Still Watching: NYPD Blue

Lately I’ve been watching reruns of NYPD Blue. This long-running series (1993-2005) broke ground in the 90’s for its relatively graphic nature by primetime standards. Created by Stephen Bochco and David Milch, and starring Dennis Franz and a string of various actors as his partners in the 15th precinct detective squad, NYPD Blue has always drawn me with its strong characters and stories.

Thanks to boxed sets of dvds and Netflix instant streaming, most of us tend to watch older television shows in major blocks these days. The danger of doing that with a show like NYPD Blue is that you get bombarded with case after case of sick people doing awful things to each other. However, you also get to spend time with some complex, beautifully written and acted characters. It’s not the cases themselves that make you want to keep returning to the 15th precinct, but how our beloved characters handle the challenges of living their difficult lives.

The most flawed and beloved of these characters is Andy Sipowicz, played by Dennis Franz, who won four Emmys over the course of the run for his portrayal of this role. Franz is the only cast member who stayed for the full run, and he became the heart of NYPD Blue. In the end, the show was about Sipowicz. The fact that he is still standing at the end of his twelve-year character arc is homage to the honest servants who spend their lives on the edge in order to protect their community.

The argument could be made, and has, that NYPD Blue created a slippery slope which has led to graphic shows now being the standard for television. I can’t really argue that, except to say it didn’t do it by itself. This is, of course, an old argument, and is really an argument about censorship and personal responsibility, and what is individually harmful to one’s spirit. There will always be abundant amounts of harmful material available for viewing if one wishes to find it. To say a show like this should not have aired because it displayed brutality in a truthful way would be robbing us of great storytelling. The nudity displayed on the show was, at times, simply there to push the envelope and was not necessary. These scenes are annoying but not enough so to justify ignoring the show. NYPD Blue succeeds because behind the crime stories it presents us with a greater fight–one for our own humanity.

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