"NYPD Blue" is absolutely in the zone. Outstanding episodes seem to just keep coming this season.
From the goodbye-Jimmy-Smits story arc to the hello-Rick-Schroder episodes, the consistent quality of this venerable cop drama is remarkable.
And, tonight, comes another powerful and profound hour as Detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) and his boss, Lt. Arthur Fancy (James McDaniel), go at it over matters of race. And I mean go at -- fists flying in the men's room in a scene that will leave your heart pounding almost as hard as those of these two middle-aged cops.
There's a street shooting in the 15th precinct involving off-duty cops, undercover cops and a couple of punks. The score: one cop wounded with a bullet in his shoulder and one cop rushed to the hospital with five bullets in his body.
What makes it a real "jackpot," in the sarcastic language of the cop shop, is that the off-duty cop who got shot in the shoulder is the person who pumped five bullets into the body of the undercover cop. Furthermore, the undercover cop who took the five hits is black, while the cop that shot him is white and named Szymanski.
Regular viewers of the series will remember Officer Szymanski as the cop who stopped Lt. Fancy two seasons ago for a busted tail light in an Emmy-nominated episode all about race titled "Tail Light's Last Gleaming." Oh, yeah, Fancy and Szymanski have a history on matters of race almost as tortured the one between Sipowicz and Fancy.
If you thought Sipowicz was going to calm down and start playing the parent now that he's paired with a young detective who reminds him of his dead son, you will be quickly disabused of that notion tonight. The pot starts boiling before the opening credits even roll when Sipowicz tells his partner, Detective Danny Sorenson (Schroder), "The boss has it in for Szymanski."
"Over what?" Sorenson asks.
"You can start with a busted tail light two years ago and the death of Martin Luther King," Sipowicz says, his face twisted into that look he gets as the rage starts to build in his chest.
Yes, indeed, it does gets real, and that's one of the great and daring things about "NYPD Blue." The producers risk having viewers agree with those who, in Sipowicz's words, believe the leading character's "got race prejudice." Sipowicz believes Fancy has race prejudice, too, and that's what brings them to bloody each other in the grungy men's room.
In terms of sociology, the greatest thing about "NYPD Blue" may be that it allows us to deal with racial tensions on screen in a way that we have not yet found to talk about in our real lives.
By the end of the hour, Sipowicz and Fancy have said and made us feel things most of us would never express publicly. Yet, they are feelings that have to be dealt with if we are ever going to get better as a nation.
As Sipowicz says to Fancy, "We gotta figure something out. We could kill each other, or I could get a heart attack or so forth."
God and great drama are in the so-forths on "NYPD Blue" this year.
When: 10-11 tonight
Where: WMAR (Channel 2)