Big Easy (The): The Complete First Season (TV)
R1 - America - MPI Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (21st July 2008).
The Show



MPI Home Video’s release of the first series of The Big Easy (USA Network, 1996-1997) brings together all 22 episodes, spread over four DVDs.


In terms of US crime shows, the 1990s was the era of gritty, naturalistic police dramas that revolved around social breakdown within an urban environment. Taking their template from Steven Bochco’s Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981-1987), respected 1990s crime shows such as Bochco’s NYPD Blue (ABC, 1993-2005), Law & Order (NBC, 1990- ) and Homicide: Life on the Street (NBC, 1993-1999) redefined the American cop show, taking it away from its roots in fantasy and giving the genre a more grittily realistic, socially-conscious focus that was supported by a verite-style aesthetic: these series were often bleak and noir-ish in their themes, creating intimacy and a sense of urgency through their use of the handheld camera and their abrupt editing strategies.

However, in the light of the crime dramas of the 2000s, many of these once-controversial shows now seem relatively quaint and old-hat: whereas on its first broadcast in 1993 NYPD Blue courted controversy (and attracted viewers) on the basis of its softcore nudity and its use of language that at the time was considered relatively strong (at least for a network television show), its edge has been blunted by the passage of time and, in particular, the way in which the envelope in terms of language, sex and violence has been pushed by both subscription-only channels such as HBO—with its crime series The Wire (2002- ) and The Sopranos (1999-2007)—and regular networks such as F/X—The Shield (2002- ).


Situated in this period of change within the genre of American crime dramas, The Big Easy must in 1996 have seemed like a very ‘retro’ approach to the genre: although it deals with some pretty dark crimes, it has the surface gloss, wit and gallows humour of earlier shows such as Hawaii Five-0 (CBS, 1968-1980) and Michael Mann’s Miami Vice (NBC, 1984-1989). However, there’s also an element of the aesthetic of the ‘gritty’ 1990s crime shows, in terms of The Big Easy’s use of very tight close-ups, abrupt editing patterns and its occasional deployment of handheld camerawork. I never saw The Big Easy in the 1990s, as to the best of my knowledge it was not shown on UK television, but watching the series via MPI Home Video’s DVD set I was reminded of when I first watched Don Johnson’s 1990s show Nash Bridges (CBS, 1996-2001), which at the time seemed like a deliberate reaction against the ‘gritty’ American police dramas: both The Big Easy and Nash Bridges seem to attempt to ‘turn back the clock’ and take the cop show genre back to more fantasy-based scenarios. (This seems odd considering the presence of Sonny Grosso as a producer: Grosso was the New York detective who was the model for Gene Hackman’s performance as Popeye Doyle in William Friedkin’s ultra-gritty 1971 thriller The French Connection.)


Set in the Latin Quarter of New Orleans, The Big Easy mostly revolves around characters who were introduced in Jim McBride’s 1978 movie The Big Easy. Tony Crane plays Detective Remy McSwain (in the McBride film, McSwain was played by Dennis Quaid), a detective who is happy to bend the rules in order to catch the criminals; McSwain works in a department that is overseen by a man who also happens to be his uncle, Chief C. D. LeBlanc (Barry Corbin). Early in the pilot episode, McSwain is introduced to federal investigator Anne Osborne (Susan Walters, in a role that in the film was filled by Ellen Barkin). Throughout the series, McSwain and Osborne have an on-again/off-again romance, and in its treatment of McSwain and Osborne’s relationship the series mixes the tropes of the genre of romantic comedy with its focus on the work of the New Orleans Police Department. And being set in New Orleans, some of these cases involve inklings of the supernatural.

The series is handsomely presented and makes excellent use of its New Orleans locations. The episodes are light and entertaining: unlike Homicide: Life on the Street or NYPD Blue, The Big Easy is an escapist show with an attractive cast and as much focus on the romantic interplay between Osborne and McSwain as the crimes they are investigating. (From what I’ve read, it seems that in the second series the character of Anne Osborne was absent; I find it hard to imagine how the show’s format could survive the absence of this character, although perhaps this explains why the second series was cancelled after no more than twelve episodes.) It’s the same mix of equal parts gloss, glamour and crime that has made CSI (CBS, 2000- ) and its spin-offs, not to mention its imitators such as Bones (Fox, 2005- ), so successful during the first decade of the 21st Century. Each episode of The Big Easy represents a breezy, sultry and witty way to spend forty minutes or so. However, I will say that the character of McSwain, although mostly likable, was sometimes infuriatingly smug and self-satisfied, and having been weaned on gritty and naturalistic British crime dramas such as The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-1979) sometimes The Big Easy was too glossy and glamorous for my personal taste.


Disc One:
1. ‘The Big Easy – Pilot’ (44:01)
2. ‘Murder in Mind’ (44:01)
3. ‘Driving Miss Money’ (44:00)
4. ‘Cinderfella’ (42:29)
5. ‘Dead Man is Hard to Find’ (42:42)
6. ‘Hot Shot’ (43:27)

Disc Two:
7. ‘Stodermeyer’ (43:02)
8. ‘The Gambler’ (43:05)
9. ‘Cawdaddy’ (42:28)
10. ‘The Love Doctor’ (42:35)
11. ‘The Voodoo That You Do’ (43:06)
12. ‘Snakebit’ (43:25)

Disc Three:
13. ‘Big Life’ (43:01)
14. ‘Master of Illusion’ (42:12)
15. ‘The Long and the Short of It’ (43:08)
16. ‘Lafitte, Don’t Fail Me Now’ (43:08)
17. ‘Don’t Shoot the Piano Player’ (43:34)

Disc Four:
18. ‘The Ghost of Prickly Rose’ (42:33)
19. ‘Gatoraid’ (43:09)
20. ‘Vamps Like Us’ (43:08)
21. ‘One Little Indian’ (43:09)
22. ‘The Fabulous Bill Brothers’ (42:21)

Video


The series is presented in its original fullframe ratio. Shot on film, the series makes great use of its New Orleans locations and has a warm and rich colour palette. New Orleans becomes a character in this series, its humidity and heat as important to the drama and as palpable to the viewer as the drab, rainsoaked streets of Baltimore are in The Wire. There are no problems with the transfer to DVD, at least none that are discernible to me.

There are no chapter stops.

Audio

Audio is presented in a 2.0 stereo track; there are no subtitles. The audio track is rich and vibrant. There are no problems here.

Extras

There are no extra features.

Overall

The Big Easy is a warm and vibrant series, a good antidote to the more dour police procedurals that are out there. Although at times the show is a little too glossy and the protagonist occasionally too smug, the series is a worthy investment for fans of police dramas: the show successfully mingles the conventions of the traditional cop show and the elements of romantic comedy that characterised the Jim McBride film on which the series is based, and as such there’s likely something for everybody within this series. Perhaps the best aspect of the show is the way in which it uses New Orleans: the setting alone is enough to distinguish The Big Easy from most other American-produced crime series.



For more information, please see the website of MPI Home Video.

The Show: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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