John Munch has had a long and illustrious career in the police forces of New York and Baltimore, but he’s hanging up his tinted glasses and bowing out as the undisputed king of TV detectives.
What’s that I hear you say? Poirot? Holmes? Morse? Luther? Rubbish, all of them. Well, rubbish when compared to Munch, who has been in more TV shows and more TV seasons than any other fictional character.
He started out, of course, in Homicide: Life On The Street in 1993, based on real-life Baltimore detective Jay Landsman from David ‘The Wire’ Simon’s book of the same name. Actor Richard Belzer apparently messed up both of his auditions for the role but got it anyway, and has never let it go.
Twenty years later he’s retiring from a long spell on Law And Order: SVU, having also appeared as Munch in The X-Files, The Wire and Arrested Development, amongst others. Some actors fear typecasting, but Belzer has revelled in it and bravo to him for that.
For one thing, he recognised a good thing when it fell into his lap. Munch has always been an amazing TV show character, showing up other ‘eccentric’ detectives for the cliches that they usually are. Munch was very funny, but never came across as hokey or contrived, he was just… Munch.
Homicide may not have lasted as long as SVU, but his legacy will surely come from the years he spent in Baltimore PD rather than those he’s played out in the world of police procedurals. H:LOTS was (for most of its run) an astonishing piece of television and gave Munch a brilliant early foil in the shape of Ned Beatty’s Bolander.
They may have only been together for three seasons before Beatty’s departure, but had one of the best bickering partnerships you’ll ever see on TV, with the respect and affection for each other buried way, way down in the mix. You could see some of it when they reunited for the excellent Homicide TV movie after the show had finished.
Even as H:LOTS lost characters and found it harder to fight off network interference, Munch remained as one of the stalwarts, always brightening up scenes with his deadpan humour and his attempts to own and run a bar alongside Bayliss and Lewis.
Appropriately, it was in a Baltimore bar that he made his cameo in The Wire, alongside H:LOTS colleague Clark Johnson and real-life Munch inspiration Jay Landsman. It all connects up in the world of Munch, you see…
But even careers as illustrious as his have to come to an end soon, and he’ll be handing in his notice in SVU this week. Where will he go from here? Maybe he’ll move back to Baltimore and buy another bar or move into teaching like in his Arrested Development cameo. One thing you can probably say for certain is that we’ve not seen the last of him on our screens.