As counterpoint, Bayliss is shown to have had at least one girlfriend whom he had a full blown love scene with. He also had brief affairs/flirtations with at least three of his female co-workers (Cox, Ballard, Sheppard) and Claire Kincaid.
- Butt Monkey: Brodie.
- The Cameo: Famous Baltimore native John Waters, first as a bartender and then as a perp being extradited from New York by Detective Logan. It's unclear whether or not they're the same character
- The City
- Character Depth: Often remarkable for an episodic "Murder of the Week" series, although earlier episodes tended to be less 'episodic'.
- The depth of character development in the early years probably hurt the reception of the newer detectives. This was especially true with Falsone, Gharty, and Ballard, who were made main characters in the first episode of the show's more fast paced sixth season, making their personalities seem arbitrary and flat in comparison with the traditional characters.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Lt Giardello, Detectives Crosetti, Pembleton, Felton. Partially justified in that Maryland has traditionally had a larger-than-normal Catholic population than the rest of the United States.
- Crime Time Soap
- Conspiracy Theorist: Munch, Crosetti.
- Cop Killer: Used at least twice, with the same twist both times: the cop killer is himself killed shortly afterward, and the unlucky detective assigned to the case finds that nobody cares about justice for a dead cop killer.
- "End Game" has Gordon Pratt, a racist Smug Snake (played by Steve Buscemi)shoot at three of the homicide detectivesnote (he didn't manage to kill them) and practically brag about it — only to be shot dead in the last few minutes. In the follow up, "Law and Disorder," Bayliss is assigned to solve Pratt's murder and has to admit defeat because no cop will help him.
- In the "Justice" two-parter, a cop killer is acquitted in court and murdered shortly thereafter. The dead cop's son (played by Bruce Campbell) is suspect number one, but nobody can figure out the evidence trail until one of the detectives casually mentions that he owns a derringer. Gee explains that when he was a junior policeman, the Baltimore police always executed cop killers without trial, and usually did it with a derringer (which was easy to dispose of, and couldn't be traced back to the department).
- The Coroner: Julianna Cox, as well as Dr Blythe, Dr Dyer, Dr Scheiner and Cox's replacement Dr Griscom.
- Cross Over: With Law & Order and St. Elsewhere (see also the Tommy Westphall crossover chart for some Fridge Brilliance examining the resulting John Munch Intercontinuity Crossover.)
- Da Chief: Lt Giardello. While expecting some drama and criticism from his underlings, he demands loyalty.
- Deadpan Snarker: Munch.
- Determinator: Bayliss, especially in his obsession with the Adena Watson case.
Det Bayliss: ...I'm not gonna stop until I put this case down.
Munch: I forgot about this side of you.
Bayliss: What side?
Munch: The obsessive side.
- Pembleton was, in many ways, exactly the same. To the point that he didn't care who he hurt in the process of getting to the truth, a prime example would be the episode 'Colors' where Pembleton jeopardized his friendship with Bayliss in trying to convict his cousin of murder.
- Defective Detective: Bayliss
- Humorously one Law and Order cross-over had a suspect/witness mis-read Detective Munch's NYPD guest badge as 'Defective Monk'.
- Generally most of the squad was this. All had personal problems, and the only one who managed to hold down a marriage was Pembleton, albeit with some difficulty. Then again, the pressure of his job did cause him to lose his Catholic faith and suffer a stroke.
- Depending on the Writer: The series is fairly standardized, but the exception is Season 2's "Bop Gun." This was written by David Simon, and used a lot of the lingo ("humble," "yo," etc.) that was in the book and was later featured in The Wire. For most of the run, the show tended to use standard language, or included explanations with police jargon.
- Deus Angst Machina: Bayliss was molested as a child, had a terrible relationship with his father, gets some of the shift's worst cases, has a complicated and mostly unhappy social life, has health problems, takes a bullet for his best friend who later quits the job leaving him alone, and is eventually haunted by the Vigilante Execution he commits.
- Dirty Cop: Kellerman; in a mundane but unsettling example of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, as a consequence of being unjustly accused of being a Dirty Cop, he eventually does become one.
Kellerman: (to his colleagues, who have organized a party to celebrate his acquittal) I was accused of being dirty. Now I look at your faces and I realize I'll never get that stain off me. There's always gonna be a little doubt. But just for the record, I never took any of Mitch Roland's money, okay? ... but I guess I might as well had. (he leaves)
- Documentary Episode: In the fifth season episode "The Documentary".
- Do Not Pass Go: In the movie:
Det Frank Pembleton: Good. "Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go."
- Doesn't Like Guns: Pembleton will only go as far as to hold a gun and draw down armed suspects. The irony is that after his stroke he needs to pass a mandatory fire-arms exam to return to active duty.
- Downer Ending: Many of them, but the ending of the final movie takes the cake, with Giardello dying and Bayliss either going to jail or killing himself.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Bolander was unceremoniously written off after the third season. Unlike Felton and Crosetti, however, he did avoid a Bus Crash.
- Evil Is Dumb: Plenty of them. A prime example would be in the season 4 episode Stakeout, when a young man picked up on a solicitation charge attempts to bargain his way out by admitting complicity in a series of serial murders.
- Exasperated Perp
- Expy: The original cast were based on the Detectives from David Simon's book, but with names, genders and nationalities/race completely changed. Also notably the Baltimore police unit as depicted in the book had at least twenty detectives all told, and four Detective Sergeants. The series has eight detectives (although they're not the only people who work in the unit) and, until Howard passes her Sergeant's exam in Season 4, no Detective Sergeants.
- The character Brodie was seen by some as David Simon's analogue, which would make him the only non original character to be based on someone from the book.
- Fair Cop: Laura Ballard and Rene Sheppard were blatant attempts to get viewing figures up, after Executive Meddling.
- Howard was rather attractive, but regular-looking, as opposed to Ms. Fanservice.
- Russert, Cox (although she's not technically a cop), Stivers, and (for female viewers) Kellerman and Falsone weren't too shabby, either.
- Bayliss, with long hair and glasses, may very well count.
- Fallen Hero: Kellerman
- Fatal Flaw: Bayliss' inability to keep himself emotionally distant from his job.
- A Father to His Men: Gee. The Movie drives this point home, as every detective that had appeared on the series previously returned to catch his assailant.
- Faux Affably Evil: Luther Mahoney, at least until his Villainous Breakdown.
- Foreshadowing: In "Fallen Heroes" part one, Pembleton has the chance to shoot Junior Bunks during his killing spree in the police station, but he hesitates. In part two, he freezes in front of an armed suspect and Bayliss takes a bullet for him. In general, Frank being a Non-Action Guy prone to making mistakes in dangerous situations had been foreshadowed several times (see also: first episode of season four).
- Genre Savvy [or possibly just pessimism] — In the True Crime book on which the series is based, in cases where someone has been attacked with intent to kill but isn't dead when the homicide unit gets involved, the Real Life cops take it as a given that, if there's enough evidence to convict someone's attacker, the wounded victim will survive and the perp will get off with a lighter sentence. If there isn't sufficient evidence for a conviction, the wounded victim will die, ensuring the case will never be closed.
- This idea was both played straight and subverted in the series itself. Notably in the Movie Pembleton and Bayliss catch Gee's shooter and it seems like Gee will make a perfect recovery...only for Gee to die from an aneurysm soon after.
- In the factual book upon which the series is based two detectives actually dance around the room in joy after being told that the surgeons operating on their victim have had to crack his chest, a surgical Godzilla Threshold procedure which (at the time the book was written) had a sub-10% survival rate. The man dies, and the detectives get their clearance.
Police are some sick fucks.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: Often, but not always, played respectively by Pembleton and Bayliss (see the episode Three Men and Adena); inverted in Double Blind.
- Guns Akimbo: In "The City That Bleeds".
- Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: Junior Bunk Mahoney was a none-too-bright enforcer for his heroin-slinging family, and couldn't stop weeping when the squad brought him in. Fast forward a couple of years, and he's a gleeful sociopath who shoots up the squad room, injuring several main characters.
- Handguns: Very rarely used or fired in the early seasons. Generally the Unit (and Pembleton especially) prefer to draw down armed suspects as opposed to shooting them.
- Headbutting Heroes: During the first Law & Order cross-over, Pembleton tells Briscoe to 'shove it', and the BPD detectives and the NYPD don't seem to get along at all. They get on much better by the second half of the cross-over.
- Generally Pembleton's arrogance puts him at odds with his squad members, particularly Felton, as he considers them amateurish. To be fair, he has a right to as, aside from Howard (who clears nearly 100% of her cases), Pembleton has the best clearance rate. However Pembleton gets along much better with his squad members than he does other squads and, as noted above, other Police forces.
- Hero of Another Story: The other shift. They had their own web series during the final season.
- Heteronormative Crusader: Bayliss starts out as one, but comes to embrace his darker side as the show progresses.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Frank and Tim. Frank later stated that Tim and his wife were the only people he truly trusted.
- Hollywood Atheist: After the episode Extreme Unction Frank lost his faith, but it's debatable whether or not he became a full-on Atheist. Of note is the incident where he refused to attend Crosetti's funeral because he didn't believe any more and didn't want to go to Church, and the incident where he refused his daughter a baptism (only to recant, although he fails to attend said baptism, the result of which being his wife leaving him.)
- Bayliss experiments with a variety of faiths, culminating in Zen Buddhism. However, the fact that he shot a man (one who pulled a gun on him) made him, in his opinion, a bad Buddhist. Bayliss eventually abandons religious belief entirely.
- Hollywood Police Driving Academy: Lewis must have been an honor student.
- Idiot Ball:
- The first episode of season six features a murder committed by a member of a reputable black family. They give the idiot ball to Pembleton, who refuses to even consider that a member of this family would perpetrate this crime because they were black, friends of Gee, and did a lot of good for the city, even though their only other lead was such a long shot and Pembleton is, unlike Bayliss, usually free of such hang-ups. The reason they gave Pembleton the idiot ball was so Ballard could look good. Understandably this probably pissed off a lot of fans who hated Ballard, and there were quite a few.
- Andre Braugher, who played Pembleton, was also probably very irked about it as well, as after the season ended, he wound up leaving the show. To be fair, the network had already scuttled the Pembleton stroke arc (which Braugher liked because he wanted to depict a Pembleton who had to face more challenge and difficulty in his work) and now he had to contend with being side-lined in favour of the network insisted super-model cop.
- Ironically, however, the only time Lewis gets into a really bad accident, he's not driving the car, Mike Giardello is.
- Idiot Ball: The Sniper episodes: The detectives couldn't figure out that "EROMITLAB" is "BALTIMORE" backwards?
- The story arc where Bolander, Felton and Howard get shot. The Homicide squad spend two episodes hunting down the pedophile the detectives were supposed to serve the warrant on, despite the fact that everybody they talked to said he wasn't violent (and therefore couldn't have shot the detectives), and despite the fact that they went to the wrong door in the first place. Finally, in the third part, they have the sense to hunt the man whose door they knocked on.
- Improbable Age: Barnfather oversees the Homicide unit despite being younger than Gee. Actor Clayton LeBouef was 38 during the first season but could have passed for ten years younger. It gets even more ridiculous when he gets promoted to Colonel, making him Gee's boss's boss, all while looking younger than most of the detectives.
- The episode Every Mother's Son features a fourteen-year old perp who shot a similarly aged victim in a bowling alley. Most of the characters highlight how he's too young to be killing people.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: Subverted in the episode "Bad Medicine."
- Insufferable Genius: Frank for the first four seasons. Then the writers bring him crashing down to earth, without his ability or anyone who wants to work with him.
- Then late in Season 5 he regains his former ability only to quit at the end of Season 6.
- Intercontinuity Crossover: As of 2015, Munch has appeared in no less than 11 TV series. They are: Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The X-Files, The Beat, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, The Wire and, no, this isn't made up, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Sesame Street and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
- Alfre Woodard shows up as her St. Elsewhere character, Dr. Roxanne Turner, and in the movie, though his name isn't spoken aloud, Ed Begley, Jr. appears as Dr. Victor Ehrlich. Considering St. Elswhere was All Just a Dream, what does that say about Homicide, or any of these shows?
- It's a wordless cameo, but in "A Doll's Eyes", a young boy's heart is air-lifted to a Chicago hospital, where Mandy Patinkin is waiting, implying the hospital was Chicago Hope and that was Dr. Geiger. He was a heart surgeon, after all.
- Internal Affairs: Ironically, Kellerman is initially persecuted by IA for being unjustly accused of taking bribes; later, his execution of a suspect is never properly investigated.
- Internal Homage: The first scene of the first episode is repeated with the exact same dialogue in the last scene of the last episode. Also, in "Nearer, My God, To Thee" (episode 14), Munch issues a cynical monologue about TV and technocracy; in "Kaddish" (episode 73), a Whole Episode Flashback, a younger John Munch delivers the same monologue, but with a hopeful tone.
- Interrupted Suicide: Lewis talks Kellerman out of suicide.
- Ironic Nursery Tune: The ending of "Requiem for Adena", with "Twinkle twinkle little star" playing as we see the soon-to-be-father Pembleton looking at the empty cradle and a burnout Bayliss trying to forget about his first case, the murder of a young girl, tossing the portrait of the victim (which he kept framed on his desk) in the garbage bin.
- It Was His Sled: In-universe. A season seven case featured the accidentally fatal tranquillising of an old-movie theatre patron who drove away customers by spoiling the endings to classic films. Inevitably this came up.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Very much averted as hitting suspects is illegal and most detectives can't be bothered with the risk. Only about three examples come up: all involving Bayliss and all ending with him being stopped and/or swiftly reprimanded.
- - However, making suspects THINK they're getting physically threatened is not uncommon.
- This exhibits the show's realism. In real life, hitting suspects for statements is absolutely forbidden and can destroy a detective's career. Acting threatening without saying or doing anything that looks to an objective observer like a threat is very much allowed and in use.
- In the episode End Game, Gordon Pratt believes that the Detectives will physically assault him and he says racially inflammatory things to the primarily black detectives, as a result the interrogation becomes an exercise in physical restraint. Lewis eventually leaves the room because Pratt makes him so angry.
- Jerkass: Felton, Gharty (both accused racists), Pembleton , Munch, Bolander (while generally nice the way he treats Munch is exactly how Pembleton treats Bayliss) and, after a long character arc, Kellerman. Gaffney, however, is easily the biggest.
- Danvers was originally, but this was probably because of the pressures of his job. As the series progressed he became much more likeable. Bayliss also followed similar character development, but he could be even more unlikeable if he outright hated a suspect, and at times his attitude would mirror Frank's.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Munch.
- Jumped at the Call: Not the call per se but Bayliss is initially very enthusiastic about being a Homicide Detective.
- This is reflected upon almost ironically in Bayliss' final scene in the series, Bayliss reflects on the many moments in all seven seasons, culminating in a recollection of what he said to Giardello when he first arrived.
- Jurisdiction Friction: In on episode, Kellerman is disgruntled by the fact that the F.B.I are not interested in the matter of a corrupt judge that he's bringing to them. One of the agents later tracks him down and, off-the-record, admits that they're already investigating the judge but official policy is not to discuss corruption investigations with local authorities.
- Kellerman experiences further friction when he finds himself working the same case as Falsone from opposite ends. The BPD refuses to share its information with Kellerman.
- There was some friction between the NYPD, Pembleton and Bayliss during the first Law and Order cross-over. NYPD refuses to include Pembleton or Bayliss in their investigation so Pembleton, already annoyed at the fact he came all the way to New York for a 'We'll keep you informed', decides to work the case by himself. They then get a better interrogation of their suspect as a result of the information they had that the NYPD didn't. However, during this interrogation, Pembleton inadvertently violates the suspect's rightsnote thus jeopardising the case and pissing off the New York authorities even more. Nevertheless the NYPD and the BPD then decide that it's probably best they work with each other rather than against each other for the remainder of the case, and the BPD are more accommodating when Briscoe and Curtis come to Baltimore.
- The third Law and Order cross-over has this trope played straight, with the BPD and NYPD trying to work a case and the FBI and Independent Counsel probing that case to offer deals to the suspects in exchange for information about President Clinton's wrong-doings. Mike Giardello is caught in the middle.
- Karma Houdini: A realistically terrifying number of them.
- Kavorka Man: Ed Danvers, despite being short and balding, manages to date both Kay Howard and later gets engaged to a beautiful defense attorney. It should be noted that Ed is both a very nice guy and works in an impressive field which he is very good at. Then there is Kay's endorsement of him. Munch also, despite being a sarcastic, conspiracy-obsessed nut jerkass and not anyone's definition of attractive, dates and marries many attractive women.
- Kick the Dog: Gee tells Felton, who had just come back to work after being shot, that he hadn't been up to the job for a long time, even before he got shot. To be fair, the episodes before that showed Felton drinking and becoming increasingly erratic after his wife disappeared with his children, and his name had more red under it than most. In addition Felton actually lost evidence (that turned out to be a red-herring, but he didn't know that) during one of his drunken escapades.
- "You still walk on water, don't you Frank?" To be fair, Pembleton himself had previously kicked the dog when he didn't show Munch any gratitude for calling an Ambulance and then for coming to visit him while he was in the hospital (although, given what he was going through it's understandable. Pembleton also didn't think that Munch would care, given his persona around the squad room).
- Knight in Sour Armor: Many examples but Munch really takes the cake on this one.
- Lie Detector: Munch and Bolander trick a stupid perp into thinking that a photocopier is actually a dangerous, radioactive lie detector.
- Such was actually common practice at the Baltimore Police Department and was detailed in the book the series was based on, and then later re-used in The Wire.
- Lying to the Perp: Frequently in order to get a confession.
- Mauve Shirt: Officer Chris Thormann, recurring mostly in the first season, and one of the few officers to appear outside of the main cast, chatting up many of the main characters, and being friends with Crosetti who mentored him. He even had a story arc, mentioning his wife wanting kids, then getting shot and blinded, and forced to live with the consequences, while his wife was pregnant. When Lewis investigates Crosetti's death, Thormann is seen at home with his wife, holding the baby. In a later episode Lewis and Thormann have become friends following Crosetti's death, and they celebrate an annual 'In memoriam' for him at a jazz club.
- Medley Exit: Very frequent - and memorable.
- Moral Dissonance: Lewis' behavior after his involvement in the Mahoney shooting is a fine example of this trope.
- Motor Mouth: Munch, on occasion. In one episode, he meets up with Gee at the laundromat on a lazy Sunday; Gee just wants to read the paper in peace and winds up storming off when Munch can't stop babbling about nothing. (A bit of a Kick the Dog moment, since Munch is hurt by the snub and comes across as kind of desperate for company.)
- Mummies at the Dinner Table: In "The Documentary", a lonely mortuary worker borrows corpses so he can host dinner parties by himself.
- Murder.com: "Homicide.com".
- My Greatest Failure: Bayliss eventually became a competent detective, but was always haunted by his inability to solve his first case, the murder of a young girl.
Bayliss: Don't you see, Frank? The killer beat me. He beat me. Dooley, Tucker, whoever he is, he beat me. It was my first case Frank, my first case. I hadn't even started to be a Homicide Detective yet, and he beat me. I put everything I had into that case and it wasn't enough.
- Mystery of the Week: In later seasons.
- Nice Guy: Lewis, Kellerman until late season 5, and Bayliss.
- Nice Hat: Lewis is rarely seen outside the station house without his really rather cool trilby.
- Pembleton was also given to wearing a pretty sweet fedora at times.
- No Bisexuals: Averted; Tim Bayliss is bisexual.
- Noble Bigot with a Badge: Gharty was supposed to be this. It got toned down significantly, along with many other of Gharty's negative personality traits, presumably because the executives felt that viewers could not empathise with a main character who was both a racist and a coward.
- Non-Action Guy: Pembleton, one of best investigators of the squad, hates firearms and is a terrible shot.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Despite most of the characters being Baltimore natives, none of the cast were from there with only Lewis, played by Philadelphia native Clark Johnson, having the accent. Braugher's New York native Pembleton has a Chicago accent and Reed Diamond sounds more Brooklyn than "Bawlmer". Probably for the best as the Baltimore accent is very difficult to grasp and can be off-putting if done poorly.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Col. Barnfather was essentially this though later episodes were far more sympathetic to his predicaments.
- Off on a Technicality: Many examples but the best is probably Luke Ryland's acquittal due to the fact that the state failed to try him for murder within a 180 day period. This pushes Bayliss over the edge.
- One of Our Own: A season three arc had the unit work over-time to catch the man who shot Bolander, Howard and Felton. The Unit and Pembleton in particular specifically refuse to let Violent Crimes (who would normally handle a non-fatal assault case) handle the case.
- In season five, knowing that Daniel Baldwin was probably never going to come back, the writers killed off Felton for some easy drama. The result was the unit, again working overtime, to try and catch Felton's killer.
- One Steve Limit: Mostly played pretty straight, or as straight as most TV series play it, but there were two Mikes in the main cast; Mike Kellerman and Mike Giardello. This isn't as noticeable as in some series because they were rarely on camera together (and were not main cast members at the same time) and because Kellerman was generally referred to by his last name and Mike Giardello generally by his first, as his father, Al Giardello, was also a major character.
- Orphaned Punchline: Meldrick Lewis frequently tells the same filthy joke about a bear, of which the audience only ever got to hear the punch line: "You're not here to hunt, are you?" In one episode, his partner Kellerman only says that line, to which Lewis replies that the build-up to the punchline is the whole point.
- Out-of-Character Moment: Several, usually acknowledged by the writers, when the show either wrote-off or were in the process of writing off characters.
- Crosetti commits suicide but previous episodes demonstrated Crosetti to be a fairly Conservative Catholic and not suffering any significant pain other than arguments with his ex-wife and daughter.
- The typically proper and conservative Bolander is unlikely to get drunk and get naked while on duty or at a function like a Police conference.
- Hell, even characteristic drunk Felton is established to be the kind of drunk that simply stumbles from place to place, getting even more drunk, as opposed to what he's stated to have done to get himself suspended. Also, him and Bolander never hung out.
- Pembleton's drive for his work would never allow him to quit the force. In fact, Frank turned in his badge under similar circumstances in Season 3 (angered at Departmental cover-ups, plus the Deputy Commissioner screwed him over), only to return after Bayliss asserts that he could never be anything other than a cop. This incongruity is addressed in the last episode of Season 7 (where Bayliss confides to Sheppard that he always thought Frank would come back) and the Movie (when Tim asks Frank to turn him in, saying he'll always be a cop).
- Giardello runs for Mayor but throughout the series it's firmly established that Gee has no mind for politics, and commits what might be considered political suicide a number of times.
- Out of Focus: Howard and Munch from season 4 on, although Munch was never side-lined as badly as he was on SVU. This was because their partners had both been suspended and thus there was no one for them to play off of (although Howard and Munch often did team up themselves).
- Pembleton (amongst others) in Season 6, in favour of the newer characters. Understandably people weren't happy.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Mostly subverted.
- Perp Sweating
- Platonic Life Partners: Howard and Felton.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Detective - later Captain - Gaffney. Granger (who turned out to be corrupt) and Barnfather certainly had their moments.
- Police Procedural
- Promotion to Opening Titles: The series didn't engage in this as often as you might think, with a majority of the new regulars being introduced as regulars. However, Brodie was a recurring character during the fourth season, added to the opening credits for Season Five, while Gharty and Falsone appeared in the Season Five two-part finale, becoming regulars the following season. Gharty had appeared in the fourth season, a cowardly beat cop who somehow later was promoted to detective and moved to Internal Investigations.
- Rabid Cop: Usually Pembleton.
- Reading Your Rights: Mostly accurate.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Bayliss and Pembleton, respectively.
- Bolander and Munch, respectively
- Crosetti and Lewis, also respectively.
- Repeat Cut: Used frequently in the first few seasons, toned down significantly thereafter until the show basically lost another of the things that made it unique.
- Retcon: In Season 1, Howard is the primary investigator on a double-homicide committed by a drug dealer named Pony Johnson. In Season 6, Johnson is the prime mover behind another murder. Because the actress playing Howard, Melissa Leo, had left the show by that time, the case was retconned to make John Munch the primary, so he could get the detectives up to speed on Johnson. Why they didn't just write a scene detailing the necessary exposition with a mere mention of Howard instead is a mystery.
- A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma: When Munch and Kellerman work on a case involving a suicide jumper killed by a stray shotgun blast on the way down from a tall building, Munch describes it as "a riddle, surrounded by a mystery, wrapped inside an enigma, and stuffed inside a body bag."
- Ripped From The Producer's Non-Fiction Books: A good deal of cases are almost carbon-copies of real Baltimore murders which happened during David Simon's time shadowing the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide Unit during 1988:
- Bayliss's Adena Watson case was based upon the case of Latonya Kim Wallace, a young girl who was murdered in Reservoir Hill, becoming a "red ball" murdernote Sadly, like in real life, Adena's murderer is never brought to justice.
- The "Black Widow killer" Calpurnia Church from the first episode is based on Geraldine Parrish (Parish = Church, geddit?), who murdered a string of husbands - the BPD found tens of life insurance policies naming her as the beneficiary. She, like Church, pretended to be a voodoo master, and, like Church, the investigation into her crimes prompted multiple exhumations at city cemeteries.
- The real-life shooting of Officer Gene Cassidy and the subsequent uphill struggle to secure a conviction for his attacker, Butchie Frazier, are the basis of a season 4 plotline for Crosetti.
- The death of a Mr John Randolph Scott in suspicious circumstances likely involving BPD officers in the book is recreated in the TV series. Unlike in real life, the killer is brought to justice.
- The more common example of reheating recent news stories was not deployed as much as some other procedurals, but occasionally made an appearance. In particular, the episode "Colors" is based on the real case of Yoshihiro Hattori, a Japanese exchange student who was shot dead by a paranoid householder in Baton Rouge while looking for a fancy-dress party.
- Serial Killer: A couple of them, but only after the sober minimalism of the first two seasons.
- Ship Tease: The first Law & Order cross-over has Bayliss go out with Claire Kincaid.
- Shout-Out: The non-plot names on the murder board are taken from the show's crew and their friends and family.
- Shown Their Work: One of the most realistic cop shows during its time. Detectives almost never use their weapons or go to an arrest without backup.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Definitely on the cynical side.
: (to Pembleton, former ace detective of the squad, who is returning to work after a stroke) You still walk on water
, don't you Frank?
- Smoking Is Cool: At the beginning of the series it seems the entire unit smoked, with Bayliss and Howard being mocked for attempting to quit in the first season finale. Most of the replacement detectives were non-smokers, while most of the originals succeed in quitting. Giardello is explicitly retconned as a non-smoker; in the early seasons he enjoys cigars, but in season 4 he claims to have only smoked as a teenager, even telling Frank that “Smoking isn’t cool.”
- Pembleton in particular had a love of cigarettes until he was finally forced to quit after suffering a stroke.
- Smug Snake: Luther Mahoney. Also, Roger Gaffney, Deputy Commissioner James Harris and Independent Counsel William Dell. All the worse because he wins in the end.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Sheppard in the last season.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Pembleton is one of the triumphant examples in TV history. He's a Jesuit-taught omniglot, and during interrogations you can see both suspects and fellow cops struggling to keep up. He also peppers his dialogue with blunt colloquialisms, such as calling Ed Danvers "the midget dweeb" and warning a young Sympathetic Murderer heading to prison "keep your ass to the wall."
- Soul Brotha: Lewis.
- Spiritual Successor: The Wire. Both were based on Homicide: A Year on The Killing Streets, with The Wire essentially using the plots and characters that went unused for Homicide. David Simon, having greater control over The Wire as well as freedom from Network interference (See above), was able to make a more honest crime drama.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Falsone and Ballard in the sixth season. They weren't well liked to say the least.
- Team Dad: Giardello, to the point that the squad won't take orders from Gaffney when he's appointed Captain unless Gee tells them to. Gee was so beloved by all the detectives that when he got shot everyone who had ever worked in the unit, regardless of whether they moved, quit or retired, came back to work the case.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Kellerman.
- Lewis also qualified, particularly in the last two seasons.
- Tragic Hero: If we consider the final movie, Bayliss.
- Transplant: Munch joining Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
- Trash the Set: The shootout at the end of the sixth season.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: Roger Gaffney. Giardello is not happy about Gaffney's promotion, along with the rest of the unit, who all hate him.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: A lot of the murders are dramatized versions of real Baltimore murders David Simon saw the real BPD Homicide unit work when he was writing his book.
- Vigilante Execution:
- Villain Episode: Third-season finale "The Gas Man" was almost a pure example, but the heroes ended up with dialogue anyway.
- Villainous Breakdown: Luther Mahoney maintains his cool throughout his time on the series, knowing that he's protected himself very well and has nothing to fear from Lewis and Kellerman. But in his final appearance, when everything starts going wrong for him, he doesn't take it very well.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Luther Mahoney.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Munch and Bolander, of Type 2.
- Pembleton and Bayliss
- Lewis and Crosetti
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Bayliss for most of the series though when he breaks, he breaks hard.
- This is particularly notable in the second season when Bayliss claims that sex is love and decries the act of sex for pleasure as 'dehumanising'. Pembleton makes a point of telling him that he's either pretending to be virtuous or is simply an idiot. Later in the series Bayliss drastically changes his stance as he begins to embrace his bi-sexuality.
- Kellerman starts out as a kind of young idealist. Like Bayliss, he eventually breaks.
- Wrap It Up: Homicide The Movie.
- You Didn't Ask: In "In Search of Crimes Past".
- Artistic License - Law: Mostly averted.
- You Just Told Me: Pembleton finally gets Kellerman in the Box to interrogate him regarding Mahoney's shooting. Pembleton knows Kellerman murdered him, but believes this is true because he thinks Mahoney didn't have a gun, and presses Kellerman to admit there was no gun. Kellerman finally shouts "There was a gun!" while unthinkingly miming a "gun hand" held to his side, mimicking Mahoney lowering his gun. Pembleton realizes then that yes, Mahoney was holding a gun, but no, he wasn't pointing it at Kellerman, and thus, Kellerman murdered Mahoney in cold blood.
- You Look Familiar: The actor who played Gaffney, Walt MacPherson, had previously appeared in the first season as an unidentified beat cop who finds an earring at a crime scene and offers it to Bayliss as possible evidence. Given that Gaffney is an amateurish detective at best, they could very well be the same character.
- Further supported by Tom Fontana's claim that, unlike other shows (such as Law & Order), they never had actors come back to play different parts. The same actor would play the same part.