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Monday, May 22, 2017

The Milch Studies: NYPD Blue, Season Eleven, The Wrap-Up


Entering what could've been its final season, NYPD Blue seemed willing to go in a direction it's stubbornly avoided for years -- extended story arcs in favor of done-in-one, easily solved cases.  Not that there aren't one-episode plots, of course, and plenty of cases starring the B-Team that just come across as filler, but for the first time the series splits the season up into numerous story arcs.  There's the Captain Fraker trial, the serial killer case that brings Det. Russell back into the squad, the drama between Baldwin and a killer named Craig Woodruff, the disruption caused by the amoral Det. Stan Hatcher, and finally, the reopening of the case of twelve-year-old Cindy Clifton, Sipowicz's first murder investigation.

The Cindy Clifton case, which has Sipowicz discovering that he put the wrong man in jail eighteen years ago, is one of the strongest arcs we see in the post-Milch era.  In fact, it's a plot worthy of Milch, and it's surprising that he never explored this concept.  When this season was being assembled, no one knew for sure if there would be twelfth year, so the story of Sipowicz making amends for the most egregious mistake of his career could've been the character's farewell.  This left Season Twelve with the task of adding yet another coda to his story, and the producers ended up going in a pretty unexpected direction.

Season Highlights

  • The detectives going through a series of promising, but ultimately fruitless, leads during the re-opening of the Cindy Clifton case makes for a great storyline that surprisingly doesn't drag, even though it runs for several episodes.  
  • Mark-Paul Gosselaar is given more to play with, emotionally, in the closing episodes of the year.  While the show intentionally (and foolishly) skipped over John Clark's response to his father's death last year, Gosselaar credibly plays Clark as a young man who's directionless after losing so much.  The follow-up next year I personally hated, but in the season finale of this year, Clark's emotional crisis feels real.
  • The twist that Dr. Devlin, Clark's TV-pretty doctor girlfriend, is actually bipolar was certainly unexpected.  At least it added some personality to the bit player, who initially just seemed to be there as eye candy.  I wonder if last season's accidental reveal of the actress' tattoo inspired the producers to reveal that there's an entirely hidden side of Dr. Devlin.
  • The Craig Woodruff storyline gives the Baldwin Jones character his best material yet, and his scenes with Sipowicz, who tries more than once to advise him that he's actually placing Woodruff's son at risk instead of helping, are fantastic.

Season Lowlights
  • There a few plots that reek of a show that's been on for too long, such as the Russian mob actually sending someone strapped with bombs into the precinct (and blowing another bomb up outside), and a case involving someone suffering from full-blown amnesia.  The execution was about as good as could be imagined, but why go to such hoary stand-bys in the first place?
  • The Greg/Baldwin partnership devolves into a replay of the Greg/James years, with Greg behaving foolishly and Baldwin habitually rolling his eyes at his partner.  Previously, Baldwin seemed to enjoy Greg's quirks.  Also, the idea that the younger Baldwin is always going to be more emotionally mature than Greg is tiresome.  In "Only Schmucks Pay Income Tax," Greg is fascinated by a writer's claim that paying federal income tax, per the Constitution, is only voluntary.  Baldwin immediately dismisses the idea and scoffs at Greg, but shouldn't Baldwin be at least a little curious about the guy's claims?  Does he like paying taxes?  Wouldn't it be a nice bonding moment to see Greg and Baldwin simply discuss the issue like rational adults? 
  • "Least likely person involved with case turns out to be the killer" is used to ridiculous effect in the multi-part serial killer storyline.  Terrible conclusion.
  • Another totally forgettable romance -- Rita and Tony.  And why establish Tony as her new boyfriend as he's being written out of the show?
  • Having the Connie McDowell character disappear, and go through major events like childbirth, offscreen is simply irritating.  And we have another full season of this.

Sipowicz Says
"Smells like whore." -- Sipowicz's response to the scent of his favorite chair after Dan "Monika" Hofnagle (played by a future contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race) was seated in it.  Honestly, this was the only truly memorable Sipowicz quip this year.  The worst season so far for Sipowicz one-liners.

Hey, Isn't That...?
  • Cyrus Farmer, a recurring TV villain who's previously appeared on both Blue and Brooklyn South, is fantastic as Craig Woodruff, the man who killed his ex-wife in front of their son and intimidated him into keeping the secret.
  • Nick Offerman, in his second Blue role over the years, plays a building super and suspect in the extended serial killer investigation.  His voice is a bit closer to Ron Swanson's this time, but I doubt he wants anyone to see him dress in women's underwear today.
  • Jane Lynch plays Susanna Howe, a mean boss and brief murder suspect in"You Da Bomb."
  • The late Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin in "Take My Wife, Please" as a teenager who accidentally killed a jogger when shooting at a tree in the park.
  • Brian Dunkleman, of all people, as a bitter stand-up comic in "Take My Wife, Please."
  • Michael Pena plays a Latin King in "Colonel Knowledge." 
Increasingly Irrelevant Continuity
  • Andy reveals his age (or maybe Connie does during a lecture) as 57.  I seem to recall a locker room conversation between Sipowicz and Fancy in Season Two or Three, maybe when Andy tells Fancy that he's marrying Sylvia or Sylvia's pregnant, where Andy reveals his age.  I can't find any confirmation of this, and don't know if the writers kept his age consistent over the years.  Anyone remember this?
  • "Chatty Chatty Bang Bang" establishes that Baldwin was raised by his grandmother, contradicting the stories he's told about his parents.
  • The abused teenager that John Clark was so concerned about, who was taken in by Eddie Gibson last year, is never even mentioned this season.
  • Joe Brockhurst is introduced in "The Brothers Grim" as Sipowicz's first partner after arriving at the 15th precinct.  The date given of their first case together is 1986, with Andy declaring "I was new then...I'd just gotten my shield...this was the first homicide I worked."  Going back to Season Three, it's been established that Sipowicz has worked at the 15th since 1982.  An episode last season even declared that he's been at the 15th for "around twenty years," in 2003-ish.  Also, if Sipowicz was still a new detective in 1986, it's hard to believe that he mentored John Kelly as an experienced senior partner starting in the late 1980s.  1982, by the way, is when Franz and Milch first worked together on Hill Street.
  • When Sipowicz tries to prepare Theo for the arrival of Connie's baby, he acts as if Theo's never been around an infant before, ignoring Connie's newborn niece, who the couple spent most of last season adopting.  I'm not sure if the other baby, Michelle, is mentioned even once this year.


Miscellaneous Notes
  • Connie is pregnant because Charlotte Ross was at the time.  Now, why did the producers establish a few seasons ago that an actress in the prime age range to have a kid is infertile?  What were they going to do if she did become pregnant -- have Connie bust perps while carrying bags of groceries?
  • Tony leaves to become a head of security for a real estate firm...the same job Bill Clark once had in the '80s when he retired for the first time from the NYPD.  He hated it, and was allowed a rare pass to rejoin the police force.
  • Tony's final words to the squad at his retirement party -- "We won't lose touch."  Yes, you will.
  • The episodes "Chatty Chatty Bang Bang" and "Old Yeller" featured censored sex scenes during their first airings.  ABC was paranoid about the sexual content of the show, following the FCC's strengthening of broadcast fines in response to the uproar surrounding Janet Jackson's nipple-bearing Super Bowl performance.  The censors didn't like a specific shot of Jacqueline Obradors in "Chatty Chatty Bang Bang," and Gordon Clapp's sole nude scene from the show's run was cut in "Old Yeller." The version of "Chatty Chatty Bang Bang" that airs today has the uncut sex scene, but the nudity in "Old Yeller" has never aired.  
  • Andy's mentoring of Baldwin during the Woodruff affair, as great as those scenes are, just highlights how lame Baldwin's partnership with Greg has become.  Baldwin never learns anything from Greg, doesn't come to him for advice, and actively resists Greg's efforts to help him deal with Craig Woodruff.
  • Andy and Connie's new baby, Matthew Nicholas, was apparently named after two of the writers of the episode, Matthew Olmstead and Nicholas Wootton.
  • Comic book writer Christopher Priest once considered Blue his favorite show, and he gave up on it around this time.  You can read his thoughts here.

Next time...finally, DEADWOOD.

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