Season 3 of "NYPD Blue" was my favorite season of my favorite TV show of all time. That was where "Blue" hooked me - throwing me into a drama I had never seen the likes of before on TV - especially network TV. I suppose there were similar plot elements and storylines explored in past shows or done more graphically in feature films, but even having seen some of this before, I had never seen it done so well and so effectively. Credit the writing, the performances and a sense of in-your-face real world authenticity - we feel we know these characters - they ARE real.
There was a lot of hoopla surrounding this series when it began over its frank depictions of racism, alcoholism, sex, violence and rough language (all this, of course, is what made it feel like something of a docudrama versus just another police serial); and again in its second season with the whole David Caruso, Jimmy Smits thing. Season 1 had plenty of great storylines and season 2 was riveting as a season of change; full of new ideas, different from season 1. It retained the gritty realism of the first season's police stories, but managed to become more involving on a character level. Season 3 was so spectacularly effective because, unlike season 2, this is not a season of change. Where season 2 got much of its drama from everything being shaken up, in season 3 we knew and cared about all the characters on a much deeper level. Sensing this - using this - the writers decided to pull the rug out from under us resulting in some of the best drama I had seen before or since.
Season 4 had some mighty high standards to live up to; and for the most part it does. It hits the ground running with an episode that immediately sets a few major plot points in motion that will effect the rest of the season: The squad gets a new PAA named Geri, who sets her sights on Andy, and later she desperately needs his help, Greg's weight concerns introduces him to a cop named Abby who will play a pivotal role in his life this season, Martinez's victory against Vince for delegate leads to pivotal episodes for each of them, Martinez also meets a cute young PAA who will play a major role in his life, Jill Kerkindal joins the squad halfway through the season, Fancy, feeling the victim of racial profiling, is forced to examine his own prejudices, and Bobby asks Diane to marry him and her response sets off a chain of events that becomes the dramatic center of this season. Andy's issues, although they surface from time to time, take a backseat this season as the dramatic focus is placed more on Simone and Russell, both together and individually, than ever before. This results in some truly captivating episodes that effect both the individuals involved, as well as those around them: Russell and her undercover assignment with James Leary gives her character a big overhaul, but it also shows cracks in Simone's generally cool demeanor; you see his weaknesses and what makes him tick. And Simone, in probably the best story arch of this season, gets screwed by the job and the FBI as he is told to get close to, and do favors for, a former childhood pal turned wiseguy. This assignment and the secretiveness with which Simone must carry it out, as he gets in deeper and deeper over his head, enrages both Russell and Andy and leads to two terrific episodes: "Is Paris Burning?" in which, between a horrible murder of a witness, Simone's tightening noose with IAB, and his own feelings of frustration and helplessness, Andy just loses it. And the season finale which I remember shocked the hell out of me back when it first aired. If you are going to try to make fans salivate for a shows return the following season, this is the way to do it. That was a long summer.
But if there is one, lone standout scene this season that all by itself demonstrates this shows depth, honesty, terrific writing and extraordinary performances; without any flashy nudity, foul language or violence; it is a 3 minute scene between just Andy and Bobby in the locker room (which has over the years became the squads confessional, sanctuary and boxing ring) at the end of "Where's Swaldo" where Andy explains in great, sympathetic detail his prejudices and shows a glimmer of hope for overcoming them, while Bobby goes from sensitive, to disgusted, to understanding, to cathartic in his few, but powerful lines of dialogue. It is a brilliant showcase for these two actors' tremendous talents, as well as a perfect scene to submit as evidence of this show's excellence. It should also be required viewing in any sociology class. I bet more people will relate to it than any number of pages trying to explain such a situation in any text book.
As proven by the above mentioned scene and countless others, none of the drama, rough language, sex and cringe-inducing cases on "Blue" would be at all effective if we didn't care about these characters so much. And it is to this show's awesome credit that we do. Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits are simply wondrous in their performances. And everyone is great, but always better when interacting with the two extraordinary leads. And David Milch and the rest of his writers have created a cop show with stories and characters unlike any other. "Blue" goes to some dark places. As such, it emerges as so much more than a cop show. It is a fascinating character study of tragic heroes and flawed souls; good people and their problems. In other words: human beings.
"NYPD Blue" may not be just another cop show, but it never forgets it is a cop show. Where the characters and their issues are always front and center the writers never forget to give us compelling cases, interesting mysteries and criminals that range from brilliant, to diabolical, to insane, to comical. Sometimes this can be said of the fellow officers as well. In season 4 there are a handful of memorable cases: topical at the time (and probably still today) Russell and Kirkindal investigate a baby shaken to death, "Upstairs, Downstairs," a classic in which the detective squad (upstairs) investigate one of the cops in the house (downstairs), Simone and Sipowicz investigate the shooting of a uncooperative rap star (Sipowicz's "bow tie" line and Simone's response is a classic scene), and in the second episode, as the squad investigates a missing girl, there is a heartbreaking scene in which they discover her whereabouts. The scene is done as well and as effectively as any of its kind I have ever seen. As it would for the cops in real life and as it is supposed to, the scene saddens and enrages the viewer in equal measures.
And that is just a brief overview of what season 4 has in store. Yes, this and all the other emotional drama is just another day for the tormented cops on "NYPD Blue."
It is impossible to over-rate this show. And if you have never seen the show or always blew it off, you simply do not know what you are missing. Even now it holds up. FX has followed this mold of gritty, realistic drama with shows like "The Shield" and "Rescue Me." While those shows, being on cable, have gone even further in terms of sex, language, and violence, "Blue" still feels blue. You can have all the shock value you want, but it will always be more effective when it is smartly written and happens to characters you truly care about.
And that is, and has always been, "Blue's" biggest asset.
The show deserves more attention as a classic and deserves to be remembered as something much more than just an old cop show. Hopefully with DVD that will be possible. The 2 and a half year wait between seasons two and three, and a step down in quality and quantity of this boxset, compared with seasons 1 and 2, doesn't make me optimistic that Fox will be doing "Blue's" legacy proud. But at least they are back to putting them out. For those of us who cherish this great series and want to have these season sets around for the rest our lives, it may just be enough.
Amazon has a great suggestion that you buy this with Season 3. Do that and you will be getting the two best seasons of the best TV drama ever (at a price slightly better than in stores). Do yourself a favor and take them up on their offer. Or get it eslewhere. But get it.