'NYPD Blue': It just feels right

October 11, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It's reality check time tonight for all those viewers who've psyched themselves into believing that David Caruso wasn't really all that good, and that his Detective John Kelly won't really be missed when he leaves "NYPD Blue" in three weeks.

Caruso's going to break your self-deluded little hearts tonight with his performance in the season premiere of "NYPD Blue" at 10 on WJZ (Channel 13). He is so, so good -- and it hurts so much to admit it now that he's spit on our emotional bond to Kelly and opted for a big screen career.

But facts are facts; the truth often hurts. Caruso plays Kelly with such angst-about-to-explode-into-rage feeling that it's almost too intense to bear for a whole hour. His performance gave me a headache by the second commercial break, but I loved every mesmerizing, temple-pounding second of it.

Kelly's in the hot seat tonight when he decides to testify on behalf of Detective Janice Licalsi (Amy Brenneman), who's on trial for double homicide.

Licalsi has decided to plea bargain and accept a six-year prison term, but Kelly doesn't want her to. He believes she can be acquitted; all he has to do is perjure himself.

Why would he perjure himself -- especially with Internal Affairs vTC already investigating him for the relationship he had with Licalsi at the time of the murders? Because Kelly realizes he loves Licalsi, or, as he so eloquently puts it, "I have feelings for her."

Feelings of love, indeed. They are so strong that Kelly breaks up with Robin Wirkus (Debrah Farentino) in another great scene with another great speech.

"Hey, we were friends before. So, we'll be friends. Ya love who ya love," Wirkus says, trying not to lose it in the restaurant-bar where Kelly chooses to tell her about his feelings for Licalsi.

This comes, by the way, right after Kelly beats up a drunken businessman who's been mouthing off to him at the bar.

Oh yeah, Kelly's got all kinds of feelings -- feelings of love, feelings of hate, feelings of tenderness, feelings of rage.

How will we ever live without him?

Well, here's the good news: Dennis Franz's Detective Andy Sipowicz also has all kinds of feelings tonight, as well as a scene so powerful it will make you want to jump up and applaud when it ends.

Sipowicz has romantic feelings for assistant district attorney Sylvia Costas (Sharon Lawrence) and "would like to resume seeing her," as he so eloquently puts it.

But first he's got to get the OK from his Alcoholics' Anonymous sponsor, who is played by a wonderfully off-the-wall Peter Boyle. Sipowicz needs his sponsor's OK because he's only been sober 90 days and the group's guidelines call for caution on the part of the newly sober when entering such relationships.

Sipowicz's finest moment, though, comes near the end of the hour when he corners a wife-beating bully outside a courtroom and makes an in-your-face speech about what's going to happen if he hits his wife again. You can almost feel his face sweat. You can definitely feel his rage.

I forgot how much I love this show until I saw this episode. I also forgot how much I hate Steven Bochco, its creator. He's so good that he's got me cheering for Kelly to perjure himself. He's got me hoping Sipowicz really will take the wife-beater down to the river some night and drown the creep.

In my head, I know it's wrong. It's take-my-civil-rights please, police-state fascism, at the very least. But Kelly's got these feelings, Sipowicz has these feeling, and I have these feelings too. And it feels so good to watch "NYPD Blue" and let all that emotion just flow all over you.

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