Thursday, May 17, 2012

From the Files of Joseph Wambaugh: A Jury of One (1992) TV Movie

Published: Friday, November 27, 1992

Heading the list of television genres due for a comeback is the police drama, the kind of precinct yarn that had its last burst of energy with "Hill Street Blues." It could happen, especially with Joseph Wambaugh deciding to try. A former Los Angeles cop, Mr. Wambaugh began putting his 1960's street experiences to creative use back in the 70's as a writer ("The New Centurions," "The Blue Knight") and as a television consultant, most notably for the NBC anthology series "Police Story," which ran from 1973 to 1977.

Mr. Wambaugh is now back on NBC, this Sunday at 9 P.M., with the pilot for a possible series of police movies, much like the network's occasional "In the Line of Duty" drama specials. "From the Files of Joseph Wambaugh" is described as having been inspired by the writer's experiences on the beat. But inasmuch as the pilot takes place some time after the Persian Gulf conflict, his files are apparently bulging with contemporary clippings.

The Wambaugh touch, though, is unmistakable in this portrait of a veteran police detective on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Five years earlier, while pursuing bank robbers, Mike Mulick accidentally shot and killed a plainclothes officer. Now he is drinking heavily, reeling from a marriage that lasted only eight months, and going through police partners like tissues. Portrayed grittily by John Spencer ("L.A. Law"), Mike is the quintessential cigarette-puffing tough guy living uneasily with his ghosts. He still parks secretly outside the home of the widow of the policeman he killed.

Now working with a younger partner, Tommy Alomar (Eddie Velez), Mike begins investigating a series of gang-related murders, wandering into neighborhoods and lives in which violence is common. The sympathetic Tommy sets up a date for Mike with his widowed sister-in-law (Rachel Ticotin). Mike's exasperated immediate boss (Dan Lauria) tries desperately to help his friend and former partner. Mr. Wambaugh keeps getting the details just about perfect, from the menacing camaraderie of a cop bar to the eyes of dead victims ("maybe they're looking into eternity").

This somewhat sketchy pilot does not compare favorably with the best of "In the Line of Duty," but the basic premise is promising. A police officer's lot is not generally conducive to the kind of upbeat punch preferred by prime time; but, hey, as Mr. Wambaugh puts it in a closing comment: "If you're looking for love, join the Fire Department."

From the Files of Joseph Wambaugh: A Jury of One (1992) TV Movie
Cast: Cheryl Paris, Dan Lauria, Eddie Velez, John Spencer, Rachel Ticotin

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