It’s like watching me fight Mike Tyson. Sure, it might be inspiring for a few minutes, but you know I’m not making it to round three… or two.
Everyone knows riding a bull isn’t about beating the bull. It’s about hanging on as long as humanly possible. Brilliant But Cancelled: EZ Streets is similar. The crime drama never stood a chance on television, but managed to eke out a handful of episodes and tells whatever story it could. Brilliant But Cancelled: EZ Streets collects the feature-length pilot and two episodes from its original run.
Universal released EZ Streets and a handful of other crime shows under its “Brilliant But Cancelled” banner. A welcome turn in DVD releases, these taken-too-soon shows exemplify how the television medium was challenged in a more conservative, pre-“It’s not TV, it’s HBO” times.
EZ Streets is about three men and their shared world. Detective Tony Quinn (Ken Olin, Thirtysomething) has a dirty reputation and little love from his department. His sullied name allows him to infiltrate a crime syndicate run by Jimmy Murtha (Joe Pantoliano, The Sopranos). In addition to running his gang, Murtha’s busy trying to recruit recent parolee Danny Rooney (Jason Gedrick, Boomtown). In an unnamed city in Illinois, Paul Haggis (Crash) creates an environment filled with people trapped by circumstance and position. Living in EZ Streets isn’t.
Boiled down, the show is about structure set against a crime backdrop. No matter how hard characters try to redefine or better themselves, they’re knocked back. Everyone on EZ Streets is a slave to their world. Ex-con Danny Rooney embodies this with his constant failings. His wife is a junkie who extorts him so he can see his daughter, his employers treat him like a dog, and his big ticket to life lies only within going back to the place that got him jailed. This isn’t a place where one can reimagine or reinvent oneself. Much of the same life’s trappings seen in Crash are evident here. The message is similar: We may claim to be something better or something else than which we are, but we’re really not.
The acting in the show elevates it above most television dramas. This show didn’t make me a Ken Olin fan, but he demonstrates his character’s burden well, conveying much of Quinn’s hardship through body language. He’s not carrying the world on his shoulders; he’s dragging it. Jason Gedrick surprised me. I was impressed enough with him in Boomtown, but he does a much better job here. Gedrick does it all with eyes that bleed desperation. Joe Pantoliano is, well, Joe Pantoliano. I’ve seen much of his work over several years and find he’s carved a nice niche for himself as an actor who goes from quiet to yelling to quiet again. It works in Pantoliano’s favor for Murtha. I’d just like to see him do something different one day. While not quite descending into the Al Pacino/Robert De Niro sitting-on-their-laurels school of acting, Pantoliano never changes it up. At least he gets to quote from a John Lennon song. The actors are strong enough to give the viewer everything they need to know about the characters and still want to learn more about them.
Story wise the show piqued my interested and made me wonder what could have been. This may have been due to the odd selection of episodes. It makes sense to start out with the pilot, however, the episodes that follow are the eighth and ninth episodes in the EZ Streets run. I could follow the storyline effortlessly, I just find it an odd choice.
The show’s gritty and muted picture fits its tone. Since it’s only ten years old, I expected as much. The sound quality is equally strong in its Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono glory. Of course, I have a “Back To Mono” T-shirt, so I’m strongly biased. No additional features were included in this DVD.
It’s easy to see why a show this ambitious didn’t make it. It demands attention and isn’t the same background noise like most shows. EZ Streets requires effort by a viewer.
While EZ Streets is good, there are better shows using similar themes. I suggest watching The Wire, Wiseguy, or The Sopranos for something more complete. Since only nine episodes of the series were created, I don’t understand why the entire set wasn’t released. My confusion is compounded only by the fact we’re shown the very beginning and end of the series, but entirely miss everything in the middle. Often in dramas, the middle’s the best part.
Brilliant But Cancelled: EZ Streets is an opportunity to give something missed the first time around a chance. It may be incomplete, but it’s worth checking out.
Held in custody until its missing six accomplices are brought into this courtroom. Case dismissed.