Monday, March 12, 2012

When In Darkness And In Doubt, Turn Toward The Blue: NYPD Blue Season Four!

The Good: Excellent character development, Great acting, Interesting stories
The Bad: Lousy DVD extras, Formulaic nature of stories sets in
The Basics: With a great deal of character development, wonderful acting and interesting stories, NYPD Blue The Complete Fourth Season is well worth the money.

NYPD Blue started out as a remarkably consistent show. Seasons one through three were solid, with excellent acting, characterization and stories. Season four continues the tradition, while hinting at the cracks that come in the series to come. For the most part, this is a solid season, but where it has its difficulties is in beginning to feel repetitive and formulaic on the plot front. After all, there are only so many ways these type of cases can begin and end. In simple terms, by the time the fourth season of the show comes around, we know the plot drill; something happens, the incident is investigated, witnesses are brought in, the truth is determined, our characters move on.

Season four of NYPD Blue finds the 15th Precinct dealing with the consequences of the prior season. Andy is working to stay sober again while worrying about his new baby, Diane and Bobby navigate treacherous waters when Simone proposes and Russell does not have an immediate answer, and Martinez finds new romance with the new PAA. Medavoy works to diet and exercise, Fancy deals with a racist cop and his wife's new business enterprise, and a new detective arrives in the squad.

Despite the somewhat formulaic notion of the plot to the series, Season four of NYPD Blue succeeds because of the characters. Here is how the fourth season finds them:

Bobby Simone - Feeling miffed over Diane's lack of a response to his marriage proposal, Simone begins to drift away from Diane and into some professional risk-taking,

Andy Sipowicz - Sober once again, Andy is learning to deal with the loss of his son and how to live with his new wife and new son, while dealing with a PAA who is sexually harassing him,

Arthur Fancy - Keeping the squad together, Fancy gets some time away from his desk to help out on the street, to deal with a racist cop and to find himself in the uncomfortable position of trying to sell his wife's products at the precinct for her,

Greg Medavoy - Disturbed by his size, Medavoy begins a diet competition with Andy and ends up meeting a uniformed officer named Abby who he becomes interested in,

James Martinez - After winning a position as Squad Delegate, James helps the new PAA, Gina, cope when she is assaulted,

Sylvia - After deciding to go back to work following the birth of the baby, Sylvia must wrestle with her desire to stay home and raise Theo instead,

Jill Kirkendall - A new detective in the squad, Kirkendall illustrates strength and keen detective skills, while claiming to be a romantic and working to raise her two children,

and Diane Russell - Following her ambivalence toward Simone's proposal, Russell begins to go undercover with a dangerous man, whose relationship with her triggers long-repressed memories.

The fourth season is not even completely repetitive on the plot front; the episode "Taillight's Last Gleaming" finds Andy having bizarre dreams about Andy Jr. The plot does get repetitive, save when character moments like that move into the plot and take over. However, that problem begins to become a problem by the end of this season, though the final episode does lead into a pretty impressive cliffhanger.

No, the real problem in the DVD presentation of season four is the extras. The fact is, this DVD set has some of the weakest extras of any DVD collection I own. There are commentaries, even commentaries on decent episodes like "Where's Swaldo" (a follow-up to the third season episode "The Backboard Jungle") and "Tom and Geri." The problem is that outside the commentary for "Tom and Geri," the commentaries aren't insightful or even interesting. Mark Tinker and Bill Clark sit awkwardly trying to say anything on their two commentaries and the result is disappointing and boring. It's hard to take a quality episode of one of the best shows on television in its heyday and make it into a boring experience, but watching with the commentary track on for "Alice Doesn't Fit Here Anymore" succeeds in being, well, dull.

Overall, this is a great season of television, though more than any prior season of "Blue," it feels like a sequel to the prior season. More than any previous season, this one relies on prior knowledge of the characters and cases. In order to get the most out of season four, the viewer must watch season three.

The acting in season four illustrates the power of great casting and giving great actors material to work with. In season four, we see some of the actors stretch their wings, as it were. Dennis Franz, who has played Sipowicz as a curmudgeon the past three seasons continues the trend while adding new depth and dimension, when Andy gets scared and/or confused. And Franz sells us on it.

Jimmy Smits is given a great deal more to do in this season, opening Simone up to more vulnerability and strength. Smits has to enact Simone more off the job than before and that sense of character and casual ease illustrates ability that he has not been allowed to before now. Similarly, Kim Delaney as Diane Russell does an amazing job of illustrating her acting prowess by switching emotions on a dime. She's pretty fabulous moving from strong to vulnerable, damaged to in control in literally the blink of an eye.

But more than the others, it's refreshing to see James McDaniel come into his own and out from behind the desk. McDaniel is one of the most impressive actors on the show and easily the most underused. He has a dignity and quality to him that is often thrust into the background. In season four, McDaniel is given material to work with and he runs with it. Mr. McDaniel gives Lt. Fancy dignity, frustration, anger, and reserve and he has the ability to moderate it all with a realism that makes his character one of the best defined in the NYPD Blue universe.

All in all, this is a pretty solid DVD collection and any points off are really for the lack of decent DVD extras. Still, for a quality show like NYPD Blue, it's insulting that it's not getting better treatment on DVD with more extras.

For other seasons of NYPD Blue, please visit my reviews of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3


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!

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