Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Arguably The Best Season Of NYPD Blue Is The Third Season!

The Good: Great acting, Wonderful character development, Good plots, Excellent direction and writing
The Bad: Weak DVD bonuses, Packaging
The Basics: While Simone and Russell negotiate a new relationship, Sipowicz works cases while mentoring his son in what it means to be a cop.

There are plenty of people who will go into great depth on NYPD Blue to argue that the third season of the show is the very best the show ever achieved. While this is a season of great television that is exceptionally compelling and rewatchable, I find such arguments completely neglect the latter seasons of the show which had a greatness to them that was very different. Regardless, with the third season of NYPD Blue out now on DVD, viewers have a chance to get the 15th Precinct's most controversial season for their home libraries.

Now that Sylvia and Andy are married, Sipowicz begins to get into a daily routine, which is soon broken by Sylvia's announcement that she is pregnant. Life at the 15th Precinct gets instantly more complicated when Martinez is shot, complicating Medavoy and Lesniak's lives. And Diane Russell, now free and open to date Bobby Simone, works to stay on the wagon while dealing with a volatile family situation. And the fairly cool relationship between Lieutenant Fancy and Sipowicz hits a boiling point when a race-related shooting causes mayhem on the streets. And through it, Sipowicz begins to get closer to his estranged son, Andy Jr.

All of the bad with this season of NYPD Blue has to do with the DVDs, not the actual show. The two biggest problems are: the packaging and the DVD extras. The packaging is irksome for those who have not seen this season and want to have a profound shock. If you want to experience a television show and be hit out of the blue like viewers originally were, the back of the DVD box (and the episode summaries on the individual DVDs) give way too much information on both the season and the episodes. In short, the third season is building to an important character event for Andy Sipowicz, which comes in the last three episodes of the season. Yet, right on the back of the box, it mentions what that event is. It's pretty lousy.

As well, the DVD extras are pathetic. The third season of NYPD Blue has three episodes that are mind-blowingly great. "The Backboard Jungle" and the (quasi-) two-part perfect episodes "A Death In The Family" and "Closing Time" are both culturally relevant and astonishing and powerful in the human tragedy portrayed. None of these three episodes has commentary. "The Backboard Jungle" is possibly the most complicated and in-your-face racial exposes, exploring ethnic relations and ethnic conflict, of the 1990s. Yet, no commentary. Instead, there are lackluster commentaries without any real insight on the unextraordinary episodes "Sorry, Wong Suspect" and "Head Case." This is a huge disappointment, as is the lack of a featurette on "The Backboard Jungle."

Barring that, this is a worthy addition to anyone's collection. Anyone who loves great drama will love this season of NYPD Blue. "A Death In The Family" and "Closing Time," when viewed together are a perfect study in human misery and tragedy. "The Backboard Jungle" pulls no punches when exploring a shootout at a basketball game that puts Sipowicz at odds with a black community leader. And outside those three episodes, there is plenty of greatness. "Cold Heaters" has Andy and Fancy working together to help out a father who killed when his ten year-old boy was beaten to death and "We Was Robbed" offers a somewhat comedic relief to the typical drama of the show.

As this is a character-driven series, here is how the third season plays out for the mains:

Bobby Simone - Now able to date Russell, Simone acts as a buffer between Sipowicz and Fancy while solving cases. Still dealing with the death of his wife, he finds conflict with Russell occasionally over risks she takes on the job,

Andy Sipowicz - Domesticated and reforging bonds with his estranged son, Andy begins to look forward to the birth of a new son while trying to stay out of trouble with the job,

Lieutenant Arthur Fancy - Mostly stuck behind his desk, Fancy leads the squad by keeping everyone in line and on focus. Unfortunately, Fancy has little development this season,

James Martinez - Shot early on, James works to recover and return to work, while trying to figure out his relationship (or lack thereof) with Lesniak,

Greg Medavoy - Once again, Medavoy finds conflict at home, which causes him to move into the 15th Precinct's building,

Donna Abandando - Also largely behind a desk for the bulk of the season, Abandando moves the last half of the season when an opportunity comes her way she is not sure she wants to pass up,

Sylvia Costas - Pregnant and working hard to be supportive of Andy, Sylvia is an anchor that keeps Andy grounded and true,

Adrian Lesniak - Frustrated at Martinez's advances, Lesniak begins to explore her own sexuality,

and Diane Russell - Working hard to stay sober, Russell encounters a personal tragedy at home, but finds some salvation in Simone.

This is a season of powerful character arcs and it would not have been pulled off with anything of the success it had were it not for the powerful performances. This is a season that is a model of great acting.

James McBride gives an awesome performance as Fancy in "The Backboard Jungle," easily proving that when the writers give him material, he will rise to the occasion. Similarly, Justine Miceli does wonderful work as a troubled Lesniak, though her character is left with almost nowhere to go after this season. Jimmy Smits does great work, but much of it this season is supporting the work of Dennis Franz and Kim Delaney.

Kim Delaney does an excellent job as the strong, yet scarred Russell. She convinces the viewer that her character is essentially good, but with a shadow in her past that makes things difficult for her. Delaney brings both strength and vulnerability to the role, making her performances diverse and compelling.

It is, however, Dennis Franz who rules this season. It is Franz's portrayal of Sipowicz as the father, mentor, bigot, detective, husband, and friend that makes the season pop. He's given a great role and he sells the viewer entirely on it. Franz plays Andy as both deadpan comic and tormented, easily earning every award he won this season.

But you should not take my word for it entirely, this is a great season of adult television and more adults ought to buy it and enjoy it. It's worth the money, despite it's lack of decent bonus material.

For other great third seasons, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The West Wing - Season Three
Psych - Season 3
Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Third Season


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all my television reviews.

© 2012, 2007, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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