Though the competition is stiff, though the choices are many, when it comes right down to it, is there a better television cop show than HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET? (1993-1999). And was there a more compelling character on it than Detective Frank Pembleton, played by the late, great Andre Braugher who died earlier this month?
The answer is no. If you only know Mr. Braugher’s work via Brooklyn 99, it was the character of Frank Pembleton that laid the seedbeds in which Captain Ray Holt could flourish. If you first became familiar with TV Showrunner David Simon’s work via THE WIRE (2002-2008) Mr. Simon’s first attempt at using television to explore how cities work and often fail and the all too human people in the all too difficult jobs assigned to those roles was HOMICIDE. HOMICIDE was really a show about a profession, who choses to take on the impossible work of speaking for the dead, how the work can corrode your soul and yet a soul made of stainless steel is an absolute prerequisite for the job.
In a show full of top drawer actors (I still cannot believe that Richard Belzer, Ned Beatty and Yaphet Kotto are gone too. Thankfully future Oscar winner Melissa Leo is still here) no one did better at embodying the conflict of a noble yet impossible calling than Andre Braugher. In his last season, he would win an Emmy for it. But that’s only a cake topper. Frank Pembleton will live forever as one of the most unforgettable characters in the history of television.
I was fortunate to live in Baltimore while HOMICIDE was being filmed there and to witness Andre Braugher at work.
Sail on, Mr. Braugher. Thank you for the memories, the great work, the still-emitting glory of your artistry and the reminder of how hard and necessary it is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.