“NYPD BLUE wishes to dedicate its season to the memory of the New York City police and firefighters who sacrificed their lives on September 11th, 2001. Their heroism will never be forgotten, and we extend our deepest sympathies to their families and loved ones.”
As NYPD Blue entered its ninth season, there were tragic circumstances both on the screen and in real life. On the show Andy’s former partner Danny Sorenson ends up dead, and in the real world New York City experiences the devastating events of 9/11. Both are addressed as the season opens.
Steven Bochco is no stranger to innovative television. Hill Street Blues is arguably the best cop show ever made. Even his failures are praised for their innovativeness and freshness. Remember Cop Rock? NYPD Blue didn’t just push the prime time envelope. It tore the envelope to pieces and blew it away with hurricane-force winds. George Carlin made a career out of his “seven words you can’t say on television”. Along comes NYPD Blue, and Carlin just might have needed a new act. Language and nudity made this the first R-rated prime-time program. The pilot arrived with a flutter of controversy. Morality groups were vocal, and sponsors were scarce. Twenty percent of ABC’s affiliates refused to show the pilot at all. When you watch these DVDs, it’s hard to understand what all the noise was about. Today this stuff is the tame and more like the norm, and once again Bochco changed TV forever.
NYPD Blue follows the exploits of the detectives of New York’s 15th Precinct. You have Andy Sipowics, played by Hill Street alumni Dennis Franz. Henry Simmons is the deep-voiced Detective Baldwin Jones. Charlotte Ross is Detective Connie McDowall, who will eventually become Andy’s final love interest on the show. There’s Greg Medavoy, played by Gordon Clapp. Medavoy is a bit of an odd man out here. He’s played as a Cliff Clavin kind of character who knows too many little facts but doesn’t often come off as the sharpest tool in the belt. The others don’t appear to have tremendous respect for him, and he, at times, looks more like he should be on Barney Miller rather than NYPD Blue. Whatever his function, he would remain one of the show’s most consistent characters, staying with the series its entire 12-year run. The only other actor on the show to do that was Dennis Franz. The squad is led by Lt. Rodriguez, played by Esai Morales. The new partner for Andy is Paul Michael Gosselaar as John Clark. This would be the final partner change for Andy on the series. Of course, Gosselaar was previously best known as Zack from Saved By The Bell.
The series was known more for its style than its content. The music was percussive and kept you a little on edge. The camera work was shaky and manic. There was a documentary feel to the style that did manage to bring you closer to the material. It never looked quite as staged. I got the impression actors were not quite so strict with stage elements like markers. The series never seemed to slow down. The storytelling was kinetic and full of energy.
Of course, Dennis Franz was the true star of the series. David Caruso was intended as the star, but he left after one year, believing his career was tailored more for feature film stardom. That didn’t really work out for David, but it did for NYPD Blue. While Andy would have a few partners in the show’s 12-year run, his partnership here with Bobby was the best years of the series. They had wonderful chemistry and complemented each other’s styles. Andy was the tough guy who Franz also portrayed on Hill Street as Norman Buntz. While Andy did have a softer side, there’s no doubt both Franz and Bochco were depending on the brute-force charisma of Buntz to carry over to this series. On the other hand, Bobby provided the team’s heart. Sure, he could bust heads, too, but Bobby had a softer side that also worked as a calming agent for Andy. Jimmy Smits would try, but he’d never develop this kind of character for television again.
This show shone best in the interrogation rooms. It’s where you’ll spend most of your time. The detectives will do anything to get their confession, and that means more than a few beatings. Of course, it’s not a model for civil rights, and we all deplore that sort of thing. But it sure is fun to watch, ain’t it?
Naturally, the biggest storyline of the season is the arrival of Detective John Clark. Andy isn’t very keen on having the man as his partner. His father is a big shot in the department, and his interference doesn’t sit well with the veteran detective. Obviously, it all works out and the pair become a solid team for the last four years of the series. Andy finally gets his long-awaited and deserved promotion to Detective First Class. Hill Street Blues favorite Joe Spano plays Clark’s father, who has a storied past with Andy that causes a lot of the early friction with his new partner. It’s such a great time watching these former Hill Street detectives together again. It’s the highlight of the season for me. Jacqueline Obradors also joins the cast as Detective Rita Ortiz.
You get all 22 episodes on five discs. This is the beginning of the final chapter in the show’s history. It’s a good jumping-on point, and it will make you want to pick up the back eight. There are three more seasons remaining. “I wish I could just get them out of there already.”