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NYPD Blue: Season One

When DVD first arrived in the scene it seemed like a prayer come true for film lovers. But as the medium has quickly pushed its way past VHS, it has forsaken much of its earlier promise by being used as a means to tout the worst cinematic trash as art worthy of double-disc treatment, and — perhaps even worse — a vestige for repackaging television reruns and charging far too much for them. At first, the thought of shelling out money for episodes of any television series seems ludicrous. These are, after all, the same things that turn up in syndication, on networks like TV Land and Nickelodeon — for free. And as the cry of cinematic purists and TV-haters goes, film is art — television is furniture. Which again raises the question: Why would anyone in their right mind pay serious money for the box set of some television series? The answer to that question lies in the sad but simple truth that sometimes television shows are better than movies. When NYPD Blue debuted on ABC-TV, the show was already steeped in controversy. The advance word was that it would be the first R-rated series in network television history, complete with nudity (in the form of bare buttocks and exposed breasts — sans nipples), violence, and harsh language ("dickhead" and "ass" being the profanity du jour). Before airing, the show caused a major buzz when some ABC affiliates refused to carry it and advertisers opted not to hawk their wares. But then the show hit the airwaves, garnering decent ratings and rave reviews, and suddenly the controversy took a back-seat to the fact that NYPD Blue was a hit.

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Arriving a decade after its premiere, Fox's six-disc collection of NYPD Blue's first season comes as more than just a nostalgic look at a show that helped to change network television. After ten years, the acting, directing, and writing on Season One still stands as strong as it all did when it first hit the ground running in September of '93. Mixing gritty police drama with a dose of TV melodramatics (i.e., pseudo-soap opera-ish romantic entanglements), Blue emerged as an evocative reinvention of the all-but-dead television drama. It was a show that helped pave the way for everything from The Sopranos to The Shield. At the time, David Caruso appeared to be the closest thing to a star the ensemble had. The one to most often bare his ass, Caruso's performance as Det. John Kelly earned the most press. But after Caruso's departure at the end of the first season, the real stars emerged — the sublime writing, and Dennis Franz as Det. Andy Sipowicz. As the only regular cast member to stay with the show from the beginning, Franz has long since become the foundation upon which the best episodes of NYPD Blue have been built. Shot in an ambush and lingering at death's door in the pilot episode, what Blue has transformed into over the years has been a 10-year-long character study of Sipowicz. But even from the start, the series has been character-driven, utilizing the one thing television has that film doesn't — time. Where so many shows fail to develop characters with any sort of depth or emotional density, Blue has delivered in spades. Even ongoing film franchises have never managed to flesh out character with the same amount of complexity as this cop drama. Compiling the first 22 episodes onto six discs, Fox's NYPD Blue: The Complete First Season looks good but is short on bonus features. Each disc contains one episode with a commentary by either a writer (David Milch), director (Brad Siberling), or cast member (Sharon Lawrence). "The Making of Season One" documentary offers interesting insights into the creative process that went into the original inception of the show. Series creators Milch and Steven Bochco have some interesting things to say about the battle get the series on the air, as do police technical consultant Bill Clark and various directors, cast, and crew. But interesting anecdotes and fond recollections are not reason enough to plunk down hard-earned cash or to dedicate nearly a full day's worth of time to watching anything. What makes NYPD Blue worth watching is that it is, and continues to be, a very good series. At its best, Blue is better than most films being churned out. At its worst, it's still better than most films being churned out.
—David Walker

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