HOLLYWOOD — Let me start by saying that I have nothing against “Friends” and “Frasier.” They’re smart, heartwarming and very “in.”
They’re just not my particular cup of tea, so even though I felt like some kind of out-of-touch weirdo, I didn’t rush home to watch (no, I don’t have TiVo) the obsessively hyped finales of these two laffers.
I do admit that NBC made it nearly impossible not to know that those two shows were coming to an end, so kudos to them for their promotional prowess. (But two hours of “Dateline” on this? Really.)
When I got a call from an outraged friend in Europe last week asking what folks here were saying about the photos and video images of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated (or tortured) by American security guards, I duly said they were disgusted — though a great number of them were talking more about Ross and Rachel than about Donald Rumsfeld or Lynndie England.
We all need distraction, however, as it’s now abundantly clear that we’ll be grappling with tragic real-life issues for some time to come.
These images from the war will no doubt be indelibly seared into the world’s collective conscience. The picture of leering soldiers in front of a seemingly posed pile of naked prisoner bodies looked like some cheesy reality show run amok. Then came the retaliatory beheading of the hapless American Nicholas Berg, a horrific video of which was available on the Web to anyone who felt the need to see it.
No doubt these hair-raising images will help define the Iraq war just as vividly and sadly as the image from Vietnam of that little naked girl burnt by napalm did 35 years ago.
So, yes, we all have in the past two weeks needed some respite from the real world of war and revenge: I found mine not from those aforementioned laffers but from a handful of the networks’ best dramas. They, too, are in finale mode, though much less massively hyped than the comedies in question.
In some cases the final episodes are fortunately just seasonal conclusions, though in the case of David E. Kelly’s “The Practice,” the fictitious law firm is unfortunately closing down for good.
Thank goodness another long-running Alphabet drama is not. “NYPD Blue” is in my view one of the most consistently engrossing hours ever, and its main character, the politically incorrect, irascible Andy Sipowicz one of the most surprisingly endearing on the small screen.
As played by Dennis Franz, he is perhaps to this decade what Archie Bunker was to an earlier one, iconic in his ability to reset our moral compass. The last hour of the season managed to tie up some loose ends: There’s a death, a new baby, families that come together and others that are torn apart. Sipowicz’s latenight talk to his son about the new baby was brilliant.
The Steven Bochco series is one of the few bright spots on ABC’s beleaguered schedule: I only hope they don’t screw around with it for next year in their attempts to launch one or another new hour.
Also engrossing was the finale of John Wells’ “Third Watch,” now in its fifth season, whose characters I only got involved with this year, but which are deftly drawn and realized — from Sully and Bosco to Cruz and Faith. The latter’s conversation with her husband in a coffee shop, in which she pleads with him to come back home and he, sullen and aloof, finally blurts out he’s “met someone,” is riveting.
So, too, is the final scene in which masked men stealthily appear in the hospital to take out those they hold responsible for a mobster son’s death. It sent shivers up my spine.
In a quite different key (it’s a 9 p.m. show), CBS’ “JAG” is winding up its ninth season, with its two leads, Harm and Mac, still two of the most appealing characters on TV. There’s chemistry between them, but there’s also decorum. Who knew that latter attribute still existed either in the real world or on TV?
There’s also in this Don Bellisario-produced series a more accelerated ripped-from-the-front-page-headlines approach to plot than in seasons past. Expect his writers to deal with, and hopefully shed some much-needed light on, prisoner abuse next season.
In short, I can’t remember a time in which so many network dramas (not just “L&O” and “CSI”) seemed to be firing on all cylinders creatively.
Now if they could just come up with some comedies equally as inventive and innovative.