Lou Grant: s04 e07 – Streets


She is in this episode…

For entirely different reasons, this was another poor episode, failing on its lack of anything but an earnest liberal concern about its topic, which was the Ghetto.

It began with two deaths. A white police officer stops a loose-limbed, cool-jiving black man that he knows, after saving him from being knocked down in the street. Thee black guy runs, the white officer gives chase. They run round a corner, out of sight, we hear shots, the officer is dead. The Police corner Benny Jordan in a tenement building, he tries to shoot his way out, he gets killed.

It’s the set-up for a cliched story about Police racism, but to give the show credit it aimed 180 degrees away. The officer was a good guy, straight, popular, well-liked in the ghetto. Jordan was a screw-up, a doper, an ex-pimp, but two thousand people turned up at his funeral, as opposed to the hundred or so for Officer Stewart.

That’s your story. But it’s not a story, it’s a study. This is your Ghetto, and the episode rigidly avoided anything amounting to judgement and adhered solely to representing both sides of the story side-by-side – literally in terms of the paper’s eventual coverage – and walking away softly to allow you to make up your mind as to exactly where the wrongs and the rights stood.

Forty years ago, I’d like to think there was a chance that a substantial part of the audience would have taken the array of opinions to heart and tried to apply a balancing act. In 2020, I fear only that the udiences minds would see only what they had conditioned itself to see.

For that wishy-washiness alone the episode was always going to fail, but it compounded its failings by introducing two other story elements that served only to confuse the issue beyond hope of being taken seriously. Firstly, Rossi is assigned to Officer Stewart’s story and he takes guest star Carl Franklin, as black report Milt Chamberlain, along with him. The two take opposing viewpoints: Rossi is his usual jerk self, using Milt as hisshielld to get to the potentially more extreme members of the community, whilst Milt feels he’s just atoken, and that Rossi just isn’t getting it.

It may have been intended to reflect the black-white conflict in miniature but all it did was get in the way of the story’s real points by reducing it to a personal squabble, which could and of course did get resolved with improbable speed the moment the two participants realised they were both on the side of the story: I may plotz.

Of even more peripheral concern was Charlie Hume’s return from the latest newspaper seminar, burbling about demographics and interfaces and launching a new News-Lite section called Tempo to plumb depths in shallownesspreviously uncovered. Lou objects in his crusty manner. Charlie doesn’t want three reporters and a photographer working on a depressing but relevant story the readers don’t want to hear about.

But of course he reverses himself completely in an instant, without any explanation except the implied one of being won over by the power of the story, just in time for the end. Cue feeble joke and feeeze-frame to close on, and forget, permanently if you’re lucky.

The show can still pull out strong episodes, even in its fourth season, and whilst it’s a very long time since I last saw something I remembered from so far back, I never saw either of the last two seasons so there won’t be any more of those. I’m taking on trust that it will go back to doing better: don’t let me down.

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