25 Days of Crime-mas Day 19: Cold Case still has a cult following

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Actors Danny Pino and Kathryn Morris pose in the pressroom during the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on September 16, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Actors Danny Pino and Kathryn Morris pose in the pressroom during the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on September 16, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) /

Cold Case has been off the air nearly a decade, but the CBS series remains a fan favorite TV crime drama. That makes it our selection for Crime-mas Day 19.

Cold Case flew largely under the radar when it was on, but it’s one of the most enduring TV crime dramas—fitting for a show that was all about history. It’s an easy pick to continue our 25 Days of Crime-mas.

The series was a quiet success for CBS in the 2000’s, helping to build the network up into the TV crime brand we know today. It also made headlines for how much it was able to immerse viewers into places and times from the past (including through the use of music, which has hampered the efforts to get it released on home video).

And you’d be surprised who, and what, you’ll find if you give this modern classic a watch (or even a rewatch).

Here’s why you need to check out Cold Case if you haven’t already:

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A blast from the past

Cold Case differed from other TV crime dramas of its time by focusing exclusively on unsolved crimes. Other U.S. series have since dug up past cases for an episode, or a season, but we’ve still yet to see another show that is centered on a cold case unit, making this series unique.

It was set in Philadelphia, too, which was something else that separated it from shows in New York or Los Angeles. (In reality, it was filmed in Los Angeles, including partially at the Warner Bros. Studios.) And it heavily used music as a part of the narrative, instead of just needle-dropping pop songs for commercial appeal. In every way, this show did things differently.

Famous faces before their time

Like a number of shows on this list, Cold Case was the breakout role for many of its stars. Leading actress Kathryn Morris is still best known for the series, while Danny Pino went from here to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where he played Det. Nick Amaro for a handful of seasons. He now stars in the WGN America thriller Gone, alongside his former Cold Case co-star Tracie Thoms!

The regular cast was rounded out by John Finn (a crime drama veteran whose many roles include more than one NCIS episode and several NYPD Blue guest spots), Jeremy Ratchford (who, years earlier, had played Banshee in Marvel’s FOX TV-movie Generation X) and Thom Barry.

And as for the guest stars, you’d see a lot of familiar faces playing characters from across decades of crime and punishment. Among them were the likes of Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, Bellamy Young (Prodigal Son), Kelly Overton (Van Helsing), and Jamie Bamber (Marcella, Law & Order: UK)

Related Story. Waking The Dead is Cold Case's British counterpart. light

What is Cold Case about?

Cold Case follows a unit of the Philadelphia Police Department whose sole mandate is to work on unsolved cases. These are often murders, but can be all kinds of crimes, and can reach back over decades or be more recent. Episodes include flashbacks to the time in question, and they usually include music from the period to open and/or close the hour.

The show centers around Detective Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris), and her partner Scotty Valens (Danny Pino), though it’s still very much an ensemble series. Justin Chambers (Grey’s Anatomy) was cast as Lilly’s first partner, but only lasted the first five episodes; Tracie Thoms didn’t join the show until season 3.

Why should you watch?

If you have any interest in history, you’ll enjoy the series because the writers do make a concerted effort to depict many different time periods, places and crimes. It’s not just murders and it’s not in the same decade all the time. Episodes have taken place in 1938, 2000, and many other years.

And unlike a lot of other shows, Cold Case did everything possible to pull viewers back into the past. Whether it was its use of period music, or the way it integrated its flashbacks (both in the usual way and by giving viewers glimpses of what a witness or suspect looked like back then vs. the present day), it felt almost like a documentary. No other show has evoked the same sense of atmosphere as this one.

Episodes to watch

“It’s Raining Men” (season 2, episode 7) centers a case around the AIDS crisis, as the person who asks Lilly and the team to re-open the case is an AIDS survivor and the victim was his boyfriend at the time of the murder. It’s poignant both in terms of the emotional storyline and its discussion of gay rights and the AIDS issue; more than 18 million viewers watched it originally.

“Death Penalty: Final Appeal” (season 3, episode 20) focuses on Detective Will Jeffries (Thom Barry), when a convicted killer pleads for Jeffries to help him avoid an unjust execution. Jeffries spearheads the effort to prove the man was set up by corrupt cops, and Barry delivers his best performance in the episode.

“Blood on the Tracks” (season 4, episode 15) is set in the early 1980’s and deals with a group of political activists, some of whom have moved on from those days and some who didn’t. The guest cast carries this episode, including Kelly Overton and Jamie Bamber as the two murder victims whose past ultimately came back to haunt them—but not in the way you think.

dark. Next. See the full 25 Days of Crime-mas schedule

What do you think of Cold Case? Which TV crime dramas are making your list for the 25 Days of Crime-mas? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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