Friday, August 12, 2016

The Worst Year Of Andy Sipowicz's Life Makes For A Great Sixth Season Of NYPD Blue!

The Good: Wonderful new character, Good character development, Decent plot serialization, Great acting
The Bad: Imbalance in the characters (some seriously underused/neglected main characters!), No DVD extras
The Basics: NYPD Blue The Complete Sixth Season has the potential to lose its audience when Jimmy Smits departs, but instead creates a surprisingly enduring transition season for the series!

When a television series has an especially long television run, it is fascinating to return to it years later to look at its impact and depth. With most television series that last more than seven years, there comes a point where casual viewers give up on it. In the case of NYPD Blue, one of the most common fall-off points for those who are not die-hard fans of the series is Season Six. Season Six of NYPD Blue was where Jimmy Smits left the show and was replaced by Rick Schroder, who played Andy Sipowicz's new partner, Danny Sorenson. The departure of Smits from the cast left many viewers feeling burned, but for those who stuck with the show, the reward was one of the best seasons of NYPD Blue. It is no coincidence that the sixth season of NYPD Blue was a season Dennis Franz won the Emmy for playing Sipowicz (it was his final win).

Now on DVD, thanks to Shout! Factory, NYPD Blue Season Six continues where NYPD Blue Season Five (reviewed here!) and the season progresses from an often-surreal series of events to a progression of serialized stories that make for the worst year in the life of Detective Andy Sipowicz. After a season that focused very heavily on Bobby Simone and his deepening relationship with Diane Russell, Sipowicz dominates the sixth season of NYPD Blue. Season Six is a long, slow descent for Andy Sipowicz and Dennis Franz does not disappoint in his portrayal of Sipowicz experiencing loss, epiphany, and love.

NYPD Blue Season Six is burdened with trying to effectively introduce Danny Sorenson and Rick Schroder to the cast, which pulls attention away from supporting characters like Medavoy, Martinez, and Kirkendall. Ironically, given how there are significant long, serialized arcs in the sixth season of NYPD Blue, there is a weird disconnect between the fifth and sixth seasons of the show. One moment, Simone and Russell are marrying, the next, Bobby is fatigued and dying.

After experiencing vivid dreams, centered around his old mentor and his birds, Bobby Simone starts to feel tired and tight in the chest. In an altercation on the street, Simone's arm is cut by a perp and soon after, he develops congestion in his chest. Simone's heart is badly damaged and, even after a heart transplant, his body is not strong enough to recover. When Simone dies, the 15th Squad mourns heavily, no one more than Diane Russell. Fancy gets a transfer from the Narcotics Division, Danny Sorenson, to fill Simone's empty desk, much to the ire of Russell. Sipowicz's new partner is fairly young and that leads most of the squad to be wary of him and his abilities, but Sorenson's patient manner and network of informants on the street quickly pay off for the squad in closing cases.

While Kirkendall and Russell attempt to aid the PAA, Dolores Mayo, as she begins to act out, Sipowicz has to reach out to Sergant Dornan on a case Sylvia wants re-opened. Sylvia believes she has a case where the wrong man is serving a prison sentence for a crime someone else committed. Sipowicz and Dornan re-open the case and discover that she is right, but in the process, Dornan antagonizes his political enemies, is demoted, and falls off the wagon. When Dolores Mayo is killed by a wealthy socialite and, soon after, Mike Roberts (who was hired by the creep) winds up dead, Kirkendall, Costas, and Sipowicz are put in situations that turn their lives in completely different directions.

Season Six of NYPD Blue is a season that includes significant losses of characters, both main and supporting. The demise of Mike Roberts brings the end of one of the show's most intriguing supporting characters and while Dolores Mayo is a comparatively minor character, her death sets off a plot arc that changes the course of the entire series! In the sixth season of NYPD Blue, the characters are:

Andy Sipowicz - After losing Simone, he starts to take on the role of mentor to Sorenson. His new partner reminds him some of his dead son, which causes emotional complications for him. He is initially reluctant to re-open the Suarez case for Sylvia because it means that he has to enlist the aid of Dornan, a cop who does not like him. Through a series of dreams, he comes to understand the root of his racism and he attempts to make peace with Dornan and Fancy. He comes to loathe the criminal who killed Dolores and when A.D.A. Cohen has to recuse himself, he is put in a bind when Sylvia takes over the case. In prosecuting the millionaire murderer, he is put in the uncomfortable position of having to face off attorney James Sinclaire again,

Bobby Simone - After a very brief illness, his heart gives out and he struggles to hold on to life as long as he can,

Danny Sorenson - Taking over after Simone dies, the young Narcotics officer is met by hostility by most in the 15th Precinct. He is an extremely competent detective, but when he becomes nervous, he exhibits obsessive compulsive traits surrounding rearranging office supplies. He is casually dating a young woman when she gets pregnant, then loses the fetus, causing a fall-out in the relationship. He gets especially twitchy in cases involving childhood sexual abuse and he has a noticeably estranged relationship with his own family. He begins to show interest in Diane Russell,

Arthur Fancy - After an impassioned attempt to get a police widow to donate her husband's heart to Simone, he tries to keep Dolores Mayo on the job as long as he can, while she screws up more and more. When Dolores is killed, he brings John Irvin back to the squad. He and Sipowicz gets into a fistfight that leads to them actually talking out their differences. He finds it hard to deal with Dornan, especially when Dornan's alcoholism causes him to recall the way he was helpless to aid his own alcoholic father,

Greg Medavoy - Still partnered with James, he largely parrots his partner's views. He becomes fascinated with the journals Mike Roberts kept that he reads obsessively following Roberts's murder. In them, he discovers new information about his lost love, Donna Abandando,

James Martinez - Occasionally not eager to return home to his wife and kid, he and Greg act as support staff more than primary investigators this season,

Sylvia - She helps Andy deal with the death of Bobby and when she goes back to work, she implores Andy to help her re-open the Suarez case. In the process, she gets the evidence needed to take down a major drug kingpin. When Cohen has to be taken off a case because of his attachment to Kirkendall, she takes over, which puts her in court against James Sinclaire,

Jill Kirkendall - Trying to raise her two children alone becomes hard for her when she loses Cohen as a friend and asset. She tries hard to help Dolores Mayo and when Mayo is killed, she leaps at the opportunity to go undercover to get the killer. In the process, she potentially taints the investigation, which leads Cohen to get short with her and for their relationship to fall apart. She does her best to keep things professional and she acts as Diane Russell's primary support, especially when Russell buys a bottle,

Dolores Mayo - Her life begins to spin out of control as she begins stripping on the side. She relies upon John Irving as a friend and she loses her job by simply failing to show up repeatedly. She gets into drugs and then is murdered by a millionaire,

John Irving - He returns to the squad when Dolores begins acting erratically and is killed. He turns to faith after Dolores's death, going so far as attempting to counsel James Mayo (Dolores's father). He lets critical information slip to James Mayo and is deeply relieved when Fancy does not fire him for his indiscretion,

and Diane Russell - After finally getting Bobby, she loses him when his heart gives out. After a period of mourning, she returns to work, but after working a particularly tough case well, she feels guilty after going out for the night with her co-workers and she buys a bottle. After Jill sees her through that crisis, she slowly supports Sorenson as he investigates cases that increasingly trouble him.

In NYPD Blue Season Six, Jimmy Smits earns his paycheck for his brief arc as Bobby Simone. Smits's performance is absolutely agonizing to watch and anyone who has lived through the death of a loved one who needed an organ transplant is likely to be triggered by how precisely Smits plays the role of Simone dying. James McDaniel plays Fancy as deeply wounded and emotional for one of the first times in the series in the sixth season and the result is an amazing performance by him. McDaniel's part on NYPD Blue seldom gives him the chance to plumb the emotional depths of his character, but in season six, he does and he does it amazingly well. Kim Delaney continues to portray Diane Russell exceptionally, though it does not take long before her role in the sixth season of NYPD Blue is diminished.

The real surprise of the sixth season of NYPD Blue comes in the form of Rick Schroder as Danny Sorenson. Schroder was best known before this as a child actor for the 1980s comedy Silver Spoons. In the sixth season of NYPD Blue, he proves himself an adept dramatic actor with a powerful knack for physically acting. While Sorenson is characterized as inherently good and kind by his lines, Schroeder adds depth to him by making Sorenson twitchy and physically nervous through many of the scenes. It is Schroder's performance, more than anything else, that implies Sorenson's childhood sexual abuse - which is not made explicit in this season. Instead, Schroder hints repeatedly at the root of his character's dysfunction through the course of the season with his occasionally unsettling physical performance.

What is not surprising is how Dennis Franz continues to dominate the show as Andy Sipowicz. For the first season, Franz is top-billed on NYPD Blue and he continues to bring new layers to Sipowicz, not simply through what is written for him. Franz plays Andy's father in dream sequences and he is given the chance to portray Sipowicz along the full width of the emotional spectrum. Viewers might have abandoned NYPD Blue in the sixth season, but Franz not only showed up, he delivered an exceptional performance.

On DVD, NYPD Blue Season Six has no bonus features. This is a huge disappointment as there are some key episodes that commentary tracks would have been great for. It is understandable, given that Shout! Factory had to pay for the primary show, but some featurettes would have been nice.

While it might be neglected, NYPD Blue Season Six is an essential season in the long-running show and one well worth being picked up by fans, regardless of how difficult some of its best moments are!

For other works from the 1998 - 1999 television season, please visit my reviews of:
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 7
The X-Files - Season 6
Frasier - Season 6
Ally McBeal - Season 2
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 3
Family Guy - Season 1
Friends - Season 5
Homicide: Life On The Street - Season 7
Millennium - Season 3
NewsRadio - Season 5
The Simpsons - Season 10
Spin City - Season 3
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 5


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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