When it debuted back in 1993, “NYPD Blue” became a groundbreaking series, setting standards for the police drama and leaving a permanent mark on the television landscape. Presenting an unflinching look at the life of New York City detectives with its provocative storytelling and envelope-pushing realism, the show skillfully navigated between the characters’ troubled personal lives and the sordid cases they worked.
This no-holds-barred style often included language and sexuality that was previously unheard of on network television, causing quite a stir but also helping to garner it the attention that earned a record-breaking 27 Emmy nominations in the first season.
Today, the show’s formulaic pattern can’t hold its own with other genre-busting fare like “The Shield,” but the release of “NYPD Blue: Season 01” on DVD lets us revisit a time when it was a rare treat to hear the words “dickhead” and “asshole” on primetime television. All of the first season’s 22 episodes are compiled on six discs, presented in 1.33:1 full screen video and Dolby Digital Surround 4.0.
The best reason to own this box-set is for the one-and-only chance to catch the remarkable chemistry between David Caruso’s John Kelley and Dennis Franz’ Andy Sipowicz. As detectives in Manhattan’s 15th police precinct, Caruso, as the fiery and tormented Kelly and Franz as his alcoholic, racist partner, turn in extraordinarily gritty, gutsy performances. Their compelling personal stories, wrapped in a complex, powerful relationship, drove “NYPD Blue” for much of the first season, from Sipowicz’ near fatal shooting in the pilot episode to Kelly’s ongoing divorce to D.D.A. Laura Kelly (Sherry Stringfield, “ER”).
Though it’s impossible to accurately capture all the initial hype of “NYPD Blue” a decade later, the extras, although not lacking in quantity, don’t sufficiently articulate the audience’s reaction to this revolutionary show, particularly in the case of David Caruso’s newfound scorching status.
Creators Steven Bochco and David Milch brazenly recount their battles over the raw dialogue and questionably gratuitous nudity throughout the set, most notably on their running audio commentary on some of the episodes and various bonus featurettes. But the informative hour-long “Making of Season One” documentary often takes the politically correct route, devoting only a paltry few minutes to Caruso’s on-set diatribes and his subsequent exit.
Extras aside, “NYPD Blue” remains a beautifully crafted, stunningly acted portrait of urban realism that will surely go down as one of television’s great shows.
Show: 4 1/2 Stars
Picture/Sound: 3 Stars
Features: 4 Stars