"Homicide" opens late at night in an alley with two cop searching for a spent cartridge.
"If I could just find this thing, I could go home," says Detective Meldrick Lewis, played by Clark Johnson ("Colors").
"Life is a mystery, just accept it," says his partner, Detective Steve Crosetti, played by Jon Polito ("Miller's Crossing"). Detective Crosetti is short, fat and bald, with an attitude -- which makes him just about a perfect Barry Levinson character.
"The quest is what matters," he says. "Not finding, but looking."
"You're in your own world, Crosetti," Lewis says. 'You know why you're in your own world? Because nobody wants to live there with you. . . . There ain't no mystery. This is Baltimore."
The cops of "Homicide" look and sound like Diner Guys or Tin Men as they move across director Levinson's rich and familiar canvas of Baltimore's most neighborhoody neighborhoods. The cast is a standout -- not one made up of big names, but it's certainly one of the best ensembles on TV: Johnson and Polito; Yaphet Kotto ("Blue Collar"); Ned Beatty ("Deliverance"); Andre Braugher ("Glory"); Melissa Leo ("All My Children"); Kyle Secor ("City Slickers"); comedian Richard Belzer ("Bonfire of the Vanities"); and Daniel Baldwin ("Born on the Fourth of July), brother of Alec and William.
Levinson gives each a moment or two centerstage, and some of the best moments tonight belong to Richard Belzer and Andre Braugher.
Belzer plays Detective John Munch, whose cynicism, sarcasm and rage-redeemed-by-humor pervade tonight's show. He is out-of-left-field brilliant during the questioning of a suspect, who he believes is withholding information in hopes of talking to someone of higher rank who can offer him a deal.
"Who am I, Montel Williams?" Munch screams at the suspect. "Oh, I get it. Sure, I'm just Montel Williams, and you want to talk to Larry King. Don't you ever lie to me like I'm Montel Williams! I am not Montel Williams!"
Munch stalks out of the room as his partner, Detective Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty), returns. The camera lingers to show the bewildered suspect asking, "Who's Montel Williams?"
But it is Andre Braugher's Detective Frank Pembleton, a tightly wrapped yuppie overachiever, who steals the show with his interrogation scene in a tile-walled room that you can almost feel closing in on the suspect.
"Homicide" moves fast. Viewers who don't pay attention will be lost. But those who do will find themselves on one of the most rewarding TV journeys of the season -- this one through the streets of Baltimore.