Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Boomtown -- The Best Cop Show You've Never Seen

L-R: Mykelti Williamson, Donnie Wahlberg, Neal McDonough, Lana Parilla, Jason Gedrick, Nina Garbiras, Gary Basaraba
The weird thing about doing these Nostalgia Theaters is that the further ahead in time we move, the more stuff I think of as fairly recent can actually be included under its label. To wit, Boomtown, a here-and-gone 2002-2002 series that aired briefly on NBC to considerable acclaim, but little in the way of actual viewers. The pitch, as created by Band of Brothers' Graham Yost, was to take all the procedural-style shows that were/are in vogue with TV audiences, and encompass them all in one skein. Check out the terrific intro, with Emmy-winning theme music by Philip Giffin:

To make the premise work, every episode would track a criminal investigation through the eyes of the Los Angeles detectives, first responders, district attorneys, and news reporters involved, jumping back and forth in time, different characters' points-of-views giving us more info on the case. Starring a tip-top ensemble that included Donnie Wahlberg, Mykelti Wiliamson (whose The Fugitive had just ended the previous season), Neal McDonough, and Jason Gedrick, Boomtown was ambitious, expansive, and exemplary. And no one freakin' watched. Including me, actually!

I only discovered it upon the prodding of a good friend, and though I was completely bowled over, but by then it was too little, too late. Despite critical hosannahs from all corners, the ratings were stuck in the cellar, so NBC went into the dreaded "retool" mode before giving Boomtown the go-ahead for a second year. In the process, they managed to chop the guts out of what made the show work: the multiple points-of-view, and the non-linear storytelling format. The second year, which also added Vanessa L. Williams to the cast, would prove mercifully short, just six episodes, before the axe fell in December of '03.

With eleven years of distance, the true measure of how far-sighted Boomtown was, in both ambition and execution, can be seen in the many new, format-bending procedurals that are on TV right now, in everything from The Killing to True Detective. It simply arrived too early to benefit from changing, DVR and DVD-based viewing habits. It's a crying shame, and once you watch the DVD release (which contains the 18 episodes of season 1, and mercifully leaves off the unfortunate second season eps), I'm sure you'll agree. It's so absurdly affordable you need to click through and buy it now. There. Boom.

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