Because it is first and foremost about the universal truths of the human condition, it remains as fresh as it was when it was launched a little over 20 years ago. Because the truths are revealed through the lens of a police station situated in an unnamed, decaying "Every City," we have a telescope to our cultural past. Because it is written impeccably, every sentence a gem, every character fully realized, every irony fulfilled, every moment is galvanizing.
I find strength from watching its mostly noble and always very human series regulars survive the indignities of life, balancing compassion with leadership. There is never the sense that this grew out of Hollywood: the regular characters, the guest or recurring characters and the background extras provide a realistic, organic mix of age, girth, complexion, education, gender, racial diversity and class. The media tools--background music, occasional use of slow motion, lighting--all heighten the sense of reality rather than detract from it.
These episodes are a reminder of how much society has changed from just 20 years ago. When these first aired, women could not expect protection against a stalker, disabled Americans had designated parking spaces but no other public accommodations, and forms were banged out on old typewriters. No one was worried about AIDS. Communication that might today be taken up by cell phone, e-mail or voice mail was by necessity carried out face to face, which allowed for a level of drama and emotion that is eclipsed by latterday technology. The station house was a fortress, the city was wild with Barbarians who never slept. The Hill Street Barbarians have gone and there are new ones in their place. We will always need the fortress.
Episode 1: "Hill Street Station," (January 15, 1981, written by Michael Kozoll & Steven Bochco) introduces us to beleaguered Captain Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti), who has to defuse a tense hostage situation despite the aggressive inclinations of the leader of his EATers, Lt. Howard Hunter (James B. Sikking) and the uneasy help of gang leader Jesus Martinez (Trinidad Silva). Meanwhile, Public Defender Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamill) tries to find a client lost in the system and boy are we surprised after watching Furillo and Davenport but heads all episode long to learn they are secretly lovers. Meanwhile, Sgt. Esterhaus (Michael Conrad), confides to Fay Furillo (Barbara Bosson) about his teenage girlfriend.
Episode 25: "The World According to Freedom" (January 7, 1982, written by Michael Wagner), has Mick Belker (Bruce Weitz) dealing with the zany self-professed super hero "Captain Freedom" (Dennis Dugan), who simply will not stop trying to help save the day. Meanwhile, Captain Furillo issues an ultimatum to the gangs after a brutal massacre at a local tavern. The conclusion of this one will get to you big time because you will not see it coming.
Episode 36: "Trial by Fury" (September 30, 1982, written by David Milch) was the season premiere for the third season. It may be the best single television episode I have ever seen in my life (yes, better than "Love's Labor Lost" on "ER") and I have used it in my television classes every chance I get. A nun is raped and murdered, outraging both the citizens on the Hill as well as Furillo and his cops. The assailant, Celestine Grey and Gerald Chapman, are quickly captured but the lack of evidence that will hold up in court puts a conviction in doubt. Then Furillo, in a chilling sequence, decides to use the lynch mob outside the precinct to coerce a confession from the assailants, one of whom is Joyce's client. Television does not get any better than this episode. It is worth the whole collection just by itself.
Episode 71: "Grace Under Pressure" (February 2, 1984, written by Jeffrey Lewis, Michael Wagner, Karen Hall, and Mark Frost) is the memorable episode that deals with death of Sgt. Esterhaus, necessitated by the death of actor Michael Conrad. The character is celebrated by going out with a bang: he died while making love to Grace (Barbara Babock). This episode also has Linda Hamilton as Sandy Valpraiso, whose relationship with Joe Coffey (Ed Marino) is shattered when she is raped, and Jane Kaczmarek as Officer Clara Tilsky. Clearly the opening eulogy is for the actor as well as the character.
Episode 80: "Mayo, Hold the Pickle" (September 27, 1984, writers Jeffrey Lewis & Mark Frost) finds new roll call sergeant Stan Jablonski (Robert Prosky) is called out by a woman while Detective Mayo (Mimi Kuzak) handles a messy assault case against an elderly couple. Meanwhile, Fay tries to help an out of town couple, played by Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker (soon to be big stars on "L.A. Law"). But the impressive part of this episode is that Davenport is upset over the impending execution of Celestine Gray, her client in the classic "Trial by Fury" episode from two year's earlier.
Episode 118: "Remembrance of Hits Past" (February 13, 1986, written by Walon Green), take us back before the beginning when Furillo is gunned down and Joyce remembers how they met as she waits for him to come out of surgery. Meanwhile, Norman Buntz (Dennis Franz) and the rest of the cops on the Hill are trying to find the shooter before he finishes the job.
Episode 146: "It Ain't Over Till it's Over" (May 12, 1987, written by Jeffrey Lewis, David Milch and John Romano) is the final episode of "Hill Street Blues" as rumors fly about what is going to happen to everyone after the station house is gutted by a fire. Buntz is already on the hot seat after being set up by some bad guys, but Furillo and Sid (Peter Jurasik) are trying to figure out who did it. Yes, there was "Beverly Hills Buntz" for a while after this one, with Franz and Jurasik putzing around, but this is the grand finale.
Without "Hill Street Blues" there is no "St. Elsewhere" or "L.A. Law," which in turn would have meant no "E.R.," no "N.Y.P.D. Blue," and pretty much no whatever you favorite drama of the last decade has been. Contemporary adult television comes from THIS program. It is one of the 10 best ever on television in terms of writing and acting. "Trial by Fury" is one of the 10 best episodes ever aired on television. If you missed this one the first time around, then you should try to catch it in syndication. But if you remember how good it was, then this collection will allow you to savor the show's very best moments.