DVD Review: Boomtown
By Natasha Theobald
Posted 12/03/04 07:14:48
I have mixed feelings about those of you who will discover "Boomtown" on DVD. On the one hand, had you watched the show while it was on the air, it might still be on the air. Sadly, it is not. On the other hand, I envy you. Every single episode of "Boomtown" had at least one moment that moved me in some way, whether it was a great line, an emotional truth, or the second when everything clicks into place and the puzzle makes a full picture. These moments were so compelling to me that they live in a space in my memory. That is why I'm a tiny bit jealous of you, my friend. You can still look forward to discovering them for the first time.
Graham Yost is the creator of "Boomtown." Having worked with Donnie Wahlberg on "Band of Brothers," Yost discovered what anyone else who has seen that series did as well, that Wahlberg is a talented actor. So, when his television agent called, Yost pitched an idea for a show about Los Angeles which would tell stories from multiple points of view, among them those of detectives, cops, lawyers, paramedics, and reporters. Explained more fully in "The Boomtown Shuffle" featurette, the show explored each story from these differing viewpoints, giving the audience brief glimpses and peeks into the possible whole. Episodes were carefully planned to slip details into scenes, with some scenes being replayed in snippets to provide new details as needed. It sounds complicated, and it was for the writers. The only challenge for the viewer, though, is in openness to a new thing and willingness to follow wherever the action leads, trusting it will all become clear. Interestingly, some actors admit to only reading script portions for their points of view so they wouldn't slip clues in at the wrong times and reveal coming surprises. Amazingly, it all worked and extraordinarily well.
As you might guess from the explanation, "Boomtown" is a character driven drama. As such, a look at each character seems fitting.
Detective Joel Stevens (Donnie Wahlberg): Joel seems to have it all figured out. He has quickly been promoted through the ranks at work and has earned the respect, sometimes begrudging, of his peers. He's a good guy - solid - and a hard worker. He has integrity and empathy. It may well appear to outsiders that he has a perfect life, but things are not so perfect at home. The stress of that weighs on him with worry and sadness, something he hides, some times better than others.
David McNorris (Neal McDonough): David is an assistant district attorney. He is ambitious and ultimately willing to do whatever it takes to get things done, moral or not, legal or not. He has a weakness for women and alcohol, and he craves the attention of the camera, always becoming a public part of the story. Yet, in spite of his flaws, David is a compelling character whose path has been shaped by his past and his sometimes tenuous hold on the present.
Detective Bobby 'Fearless' Smith (Mykelti Williamson): Fearless, partner to Joel, is a veteran of the first Gulf War. He has seen death and loss, and he yearns to make a difference, make things better for those he can help. He lives in a hotel, making his very existence seem sort of temporary, moveable. In truth, he sees all the time he has been given since the war as extra, a bonus, more life than he might have had. And, that is how he lives it.
Officer Ray Hechler (Gary Basaraba): Ray is a regular guy cop, a wise ass who may have gotten himself into a bit of trouble at one time. Whether he was dirty or not, the stink of it follows him. He is at present, though, a good cop, for the most part, and a practical man. He dislikes gray areas, preferring to think in terms of the good guys and the bad guys. Ray is comfortable, too, with some moral ambiguity, as long as it helps the good guys win.
Andrea Little (Nina Garbiras): Andrea is a reporter determined to get answers. She's not afraid to ask tough questions or manipulate herself into the lives of those who have information she needs. She and David McNorris have been scratching each other's backs, personally and professionally. It has been mutually beneficial, career-wise, but his wife probably wouldn't see it as worth the fallout.
Teresa Ortiz (Lana Parilla): Teresa became a paramedic, wanting to help people in need, after nursing a family member through a terminal illness. It is her job to patch people up enough to get them to the hospital. It is in this capacity that her life intersected with Joel's family in a most personal way, and their friendship and connection is based upon related unspoken truths.
Officer Tom Turcotte (Jason Gedrick): Tom followed his father's footsteps into law enforcement, but his career hasn't been as exceptional as the old man might have hoped. While he attended the police academy with Joel, he has not made his way up the ladder as quickly. Partner to Hechler, Tom is sturdy and mostly dependable, capable of the kind of police work which lays the foundation of cases for detectives like Joel.
You will notice Wahlberg is not the only "Band of Brothers" alum on board. In fact, casting from the top down reflects love for the actors involved in that amazing project. You could play your own little drinking game, if you want, taking a drink every time a "Band of Brothers" guy shows up. Some episodes you would get pleasantly toasted; other episodes, you would be sloppy drunk.
In addition to the featurette mentioned and another, fairly typical interview featurette called "Building Boomtown," a full six of the eighteen episodes feature audio commentary. Among those talking are creator and writer Graham Yost, directors Jon Avnet and Fred Keller, writers Larry Andries, Chris Brancato, Bert Salke, and Fred Golan, writer and technical advisor Kevin Dunigan, and actors Donnie Wahlberg, Mykelti Williamson, and Neal McDonough. If it's not obvious enough, they took this pretty seriously. There is real information; there are things to be learned. They talk about shots in great detail. They talk about lighting, exposure, and long shots versus close-ups. Information is given about quad printing - what it is, how it is done, and how they used it. They explain the use of color in costume and design, as well as the technique of desaturation used for some scenes. They discuss disagreements and how things were settled. They discuss the incredible and evocative music by Phil Griffin. They tell you the name of the grip who had to run backwards down the hall to keep a particular shot. They tell you which team shot something, and list the people involved by name. They discuss the editing of Keith Henderson. They talk deeply about character development and casting. It is truly amazing.
I learned the series was most often shot with a handheld camera to bring the audience into the immediacy of the action. Scenes walk and talk through hallways, onto elevators, back off at another floor, and more - all in one, continuous, handheld shot. Actors were allowed to block themselves mid-scene, moving freely and followed by the camera. Because shots were so lengthy, the performances belong to the actors with the tension and reality created by their own sense of timing in the moment. I learned about the importance of where the camera is. I learned about personal and professional relationships among castmates, for example, the way Donnie Wahlberg showed up on his day off because he knew Mykelti Williamson had a tough scene, telling a personal story, a story the writers had shaped based on Williamson's own life. I learned that Neal McDonough was so dedicated that he forced himself to vomit, and the result was too disgusting to actually use.
It may be true that good people work this hard and care this much for shows that don't end up being worth the trouble. "Boomtown" was worth it, though. The blood, sweat, tears, and vomit drip from the brilliant moments, the exceptional episodes, the moving depictions, and the phenomenal whole. Rent this if you must, but buy it if you can. Sometimes things are ahead of their time, too much so to survive. It seems this was one of those times. The good news is that the work was done and that the show continues to exist in this new format. Thank goodness for DVD, thank goodness for this talented group of people, and thank goodness for "Boomtown." There is no other way to say it.