David Milch and Steven Bochco have concocted an engrossing police series ballyhooed as both boldly frank and daringly sexy (at last report, series will air in only about 90% of the country thanks to affils’ turning it down) but the portrait of New York’s finest and their associates owes its strengths to character studies and interactions, not tripe hype.
“NYPD Blue” tells a solid, ongoing story about cops coping, in the tradition of Joseph Wambaugh’s 1970s “Police Story” and Bochco’s own “Hill Street Blues.” NYPD Detective John Kelly (David Caruso) has long looked up to his older partner , Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz), but Sipowicz has turned to booze, hookers and, as a personal vendetta, nailing mobster Giardella (Robert Costanzo). Giardella, humiliated in public by Sipowicz, shoots him.
Kelly is separated from lawyer-wife Laura (Sherry Stringfield) mostly because she hates his work, though they still care for each other. Frustrated when Sipowicz is hit, Kelly finds solace and bedtime with an inviting patrol officer, Janice Licalsi (Amy Brenneman).
Gregory Hoblit’s direction is tight, and Caruso’s Kelly is alert and purposeful. Franz makes the aging Sipowicz an angry, frustrated man trying to re-establish himself, and Stringfield gives Laura Kelly a becoming doubt about her decision to leave her husband.
Whole cast is on top of the program’s gritty approach. Costanzo’s Giardella, Brenneman’s officer Licalsi, David Schwimmer’s mouthpiece Goldstein, Joe Santos’ gang boss Marino, Shannon Cochran’s hooker are all standouts.
A couple of seven-letter words minimally dot the landscape like graffiti; they’re gratuitous. The much-talked-about sex scenes don’t amount to much. One situation might be described as frank — breasts, yards of flesh, nude butts — but little more so than those embarrassing teleblurbs. As far as the drama’s concerned, like the foul lingo the sex-sights are more interruptive than constructive.
First hour, really Part I of two parts, looks sharp thanks to Paul Eads’ accomplished production design. Bing Sokolsky’s camera work is excellent, even when the lens turns purposefully nervous to establish New York’s pace. Lawrence Jordan’s editing is pro, and MikePost’s crackling music underscores the program’s tough theme.