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NYPD Blog – 4B or Not 4B (1.02)
When it premiered in 1993, NYPD Blue was a fairly standard TV police drama, except for having the most swearing heard on broadcast TV at the time and more naked butts per episode than a diaper commercial. As we will see in this on-going, episode-by-episode recap, NYPD Blue was a trailblazer for more adult programming on network television not merely for its frank depictions of sex and violence and its use of language, but also because it paid careful attention to the broader themes of masculinity, heroism, father/son relationships, and inner human turmoil.
Season 1, Episode 2
4B or Not 4B
Original air date: September 28th, 1993
While his partner, Sipowicz, lies in a coma after being shot by wiseguy Alphonse Giardella, Detective John Kelly begins a one-man war against Giardella’s boss, Angelo Marino, and his organization. Enlisting a young kid from upstairs in Anti-Crime, James Martinez, Kelly starts busting Marino’s goons for any little thing, all the way down to parking violations, all in an effort to get Marino to cough up Giardella.
A good chunk of Kelly’s arsenal in this crusade seems to be that patented David Caruso-brand overacting, which he’ll even let loose on the sub-plot a little later here. He’s got some stiff competition in this regard in the opening scene, which features Larry Romano as the New York-iest Italian stereotype since Eddie Murphy: Raw: “‘Ey, Detective, ya’s innerferin’ with an honest wage-earner ovah he’!” Sheesh. Save it for King of Queens, will ya, buddy?
Kelly’s Walking Tall schtick seems to be working okay, even if it’s pissing off the brass upstairs. It’s also really pissing off Marino, who handpicks one of the cops in his pocket, Officer Janice Licalsi, to seduce Kelly and then kill him. But wouldn’t you know? She’s gone and fallen in love with him. Hey, anything can happen during those slo-mo sex scenes, am I right, ladies? Amy Brenneman, a few years away from Judging Amy, tends to not really do it for me on this show as Officer Licalsi. She’s not a bad actress, really, and I like her in Heat, but she’s got nothing on Sherri Stringfield as Kelly’s ex-wife, attorney Laurie Michaels. I’ll miss her a lot more once Caruso leaves and takes all his sub-plots with him.
But Licalsi’s character does a great deal for moving this potential drag of a plot twist along by putting a bullet in Marino instead. And then would you believe this actually pisses Kelly off? Some gratitude for you. Turns out Detective High-and-Mighty Kelly can’t date somebody willing to kill on his behalf. Personally, I have a little pet-name for a woman like that: “keeper.”
Meanwhile, Andy wakes up from his coma, either unable to remember Alphonse shooting him or keeping that info to himself so he can get his own payback. He’s off the sauce now, and really trying to hold onto his job, so it’s a tough choice to make. But what really gets the ball rolling is when Lois turns herself in, reveals her part in Andy getting the swiss-cheese treatment. Before Sipowicz can kill both Giardella and his own career, Kelly is able to talk him out of it. In these early episodes, Sipowicz gets pulled back from the brink time and again by his younger, less hot-headed partners, and it’s nice to know that by about the halfway point of the series, this dynamic begins to switch around to where Sipowicz becomes the voice of reason. For now, it’s just nice seeing good ol’ Dennis Franz temper-tantrums.
Giardella gets pulled in and ‘fesses up to everything, including Marino’s murder, and gets himself a one-way ticket into the relocation program. Another great NYPD Blue characteristic set up here: justice is not always served. In the later seasons, the writers tend to go a little nuts with this notion, allowing grave injustices to go unanswered for only, it would seem, to keep the high melodrama at a peak. But here, a scumbag getting away with attempted murder, it really feels like just another day in the big, bad city.
Speaking of injustice, Kelly is also mired in a sub-plot that strikes that chord this episode. Mr. Daniels’s young son was murdered by some street skell, but since the evidence was improperly handled, the A.D.A. is forced to plea down to a couple years’ sentence. This gives Caruso good practice for his incensed blue-collar cop routine. When the judge threatens to hold him in contempt, Kelly says, “I hold you in contempt! You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Oy. I hold this dialogue in contempt.
Naturally, the incensed Mr. Daniels later holds the judge hostage in his chambers. The judge, not used to these sorts of things like Judge Harold T. Stone was on Night Court, is naturally pissing himself. And naturally, Kelly is called in to negotiate with the distraught father. Take that, justice system! While you’re too afraid to get your hands dirty, it’s tough guys like Kelly who have to come along and solve your problems for you. Bet they didn’t teach that at Harvard Law!
This sort of beating-you-over-the-head morality does become a bit more subtle as the show progresses, but it still rears its goofy head every now and again. I mean, I guess it is TV, y’know, it’s how things are done. But in a show that does so much else right, these niggling little things are just that much more irritating. At least this sub-plot does bring in one of my favorites, character actor Beau Starr. Probably best known as Henry’s dad in GoodFellas, Starr plays the tactical team leader during the hostage stand-off. It’s not as meaty a role as he’ll get in a few years on this same show, but it’s always great to see that guy. Hell, I even watched Due South more than once ‘cause of him.
Next episode, we’ll get into li’l David Schwimmer’s pre-Friends role as Laurie’s nebbish of a neighbor, Josh “4B” Goldstein (what, Schwimmer as a nebbish-y guy? Believe it or don’t!). Until next time, I’ll be there for you (like I’ve been there before).