After surviving the transition from David Caruso to Jimmy Smits, NYPD Blue opened its third season as one of the most popular dramas on television. (But not the most popular, thanks to the debut of ER.) The third season is fondly remembered by most fans, and with good reason. Some of the best episodes of the series' run are this year. Season Three also features what could be the most hated subplot from the series' entire run, so that might be fun to also review.
I'll lay out a large spoiler warning before beginning. At the end of the season, there's a major character death and it's impossible to examine the season overall without disclosing it. So, if you are planning to watch these episodes one day, be warned.
The main cast this year includes...
Jimmy Smits as Det. Bobby Simone
Bobby's love life becomes a larger piece of the show, as Kim Delaney apparently proved herself to the producers and was promoted as the new series regular. Delany's character, Diane Russell, has already been established as a bit of a mess in her early appearances, and this season we're offered more of a glimpse into her chaotic upbringing. Bobby is kind of the white knight, in a way, who attempts to aid Diane in sobriety and offer her a different view of what domestic life could be. I'm positive that there would be some form of internet backlash if these episodes aired today, with people complaining about a male character swooping in and saving his love interest from her own self-destruction. (Actually, even the early internet was complaining about this.) The truth is, Bobby also plays this role in his relationship with Sipowicz later in the season.
Did Jimmy Smits have anything else to play with this year? Not really. We learn more about Bobby Simone's background -- that he was raised in a rough neighborhood and some of his childhood friends, like wannabe mobster Ray DiSalvo, are eager to take advantage of him being a cop. We also see the debut of one of the very few negative attributes assigned to Bobby; he is a bit cocky, a trait that often surfaces when dealing with uniform cops on the scene of a crime. Bobby, in many cases, is even ruder than Sipowicz can be when dealing with a uniform that Bobby feels is overstepping his bounds. In the opening of one episode, Bobby and Sipowicz actually go out of their way to torture a queasy female uniform who's never seen a decapitated body before. It's one of the show’s rare instances of the detectives joking around at a murder scene, and it's just presented as an aspect of The Job that detectives would casually torture a uniform cop in this way.
By the way, the two negative traits usually exhibited by Bobby -- he's cocky and overly protective of the people he cares about -- are both shared by David Caruso's Det. John Kelly character.
Dennis Franz as Det. Andy Sipowicz
As I mentioned earlier, it's impossible to dance around a certain event that happens this year without getting into major spoilers. This season sees Sipowicz at his best and worst, and provides Dennis Franz with some of the finest material he'll ever get out of the series. The good news for Sipowicz is that his wife Sylvia is pregnant, and after some initial worry, she gives birth to a healthy baby named Theo. Sipowicz is also thrilled to discover his adult son Andy, Jr. has entered the police academy, and actually wants to follow his footsteps and become a cop. Sipowicz finally making that peace with his son, something the show has never made easy for him, is a truly touching moment that speaks to the series' larger theme of redemption. Sipowicz has been trying for two years now to reconnect with his son and make amends for his absentee parenting, and only now is Andy, Jr. willing to fully forgive his father and, to Sipowicz's surprise, show that he actually admires and respects his old man.
Sipowicz's life takes a shocking turn towards tragedy, however, when Andy, Jr. is murdered while still in training. Sipowicz falls off the wagon, nearly destroys his career yet again, and is horribly beaten by a group of street kids he harrasses while in a drunken stupor. The final three episodes of the season bring us back to where the series began, but it never feels as if the show's repeating itself. Rather than feeling like a recycled story, Sipowicz relapsing works as a genuine tragedy for the character, and much of the credit for this goes to Dennis Franz's performance.
There's a great episode this year ("The Blackboard Jungle") that places Fancy in the middle of a thorny case involving a shooting at an urban community event and Sipowicz's long-suspected racist leanings. It's one of the best episodes of the entire series' run and a fantastic representation of James McDaniel's skill as an actor. And outside of that...essentially nothing. No home life drama for Fancy, no real problems with his bosses this year, not much of anything. James McDaniel has third billing on the show but rarely has more than four lines an episode.
Nicholas Turturro as Det. James Martinez
Oooohhhh no. No. This is it. It's Season Three, the season Det. Martinez essentially harrasses his coworker to the point that she's so irritated by his advances, she tells the world that she's a lesbian. No one comes out looking good in this storyline, as you've probably guessed.
Det. Martinez, before this madness really sets in, does have a great role in the season opener. He's shot during a stickup and sent to the hospital, and is unsure for the first few weeks if he'll be able to work as a detective again. This is a decent use of his character (I don't think anyone who watched the show disliked the Martinez character at this point, so setting him up with a possible career-ending injury at the start of the season is a smart way to open the year), even though his injuries, and whatever psychological toll they carried, are forgotten just a few episodes in.
|Every Lawrence publicity photo is amazing.|
This is the year Sylvia Costas (who never took her husband's last name, a fact the show never draws attention to) becomes pregnant and gives birth. According to Sharon Lawrence, this was when the writers on the show lost interest in her character, leaving her to pursue other work. Sylvia herself doesn't really drive any stories this year, but she does have some notable scenes at the end of the season, dealing with her stepson's death and husband's relapse.
Some have cited Sylvia Costas' evolution on the show from sharp-tongued prosecutor to wife to mom to just disappearing as evidence that the writers had no clue how to handle female characters. There might be some truth to that, but I think most of the fault lies in the show focusing less and less on the legal aspects of the justice system as the years went on. I've never heard of an explanation for why, but David Milch seemed content to allow NYPD Blue to exist as the story of detectives working the cases and not on how their work impacts the rest of the system. I wonder now if he simply wanted to distinguish the show from Law & Order, which was the other dominant crime procedural on television at the time.
Gordon Clapp as Det. Greg Medavoy
Two significant events for Det. Greg Medavoy this year: he's paired with James Martinez as his partner officially (cementing them as the second-string detective team on the show), and he firmly decides to leave his ex-wife. This sets up a long series of episodes that have Greg living in a bunk upstairs at the station house while trying to find an affordable apartment in New York. He also awkwardly attempts to reunite with Donna (she's not having it), and inserts himself into the unbearable Martinez/Lesniak "romance." Here, Medavoy begins the evolution away from a slightly shy, yet competent detective with a stammer into full-blown moron. There's definitely an argument to be made that Medavoy's gone through his own Flanderization since Season One, which paves the way for him to have his own legendarily terrible story arc next year.
Gail O'Grady as PAA Donna Abandando
This year, you'll see Donna hand out so many notes to detectives. And that's essentially it. She clumsily attempts to ask heartthrob Det. Simone out in the season premiere (in a scene so excruciating I've only been able to watch it once), helps out her hairdresser in one episode when the woman's con ex-husband is released from jail, meets Medavoy’s ex-wife for the first time, and then leaves the show two episodes before the season finale. She goes on to work for "that computer company" Apple, although she's not sure how her accent will be greeted in Silicon Valley.
Justine Miceli as Det. Adrienne Lesniak
Season Three marks Det. Adrienne Lesniak's last season on the show. Not that she's ever written out -- she just disappears in-between Seasons Three and Four. She also disappears during the most emotional episodes this year, the death of Andy Jr. storyline. She then pops back for the season finale, and actress Justine Miceli is allowed to show that not only is Lesniak a good detective, but a legitimately compassionate person.
The rest of the year, however? She's either lying about being gay, snapping at people asking her about her sexuality, suddenly questioning whether or not she is gay, deciding she isn't, finally giving in to Det. Martinez's relentless pursuit, then growing possessive and weird, and finally driving him away. Next season, like I said, she's just gone with no explanation. I don't think anyone's willing to defend this storyline.
Diane (almost never referred to by fans or producers as Det. Russell) is certainly given a lot to do this year. Aside from dealing with her alcoholism, the audience is given a look into her home life, which would likely drive most people to drink. Her father is verbally abusive, her mother is out of touch with reality, and her brother is the sullen punching bag who's seemingly accepted his sad lot in life. (Diane is her father's favorite kid and always immune from his verbal abuse; we'll find out why next season.) Later on in the year, her father is murdered and whether or not her brother or mother is the culprit is a mystery. In addition to this, she's growing closer to Bobby and the two detectives begin a "secret" relationship that clearly isn't secret at all. Lt. Fancy just pretends he doesn't notice.
Kim Delaney obviously has a lot to play with this season, and the producers have confidence in her. I have no idea how the network felt about Delaney, but I'm sure they weren't sad to see an attractive young actress receive so much attention on the show. The way Delaney is positioned on the series is clever -- not only is she Bobby's love interest, but Sipowicz is her AA sponsor, so she has close ties to both of the stars. I have no real problem with Delaney's performance, but it is slightly disappointing that she's given so much to do while many of the other characters are being reduced to bit roles.
Next time -- the guest stars. And since so few of the guest stars go on to influence the series, I'll probably move on to the first part of the season wrap-up.