NYPD Blue - Second Series

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The creators of Hill Street Blues went on to make NYPD Blue, which was the same, only different. By the time the second series started, the show had taken off and the character of Det John Kelly (David Caruso) was firmly established as a popular favourite. But Caruso wanted out, which left the writers in a quandary: how to get rid of him and who to take his place? Whatever they decided, the second series was going to be crucial. Losing their star four episodes in could have killed it. The shock, even when you know what's going to happen, is palpable, like the death of a trusted friend.

The reason that they managed the transition so well is down to excellent writing, good storylines that carry through from episode to episode and terrific performances. Above all, it is the work of Dennis Franz, as Det Andy Sipowicz, and Jimmy Smits, as Det Bobby Simone, that ensures success.

During the immediate post Kelly period, the emphasis is on Sipowicz, allowing Simone to ease in gently. Franz's presence is so strong, it takes the elegance and style of Smits to find space around him. For a while, Simone remains an enigma. His wife died a year previously and he is not looking for a relationship. When one starts, with an ambitious young journalist, during the period of The Dictionary Killer investigation, it is difficult to know how safe he feels. She's sexy and he's up for it, but he's holding back and she sense this.

Sipowicz is a wonderfully complex character. A recovering alcoholic, he has a short fuse and can rip into suspects with terrifying verocity. His understanding of right and wrong is Biblical in its rectitude, which is unexpected from an agnostic, as is his native intuition about people. He's awkward around emotion, conservative in his views, prejudiced and tough talking, with a heart as big as the Bronx. He has no time for office politics and thinks his superiors outside the precinct are idiots, which seems a fair assessment. He fought hard for Kelly before they transferred him out of the district for personal, not professional, reasons and wasn't prepared to make any kind of effort with Simone, his new partner.

The relationship between these two men is what glues this terrific series together. The production values, which include much handheld location work, are vibrant and exciting, leaving time for the more soap operatic plotlines, concerning the love life of the supporting cast, to flourish.

Simone takes control of a murder enquiry with sensitivity and purpose. He's not a charmer, although can be charming, neither does he suffer fools. Sipowicz is a tough street fighter who never allows police protocol to get in the way of what he feels is right. Simone is not so different, although his technique relies less on intimidation. In one episode, he saves Sipowicz's life, which brings them closer together.

The acting is outstanding, the commitment absolute. The crimes tend to be solved a little too quickly, while others remain in the air. Above all, this is about people, their feelings, fears and failures. In the archive of American TV cop shows, NYPD Blue - Second Series has assumed a classic status - Caruso's departure, Smits's arrival, Franz's dominance.

It is, indeed, a magnificent piece of work.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2003
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NYPD Blue - Second Series packshot
in which David Caruso departs the series, Jimmy Smits arrives and Dennis Franz dominates.
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