Friday, March 2, 2012

Second Season Of A Great Show Maintains Perfection With NYPD Blue Season Two!

The Good: Excellent acting, Great character development, Decent extras, Generally good plots
The Bad: Plots begin to take on formulaic spin in this season
The Basics: With excellent acting and great characters, the second season of NYPD Blue continues a tradition of outstanding achievement and lasting greatness.

Sophomore seasons for a television show are difficult, especially if the first season of the show was fabulous, groundbreaking, and/or started something of a phenomenon. Thus, the pressure on NYPD Blue (outside whatever behind the scenes difficulties leaked into the media) was pretty tremendous going into its second year. The boxed set DVD collection of NYPD Blue for the second season is a real treat as it illustrates the rare achievement of a show that started out with a bang continuing to fly high.

The second season of NYPD Blue finds the 15th Precinct immediately under siege. With the trial of Janice Licalsi in full swing, Detective John Kelly finds himself under investigation by Internal Affairs. Pressured about his role in concealing evidence, Kelly is forced to resign, despite the efforts of Sipowicz and Fancy. Sipowicz is paired up with a new detective, Bobby Simone, who works to become Andy's friend. As they adjust to being around one another through several cases, Medavoy and Martinez pair up (professionally) while Medavoy and Donna Abandando continue their on-again, off-again relationship.

NYPD Blue prides itself on being a character-driven show and the second season continues the trend of putting the characters up front as the most important aspect. More important than the cases these detectives solve is who the detectives are and how they go about solving the crimes. In the second season, this is how the characters evolve:

Licalsi - Her trial is resolved quickly and Licalsi goes on her merry way, without the merry,

Lesniak - A new, young female detective who catches Martinez's eye arrives as a real professional who is attempting to keep her work and personal lives very much separate,

Diane Russell - Arriving near the end of the season, she is introduced as a smart detective who also has a serious drinking problem,

John Kelly - Suffers the consequences of standing by the woman he loves,

Donna Abandando - Finds that her love for Medavoy is not enough to change the nervous man and she initiates a painful breakup with him,

Martinez - Grows as a detective, now without Kelly. Paired with Medavoy, he starts to become his own man and tries to show that to Lesniak,

Medavoy - His paranoia over having such a good thing as a relationship with Donna surfaces, causing him to spy and lose everything. Outside that, he finds himself going a great deal of good in the City and growing even more as a detective,

Sylvia Costas - Still an ADA, she gets even closer to Andy to the point that when he proposes to her, she finds herself headed toward the aisle, even as she is forced to deal with difficult incidences from her own past,

Fancy - Gets the son he's always wanted and finds himself having to defend both his squad and his brother as he illustrates how competent he is at being the boos of the 15th Squad,

Bobby Simone - Arrives as a widower who has ties to the media which force him to re-evaluate his life. Partnering with Sipowicz compels him to be levelheaded and methodical, but he has his own issues and when Diane arrives, he finds his life even more complicated,

Andy Sipowicz - Still arguably in the shadows of another cop (now Simone), Sipowicz keeps sober with the help of a sponsor, deals with another big loss in his life, and gets both a new partner and a solid love interest when he and Sylvia move in together and decide to take the big plunge.

As with the first season, NYPD Blue finds the second season immersed in murky territory with an impressive number of moral questions being asked and a rather practical approach to the world as it works. NYPD Blue is possibly the show wherein the good guys win the least amount of times. That is to say that while often the 15th Squad finds the correct perpetrator, justice is not always served. For example, after two episodes wherein Simone attempts to catch a serial killer, his suspect is murdered while going to trial. Similarly, as Andy gets entrenched on the road to sobriety, his sponsor's mentally ill son comes back into his sponsor's life.

NYPD Blue continues its tradition of being daring television. Even beyond the language and nudity, the second season of the show pushes the boundaries of what may be talked about and shown on television. For example, in "Double Abandando," one of the most disgusting killers of the entire series is revealed to be a man who knowingly infects women with H.I.V. The episode raises the social conscious about a serious problem and reflects on the lack of consequences in such a case. It's a real eye opener.

And then, of course, there is the nudity and language. The nudity does not seem so gratuitous as it may have in the first season, save in Bobby Simone's first episode, "Simone Says," where writer David Milch admits he lobbied for nudity (in the form of the police investigating a photographer's studio while many people are posing naked) because he knew that the show would be drawing a lot of viewers anyway. The nudity and language do not seem so extreme now, either because of how this show changed television so a lot of this is not shocking today or because I have grown up. Still, it is definitely not kid's fare.

In addition to very realistic, complicated characters, the second season of NYPD Blue captivates using intriguing storylines that are not usually predictable. Some of the interesting cases the 15th Squad must investigate include a homicidal, lecherous chiropractor, a gypsy scam artist, a young man whose approach to meeting women is to send them death threats, a case that depends on the testimony of a woman who wants Simone to love her, and many, many murders. Add to that a side adventure where Sipowicz conceals that a detective died in a prostitute's bed and you have an interesting season!

Part of the reason this series is so engaging and has endured as long as it has it in the quality of the acting. NYPD Blue has a phenomenal cast and many argue that the ensemble that begins with this second season is the strongest (I tend to argue third season and the current one, which is season eleven). These are all professionals and they truly hone their craft here in the second season.

Among the supporting cast of people like Gail O'Grady (Donna) and Nicholas Turturro (Martinez), two actors stand above the rest. Gordon Clapp continues to progress Medavoy into a likable, decent man with a very human range of flaws. Clapp humanizes much of the show making it easy to connect to the bigger, sometimes frightening world that NYPD Blue portrays by playing Medavoy as an emotive man who is competent, but fearful. Clapp's ability to stutter and his use of body language sell the audience on one of the most intriguing characters in the series.

The other standout of the secondary cast is Sharon Lawrence as Sylvia Costas. Lawrence does a phenomenal job of selling the audience on the unlikely pairing of Costas and Sipowicz. Lawrence uses her ability to have her eyes emote a loving expression, her body language to play cool and confident and her voice to be almost parental to add depth to a character who began the series as someone Sipowicz could yell profanities at. Lawrence infuses the relationship with real chemistry and is utterly convincing as the Assistant District Attorney.

Dennis Franz continues to impress as Sipowicz. Perhaps Franz is the luckiest; the expectations on him are not to simply show up and look good, so the show tends to emphasize his character and as a result, he gets a lot of great material. In this season of the show, Franz continues to expand his ability to act by presenting Sipowicz as both a curmudgeon and a guy who has a heart. What Franz does so well is to present dialog that most actors would find reprehensible or complicated with an ease that convinces us it is all his character. That is quality acting.

And in the second season, Jimmy Smits exploded into the series as an acting force to be reckoned with. More than simply the good looking man that many might assume he was cast for, Smits backs up the looks with soothing tones that easily connote a caring man. Smits plays Simone as an intriguing combination of clever and forceful, striking a balance that Sipowicz does not have. Smits seems to take great joy in opening up a place for wry humor in the series, using his eyes to laugh when it might not otherwise be appropriate. As well, Smits can turn on the best of intensity when he plays Simone in interrogation scenes, making his performances possibly the most rounded of the characters this season.

Essential for anyone who loves great drama, those who are not fond of police shows should not be intimidated by NYPD Blue. The second season continues the trend of using a cop show to push the borders of what a family drama can be by mixing crime solving with family-style drama (with the squad essentially dealing with similar problems that a family has behind the scenes and separate from the crime solving).

Fans of NYPD Blue will enjoy the extras this boxed set has. Several episodes have commentary and though David Milch is somewhat of a washout giving commentary (he sits and repeats Sipowicz's lines and adds little else), the rest of the people are pretty interesting. The behind the scenes interviews are both confusing and interesting. On the subject of David Caruso's departure, the information seems to contradict what was said in the first season bonuses (i.e. that Steven Bochco pre-emptively fired Caruso in anticipation of him not wanting to come back due to movie roles, which changes now with Caruso being difficult and wanting to leave on these discs). But the endearing moments are seeing people like Sharon Lawrence and Gail O'Grady talk about the show. Though both actresses eventually left the show, they talk about NYPD Blue as a great experience and in glowing terms. Lawrence, especially, has a particular love of the show that she illustrates by speaking in quite an educated fashion on all sorts of episodes, including scenes she was not even in. It's refreshing to see celebrities excited by the show that made them stars as opposed to trying to distance themselves from it.

This DVD set does not have deleted scenes and it is doubtful that any exist; perhaps one of the most intriguing things about watching these episodes is seeing how much longer the running time of the episodes was then than it is now. Maybe one of the signs of the greatness of this show should come from the Nielsen's; season two was so good that they had to start cutting out programming time to make way for more advertising. A real classic and an essential addition to anyone's DVD collection.

For other works with Jimmy Smits, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The West Wing - Season Seven
The West Wing - Season Six
Revenge Of The Sith
Attack Of The Clones


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all of my television reviews!

© 2012, 2007, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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