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Homicide: New York Plays Like an Eric Adams Wet Dream

Dick Wolf's true-crime docuseries glorifies the law enforcement officers fighting crime in a city rife with danger.
  • Homicide: New York (Photo: Netflix)
    Homicide: New York (Photo: Netflix)

    Homicide: New York exists outside the Law & Order universe, but every effort has been made to link Dick Wolf's new true-crime docuseries to his long-running franchise. Each episode of the Netflix series begins with a familiar note: "On the island of Manhattan, there are two detective squads dedicated to homicides: Manhattan North and Manhattan South. They investigate the most brutal and difficult murders," it reads. "These are their stories."

    It doesn't take a "dun-dun" to get a clear picture of what's coming. Like its fictional counterpart, Homicide: New York sensationalizes the city's most "notorious" murder cases, turning the detectives and prosecutors who solved them into heroes along the way. As they recount their efforts to investigate and secure convictions, these people characterize themselves as soldiers fighting to keep New York City safe, and Wolf's team is all too happy to help reinforce that image. Producers play up the drama by emphasizing the "shocking revelations" that emerged as a result of dogged police work, and they make a point of humanizing interviewees, giving them space to tell tangentially related stories about their love of the Grateful Dead or the pros and cons of wearing a suit to a crime scene.

    Needless to say, the people on the other side of the investigation — including those falsely accused — aren't given the same treatment. Their stories are presented through the perspective of the NYPD officers and district attorneys seeking justice, or seemingly well-meaning friends whose interest in the case reveals deep-seated prejudices. The latter proves to be the case in the first episode, "Carnegie Deli Massacre," in which a friend of victim Jennifer Stahl explains she "felt very certain" Stahl's boyfriend killed her because "one of the suspects was a Black man with long dreads," and he fit that description. The police ruled Stahl's boyfriend out as a suspect, but only after bringing him in for intense questioning, an undoubtedly traumatic experience that's filtered not through his point of view, but through that of the white woman who now feels bad about it, two decades later.

    Maybe it would be easier to overlook the pro-police bent if the cases Homicide: New York highlighted kept viewers on the edge of their seats for the full hour (something Law & Order, with its last-minute reveals and red herrings, is particularly adept at.)

    While Wolf & Co. have indeed selected some of the most heinous (and thus infamous) murders in New York history, the investigations themselves are hardly interesting. "Carnegie Deli Massacre" reveals that detectives quickly identified two prime suspects — Sean Salley and Andre "Dre" Smith — in the murders of Stahl, Stephen King, and Charles Helliwell and compiled enough evidence to convince the jury that the men were guilty. The 1997 case featured in the second episode, "Central Park Slaying," required even less effort: Police were alerted to the presence of a body in Central Park Lake, later revealed to be Michael McMorrow, by the perpetrator herself, 15-year-old Daphne Abdela, who was charged alongside her boyfriend Christopher Vasquez. (Abdela pleaded guilty to manslaughter as part of a deal, while Vasquez was acquitted on the murder charge and found guilty of first-degree manslaughter.)

    These cases are united by a sense of randomness. The Carnegie Deli murders, as they became known (the crime scene was located above the popular restaurant), were the result of a robbery gone wrong; Salley and Smith claimed they only intended to steal money and drugs from Stahl, who sold weed to fund her music career, not harm her or her friends. Detectives also attribute McMorrow's death to "being in the wrong place at the wrong time" — though McMorrow previously met Abdela at Alcoholics Anonymous, he wasn't close with her; he just happened to be in the park when she and Vasquez skated by, and things escalated from there. If there's a lesson to be taken from these crimes, as well as others featured in the five-episode season (including those of the "Midtown Slasher" and "East Harlem Serial Killer"), it's that there's danger lurking in every corner of New York City, and the only thing preventing these malicious forces from overtaking the streets is the dedication of law enforcement officers.

    So, who is Homicide: New York for? It's unlikely to hold the attention of Law & Order viewers or true-crime-obsessed armchair detectives, who expect a baseline level of intrigue alongside their copaganda. The docuseries is even less appealing to anyone remotely interested in criminal justice reform, as it takes every possible opportunity to glorify a corrupt system that disproportionately preys on people of color.

    The only logical answer is that Wolf's new series is for people who either already believe New York City is a crime-ridden hellscape, or are invested in reinforcing that idea — people like Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer. It's impossible to watch Homicide: New York without drawing a mental connection to the recent influx of armed officers, including members of the National Guard, in the New York City subways, a plan Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul believe will curb transit-related crime and "make people feel better" about riding public transportation.

    But as many outlets have noted, the notion that the subway is unsafe is more about negative public perception than actual crime statistics. According to an independent analysis done by the New York Times, overall crime in the transit system fell by 3% in 2023, even as total ridership increased by 14%. Moreover, crime decreased last year across the board, with murders dropping by 12% year-over-year and shootings by nearly 25%.

    Obviously, Homicide: New York was conceived of long before these statistics were made public. But it's still hard to shake the feeling that it was produced with the express purpose of making New York City — and soon Los Angeles, as a West Coast-based spin-off hits Netflix later this year — seem as dangerous as possible so as to make the exploits of these law enforcement officers appear even more valiant. With that in mind, the real mystery at the heart of Homicide: New York isn't whether the good guys will catch the bad ones, but how long it will take before Adams himself pops up as a talking head. Cue the dun-dun.

    Homicide: New York is streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Homicide: New York, Netflix, Dick Wolf, Eric Adams, True Crime