Did you ever look back on something and realize your opinion of it has drastically changed? In the entertainment world, it's not uncommon. Sometimes we just don't have all the pieces; sometimes we get it wrong. In honor of those oversights and flubs, I want to introduce this column - a special series within "Rewind Recaps" dedicated to those shows I want to look back on, but can't retroactively revisit.
And now that I think about it, I really should have stopped referring to CBS' Cold Case (2003-2010) as "that show that aired before The Unit."
Don't ask me why it was never on my radar. I knew that it existed; after all, I was a pretty faithful viewer of The Unit, which meant I sometimes caught the last few minutes of Cold Case. One way or another, I had at least heard of the premise and characters, because when I saw Danny Pino appear on this season of Burn Notice, I recognized him as "the guy from Cold Case." I've been known to watch just about every crime drama on television over the last 20 years anyway, so I really have no clue why the senior detectives of Philadelphia Homicide never found their way into my home during their first run. All I can say is that it was definitely my loss.
Cold Case is one of the stable of Jerry Bruckheimer shows, and one of the better ones; it aired around the same time and in my mind, is on par with the best seasons of fellow Bruckheimer drama Without A Trace. The latter might have had a slightly higher-profile team by virtue of having Emmy and Golden Globe winner Anthony LaPaglia as their leading man, but Cold Case was just as well cast. Kathryn Morris stars as Detective Lillian "Lilly" Rush, and is a reliably strong female character who doesn't just posture or crumble when somebody looks cutely at her. She has an entertaining partnership with Detective Scotty Valens (Pino), who can sometimes come off as a complete jerk, but is fiercely loyal and not above getting his hands dirty to do the right thing. I'll admit it, he's also easy on the eyes.
John Finn (The X-Files) is their boss, Lieutenant John Stillman, who is not permanently attached to his desk by any means, and isn't afraid to confront his detectives. Said detectives are all pretty cool people. There's Tracie Thoms (from the film version of Rent and now Winston's ex-wife on Human Target) as Detective Kat Miller, who is a single mother and not an absent parent. Jeremy Ratchford plays the easy to love Detective Nick Vera (although he'll always be Banshee from the Generation X TV-movie to me). Thom Barry is Detective Will Jeffries, who's got a way of pulling at your heartstrings - just watch the episode where he confronts the man who ran down his wife. All of them have their own compelling stories (and, amusingly, consistently horrible love lives), as opposed to many shows where you can single out a lead or two and watch the rest of the characters settle into the background.
What I really love about Cold Case, though, is that it uses so many unique elements in order to truly immerse the audience in the time period of the story. Like Without A Trace, the series uses flashbacks and gives you a sense of who the victim really was, beyond just a name and a photo. (In an episode which took place in the 1940's, the flashbacks were even in black and white.) Cold Case goes further than that, however, as we get to see all the major players as they are now, and as they were then. Everyone gets fleshed out. The guest characters have their own compelling stories that make us actually care about solving what happened to them. One of my favorite episodes is "Blood On The Tracks," which features some great work from Jamie Bamber (Law & Order: UK) and Kelly Overton (Three Rivers) as a seemingly normal couple with a dangerous past. That's been done before, but between the solid script and the strong acting, you really feel how conflicted they are and dread the choice they're going to have to make.
One of the neatest things - and unfortunately, one of the things which makes it unlikely that we'll see Cold Case on DVD in the near future - is that the show uses needle drops from the particular time period (including in a montage sequence that frequently ends episodes) - to enhance the authentic feel. It's a shame that music rights appear to be the thorn in this show's side, because this is one of those cases where I can say a series with replaced music just wouldn't be the same. Normally, I don't care for needle drops and montages get old to me, but on this series, they really work. It's one of the many small things done well that's made Cold Case stick in my memory.
Thankfully, TNT runs Cold Case in syndication at least twice a day (once in the very early hours and again in the afternoons - though different seasons), and my local CBS affiliates also tend to air Saturday reruns. Check your local listings for exact times and channels, but you can definitely still check out this one. I'm certainly wishing that I'd tuned in before. Now that I think about it, I was wrong about this one.