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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"I'm not counting you out…."
DVD ReviewIn the fall of 1993, the traditional one-hour television drama had become somewhat of an endangered species. Other than ABC's likeable but lightweight The Commish and NBC's rapidly waning L.A. Law, about the only other programs that came close to the format were Northern Exposure and Picket Fences. Yet those shows were quirky to the point that they could have passed for comedies.
So who should step into the ring to shake things up other than Steven Bochco, the creative genius who gave television drama a whole new lease on life in the 1980s as the creator/producer of the landmark Hill Street Blues, a program that re-wrote the book on police shows. By the time of the 1990s, the style of the much imitated Chicago-based program had become almost quaint. In his quest to play innovator again, Bochco wanted to create a project that combined the adventurism/freedom of cable with gritty realism of documentary shows that had become the rage at the time (Cops, for example).
After over a year in development, the pilot for NYPD Blue was screened for ABC executives. God knows what they must have thought. Crotch grabbing? Acceptable in the context of Madonna and Michael Jackson videos perhaps...but during prime time on a mainstream network? But the daring-do didn't end there. At least six to seven colorful words that would have gotten you banned for life in the world of Jack Webb's Dragnet were uttered, most coming from the mouth of one Andy Sipowicz, one of the most initially un-likeable characters to grace a tv screen this side of Archie Bunker.
Looming head and shoulders above language concerns were bare backs and buttocks. Save for very fleeting glimpses in decades past (Ed Flander's final appearance on St. Elsewhere comes to mind), nudity was still somewhat of a taboo on commercial airwaves even in the progressive 1990s. However, ABC had been a trailblazer in such matters with programs like Soap and Twin Peaks. Drawing their collective breaths, the powers that be gave Bochco's latest pet project a prominent Tuesday night berth on their 1993 fall schedule.
Almost immediately after the pilot was screened for network affiliates, a firestorm of controversy erupted. Even after Bochco trimmed fifteen seconds of a partially nude love scene from the debut episode, upwards of 40-50 stations announced they would not carry the show; those siding with ABC were threatened with advertiser boycotts. In fact, during the debut season of Blue, there was no break between the first and second acts, due to a shortage of network commercials. Against the odds, the show premiered on September 21, 1993, not only winning its time slot but maintaining its rating consistency in the weeks that followed. It took a while, but thanks to enormous critical acclaim, numerous awards and an extremely devoted fan base that got the word out, NYPD Blue became a top ten hit as it segued to Season Two.
Once open-minded viewers looked past the show's controversial elements, what did they get? A driven and passionate program full of complex characters brought to life by a flawless cast, headed by the phenomenal Dennis Franz and David Caruso. Their father/son-flavored relationship as the 15th Precinct's most dependable detectives (Andy Sipowicz and John Kelly) remains one of television's most moving. With a great writing staff headed by co-creator David Milch, the technical expertise of former Big Apple cop (and contributing scriptwriter) Bill Clark, Lawrence Jordan's attention grabbing editing (supported later in the season by Farrell Jane Levy) and the pounding percussive score of Mike Post, NYPD Blue: Season One is a 6-disc souvenir of a small screen landmark's legendary beginning that hasn't dated in the slightest, remaining as riveting as its debut a decade ago.
SPOILER WARNING: The set-up synopsis and mini-episode reviews that follow contain major plot revelations, so if you're among the dozen or so that haven't seen episodes from NYPD's freshman season, reader discretion is advised...
Previously On NYPD Blue:
Andy Sipowicz (Franz) is a veteran cop who has seen better days. Divorced, estranged from his son and tired of watching one too many bad guys go free, the Vietnam vet has all but drunk his career into the toilet. To add insult to injury, his testimony against mobster Alfonse Giardella (Robert Constanzo) is all but laughed out of court, much to the chagrin of ADA Sylvia Costas (Sharon Lawrence).
Fueled by an impending break-up with long-time partner and close friend John Kelly (David Caruso), Sipowicz confronts Giardella at a local restaurant, a move that infuriates his boss, Lt. Fancy (James McDaniel). While John temporarily teams up with James Martinez (Nicholas Turturro), a brash and eager young cop from the Anti-Crime unit, Internal Affairs steps in, strips Andy of his gun and badge sending him further into the bottle. During an afternoon tryst with his favorite call girl, Giardella barges in and pumps Andy full of lead.
Rushing to the scene, Kelly is hesitant to follow up on Sipowicz's condition as it brings back haunting memories of how his own father was shot down in the line of duty. Additionally, John is divorcing his wife Laura (Sherry Stringfield); a move he's starting to have second thoughts about. While talking things over at her apartment, Laura reveals that one of the tenants was involved in a recent mugging, an incident that has all the building's occupants on edge, particularly her neighbor, Josh Goldstein (David Schwimmer).
Affectionately nicknamed "4B" by John, Goldstein is a local lawyer acting as a go-between in the Kelly's divorce proceedings. During a meeting at the precinct, John spots a pistol in Josh's briefcase for which he does not spot a permit. Sympathetic to his situation in the apartment building, John looks the other way but urges Josh to get a permit.
In the middle of all this emotional upheaval, uniformed officer Janice Licalsi (Amy Brennerman) offers her sympathy to Kelly as well as an invitation to grab some grub and drinks after work. Discovering they have much in common with family backgrounds and such, the twosome wind up at John's apartment, where they continue their conversation on a more intimate level. In a case of bad timing, Laura drops by to see if John has heard anything on Sipowicz's condition. Sensing a post-lovemaking scene, she sarcastically tells her imminent ex, "I can see you're all broke up about Andy."
Putting frightening thoughts of the past out of his mind, John swallows his courage and heads into Andy's hospital room. Although the elder detective is still in a coma, Kelly can't help but verbally express his emotions to the man who has become like a second father to him. Upon taking his hand, Andy squeezes in response.
Episode 1: Pilot
One of the most exciting debut episodes a new show could ever hope to launch with. As evidence, while re-playing the first few minutes, I wound up watching it a second time. It features all the plot details noted above and an intriguing epilogue: Tired of Kelly's interference and requests to give Giardella up, mob boss Angelo Marino (Joe Santo) seeks the help of an unlikely accomplice to finish the heroic cop off: Licalsi ... a plot development that guaranteed viewers would return for a second helping.
Opening week at the 15th Precinct merits a well-deserved 5 shields out of 5.
Episode 2: 4B Or Not 4B
Picking up right where the pilot left off, Andy recovers from his near-fatal confrontation with Giardella, 4B broods after being the victim of another mugging at the Kelly's former apartment building, Laura quits the city attorney's office to work for a private firm and in a shocking turn of events, Licalsi kills Marino. Even more exciting than the series' debut, especially the completely unexpected exit of mob boss Marino, a bold move that shot down any pre-conceived expectations viewers had as far as predicting future plot developments. Although limited physically by his post-recovery storyline, Franz takes full advantage of his increased screen time as he develops Sipowicz's trademark sarcastic wit marking the first of many endearing and surprising character traits to come.
Batting .1000, this sophomore episode chalks up 5 shields out of 5.
Episode 3: Brown Appetit
After two episodes jam-packed with intensity primarily focusing on main characters, this outing tones things down a couple of notches as the series begins to settle into what will become a typical groove: a mixture of one to two weekly crime cases and ongoing storylines involving the core cast.
On the outs with Kelly after her learns of her involvement in the Marino murder, Janice is hit with the news of her father's indictment in the Giardella case. Meanwhile, John seeking refuge from that situation and his ongoing divorce from Laura, moonlights as a bodyguard for Susan Wagner (Wendie Malick), the wife of a prominent Big Apple millionaire. And poor Sipowicz. Not only is he still saddled to his temporary desk duties, he's also having to baby sit fellow cop Greg Medavoy's dog. Although Appetit is slight after the one-two punch of episodes past, it's a very consistent outing full of great scenes including the first of many memorable confrontations between Sipowicz and Lt. Fancy as Andy's ugly racist side comes to light. On a more pleasant note, Gordon Clapp makes an impressive debut as Medavoy, the cop everybody loves to love. Originally intended as a recurring character, Clapp proved so ingratiating that he became a regular from mid-season on.
To avoid Andy putting something "brown" in my dessert, I'll award 3.5 shields.
Episode 4: True Confessions
Mere hours after bidding adieu to his bodyguard gig, Kelly answers a call to return to the Wagner's to find the husband dead and a "black-eyed Susan" claiming self-defense. Sipowicz returns to full duty but not without aggravation as veteran detective Walker (Robert Breuler) monitors his every working move. Laura mulls another job change to a narcotics prosecutor for the D.A. and 4B continues to ignore passionate pleas from John to do away with his pistol packing resulting in a fateful subway encounter. Wendie Malick and David Schwimmer conclude terrific multi-episode runs showcasing their fine dramatic chops courtesy of co-creator David Milch's superb scripting, one of many he would contribute in years to come.
Another classic episode; 5 shields.
Episode 5: Emission Accomplished
While checking in on his troubled brother Roberto, James is informed by the younger Martinez of abuse in his apartment building at the hands of cruel, abusive super Jack Hanlon (Mitchell Ryan). However, the rookie cop's hands are tied when he discovers that the man is a fellow police officer. Kelly becomes involved when one of the building's tenants dies in a mysterious fall and offers assistance to James in order to keep his protégée from going to Internal Affairs. Laura becomes unwittingly involved in the Giardella case via her new gig at the D.A.'s office and Fancy has his hands full with a practical joking cop not playing with a full deck. One of the fun aspects in reviewing tv episodes from a decade past is seeing now-familiar faces in early roles and Emission is no exception: Look for Luiz Guzman (Boogie Nights) as James' father (or as they say in Puerto Rico, Papi) and Dharma & Greg's Mitchell Ryan as the bigoted super so racist, he makes Sipowicz look like Mother Teresa.
No joking, this episode earns 3.5 shields.
Episode 6: Personal Foul
A friendly game of basketball turns tragic after a confrontation between two of Kelly's courtside buddies get into a racially tinged argument. Disgruntled after losing a promotion to a black man, Larry vents his frustration on to Nathan, a black postal carrier. A few pushes and shoves later, Nathan decks Larry who lies motionless in the aftermath and before 911 can be dialed, he's dead; John has no choice but to arrest his friend. With Medavoy assigned to the case from that point, John joins forces with Andy on two assignments: A drive-by shooting in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Bridge and a drug raid which reunites him with Janice for the first time in a blue moon as she tags along at the request of Fancy. On the Giardella watch, Laura becomes increasingly uncomfortable in initial dealings with the rug-haired bad boy who's developing quite a crush on her. Save for the basketball storyline, an exciting drug bust and Andy going Popeye Doyle on a disgruntled van driver, an average episode at best (and I could have done without the most unnecessary David Caruso butt shot ever), but the cast keeps it watcheable.
Hand Kelly a towel to cover up while I delegate a 3 shield rating.
Episode 7: NYPD Lou
It must be Halloween at the 15th Precinct as a strange, hyperactive man known only as Lou (Dan Hedaya) asks to be locked up before the coming of the next full moon, lest he go Lon Chaney, Jr. on an unsuspecting public. In more serious matters, the Giardella case is on deck as Laura holds another conferral meeting with Alfonse. Unable to hold back his feelings for the pretty legal eagle, he offers her his heart in addition to a new Caddy. Stifling a case of the giggles, she rushes to the bathroom to compose herself until the sound of gunfire and breaking glass rattle the walls. In the aftermath, one could picture Sipowicz dancing the jig in response, but more personal matters are clouding his mind: A close Polish family in search of their missing son and a tense reunion with Andy, Jr. (Michael DeLuise) who brings word of an impending marriage. Great, great, great episode with no lulls, compelling storylines, a superb guest star turn by Hedaya (one of my favorite character actors) and the introduction of the wonderful Michael DeLuise as Andy's son, a recurring role that will play a major part in Franz's storylines in episodes to follow.
Clap for the wolfman as I bestow yet another 5 shield rating.
Episode 8: Tempest in a C-Cup
It's ga-ga, goo-goo time at the 15th as Donna Abandando (Gail O' Grady), a gorgeous blonde with the looks of Marilyn Monroe combined with the accessibility of the girl next door joins the ranks as a Police Administrative Assistant. Andy can barely get a tongue-tied Medavoy out of the station house quickly enough as they team on an undercover assignment at a local strip joint that doubles as a hangout for mobsters to do their money laundering. In other stories: Laura, still reeling from the Giardella shooting is pressured by her boss to fabricate a dying confession that Tommy Linardi (the new mob boss who took over for Angelo Marino) done away with the pudgy mobster. Back at the precinct, John schools Martinez in the fine art of securing a confession from a suspect charged with multiple crimes while Andy asks ADA Sylvia Costas out on a date to make amends for his cruel demeanor during the first Giardella trial. So-so episode marred by too much emphasis on the interrogation/confession procedure but salvaged by the charming debut of O' Grady as Abandando (her colorful wardrobe and DVD compliment each other very nicely, thank you), the eye candy of former Charlie Sheen squeeze Ginger Lynn Alden and the surprising, cute coupling of Andy and Sylvia that proves first impressions can be wildly deceiving.
If I can peel my eyes away from Donna, I'll sl-sl-sl-slap 3 shields on this outing.
Episode 9: Ice Follies
With a lack of contact from Roberto in recent days, James heads uptown to check up on his little brother only to find him dead of an overdose. Consoled by Kelly, Martinez breaks the news to his father who vows revenge on the dealer that sold him the fatal drugs. In other bad news, Janice's short lived euphoria in the wake of the Giardella murder ends quickly when a phone call from a mystery man named Richie asks to see her privately. In possession of a journal that lists the names of all the dirty cops Marino had at his disposal, he threatens to blow the whistle unless she runs a check on a license plate. Janice comes clean to Kelly about the situation and her plans to tell her story to Inspector Lastarza of the Organized Crime Unit, a risky proposition since he's the genius who let Giardella walk after nearly killing Sipowicz. On a lighter note, Donna and Greg get chummy during a sweet afternoon at a nearby ice skating rink, an outing that brings him out of his post-40th birthday funk. However, his growing attraction to the cheery PPA causes him to re-evaluate his state in life (which will be explored in episodes to come). Three key storylines are balanced together very nicely with much needed comic relief from Franz and O' Grady as he instructs her how to handle nutcases on the phone.
Lifting my scorecard to reveal a rating of 4 shields.
Episode 10: Oscar, Meyer, Weiner
Kelly and Sipowicz's day gets off to downer of a start in the Bronx at the scene of a multiple homicide. With the exception of their oldest daughter away in Connecticut at the time, all the members of the Sloane family were brutally killed. Although a description of the suspects is sketchy at best, area detectives tell Andy and John that a group of young black men are thought to be behind the crime. Sipowicz plays the race card when Rebecca Sloane (Xena's Renee O' Connor) comes in for questioning getting her to reveal a recent date with Lewis, a black male from nearby who's next in the interrogation room. Already angry at being called in, Andy strikes a nerve when he asks the architecture student if any of his black friends knew or hung around the Sloane's digs sparking some very heated exchanges between the two. Meanwhile, Janice begins a very uncomfortable alliance with Lastarza who wants to utilize her services to infiltrate Tommy Linardi's gang. While the Licalsi storyline continues to build momentum, the Sloane case provides the high points of this episode giving Franz more golden opportunities to further explore Andy's ongoing difficulty in handling racial matters, a point brought home in a classic suppertime scene with Fancy set in a rib joint.
Hand me some napkins so I can post 3.5 shields without making a mess.
Episode 11: From Hare to Eternity
It may be Christmas time in the city, but crime never takes a holiday (I know, that is SO Jack Webb). Among the cases on the holiday week agenda: A kidnapped daughter of a well-to-do doctor, an armed robbery suspect and his tag along female companion unaware of his wrongdoings and the ongoing set-up of the Linardi mob courtesy of Licalsi. Fancy gets a not-so-nice early Christmas present by a grudge carrying Bourough Commander, Medavoy is a bundle of nerves prepping for the station's annual children's holiday party, Andy becomes Santa Sipowicz against his better judgement and Kelly has a bittersweet Christmas visit with his Mom. Seasonal episodes can be very tricky to execute with fake sentimentality, opposing characters making nice for a brief instant, etc. But the NYPD crew nails this one perfectly with a business as usual approach mixed in with holiday themed moments that don't feel forced or tacked on. From Sipowicz's rushed "ho-ho-ho's" to the heartbreakingly beautiful finale with Mama Kelly (a scene played perfectly by Caruso and guest star Maxine Stewart), a terrific 48 minutes.
Making a rating, checking it twice: 4.5 shields under the 15th Precinct Christmas tree.
Episode 12: Up On The Roof
The New Year gets off with a bang literally and figuratively as Tommy Linardi turns up dead, Martinez takes his first case as a detective handling an ATM-related crime in which victims have their checking accounts depleted and Laura identifies Giardella's killer. On the home front, Fancy faces the possible departure of Maceo, a young teenage boy whom he and his wife Lillian (24's Tamara Tunie) took in while his drug addicted mother completed a stint in rehab. Although the latter storyline is the episode's weakest, its nice to see McDaniel get an arc of his own outside his usual all-business demeanor at the workplace. But the high point of this go-round comes courtesy of Turturro's endearingly brash performance as he handles his first case with a perfect mixture of excitement and savvy. Culminating with a brutal and frank interrogation of the eventual ATM culprit, it's evident the young Hispanic actor learned well from working with pros like Franz and Caruso.
Let's climb way up to the top of the stairs for a 4 shield rating.
Episode 13: Abandando Abandoned
Still in a blue funk after doctoring up the infamous Marino notebook to remove any traces of Janice's involvement with the mob, Kelly's mood is lightened by the arrival of Sharon LaSalle (Wendy Makkena), an old friend from his police academy days who's been assigned to duty at the 15th precinct. But the upbeat mood turns tragic by mid-afternoon as Sharon's husband Danny (Vincent Baggetta) is killed while attempting to break up a robbery attempt near the restaurant at which they were dining. Having to deal with the death of a close friend and console his family leaves Kelly in no mood to deal with an annoying alcoholic housewife who's practically made the station house a daily stop to consistently file complaints against her abusive spouse. Also on the domestic front: Medavoy pays a late evening visit to Donna's apartment after leaving his wife whom he feels doesn't understand him. After pouring out his heart and revealing his feelings to her, the twosome get intimate. Donna drops her robe, Greg stammers and a collective thud is heard all across the nation as million of red-blooded American male chins drop (okay, the latter doesn't actually happen in the context of the story, but anyway...). An episode that clicks from start to finish with the highly underrated Makkena in the first of three terrific guest appearances and a wonderfully acted scene with Caruso as he tells Danny's surviving sons of their father's death; I can't think of too many other actors that would've handled a moment like this with such sincere tenderness and empathy without coming off as schmaltzy.
Chalk up yet another perfect 5 shield episode.
Episode 14: Jumping Jack Fleishman
Andy, John, Greg and James are on the scene of a murder where the female victim appears to have been dead for quite some time. As the investigation deepens, Medavoy and Martinez discover some receipts the killer may have unwittingly left behind. Back at the squad house, Sharon handles her first case since the death of her husband as she questions a mugging victim who may have possibly been raped, Licalsi fights off the advances of a macho cop (Dawson's Creek's John Wesley Shipp) and Sipowicz deals with a triple whammy of an aching tooth, a suicidal dentist and the return of Lois, the call girl whose company he shared just before that near fateful afternoon when Giardella attempted to wipe him out. Equal turns vibrant, involving and spiced with an inspired touch of black comedy, another winner as the series continued a string of remarkably consistent episodes heading into the homestretch of season one.
A gas, gas, gas of outing, let's roll up a 4 shield rating.
Episode 15: A Sudden Fish
Medavoy suffers a possible heart attack, John gets back into the bodyguard biz guarding his rich friend's main squeeze (Debrah Farentino) and in the boneheaded dating move of 1994, Andy rejects Sylvia's gift of a clownfish for his tank; seems it doesn't mesh with the rest of the underwater inhabitants. After cleaning egg off his face, Sipowicz tackles the robbery case of a paralyzed Vietnam vet. Although a second bodyguard storyline for Caruso in less than a year seems like retread material at first, at least the blackmail set-up keeps it from being an out-and-out remake; good guest appearances by Farentino and Barry Newman (The Name of the Game), too.
Unless Sipowicz rejects my generosity, I give this episode 3.5 shields.
Episode 16: Steroid Roy
Sylvia's running out of patience with Andy's excuses for not coming over to his apartment, Roy continues to be a thorn in Janice's side and a fellow detective's female informant turns up dead after having it out with him at the 15th. Emmy®-winning episode for writer Ann Biderman that includes a major step forward for one of the 15th's fave couplings.
This outing receives a steroid free rating of 4 shields.
Episode 17: Black Men Can Jump
As the squad building awaits much needed repairs, Sharon considers a move to CEOO, Sipowicz barely suppresses his anger as a money grubbing P.I. takes advantage of a vulnerable father in search of his missing daughter and a 13 year old boy is shot for his boombox. Last episode to feature the talented Wendy Makkena who had such great chemistry with everyone she paired with; it's a wonder she wasn't asked to return in subsequent seasons. Also worthy of praise are the fine performance of guest stars Felton Perry and Louis Giambalvo as the tormented fathers involved in this episode's cases.
This outing shoots and scores a shield rating of 4.5.
Episode 18: Zeppo Marks Brothers
Laura senses she's being followed leaving John to wonder if her new boyfriend might be involved, the girlfriend of a murdered material witness is hesitant to reveal a hitman and the men of the 15th dread a uniform inspection followed by possible duty at a downtown parade. Last episode to feature Sherry Stringfield as Kelly's ex (she would join venture to the Warner Bros lot literally days later to begin shooting the pilot for E.R.); in light of David Caruso's eventual departure, a shrewd move. Editor Lawrence Jordan nabbed a well deserved Emmy® nod for his work on this outing which showcases the magic of a back-lot...believe it or not, the majority of the parade sequence in the homestretch was filmed in Hollywood and seamlessly combined with second unit footage from the Big Apple.
This outing is suitably fitted for 3.5 shields.
Episode 19: Serge the Concierge
Wrongly busted for selling coke, Andy, Jr. finds a suprise ally: his father (who leaves no stone unturned to prove his innocence). In the other major case of the week, Medavoy and Martinez are up to their knees in garbage as they search for a dead body and Kelly gets a surprise visit from Robin, the recently widowed wife of the rich millionaire who hired him to bodyguard her. Michael DeLuise returns as Andy the II in an outing that continues the healing process between father and son; Clapp and Turturro have some hilarious moments at the landfill ("Join the police department; stand up to your knees in gooey condoms") and there's a clever twist in the dead body storyline.
Sanitized for your protection, 4 shields.
Episode 20: Good Time Charlie
Hill Street Blues' Charles Haid guest stars as a lawyer suspected of murdering his mistress, Janice moves up the ladder via a promotion to Intelligence, Fancy has misgivings about his wife's pregnancy and Andy does more than fall off the wagon after attending a birthday party for Sylvia's father. One of the series' best episodes highlighted by Franz' amazing portrayal of how one drink can send a recovering alcoholic back into an emotional hell; the impact is even more devastating considering the substansial progress his character had made. Even nine years on, I still felt as watery eyed as Sylvia after she discovers Sipowicz's condition only to be subjected to a cruel, venomous outburst in return.
As good as television drama gets, a 5 shield classic.
Episode 21: Guns 'N' Rosaries
Already having a bad morning after his wife admits infidelity, Medavoy gets into a shouting match with a disgruntled driver while stuck in traffic with James. One too many exchanged un-pleasantries later, the keyed-up motorist pulls out a gun. Martinez reacts quickly saving Greg's life but fatally wounds the driver, a black male. Other members of the 15th are called in to aid in the investigation, but a neighborhood melee ensues with the riot squad forced to intercept. Also: Emotionally unglued from events in recent months, Licalsi seeks emotional guidance from John's basketball buddy, Father Downey; Sipowicz attends his first Alcoholic's Anonymous meeting. A heavily dramatic episode with Brenneman getting a well earned showcase, particularly in the moving scene shot on location near Ellis Island as she pours out her soul to Jerry (Dean Norris) that leads to a pivotal moment back at 15.
Father, bless this near-perfect episode for it achieves 4.5 shield brilliance.
Episode 22: Rockin' Robin
Kelly lands the assistance of James Sinclair (Daniel Benzali), the successful lawyer that represented Giardella in the hopes he can work similar magic with Licalsi. On the job, he investigates the murder of a respected priest found dead near a hangout for homosexuals; off the clock, he finds himself spending more time with Robin. Meanwhile, Sipowicz picks up a promising lead on the child disappearance case of week's past while checking out used cars for Andy, Jr.
Year one of Blue ends in fine fashion as one of the more compelling cases of the year is reprised and the unresolved Licalsi situation is an intriguing set up for the show's sophomore season.
The curtain falls on a phenomenal first season:
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: There are not enough words to describe how consistent and amazing these transfers look; best-looking television collection I have ever seen bar none. With the exception of very brief instances in the early episodes where tight shots come off as a tad grainy (some of the early shows were edited on tape which helps explain these types of deficiencies), visuals are incredibly smooth, natural and almost three-dimensional. You know how television material occasionally comes off as odd and artificial-looking on DVD? Not the case here at all. From Donna Abandando's colorful wardrobe to neon-lit New York nights, excellent. Even on high equipment circa 1994, this show never looked as colorful as it does now.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Perfection in the first degree. As good as the show sounded on my Yamaha two-channel stereo set-up via tv broadcasts in its infancy, it didn't prepare me for the aural onslaught of these modern day remixes. Crystal clear dialogue, pumping low-end, on-the-money imaging from the front to the rears that grab your attention....simply amazing.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 330 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
6 Feature/Episode commentaries by David Milch, Bill Clark, Sharon Lawrence, Michael M. Robin, Bradley Silberling
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
Additionally, two other mini-documentaries are contained: Love on NYPD Blue pays homage to the show's most endearing romantic couplings (featuring fresh interview clips with Franz, Lawrence, O' Grady and Clapp) as well as the charming off-screen pairing of Brenneman and director Bradley Silberling that eventually led to marriage.
Cast Blotter is a 10-minute salute hailing the first season's most memorable guest shots. Casting director June Lowry Johnson recalls many cool behind-the-scenes tidbits including an amusing story involving future Friends mainstay David Schwimmer whom she felt wasn't the right type of actor for a situation comedy. Script To Screen Comparison features 4 key scenes from the pilot episode where you can compare the script to the finished product. Very effective in illustrating how even the slightest nuances or effective ad libs by actors can take an already great set of lines and make them even better.
Winding up an already impressive array of extras are six commentary tracks on selected episodes that range from wildly enthusiastic to average. First season director Bradley Silberling is by far the best of the five participants contributing to two episodes, Personal Foul and Oscar, Meyer, Weiner. His warm yet enthusiastic and conversational style is contagious as he recalls the excitement of the show's early days highlighted by his hilarious story of working with Gordon Clapp. After filming his first scene with the actor as Medavoy, the stutter laced takes left the director feeling beyond sorry for his co-worker. Much to Silberling's relief, it was all part of the character. It was also nice to hear some positive stories on David Caruso as the director recalls the close friendship between his future wife Brenneman and the volatile actor that helped bring out the best in each other on screen.
Sharon Lawrence's track for Steroid Roy is another keeper as the talented actress serves up a nice blend of background information on her character's hook-up with Sipowicz, set design secrets and thoughts on some of the show's creative aspects. Contributions by co-creator David Milch, consultant (and future executive producer) Bill Clark and director Michael M. Robin are spotty at times but filled with surprising revelations and entertaining stories. Among the highlights: Clark's regret over the Licalsi storyline, how Caruso's performance in Mad Dog and Glory helped earn him the role of Kelly, the challenges in making nude scenes non-gratuitous and Robin's "point and shoot" philosophy on location filming in New York.
Let me brag on more cool features of the set in closing: Most TV series are lazily chaptered in segments on most sets I've reviewed, but not here. All 22 episodes have 15 chapters per show, so finding your favorite scene is a breeze. And although the menu designs for each program may be slow for certain tastes, I found them very well done, especially the option that allows you to see the the weekly re-caps ("previously on NYPD Blue") isolated from the original episode they were attached to. Some purists may gripe at this, but I liked getting right into the stories from the get-go.
NOTE: My review copy did not have audio on any of the "Previously" re-caps (save for episode 2); may be an isolated situation, but check your copies just in case.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsIf DVD had an academy for television, NYPD Blue: Season One would graduate with honors. Take your Shields, Law and Orders and CSI's; this is the best dramatic series on the format today. Beyond recommended....and then some.
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