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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Milch Studies - NYPD Blue Cast List, Season Two

NYPD Blue opened Season Two as the most popular drama on television, yet with a star who couldn't wait to leave...

The main cast this year consists of:

David Caruso as Detective John Kelly

For the first four episodes, at least.  Anyone who watched TV of this era remembers David Caruso leaving after Season One of the show, but I think his stint in the first four episodes of Season Two has been forgotten.  David Caruso clearly doesn’t want to be there in the season premiere, as he gives a sleepy, indifferent performance throughout the entire episode.  (Milch has written that Caruso was so thin when he came back for Season Two, the crew worried he was sick.  Caruso’s people informed Milch that he was losing weight in order to look good on the big screen.)  He comes back to life in his last three episodes, however, and even if Det. Kelly is unusually skinny in these episodes, it actually works in the story’s advantage.  Kelly’s getting screwed out of his job, and even if he presents a stoic front, he’s clearly worrying himself sick.

As the season opens, Det. Kelly finds himself in the middle of an Internal Affairs Bureau investigation, while his ex-girlfriend Janice Licalsi is on trial for the murder of mobster Angelo Marino and his driver.  Kelly was guilty of one crime in the first season -- he allowed Licalsi to rip a page out of a ledger that had her listed as a “friendly” cop of Marino’s -- but it’s one IAB can’t prove.  Suspicious that Kelly was actively covering for Licalsi, and feeling pressure from their bosses that he’s simply an embarrassment for dating a cop involved with the mob, IAB is determined to find something to get Kelly off the force.

Kelly, meanwhile, realizes that he does actually love Janice Licalsi, which leads to him breaking up with his new girlfriend Robin Wirkus and secretly spending time with Licalsi outside of the courtroom.  I can understand why the producers went in this direction (Kelly and Licalsi need screentime together to sell this story, and it adds to the drama if they’re in a doomed romance), but it makes the closing of the previous season seem even more arbitrary.  What was the point of setting Robin up as a love interest if she’s just going to be written out in the very next episode?  Also, why was Kelly even dating his friend’s widow -- someone he knew was unfaithful from the day he met her?

Regardless, this is John Kelly’s exit from the show.  He’s still working cases, in spite of IAB’s efforts to embarrass him, and the stress caused by Licalsi’s trial.  There is a nice moment between Kelly and Sipowicz, one of very few in these episodes, that emphasizes the toll the trial is taking on Kelly.  Not only is Kelly being forced to lie in Licalsi’s trial every day, something John Kelly, Supercop thought he’d never do, but he knows his days on The Job are done.  Caruso’s understated performance, and his resigned admittance of defeat when he announces he’s going to take early retirement, are a fitting exit for his character.  If you knew nothing of the backstage drama, you’d almost think this entire storyline was mapped out from the beginning.

Police consultant (and new writer this season) Bill Clark provided the skeleton for Kelly’s exit, explaining to the producers the circumstances that would cause a young detective to quit the force.  Clark’s rationale was that if a detective knew his career was stuck in a certain place, if the bosses hated him, and he didn’t have a chance to redeem himself and truly work cases again, he’d quit.

Jimmy Smits as Detective Bobby Simone

Detective Bobby Simone debuts in the very next episode after Detective Kelly leaves (a tradition the show will continue after each of Dennis Franz’s co-stars exit; the new guy shows up immediately).  David Milch reveals in his memoir True Blue that the producers had no real time to develop Bobby Simone’s character because they were so busy working out the specifics of John Kelly’s exit.  The solution they came up with was to establish Bobby as a reserved, slightly introverted man who doesn’t reveal things too easily to anyone.  It’s not a bad solution, but I wonder why they were so adamant that Smits start just as soon as Caruso left.  Would it be so bad to see Sipowicz working cases with Martinez or Medavoy for a few episodes?

What little we do learn of Bobby early on is largely borrowed from Bill Clark’s backstory.  Bill Clark received a promotion after driving for the Police Commissioner, which is apparently a prestigious job for a cop, even though some policemen view it as an illegitimate way of getting ahead.  This previous detail is given to Bobby, which causes Sipowicz to sneer that he had to work years to receive his second-grade promotion, while this guy got it by pushing away bums with squeegees.

Another aspect of Bill Clark’s life given to Bobby Simone is his obsession with raising birds.  This is what we know about Bobby in his first season -- he raises pigeons (as opposed to Sipowicz, who likes fish), and he took a job driving for the Commissioner because his wife was sick.  Bobby’s now a widower who’s reluctant to date, but that doesn’t prevent him from having one of Blue’s quickie, implausible sex scenes with someone he barely knows.  Bobby is fleshed out a bit more in coming seasons, but he’s never as fully realized as John Kelly, in my opinion.

Given the amount of press given to David Caruso and his acrimonious relationship with the producers, you’d think the show might work in a dig or two at Caruso’s character after his exit.  The producers kept things classy, however, only allowing one quick meta-burn: when Simone meets Sipowicz in the locker room, he adopts Kelly’s old locker and promptly crosses out Kelly’s name and writes in his own. 

While Kelly’s name will occasionally come up in future episodes, it’s clear that he’s never going to be seen again.  Max Allan Collins, for his second NYPD Blue novel, wanted to do the ultimate piece of fan-service and have Kelly and Simone meet in the novel.  That’s a fantastic idea, using the novels to give fans something the show can’t give them, but the producers nixed it.

Dennis Franz as Detective Andy Sipowicz

Andy Sipowicz’s storylines this year center on his early days in sobriety, and his growing relationship with Sylvia Costas.  The season debut introduces Sipowicz’s AA sponsor, Dan Breen, a retired cop played by Peter Boyle.  Since David Milch is intimately familiar with twelve-step programs, he introduces another element of reality into the stories, as Dan Breen is adamant that Sipowicz isn’t ready to be dating Sylvia.  (Programs like AA discourage addicts from getting involved in romantic relationships during their first year of recovery, from what I understand.)  Dan Breen suffers the same fate as most peripheral NYPD Blue characters, which gives Dennis Franz some meaty scenes to play with for a few episodes.  (This also foreshadows what we’ll see again and again on the show -- people close to Sipowicz die.)

When Sipowicz isn’t dealing with the death of his friend, he’s growing closer to Sylvia.  He blurts out a marriage proposal early in the season, then takes it back.  They move in together, and in one of the series’ most memorable moments, she tells Sipowicz “ask me again” one night after an awkward dinner with Andy’s son.  The season finale is their wedding, cementing Andy and Sylvia as one of the two major romantic couples of the series.  (The second begins at the end of this season, when Kim Delany’s character is introduced.)

James McDaniel as Lt. Arthur Fancy

Lt. Arthur Fancy has no great character arc this year, which we’ll see is pretty much how the show operates.  If you’re not one of the two main stars, you’re not likely to be given a lot to do.  Fancy does deal with more schemes from his white bosses to rob him of his job, his wife gives birth to a baby (an off-screen moment, since the actress that played his wife was acting on a soap opera at the time), and he agrees to coach James Martinez when Martinez joins some sort of policeman’s boxing league.  The boxing scenes are the ones that reveal just how repressed Fancy is, with him taking out his frustrations on a shocked Martinez in the ring.

Amy Brenneman as Janice Licalsi

Amy Brenneman's character is only around for the first two episodes of the season.  She’s found guilty of manslaughter, as opposed to murder, and sentenced to a relatively brief stint in prison.  The implication is that John Kelly is going to be waiting for her, which is kind of laughable if you recall that Kelly was something of a male slut in the first season.  The character of Licalsi is never mentioned after she exits, in any way.

Nicholas Turturro as Detective James Martinez

The writers were put in an awkward spot with James Martinez’s character this year.  He was introduced as the young detective that John Kelly would mentor, but with no John Kelly, what’s Martinez’s role on the show?  Aside from the boxing subplot (which goes nowhere), Martinez is given what has to be the lamest romantic subplot to appear in the show’s run…and this turkey runs over the course of two seasons.

When he isn’t being shoved into regrettable romantic subplots, Martinez continues to fill the role of the nice guy supporting player, offering assistance during Simone and Sipowicz’s cases, and occasionally dealing with a case on his own.

Her actual publicity photo this year...
Sharon Lawrence as ADA Sylvia Costas

Now a series regular, Sylvia Costas fills two roles on the show:  she’s the Assistant District Attorney who directly deals with the detectives, and she’s Sipowicz’s love interest.  The contrast between the highly educated, refined Sylvia and the blue-collar Sipowicz is dramatized quite well by Sharon Lawrence and Dennis Franz, although it’s clear by the end of this season that Sylvia’s mainly here to play off Sipowicz, and not to star in stories of her own.

Gordon Clapp as Detective Gregory Medavoy

Another guest star from Season One who’s been promoted to featured player.  The increased role for Detective Medavoy hints at the story structure we’ll see as the series evolves: Sipowicz and his partner will work a murder case, while the other detectives are assigned a separate case, usually one that’s not nearly as serious as the one assigned to Sipowicz and Friend.  Oftentimes this season, Detective Medavoy works on his own, but eventually it’s decided to pair him with the James Martinez character.  By Season Three, they’re played as the squad’s second-string detectives, always partnered together on cases.  When Detective Medavoy isn’t busy solving cases, he’s allowing his neuroses and jealousy to push his girlfriend Donna away, and foolishly reuniting with his shrill ex-wife.

Gail O’Grady as PAA Donna Abandando

The final actor from Season One to graduate from guest star to regular, you’ve got to feel for actress Gail O’Grady.  She’s playing, essentially, a secretary on a show about detectives.  If you think the detectives’ boss or spouses don’t have enough to do, just imagine what it’s like to play their secretary.  Donna Abandando’s big storyline this year is her break-up with Detective Medavoy, which clearly hurts him far more than it affects her.  (She narrowly avoids meeting Medavoy’s ex-ex-wife during Sipowicz’s wedding, a confrontation the producers save for the next season.)  Outside of her subplot scenes with Medavoy, she wears gaudy outfits and hands notes to the detectives.  You’ll notice that Donna is missing in a few episodes this year; that’s because Gail O’Grady received time off from the show to star in a few TV movies.  I don’t blame her for pursuing other options.

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  1. Enjoying these pieces, although I'm sad the Caruso digs have come to an end.

    A quick question, as I only have the vaguest memories of NYPD Blue when it was on the air - what made the sex scenes 'implausible'?

  2. "Implausible" in the sense that Smits' character is supposed to be this intensely private man, still mourning his wife, but he hops in the sack with at least two women this season that he hardly knows. Kim Delaney's character I think he beds a few hours after meeting. Many of the sex scenes of the show feel rushed, in the sense that the producers just want to work them in right before the closing credits.


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