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.
Why did season 3 grab hold of me some much more? I don't know. 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 is 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.
At the risk of some of you having not yet seen this season I will be vague in my descriptions, but Russell's family situation and drinking, the basketball game gone bad that exposes Sipowicz race hostilities, Simone's battle with a blowhard cop that shatters his usually cool demeanor, and of course the two-parter involving a tragedy for Andy that effects everyone around him - especially Simone. These two episodes are probably the best two hours of "Blue" ever. You could also make a case for the 5-hour, virtual mini-series that leads up to Simone's exit early in season six. Either way, that is "Blue" at its rawest, most emotionally gut-wrenching. None of it would be effective at all 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 3 there are a handful of memorable cases: the guy who stabs women from outside their apartments and calls breasts balls, Simone and Sipowicz try to figure out how an East Indian woman was murdered inside her locked car, which gives way to some hilarious theories on Andy's part, based on his racial ignorance, a guy tries to play insane so Sipowicz must lock himself in a cell with the guy, pretending to be a fellow crazy (a cannibal no less) to get him to drop the act and confess, and while bugging a mob joint Sipowicz and Simone rob the place so the gangsters don't know there were cops there putting in a bug. This season also has a memorable episode in which two babies are shot during a robbery but the mother survives. Sipowicz, already on edge with the combination of Russell's drinking and not telling him, Silvia's pregnancy complications and now this heartbreaking case, clashes with Simone - the two nearly come to blows.
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. When it first started, it may not have seemed that way. Many may have resisted it based on all the hype. Years later ratings began to decline as the show began to age. Writer changes and network restrictions in the wake of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl BS may have been the beginning of the show's downward slope. A few years later, after 12 seasons, the show aired its series finale. That this once trumpeted series went out with more of a whimper than a bang is unfortunate. Like, say, the Rolling Stone's legacy, "Blue's" was victim of too much time in the spotlight. While it is universally recognized as a classic, people started tuning in to other shows; and TV as of late has developed new "trend" shows that keep us coming back week after week. As the landscape changed, "Blue" hung around, trying to keep its place, playing mostly to the loyalist fans who would watch every week. Yet even then, "Blue" never sold out. The last seasons may not have been as great and revolutionary as the first, say, six or seven (still an impressive run), but the show never stooped or pandered to bring in a bigger audience or compete with whatever other cop shows were doing. The dialog, characters and cases were still laced with a gritty reality and the writers had plenty of good ideas still left in them that gave way to some great story archs. But much of the language was dialed down, the sex was all but eliminated, Sipowicz had mellowed; no longer a fury in the interrogation room; and an over all feeling of 'been there' with these characters began to set in. So, the show ended - sadly, but probably rightly so.
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 releases, 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.
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.