Another worthy episode, once again focusing on Billie Newman, alongside Lou himself, with only minimal support from the rest of the cast, most often one-liners from Art Donovan who, let me just remind you, is Lou’s Assistant City Desk editor. There’s been surprisongly little from Joe Rossi since the first few episodes, despite Robert Walden being second in the cast.
Our subject this week is, as the title states, the Barrio, i.e., Los Angeles’ east side Latino quarter. Our in is the shooting inthe street of a mother, in front of her children. It’s not a story the Trib wants to make too much of: westsiders don’t like things that make them nervous, eastsiders don’t buy the Trib. Newspaper values.
Lou sends Billie on the story, causing her to break her date wth boyfriend David. Our B story is about the commitment to the job. Lou sees an attractive woman his age in a small foodstore and awkwardly manages to negotiate a dinner date. But just as Billie has to continually break dates with David because of the barrio story, until he dumps her, Lou winds up an hour late waiting on Billie’s final story and Lynn drops him.
Like last week, this background element is fully and naturally integrated into the main story, though this is easy enough because the same two featured cast play both tales. As for the A story, this is one that now looks very much like a period piece.
Mrs Ramirez’s son, Henry, age 14, seeks revenge on the shooter. Neither Billie nor Lou understands Henry’s need to get revenge, in thefull knowledge that it will only lead to a revenge against him, ad infinitum. It’s a gang thing, it’s a gang culture. The Anglos don’t understand because they can’t understand because they don’t live in this world. Social worker Jorge Delgado (a wonderfully underplayed guest role by Joe Santos) is of this world. He knows, he knows the gangs, they know him, he’s trusted, he’s out to keep the lid on the pot, keep it at simmer, not boiling over.
And it’s a gang thing. A guy called Loco, because he is, has done it. His own gang don’t want that, it’s outside their code of honour, the limits they set upon themselves. They will punish him. But they won’t allow Henry to punish the man. Shooting up his house, with all the family and Billie inside is to warn Henry off, and stop things escalating.
To give the show credit, it realises there isn’t an answer, that everyone and especially Henry is locked into a cycle of inevitability as inescapable for them as the sun coming up every day. Henry learns the shooter’s name by tricking Billie. He’s going after theguy. No-one can stop him. If not today, tomorrow. If not tomorrow, the next day. Even Jorge stands aside. We don’t hear how it ends but we don’t need to.
But the episode is now a period piece. It might have been innovative in 1978, but time has caught up with it and gone a long way past. With the exception of Santos, the acting from the latino characters is weak. The barrio, a run-down, facilities-deprived area, is too clean, too well-constructed. Onlya handful of years later, Hill Street Blues would give a much more convincing portrayal of barrio life and latino gangs. Maybe Lou Grant opened the doorto make that possible, I don’t know. But this one area where the show’s ‘good intentions’ are a bit too near the surface for my comfort.