NYPD Blue: Season 4

NYPD Blue: Season 4 (1996)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Jimmy Smits, Dennis Franz, Kim Delaney, James McDaniel, Gordon Clapp, Nicholas Turturro
Extras: Commentaries, Featurettes

Spawned from the creative minds of Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law) and David Milch (Deadwood), "NYPD Blue: Season 4" covers the post-David Caruso and pre-Rick Schroder and Mark-Paul Gosselaar years. Featuring reliable show-rescuer Jimmy Smits (who similarly came aboard the fledgling "West Wing" many years later) as Bobby Simone, partner to the gruff, no-nonsense Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz), "NYPD Blue" paved the way for future boundary-pushing police procedurals, most notably FX's "The Shield." Gaining a certain amount of notoriety for explicit language and an abundance of naked asses (most disturbingly, the "full moon" of Dennis Franz), "NYPD Blue" was a trailblazer that popularized the gritty, realistic aesthetics of contemporary cop shows. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings Season 4 to DVD and, even after ten years has passed, the series still holds up as an exemplary achievement in dramatic intensity and whose vast influence can still be seen all across the television landscape.

Creatively utilizing the hustle and bustle of New York City, "NYPD Blue" is drenched in the grimy sights and sounds of this distinctive backdrop. In an environment where homicides seem to occur with ferocious regularity, the cops are always embroiled in stress-inducing cases that test their physical and emotional limits. With an incredible ensemble cast on hand bringing home the realistic nature of the program, Bochco and Milch have struck gold. As Bobby Simone, Jimmy Smits obliterates all memory of David Caruso, creating a richly textured character whose personal life is unraveling and whose only respite from his social hardships is his devotion to his job. Complementing his character is Dennis Franz as Andy Sipowicz, the Polish detective who has battled alcoholism and is still trying to cope with the death of his son (while raising a new bundle of joy). Watching these two actors play "good cop/bad cop" while interrogating suspects, pushing and pulling each other in order to extract admissions of guilt, reaches heights of startling ingenuity. Like a well-choreographed fight, Smits and Franz bob and weave with the tenacity and talent of seasoned pros.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, with every character getting their respective dues throughout the season. In the world of "NYPD Blue," each character is given time to shine with their own engrossing story arcs. Lt. Arthur Fancy (James McDaniel) displays his compassionate side by taking in a teenager whose Mother is a drug addict, Detective Greg Medavoy (Gordon Clapp) reveals his inherent good nature by donating (albeit uncomfortably) his sperm to lesbian Officer Abby Sullivan (Paige Turco) and spunky, nice-guy cop James Martinez (Nicholas Turturro) helps with Gina Colon's (Lourdes Benedicto) rehabilitation after she's attacked by a would-be rapist (sparking an overdue romance between the co-workers). While these portrayals are riveting, the standout performance comes via Kim Delaney, who is given the meaty supporting role of Diane Russell, fellow Detective at the precinct and Bobby Simone's commitment-phobic paramour. One continuing storyline has Diane infiltrating psycho criminal Jimmy's (Christopher Meloni) inner circle, sparking jealousy within Simone, threatening their already unstable relationship. This leads to a series of emotional revelations that flesh out Diane's past, creating a deeper relevance to her already multi-dimensional character.

"NYPD Blue: Season 4" is anchored by Simone and Diane's stormy relationship, examining their strained romance (amidst all the racism, shootings, drug deals and suicides), striking so many notes dead on that I eventually began wondering if Bochco and Milch had secretly recorded all the highs and lows of my prior relationships. This season achieves greatness by depicting relatable emotional issues and combining them with intensely involving detective cases. Never missing a step, the show goes above and beyond the call of duty, melding these two elements efficiently. Other storylines proliferate the season; with a bondage-obsessed PAA (Debra Christofferson) sexually harassing Andy, Simone's unique problems with an inherited tenement building and its questionable denizens, Greg and Andy's weight-losing contest and Simone's impending promotion, as well as an undercover job that sparks the attention of Internal Affairs.

Also, the season surprises with plot twists that turn the sometimes bizarre yet always interesting cases on their head. Witness the emotionally draining conclusion of the "Ted and Carey's Bogus Adventure" episode or the cliffhanger of "Unembraceable You" and Diane's sobering childhood recollection that pushes her relationship with Simone into a new direction at the end of "Alice Doesn't Fit Here Anymore." When all of the components fall into place (which is quite often), NYPD Blue is a textbook example of what to do right in a network television show. Featuring a stellar ensemble, relatable emotional issues and fascinating twists and turns, "NYPD Blue: Season 4" is a worthy addition to any DVD library.

All 22 episodes are contained on four double-sided discs. Disc 1, Side A includes: "Moby Greg," "Thick Stu," "Yes, We Have No Cannolis" and "Where's Swaldo?" Side B has "Where'd the Van Gogh?" and "Yes. Sir, That's My Baby."
Disc 2, Sid A features "Ted and Carey's Bogus Adventure," "Unembraceable You," "Caulksmanship" and "My Wild Irish Nose." Side B contains "Alice Doesn't Fit Here Anymore" and "Upstairs, Downstairs."

Disc 3, Side A has "Tom and Geri," "A Remington Original," "Taillight's Last Gleaming" and "What A Dump!" Side B contains "A Wrenching Experience" and "I Love Lucy." Disc 4, Side A includes: "Bad Rap" and "Emission Impossible," while Side B features "Is Paris Burning?" and "A Draining Experience."

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment presents "NYPD Blue: Season 4" in its original Full Frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Ten years on, this transfer looks exceptionally good. Detail is impressive and the muted, washed-out color palette brings across the grime and grit with suitable clarity. Edge enhancement is non-existent and black levels are nicely rendered, creating rich, deep shadows. Every now and again there are some instances of grain, but overall the presentation is nearly flawless.

Sound is provided by an English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix, as well as Spanish and French 2.0 tracks. Dialogue is crisp and clean, with no hints of hiss or distortion. While not overly aggressive, there are a few moments where the bombastic soundtrack bleeds over some of the dialogue, but this occurs infrequently enough to not be too much of a nuisance. As with most television shows, everything can, at times, be a little too flat sounding, but that's to be expected. Atmospheric and directional effects are minimal, but everything still comes across better than broadcast quality. Subtitles are in English and Spanish.

For Extras, we have Optional Episode Commentary for three of the episodes. On "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and "Where's Swaldo," commentary is given by Director Mark Tinker and Writer Bill Clark, while on "Tom and Geri" commentary is provided by Actresses Andrea Thompson and Debra Christofferson. The former commentaries contain Tinker and Clark's dry and droll exchanges. Interesting and informative, the two men talk about the technical side of the shooting and Clark's 25 year tenure as a detective which provided many of the realistic storylines. Clark also touches on the various tactics employed to get confessions out of suspects and the up-to-the-last-minute scriptwriting and outlining process. Plus, he recounts experiences that still haunt him, especially a case involving a child murderer who wasn't convicted due to lack of evidence. As for the "Tom and Geri" commentary, Actresses Andrea Thompson and Debra Christofferson fill much of the time with loving praise for the show. Not much information is dispensed, other than the openness of the other actors in welcoming the newcomers to the set and how David Milch often consulted with the performers to get story ideas. In stark contrast to the in-depth Tinker and Clark commentaries, this one pales in comparison, yet the enthusiasm displayed by the actresses is infectious.

Also included are the Featurettes "In With the New" and "Through the Lens: The Look of Blue." Running sixteen minutes long, "In With the New" chronicles the debuts of various cast members in the "NYPD Blue" universe. Lourdes Benedictor, Debra Christofferson, Willie Garson, Andrea Thompson and Paige Turco all speak about their respective characters and offer tidbits regarding David Milch's propensity for extending their contracts. Most of these actors were supposed to appear for a minimal number of episodes, but once Milch viewed their work; their brief stints blossomed into more airtime. Every actor gives a rundown of their characters and relate how satisfying it was to appear on the show.

Far more interesting is the twenty-two minute "Through the Lens: The Look of Blue" featurette. Delving deep into the technical aspects of the production, this highlights the admirable work of the directors of photography and the set designers. The most shocking revelation is that the show wasn't shot with handheld cameras. The shaky, documentary-style camera work was actually produced by the camera operators who would pan back and forth with a "fluid head." Steven Bochco also told the operators (and editors) to tone down the movements, since people were getting sick. Another compelling component of the featurette details Director Mark Tinker's shooting process, where we view a scene as it is being shot. This reveals the improvisational aspect of the production, since no storyboards are used and Tinker more or less talks his way through the scene. Also, time is devoted to the 15th Precinct set and how all the walls were removable, allowing for a multitude of camera setups. Lastly, the lighting style of the show is talked about, with the DP's stressing the importance of keeping everything "real" looking, with practical lighting utilized as much as possible. Comprehensive and fascinating, this featurette is the jewel of the season set.

Running for twelve strong years, "NYPD Blue: Season 4" captures the groundbreaking show in its prime. Jimmy Smits and Dennis Franz anchor a brilliant ensemble that persistently engages on an emotional level. While portraying original crimes and cases, the show balances the sometimes bizarre scenarios with the highly relatable relationship and romance between Diane and Simone. Featuring gripping storylines and a wealth of compelling characters, "NYPD Blue: Season 4" strikes all the right chords. Do yourself a favor and pick up this arresting set, you won't be disappointed.