April 14, 2024 3:03 am

Netflix Dutifully Unpacks Memorable Cases in Overdone Homicide: New York
Netflix Dutifully Unpacks Memorable Cases in Overdone Homicide: New York

Netflix Dutifully Unpacks Memorable Cases in Overdone Homicide: New York

“On the island of Manhattan there are two detective squads dedicated to homicides: Manhattan North and Manhattan South. They investigate the most brutal and difficult murders.”

You can almost hear the classic “Law & Order” boom-boom sound at the end of that on-screen intro to Netflix’s “Homicide: New York,” a five-part docuseries from Dick Wolf and the team behind the hit NBC juggernaut. To be followed by “Homicide: Los Angeles” later this year, this series is sadly over-produced and over-directed, the kind of program that undeniably features brilliant, even heroic officers of the law but buries its good intentions in bad decisions.

More akin to the procedural elements of something like “The First 48” than the mystery-driven shows that have dominated the True Crime genre, “Homicide: New York” will almost certainly rub anyone who has used the word copaganda in the wrong way. It is a show in which not just the cops interviewed but the entire world of law enforcement is painted with such a broadly benevolent brush that I would bet even working cops might think it’s a bit of superficial overkill. When an officer says in the fifth episode, about the East Harlem Serial Killer, that they don’t care if a victim or perp is Black or white, I truly do believe he means well, but it feels naïve to blame only the media for not covering certain crimes as extensively as the law. 

There’s a lot of that in “Homicide: New York,” which is honestly not even as big a problem for me (it is Wolf, after all) as some of the showy, almost exploitative interviews with people who feel like they’re auditioning for the next Homicide Hunter. Do we really need to see execution-style killings slowly acted out with a finger gun by one of the investigating officers? It’s indicative of a show that takes complex cases and too often tries to dumb them down for viewers it doesn’t trust enough to investigate something more challenging.

When choosing the cases to profile in “Homicide: New York,” location clearly mattered. Most of these cases take place in world-famous spots like Central Park, Wall Street, and the Carnegie Deli. Each case is unpacked in just-enough detail, and the best thing about the show is when it leans into the procedural elements that define quality police work. Whether it’s basically stalking a suspect to try and get his DNA or refusing to give up on the case of a missing cleaning woman, the dedication to craft is respectable and remarkable.

So why bury it in so much flash and sizzle? Too many of the interviews in “Homicide: New York” feel scripted for sound bites, constantly reminding us about the tough work of being a NY cop. What’s so frustrating is that the excellent detective work in “Homicide: New York” speaks for itself over and over again. We don’t need to be reminded of it through over-heated sound bites or clichéd lines about the difficult life of a Big Apple cop. Some might argue that these bigger-than-life personalities are just the norm on the New York cop scene, but it’s hard to shake the sense that too much of this is performative. It’s a show that is at its most rewarding when an interview subject breaks out of that and speaks openly and even proudly about the case that changed their life in a way that feels human and unrehearsed.

As someone who watches more true crime than anyone should, I admire the projects that trust their audiences more than “Homicide: New York.” These detectives, and the surviving loved ones of the victims, deserve the love and care of a show that treats them as nuanced, real people instead of turning them into clip fodder for soundbites that sell in previews. I would love to get under the skin of the people who obsess over every detail of some of New York’s most famous murders. This project just isn’t interested in cutting deep enough to do that.

Whole series screened for review. Premieres tomorrow, March 20th on Netflix.

“On the island of Manhattan there are two detective squads dedicated to homicides: Manhattan North and Manhattan South. They investigate the most brutal and difficult murders.” You can almost hear the classic “Law & Order” boom-boom sound at the end of that on-screen intro to Netflix’s “Homicide: New York,” a five-part docuseries from Dick Wolf and the team behind the hit NBC juggernaut. To be followed by “Homicide: Los Angeles” later this year, this series is sadly over-produced and over-directed, the kind of program that undeniably features brilliant, even heroic officers of the law but buries its good intentions in bad decisions. More akin to the procedural elements of something like “The First 48” than the mystery-driven shows that have dominated the True Crime genre, “Homicide: New York” will almost certainly rub anyone who has used the word copaganda in the wrong way. It is a show in which not just the cops interviewed but the entire world of law enforcement is painted with such a broadly benevolent brush that I would bet even working cops might think it’s a bit of superficial overkill. When an officer says in the fifth episode, about the East Harlem Serial Killer, that they don’t care if a victim or perp is Black or white, I truly do believe he means well, but it feels naïve to blame only the media for not covering certain crimes as extensively as the law.  There’s a lot of that in “Homicide: New York,” which is honestly not even as big a problem for me (it is Wolf, after all) as some of the showy, almost exploitative interviews with people who feel like they’re auditioning for the next Homicide Hunter. Do we really need to see execution-style killings slowly acted out with a finger gun by one of the investigating officers? It’s indicative of a show that takes complex cases and too often tries to dumb them down for viewers it doesn’t trust enough to investigate something more challenging. When choosing the cases to profile in “Homicide: New York,” location clearly mattered. Most of these cases take place in world-famous spots like Central Park, Wall Street, and the Carnegie Deli. Each case is unpacked in just-enough detail, and the best thing about the show is when it leans into the procedural elements that define quality police work. Whether it’s basically stalking a suspect to try and get his DNA or refusing to give up on the case of a missing cleaning woman, the dedication to craft is respectable and remarkable. So why bury it in so much flash and sizzle? Too many of the interviews in “Homicide: New York” feel scripted for sound bites, constantly reminding us about the tough work of being a NY cop. What’s so frustrating is that the excellent detective work in “Homicide: New York” speaks for itself over and over again. We don’t need to be reminded of it through over-heated sound bites or clichéd lines about the difficult life of a Big Apple cop. Some might argue that these bigger-than-life personalities are just the norm on the New York cop scene, but it’s hard to shake the sense that too much of this is performative. It’s a show that is at its most rewarding when an interview subject breaks out of that and speaks openly and even proudly about the case that changed their life in a way that feels human and unrehearsed. As someone who watches more true crime than anyone should, I admire the projects that trust their audiences more than “Homicide: New York.” These detectives, and the surviving loved ones of the victims, deserve the love and care of a show that treats them as nuanced, real people instead of turning them into clip fodder for soundbites that sell in previews. I would love to get under the skin of the people who obsess over every detail of some of New York’s most famous murders. This project just isn’t interested in cutting deep enough to do that. Whole series screened for review. Premieres tomorrow, March 20th on Netflix. Read More