Sunday, December 11, 2016

Self Destruction, Thy Name Is Sorenson In NYPD Blue Season 8

The Good: Good character development, Wonderful performances, Plot development
The Bad: No DVD extras, Moments of awkward character mix, Some repetitive-feeling plots
The Basics: NYPD Blue The Complete Season Eight was one of the more tumultuous seasons with characters coming and going, but is still a wonderful season of developing interesting characters!

There are few shows that successfully reinvented themselves over their long runs like NYPD Blue. NYPD Blue not only switched up partners for Andy Sipowicz, but as the series went on, the show managed to reinvent themselves with bringing on new bosses for the 15th Precinct. Season Eight of NYPD Blue was arguably one of the most tumultuous - opening down one character and losing three of the main cast be season's end. The eighth season of NYPD Blue seemed to illustrate that the show was feeling some competition from Law & Order in that it immediately introduced a new District Attorney character, in the form of Valerie Heywood, before changing up any members of the 15th Precinct.

The eighth season of NYPD Blue has its rocky moments, but is surprisingly solid on DVD. While the season largely neglects Greg Medavoy and puts Andy Sipowicz squarely in the middle of romantic problems, the overall arc of Season Eight is the downfall of Danny Sorenson. NYPD Blue Season Eight picks up where the seventh season (reviewed here!) ended and it is impossible to discuss the eighth season without some references to where the seventh season ended. Following Kirkendall's departure and the way Sorenson led the squad to nab her ex-husband and his disgraced cop buddy, Denby, NYPD Blue got mired in the consequences of that and sorting those consequences out takes pretty much the entire season.

Six months after Kirkendall fled New York and Theo Sipowicz began to experience severe health problems that worried Andy, Andy leaves work early to get tests for Theo (even though the doctors want to wait a week). Andy's continued absence and insecurities lead Danny Sorenson and Diane Russell to work closer and when Kirkendall's case is reopened by Internal Affairs, Russell and Sorenson have to rely upon Harry Denby to exonerate the Squad. But, when Don Kirkendall is killed in prison, the 15th Precinct is allowed to get back to business on its own. Denby, fired off the job, continues to get in deeper and deeper with the drug cartel that Don Kirkendall was involved with. That leads to an exceptionally bad day for Russell - who has to stop Denby in a hostage situation - and Sorenson, who (influenced by a remark by Denby) roughs up a suspect and is suspended.

While Sorenson is suspended, the squad gets a floater, Detective Connie McDowell and Fancy thinks she fits in well, keeping her on even after Sorenson returns. Fancy takes his Captain's test and after helping Captain Bass out on a case where his wife is implicated in the crime, he is promoted out of the squad. After a potential new Lieutenant is proven to be a very poor fit for the 15th Precinct, Fancy calls in a favor that gets Lieutenant Tony Rodriguez assigned to lead after he leaves. Rodriguez is an initially excellent fit, but when the ramifications of her grief and her fall-out with Sorenson weighs upon her, Diane Russell takes a medical leave. In the wake of her leaving, Sorenson falls in with a topless dancer who is working out of a mob-run club and Sipowicz gets worried about him when he goes missing.

Blended throughout the main plot is a subplot involving Andy Sipowicz and his romantic life. At the season's outset, he is leaning heavily on Katie Sipowicz to help him keep care of Theo. Katie starts to want more and when Andy goes on a date with Eddie Gibson's niece, Cynthia. But when Cynthia and Gibson have a grapevine behind Sipowicz's back, it becomes too much for him to handle and he ends the relationship. That leaves the door open for Katie to return and she does, wanting to be a real family with Andy and Theo.

Amidst the overall arcs are episodic cases that act as a medium for the police squad setting of NYPD Blue. In the eighth season, cases involve a john who slices off half a man's penis, a drug dealer is given a baby as collateral for a deal, Andy is involved in confronting suspects while off duty, a cold case is brought to the squad by a twitchy suspect who is trying to avoid a minor charge of his own, and Medavoy tries to help one of his friends with his story until a shooting goes very wrong for him.

NYPD Blue is more about characters than it is the episodic elements of the weekly cases. In the eighth season of NYPD Blue, the characters are:

Andy Sipowicz - Relying more on Katy during Theo's illness, he becomes fully paranoid that Theo might die. After a crisis of faith, he pushes to have Theo's tests done early and when Theo's tests show his health is improving, he has a day where he is outright giddy. When Katy leaves because of how emotionally difficult her relationship with Andy is getting, he starts dating, overcoming his discomfort and using John as his sitter. Shortly thereafter, he starts worrying about Sorenson and Russell. When Sorenson is suspended, he cuts his partner out. Despite that, he finds what he needs to exonerate Sorenson and tries to give him another chance. He makes peace with Fancy once and for all after he shoots at a car full of thieves. As his personal relationships fall apart, he tries to rescue Sorenson from himself,

Danny Sorenson - Acting as a liaison between Russell and Denby, he discovers that Russell is being pulled by a number of different people (including Bobby's childhood friend Ray Salvo). He and Russell have sex, but when Russell is made uncomfortable about how it makes her feel, Sorenson reacts poorly to the break-up. When a man he has in protective custody is released by an inattentive desk sergeant, he throws a tantrum which leads to a very awkward apology for him. After getting reamed out by Fancy shortly after Denby implies he and Diane had hooked up, he gets violent on a coked-out suspect, corrupting a very public case. After being suspended and exonerated through other evidence on the case, he is brought back in time to return the favor to Andy. But when Diane starts dating someone else, he wigs out and starts dating a topless dancer, going undercover in a dangerous situation,

Arthur Fancy - When Russell and Sorenson are outed publicly, he has to call them on the carpet. He goes to take a computer course, which puts him fairly high on the list to make Captain's list. When his replacement is a ballbreaking Lieutenant who does not fit with the squad, he calls in his favor with Captain Bass before moving on,

Greg Medavoy - Working fairly well with Baldwin, he is the first called for an Internal Affairs interview and manages to give up nothing, though he is able to bring a message back to the Squad from the interview. He helps his old buddy recover a victim of a Chinese kidnapping ring, against all odds. He nudges Jones and Heywood together and when a bodega owner who he has helped before gets into a jam, he tries very hard to help the man with his story in order to help him out, though it goes wrong for him,

Baldwin "D" Jones - While working with Medavoy, he hooks up with a reporter briefly. He is sensitive to a suspect's racism and is able to keep an innocent man out of prison by pushing the racial angle of the case. He and Heywood clash over her desire to get convictions and he initially resents Greg trying to hook them up, ostensibly because they are both black. He comes to respect Heywood and pushes to socialize with her outside work,

Valerie Heywood - A new Assistant District Attorney, she is tough as nails and promises to deliver convictions if the members of the 15th Precinct give her good facts. She and Baldwin spar over a case where a black man is framed by a rich white woman and she leans toward charging the man. She leaps on Sorenson when he beats a suspect. She works very hard to keep work and her relationships separate, which is made difficult when she starts seeing Jones and they both have bad days that wiegh on them outside work,

Detective Connie McDowell - Initially brought on as a floater, she resists the idea of working under Lieutenant Dalto. She finds Rodriguez attractive and happily works for him. She starts working with Sipowicz to track down Sorenson when he goes missing. She and Diane have to recover a witness for a case Heywood has to retry, which leads her to confess that she has a daughter she once gave up, but still keeps an eye upon,

Lieutenant Tony Rodriguez - An easygoing squad leader, he takes over at the last minute when Fancy gets Dalto replaced. He is a legend in Narcotics Division and he comes to the 15th Precinct as his first Detective Squad. He is kind and watches as much as possible initially, though he stands up for his squad when others come in to claim jurisdiction on his new turf. He authorizes Sorenson going undercover,

John Irving - He starts babysitting for Theo when Andy starts dating. He clues the squad into Dalto's nature before she arrives and instantly assesses her as a bad fit for the 15th Precinct. He stands up for Sipowicz and the other detectives when a gay IRS agent alledges a bias,

and Diane Russell - Troubled by Denby manipulating her and her coworkers, she falls into bed with Sorenson. Uncomfortable at how that makes her feel, especially when he is protective of her on the street, she tries to break up with him gently before things get worse for them. After they break up, they work on developing a friendship. It is going all right until Bobby's cardiologist comes back into her life and she decides to make a go of that relationship. On McDowell's advice, she takes a hardship leave.

As one might expect from the eighth season of NYPD Blue, the established actors all know their roles. Garcelle Beauvais, Charlotte Ross, and Esai Morales each hit the ground running and gel remarkably quickly with the established cast members. Bill Brotchrup and Gordon Clapp are largely neglected as Irving and Medavoy for the season, but they do decent supporting work when given the opportunity.

As with the prior seasons since Shout! Factory started producing the DVD sets of NYPD Blue, there are no bonus features on the eighth season discs. This is disappointing as the initial seasons had both commentary tracks and featurettes and they are missed at this point in the series.

Ultimately, though, NYPD Blue Season Eight is an important transition season that reorders the characters to set up the last great era of the show with a solid foundation.

For other works from the 2000 - 2001 television season, please visit my reviews of:
The X-Files - Season 8
The West Wing - Season 2
Frasier - Season 8
Once & Again - Season 2
Angel - Season 2
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 5
Family Guy - Season 3
Friends - Season 7
Gilmore Girls - Season 1
The Simpsons - Season 12
Sex And The City - Season 3
Strangers With Candy - Season 3
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 7


For other television reviews, please be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized list of all my television and movie reviews!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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