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Reviewed by Will Harris
t’s no secret that I’m a fan of the programming that’s been offered up by ABC Family over the past several years, what with the positive reviews I’ve given to series like “Greek,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” and “The Middle Man,” but as I continued to watch the network’s various series arrive on DVD, I kept wondering, “Yeah, but where’s ‘Lincoln Heights’?” Granted, I’m guilty of not having watched the show when it was originally on the air, but that’s mostly because I didn’t discover it until after it was a couple of seasons into its run; as such, I figured I’d just wait until the DVD releases started and play catch-up at that point. Bad call: the show was canceled last year, and I was still left waiting.
Belatedly, “Lincoln Heights: The Complete First Season” has finally come to DVD, and although I’m glad it’s finally here, I’m still left wondering why it took so long: having devoured all 13 episodes at a rapid clip, it’s clear that it’s one of the strongest series ever to air on ABC Family.
“Lincoln Heights” isn’t just the name of the show; it’s the name of the neighborhood where Eddie Sutton (Russell Hornsby) grew up. Now that he’s a police officer with a wife and children, Eddie decides that the time is right to give back to Lincoln Heights by moving back into the neighborhood and doing his best to help clean things up. Given the proliferation of drug dealing and gang violence in the area, it’s a far cry from the best place to raise a family, and Eddie’s wife, Jennifer (Nicki Micheaux), is feeling more than a little bit sketchy about her husband’s plan, but she agrees to give it a chance and see how things work out.
You can almost imagine the disconcerted look on ABC Family viewers’ faces when they realized that, while “Lincoln Heights” might be a feel-good show at heart, it wasn’t going to let you feel that good, with storylines regularly showing real-life events like a baby being left in a dumpster or a woman falling into prostitution because it was the only decent income available to her. Over the course of the first season, the Sutton family may gradually begin to settle into their new locale, but by the beginning of the season finale, their house is on the market – and frankly, you can’t blame them. Once Eddie finds himself in the midst of a war with a local criminal named Bishop, the whole family is put at risk – a fact which becomes painfully evident when Eddie’s youngest daughter, Lizzie (Rhyon Nicole Brown), is kidnapped and held hostage.
There’s understandable tension between Eddie and Jennifer over the move back to Lincoln Heights, and it only gets worse when Eddie reestablishes contact with some of the familiar faces from his past, including his ex-girlfriend, Dayne Taylor (Tammy Townshend), but “Lincoln Heights” walks just the right line between police-related stories and family drama, splitting time well amongst Eddie, Jennifer, and the kids, expanding on the kids’ stories in and after school while occasionally visiting Jennifer when she’s on nursing duty at the hospital. There’s also the occasional dip into the extended family: one of the highlights of the second half of the season is the episode entitled “House Arrest,” in which Eddie and Jennifer’s respective fathers – played by Michael Warren (“Hill Street Blues”) and Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”) – come for a visit at the same time.
“Lincoln Heights” does a fine job of bringing to light the problems of residents of lower-income neighborhoods, but it does so while still presenting many of those residents as fine, upstanding individuals, something that isn’t always the case in such portrayals. No, it ain’t always pretty, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still good people in living in the area. Here’s hoping Shout Factory continues to release the subsequent seasons of the show. And when they do, let’s also hope they manage to add some special features.
Special Features: None. I know, I’m stunned too. I can only presume that Shout Factory must’ve blown their wad, so to speak, just to get the set into stores. For what it’s worth, though, the accompanying booklet does contain a very thoughtful essay by Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, one of the show’s executive producers. It still doesn’t make up for the total dearth of bonus material on the DVDs themselves, though.