Tuesday, March 1, 2016
The Milch Studies - NYPD Blue Season Two, The Guest Stars
New characters introduced during the second year. Some stick around for years, others fade away quickly. I'll mention again that NYPD Blue streams on Amazon Prime, is being rerun on DirecTV's Audience channel, and is probably pretty cheap on eBay at this point, in case you'd like to watch along.
Justine Miceli as Adrienne Lesniak
Introduced in the third episode of the season, Lesniak follows the show’s standard pattern of introducing a new detective as a guest star, featuring him or her (usually “her”) intermittently throughout the season, and then deciding at the beginning of the next year if the character will become a regular. Apparently, the producers expected the new hires to prove themselves over the course of an entire year.
Adrienne Lesniak becomes the first female detective to appear in more than a handful of episodes on the show. She’s also a part of the series’ most infamous romantic subplot, but I’ll get to that later. She’s introduced as a new transfer to the squad; she’s been moved out of her previous precinct due to a volatile relationship with her ex-boyfriend who’s also a cop. (This isn’t the best way to introduce a recurring character, and it's not even the terrible romantic storyline I just mentioned.) Her ex is portrayed as a possessive alcoholic who can’t let Lesniak go, popping up a few times this season, and being “dealt with” by both David Caruso and Jimmy Smits’ characters on separate occasions. Lesniak isn’t particularly pleasant, it seems early on that neither Kelly nor Sipowicz likes her that much, but there is a moment in one of her early appearances where the episode pretty much stops so that Sipowicz can turn to Lt. Fancy and tell him that Lesniak is a real cop. Based on that, the audience is obviously supposed to be impressed.
Lesniak spends much of her first season, however, being harassed (either by older detectives in the squad or just random street perverts), working a few forgettable cases, and then becoming Det. James Martinez’s object of desire. She makes it clear she isn’t interested, but Martinez stubbornly pursues her. In the season finale, she’s Martinez’s date to Sipowicz’s wedding, a move the audience is supposed to infer as her finally relenting and giving Martinez a chance. The next season premiere, however, has the characters in the same spot they were in last year -- Martinez attempting to date Lesniak with Lesniak making it known she’s not interested. Isn’t this the exciting material you want to see in a cop show?
Kim Delaney as Detective Diane Russell
Another new female detective introduced this year, Kim Delaney becomes a series regular in the next season and sticks with the show for several years. Actually, according to what I’ve read, Delaney was fiercely loyal to the series, only leaving at Steven Bochco’s prompting after five years on the show. Bochco felt that Delaney should be the star of her own series; Delaney reluctantly went along with the plan, asking for her contract to be written so that she could return to NYPD Blue if the new show didn’t last a full season. The show lasted exactly one full season before being cancelled. Delaney wanted back on Blue, but Bochco felt that her character didn’t fit the changing dynamics of the show. She did return a few times as a guest star, however. (Again, all of this is based on reports at the time. More could’ve been going on behind-the-scenes that no one’s aware of.)
Given that the cast turnover on the show is rather noticeable, and irritating, I have a lot of respect for Kim Delaney. She didn’t seem to demand any diva spotlight stories, and after her first few episodes, fit in well with the established regulars on the series. Delaney’s presence does foreshadow one aspect of the show that becomes increasingly annoying over the years -- she’s too pretty. Compare the opening credits to Season One to Seasons Eleven and Twelve’s openings. With the exception of Dennis Franz and a few others, the normal-looking people have been replaced by models. It’s not fair to denigrate Delaney’s acting ability based on her looks, but for a show that initially prided itself on realism, watching the casting devolve into generic TV prettiness was a shame.
Delaney’s character, Diane Russell, is introduced as an undercover narcotics cop who’s eager to find a new assignment. Like many undercover police in real life, Russell feels guilty about turning in people she’s grown close to, and is increasingly worried that the people she’s putting in jail wouldn’t have committed any illegal acts without her prompting. Her character is also an alcoholic, a fact not-so-subtly hinted at in her first appearance; she tries to hide the second wine cooler she drinks at lunch from Bobby Simone, she’s regularly disappearing in the bathroom and locking the door, and she’s always popping gum in her mouth. Alcoholism storylines appear regularly throughout the series; partially due to David Milch writing about his own life, but also as an acknowledgment of a real problem amongst police.
Bill Brochtrup as John Irvin
Bill Brochtrup’s John Irvin character is still years away from becoming a featured player on the series, but he’ll pop up regularly as a guest star for the next few seasons. He’s usually the PAA assigned to fill in for Gail O’Grady’s character, and after impressing Lt. Fancy with his performance, is offered a clerical job upstairs with the Anti-Crime division. Steven Bochco seemed to love this character -- not only did he keep on appearing on NYPD Blue, but John Irvin was also a regular on Bocho’s short-lived sitcom Public Morals. (This places NYPD Blue in the same continuity as two sitcoms; the other is The Drew Carey Show, thanks to one of ABC’s corny publicity stunts of this era. Public Morals by the way, was one of the very first shows ever to be cancelled after only one episode.)
John Irvin is openly gay; he’s also a theatre enthusiast, an antique tea set collector, and he cuts hair as a hobby. So…yeah. Hints of John Irvin go back to David Milch’s very first TV script, the Hill Street Blues episode that featured a mincing gay stereotype who was also Christ-like in his compassion for others. After becoming a regular on the series, John Irvin is portrayed as the sensitive man who’s always offering condolences and encouraging words, or providing worried looks as the regular cast members undergo their dramas of the week.
John’s not too nice in his original appearances; he seems to have been conceived as something of a foil for Sipowicz. Whereas most characters on the show take Sipowicz’s sour attitude with grace, John (in his early appearances) is willing to pull little passive-aggressive stunts like leaving a dictionary open on Sipowicz’s desk to the word “prostrate,” after the detective refused to be corrected on his use of the word.
To avoid confusion with the original John on the show (David Caruso’s character), John Irvin is usually referred to as “Upstairs John” or “Gay John,” a sign that the show wasn’t aiming for total political correctness. David Milch has a habit of naming characters John, for unknown reasons. One of his HBO series was even named John from Cincinnati.
Bill Brochtrup is another actor who stayed loyal to the series. He took a pay cut during the show’s final year, being demoted from series regular to recurring guest star. If you watch Season Twelve’s opening credits, you can see a lingering shot of Bill Brochtrup’s face -- it’s obvious his onscreen credit was meant to go there.
Melina Kanakaredes as Benita Alden
Melina Kanakaredes is another recognizable TV face you’ll see in these early episodes. She’s playing Benita Alden, a reporter Det. Simone knows from his earlier days as a detective, before he took the job driving for the Commissioner. Even though Simone’s early appearances establish that he isn’t over his late wife, he still jumps into the sack with Benita after a few scenes together. Their relationship ends after she takes information he literally shared in bed with her and uses it in a story. The original Benita episodes refuse to confirm that she actually did this, in spite of Simone’s suspicions. I always thought this was a nice way to go, allowing the audience to make up its own mind and leaving the door open to Simone being wrong. When she returns for a brief cameo next season, though, she pretty much confirms her guilt.
Debra Messing as Dana Abandando
One of the early guest stars who goes on to have perhaps the biggest TV career is Debra Messing. She plays the sister of the squad’s PAA Donna Abandando, appearing in a few episodes as an exaggerated Staten Island (or is it Long Island?) stereotype. She’s there to facilitate Det. Medavoy and Donna’s breakup (Dana attempts to seduce Greg, something Donna accuses her of doing to all of her boyfriends), and I guess provide some cheap laughs. The humorous subplots on the show are always hit-or-miss, and I don’t recall ever laughing at this one. It does flesh Donna out a bit, to learn that she’s trying to maintain a relationship with a sister who doesn’t seem to care about her at all, but ultimately I have to side with Greg Medavoy’s farewell to Dana -- “Good riddance.”
Tzi Ma as Detective Harold Ng
Det. Harold Ng is based on police consultant Bill Clark’s former partner, a Chinese immigrant who spoke poor English but could speak fluently every dialect in Chinatown. According to True Blue, Clark helped his partner write reports and stuck up for him when other cops picked on him. As a tribute to his friend, a fictionalized version of the detective became a guest star on NYPD Blue. Det. Harold Ng appears in David Caruso’s next-to-last episode, offering assistance on a Chinatown murder. When Det. Kelly suspects that Det. Ng is too close to a Chinese businessman with mob ties, Ng points out to Kelly that Kelly wouldn’t make the same assumption about an Italian cop working a case in Little Italy. Kelly apologizes and they part on good terms. The fact that David Caruso allowed Kelly to be humbled in such a way is a bit surprising; maybe he was just not willing to pick a fight during his final few weeks.
Scott Allan Campbell as Sgt. Jerry Martens of IAB
The Internal Affairs Bureau is a recurring antagonist to the characters on the show, a symptom of the series’ commitment to Cop Mentality. The show’s rather blasé about the fabled “Blue Wall of Silence” -- it’s presented as fait accompli that cops are going to look out for each other and will never squeal to “the rat squad.” Sgt. Martens is presented initially as a heartless cop more than willing to persecute his fellow cops, even John Kelly, but Martens is fleshed out with each appearance on the show. Martens demonstrates one of Blue’s finest qualities -- characters don’t have to be purely good or bad, and once you get to know a person, their actions can become justifiable in a different context. As a recurring guest star, Sgt. Martens appears with surprising regularly, all the way into the series’ final season.
John F. O’Donohue as Unnamed Court Bailiff
Actor John F. O’Donohue is a retired NYPD lieutenant who took up acting later in life. (O'Donohue was a regular on The Ben Stiller Show of all things.) He has a very small part this season as the court bailiff during Licalsi’s trial. Years later, he returns to the show as older detective Eddie Gibson, who’s a bit of a nuisance for the squad. Milch and/or Bochco seemed to be fans of John F. O’Donohue; not only did they keep looking for ways to bring him back to NYPD Blue, but he also guest-starred regularly on Blue’s unofficial spinoff series, Brooklyn South. Scott Allan Campbell also appeared a few times on Brooklyn South as an Internal Affairs cop. I can't confirm if he was given the same name on that series, but he essentially played the same character.
That's all for now. I wanted to leave you with the infamously bad Public Morals pilot, but I can't find it online. Perhaps we've all been spared?