Diane hates him. Andy kind of likes him. Martinez and Medavoy have to admit he knows his stuff, but they want to make one thing absolutely clear: "He's no Bobby Simone."
We are talking about Det. Danny Sorenson, as played by former kid TV star Rick Schroder, who arrives on "NYPD Blue" tonight as the new partner of Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz).
OK, Schroder is no Jimmy Smits, and yes, his selection as a replacement for Smits does seem like one of the stranger casting moves of the decade. But I say give Schroder and the producers credit just for showing up this week.
Nothing they could have done is going to come close to last week's landmark episode with the death of Simone. But life goes on for the detectives in the 15th precinct. And the triumph of tonight's script by Meredith Stiehm, as well as the performance by Schroder, is that it makes us want to stay with that life, even though it no longer includes Simone except in memory.
Tonight's episode, titled "Danny Boy," quickly addresses our concerns and gets the characters that were hit hardest by Simone's death back on the job. The very first shot is Det. Russell (Kim Delaney) at the coffee machine making coffee on her first day back.
"There, I did that," she says in a shaky voice, pointing to the machine as the coffee starts to brew.
"You have to start somewhere," Kirkendall (Andrea Thompson) says, giving her a hug, as Russell chokes back a sob.
The next shot is Sipowicz standing at the sergeant's desk downstairs reading a phone message when Sorenson walks in and introduces himself as the new guy on the job.
"So, that's what 14-year-olds are wearing now?" Sipowicz says, looking at Sorenson's khaki pants, button-down-collar work shirt, tie and parka.
"Yeah, me and all my pals," he shoots back, drawing a long look from Sipowicz.
Upstairs, Sorenson meets Lt. Fancy (James McDaniels), who tells him, "The team you're joining just lost a guy. Diane's just back. Obviously, she's pretty raw. Andy's pretty raw, too. Actually, I guess, we're all pretty raw."
Schroder's Sorenson is forced to play against and deal with that tension for most of the hour as he and Sipowicz wind up crossing paths with Russell on a double homicide.
Russell is flat-out nasty, accusing him of stealing her leads on the case, when, in fact, he was going out of his way to make sure she got the arrests.
All of which makes you want to like Sorenson, except for one little thing: He is not all that likable. He's got an attitude -- lots of attitude -- and he takes very little guff off anyone, even Sipowicz. At one point, he finally says to Russell, "Like I said, I'm sorry for your loss." But he says it in a tone of voice that translates to, "I'm getting tired of your attitude, lady."
The script cleverly does not try to make us love this guy. The producers know that, just as some of the folks in the 15th resent Sorenson simply for trying to replace Simone, some of us in the audience resent Schroder simply because he is the actor replacing Smits. Love -- or even liking -- is not yet in the cards for the new guy.
What tonight's episode mainly does is show us Sorenson in action. At the end of the hour, all we know for sure is that he's a tough and highly competent detective. But he is also kind of interesting. There is a hard outer-shell sense of privacy about him that makes you want to know more.
That is no guarantee that Sorenson is ever going to matter to viewers half as much as Simone did. But that's not a half-bad start, considering how deeply we connected with the character who just died and that most of us in the audience are still pretty raw, too.
When: 10 to 11 tonight
Where: ABC (WMAR, Channel 2)
Pub Date: 12/01/98