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TV Review: 'Blue' tries to blend reality with fiction

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Andy Sipowicz is short-tempered and in a foul mood. More than usual.

And, somewhat improbably, it's up to fellow detective Connie McDowell to set him straight. The blonde, now the only female officer in the 15th Precinct squad room, follows Sipowicz into the bathroom and lets him have it, so to speak, with both barrels.

"All right. Enough of this already. This whole department has been through hell with the World Trade Center attacks, and we're all trying to deal with it in our own way. Just 'cause we're not walking around, punchin' holes in walls," she starts, interrupting him at the urinal.

 
 
"NYPD Blue"

When: 9 tonight on ABC.

Starring: Dennis Franz, Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

   
 

"We lost 300 firefighters. We lost dozens of cops. We are still looking for Danny. You don't have a corner on personal grief, and it's an insult, Andy, you treating us like we don't care as much as you. We're still hurting, too."

With that, "NYPD Blue" answers the natural question: Would it incorporate the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes into its scripts? This ninth season is dedicated to the memory of the New York police and firefighters who died nearly two months ago, and even if no shots of Ground Zero are shown, the grievous gravity of the city's loss is unmistakable.

It also answers that other question: Will Rick Schroder be back as Detective Danny Sorenson, who was missing at the end of last season? That would be no, and while I won't provide details for fear of being branded a spoiler, his fate is revealed in the first hour of a two-hour "Blue" block airing tonight at 9 on ABC. And he doesn't get a long teary goodbye as Jimmy Smits did.

The network is touting a special two-hour event, but it's really just two episodes, "Lie Like a Rug" and "Johnny Got His Gold." If the first gets us back on track, the second lets some relatively new cast members -- especially the talented Esai Morales as Lt. Tony Rodriguez -- shine. When his 70-year-old mother is mugged, he springs into action, and it's good to watch him get out of the office.

It's also clear that actress Charlotte Ross, as McDowell, is getting more screen time. She shares a scene with Franz of the kind one of his partners (David Caruso, Jimmy Smits, Schroder) or Kim Delaney, now playing a no-nonsense lawyer on "Philly," might have.

The most important change this year is the addition of Mark-Paul Gosselaar as John Clark, a cop who will become Sipowicz's new partner. Although Gosselaar is four years younger than Schroder, he appears to make a more confident, less anxious cop. I doubt we'll see him nervously playing with paper clips, the way Schroder's Sorenson did. And Sorenson, with his tangled family background, could be a mope.

Narcotics officer Clark has a bit of history, too. He happens to be the son of a Bronx homicide cop (played by Joe Spano, who was Henry Goldblume on "Hill Street Blues"). Sipowicz encounters the young Clark while working a quadruple homicide, and their paths keep crossing.

Once some of the loose ends from last season are tied up, the season seems promising, if not fresh. "NYPD Blue" long ago lost the right to that adjective, but a renewed national interest in and respect for cops could give this series an unexpected boost.

Being too old to watch "Saved by the Bell," I don't associate Gosselaar with his role as charming troublemaker Zach Morris. No one will replace Jimmy Smits as the ideal partner for Franz, but I'm willing to give the kid a chance. He seems very believable and natural so far.

And bringing Spano on board as a Sipowicz nemesis is a smart move. Anyone who watched "Hill Street Blues" will look at him and think cop. Sending Sipowicz into a bar and having him order a glass of whiskey, so he can "smell it," is not a smart move. Here we go again, I thought, but the scene is not belabored and it leads to a nice, if surprising, moment.

On Nov. 13, "NYPD Blue" moves into its new time period of 9 p.m., the idea being it will be a strong lead-in for "Philly." But "NYPD Blue" has never been a 9 o'clock show, and if it stays at that time, it will have to tone down the language, violence, sex and occasional nudity. Whether it can be less blue and still "Blue" remains to be seen.

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