People were opposed to "NYPD Blue" before it even premiered because of early word that it would have more profanity and nudity than had theretofore been allowed on prime-time network TV. The protests earned the show some extra viewers out of the gate -- protests usually work that way -- but what America quickly discovered was, naked butts and cuss words or not, "NYPD Blue" was one of the best cop shows ever made.
By season 4 (1996-97), the series had hit its stride and was enjoying its glory days. These 22 episodes demonstrate an almost perfect balance between the personal lives of the characters, their interactions with one another, and the police work they're involved in. And with the creative direction of Steven Bochco (whose "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law" had earlier become hits) and David Milch (whose legendarily nuanced and precise dialogue is now the hallmark of HBO's "Deadwood"), it's no surprise that these episodes are packed with vivid characters and memorable verbal exchanges.
Plot-wise, season 4 has two major developments: the relationship between detectives Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) and Diane Russell (Kim Delaney), and the introduction of new female detective Jill Kirkendall (Andrea Thompson). Simone also has an arc involving undercover work with the FBI, Greg Medavoy (Gordon Clapp) might become a father through non-traditional means, and Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) -- the heart and soul of the series, though still second-billed at this point behind Smits -- continues to grow and evolve as a multi-faceted character.
I didn't start watching "NYPD Blue" until season 5, so the episodes in this set were new to me. I was riveted by how much better the series was here than in its later years -- and it was still pretty good in its later years! Where subsequent seasons settled into a routine of police procedural stuff mixed in with just a little about the cops' personal lives, season 4 handles both angles equally, and it truly makes a difference. Even if you have little interest in the day-to-day cop work, there is plenty to enjoy about the people involved. These conflicted, flawed characters feel like real people and are never portrayed as over-the-top or absurd. It's TV drama at its best: respectable, realistic, thought-provoking and entertaining.
Here are the episodes included:
1. Moby Greg - 10/15/96
Sipowicz admits he froze during a shootout because he was afraid of dying, and Russell seems equally afraid to accept Simone's marriage proposal.
2. Thick Stu - 10/22/96
Simone and Sipowicz grow suspicious while investigating a missing persons case, and Martinez runs for Squad Delegate.
3. Yes, We Have No Cannolis - 10/29/96
Simone investigates a murder in his apartment building, and he and Sipowicz reopen an old robbery case as they come to suspect the wrong man was convicted.
4. Where's Swaldo? - 11/12/96
Medavoy and Martinez investigate a shooting at a bodega; Sipowicz and Simone look for the guys who shot two men in their car.
5. Where'd the Van Gogh? - 11/19/96
Martinez's first delegate case involves a cop with two wives; Simone and Sipowicz investigate a robbery that might be fake; Russell's sobriety is tested.
6. Yes Sir, That's My Baby - 11/26/96
New detective Jill Kirkendall arrives in the squad; Simone and Sipowicz investigate the murder of a chauffeur.
7. Ted and Carey's Bogus Adventure - 12/10/96
A mother claims her daughter was raped; Sipowicz is worried when a man once committed to Bellevue shows up at the precinct.
8. Unembraceable You - 12/10/96
Fancy tries to help Maceo after he's arrested for possession; Simone and Sipowicz look for the shooter who gunned down a man in the East Village.
9. Caulksmanship - 12/17/96
Russell thinks she was drugged while working undercover; the detectives encounter strangely uncooperative neighbors while investigating two murders.
10. My Wild Irish Rose - 1/7/97
Medavoy and Martinez find drug addicts bidding on a dead man's belongings; Simone arrests the man who drugged Russell.
11. Alice Doesn't Fit Here Anymore - 1/14/97
Simone and Sipowicz hunt for $1.4 million in stolen jewels; the other detectives investigate after one of their own is attacked.
12. Upstairs, Downstairs - 1/21/97
Simone and Sipowicz are skeptical of testimony offered by an off-duty cop in a double homicide.
13. Tom and Geri - 1/28/97
Russell and Kirkendall look into a case of autoerotic asphyxiation; Simone and Sipowicz investigate a murder involving two warring labor coalitions.
14. A Remington Original - 2/11/97
The detectives have two homicides where the bodies were dumped: one in a salvage yard, the other in a vacant lot.
15. Taillight's Last Gleaming - 2/18/97
Fancy wants to deal with a racist cop who pulled him over for a broken taillight; Sipowicz has dreams about his dead son.
16. What a Dump! - 2/25/97
Garbagemen find a partially clad body; the detectives investigate a gang-related shooting.
17. A Wrenching Experience - 3/15/97
A baby might have been shaken to death by a babysitter; a gang member and car repair shop owner are shot.
18. I Love Lucy - 3/22/97
Kirkendall tries to help a friend kick a drug habit; Sipowicz and Simone look into the murder of a drag queen.
19. Bad Rap - 3/29/97
Abby wants Medavoy to donate sperm so she and her partner can have a baby; Simone and Sipowicz investigate the shooting of a rapper.
20. Emission Impossible - 4/6/97
A woman claims her husband raped their daughter; Medavoy prepares to give Abby what she wants.
21. Is Paris Burning? - 4/13/97
Simone's work with an FBI probe gets him in trouble with Internal Affairs; Det. Gotelli hijacks a city bus.
22. A Draining Experience - 4/20/97
Simone's undercover work threatens his career; Sipowicz and Russell investigate a case where a woman had drain cleaner poured down her throat.
All 22 episodes are included on four double-sided discs. No one likes double-sided discs (if for no other reason than they're harder to take care of, since there's no label side), but it does make the set slimmer than if eight discs had been used. With all four discs sharing two thin Digipak cases, the whole set is only slightly wider than a typical single-disc release.
Disc 1 has episodes 1-6 (four on one side, two on the other), Disc 2 has 7-12 (ditto), Disc 3 has 13-18 (ditto), and Disc 4 has 19-22 on side A, with bonus features on side B. (The Digipak claims there are two episodes on each side of Disc 4, but the Digipak is wrong.)
Each Digipak has titles, summaries and original airdates of the episodes included on the discs it contains.
There are optional subtitles in English and Spanish and even alternate audio tracks in French and Spanish. I am impressed at how much the French-speaking actors sound like the original ones. (The Spanish-speakers, not so much.)
VIDEO: Presented in their original full-frame (1.33:1) ratio, the episodes are spotless and shiny, as should be expected from source material that's only 10 years old.
AUDIO: The set features a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which sounds fantastic, though the percussion-heavy musical score sometimes overpowers a bit of the dialogue. (Luckily, there's not much background music anyway.)
EXTRAS: The main extras are two featurettes.
"In with the New" (16:35) has new interviews with several actors who had recurring roles this season: the actresses who played the season's two new secretaries -- Lourdes Bendicto as Martinez's love interest Gina and Debra Christofferson as saucy plus-sized Geri -- recurring guest pest Willie Garson as Henry Coffield, Andrea Thompson as Det. Kirkendall, and Paige Turco as Abby, who wants Medavoy's sperm. One motif that pops up a lot in their interviews: They were originally signed for only a couple episodes, then were made regulars. Beyond that, they have nothing to say beyond basic summaries of their characters and storylines.
"Through the Lens: The Look of Blue" (22:41) is much more substantive. With the production crew on hand, the featurette covers all the elements of the show's visual style, from lighting to sets to the signature jittery camera movement. (On that last point, it's interesting to learn the camera was never actually hand-held.)
"We wanted the audience to feel like they're standing in the corner of the room and watching what's happening," says one behind-the-scenes wizard, perfectly summarizing the "feel" of the show. Director Mark Tinker and cinematographer Brian J. Reynolds even enlist a camera operator and a couple of actors to demonstrate how they'd shoot a scene, with Tinker giving the operator constant instructions about how to move the viewer's "eye" around the action. Without too much technical jargon, the featurette gives fascinating background on how "NYPD Blue" came to look the way it did.
The other extras are three commentaries: director Mark Tinker and writer Bill Clark on "Where's Swaldo?" and "Alice Doesn't Fit Here Anymore"; and actresses Andrea Thompson and Debra Christofferson on "Tom and Geri."
Tinker and Clark are extremely dry, even when they're making jokes to one another (and at one another's expense). Clark was a real NYC cop for 20 years and offers insight into the realities of the fictional events depicted, almost to the point of being a downer. (Tinker asks him early in one track, "Did you take an Ambien before this?") When Tinker gets a little too technical about how a scene was shot, Clark says, "Are we playing this for the Directors Guild? Are these going straight to the DGA?" -- a case of what Sipowicz calls "breakin' balls."
They're entertaining with their self-deprecating deadpan jokes; I wish they talked more, though. There are many stretches of silence, and they BOTH sound like they took Ambien before the session. Maybe it's fitting, though: They remind me of Sgt. Joe Friday of "Dragnet," drowsy but quick-thinking.
(Did you know Lindsay Krouse was David Mamet's ex-wife? And why would Bill Clark be having lunch with David Mamet and Ed O'Neill? You learn some interesting things on these commentaries.)
Thompson and Christofferson are more chatty on their commentary, though what they have to say isn't nearly as insightful into the process of making the show. Their enthusiasm is infectious, though.
"NYPD Blue" remains one of the greatest examples of its genre, and one of the finer series of any kind. Season 4 is among its best years. Fans could wish for more commentaries or for interviews with some of the lead actors, and those wishes are not unreasonable. Still, the 22 episodes have been given quality treatment, and what extras are present are solid. I recommend it especially for fans of the series, and for non-fans: Check it out. You don't know what you're missing.