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TV REVIEW : 'Blue': Color It a Pale Imitation of 'Blues'

September 21, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Anyone expecting an outpouring of raunchy language and explicit sex from Steven Bochco's undeservedly controversial "NYPD Blue" will be disappointed. So will anyone expecting Bochco at his best.

The ABC police drama premieres at 10 tonight on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, carrying a "viewer discretion advised" warning for its shoot-'em-up violence, relatively tame sex and occasional coarse utterances that include the rhymes-with-zits synonym for female breasts and the rhymes-with-curd word for excrement.

The premiere airs without 15 seconds of love-making footage from the original version that inexplicably was judged by ABC to be more obscene than a couple of people getting plugged at close range. The rhymes-with-numb synonym for mental dullness applies here.

Although still under attack, the slightly sanitized "NYPD Blue" would probably get only a PG-13 rating as a theatrical movie. And compared to what's available on cable, it's Mother Goose. At the same time, however, the material Bochco agreed to trim was superfluous, and so is the remaining disputed material--a lewd, crotch-grabbing gesture by a cop, rough street language and sex (including a fleeting, artsy, side view of female upper-body nudity).

What is gained from keeping this material in? Why, for example, can't viewers just know that sex has occurred rather than see it begin? Including the flesh is gratuitous and derivative of the obligatory sex scenes in movies.

Anyway, the "blue" is a pale problem compared with the wider pallet of flaws that mar this watchable but disappointing series.

Given the quality of his "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law," a Bochco series automatically raises expectations--even among his lesser works. "Doogie Howser, M.D." had its moments and the musical "Cop Rock" was a noble experiment. Typically, "NYPD Blue," which was created by Bochco and "Hill Street Blues" alum David Milch, benefits from a superior cast, fine production values and lots of visual texture, as Detective John Kelly (David Caruso) responds badly to the disintegration of his marriage and goes nuts when his out-of-control partner, Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz), gets himself shot up.

The perennial hard-nosed cop, Franz has a sweaty feast as Sipowicz, a paunchy, loud-dressing, self-destructive, hot-tempered boozer who abducts an obnoxious mobster from a restaurant at gunpoint and assaults him, all in public view. Sipowicz's crazed vendetta becomes the story's trigger.

Unfortunately, the first three episodes of "NYPD Blue" are largely predicated on such irrational acts, to say nothing of plot coincidences, illogical twists and manufactured crises. Kelly's own one-man war on a crime boss is far-fetched, to say the least. (Would he, could he, really single-handedly burst into the mob's headquarters and push everyone around?) A subsequent assassination by an unlikely character also stretches credibility.

Berserk people with guns race through "NYPD Blue," whose violence does indeed merit a warning. Meanwhile, there are subplots involving Kelly's soon-to-be-former wife and a female cop who takes a shine to him, and when not impersonating a human cannonball, he spends the first three episodes as a sort of traveling sage, moving from hot spot to hot spot while dripping puddles of wisdom.

Despite its potholes, ironically, "NYPD Blue" looks like one of the more interesting and alluring dramas in prime time, which is less a tribute to the series than an indictment of the genre it now joins.

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