Seeing tonight's season premiere of "NYPD Blue" made me mad all over again about ABC's crackpot decision to give its time slot to "Once and Again" until "Monday Night Football" ended. I forgot how great this series is when it's on its game, and "NYPD Blue" is definitely on its game tonight.
Much of the hour is spent with Detectives Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) and Danny Sorenson (Rick Schroder) investigating the possibility that two fellow officers beat to death a low-life known as Poodlehead Mikey.
Sipowicz, who still seems emotionally shellshocked from the death of his wife, starts out already seething over having to handle the distasteful job of investigating fellow cops.
Ten minutes into the investigation, he's in full, radiator's-about-to -blow mode as evidence against the two mounts.
Sorenson, meanwhile, is trying to keep his partner's spirits up.
"Hey, Andy, got 10 seconds for a personal observation?" Sorenson asks as he and Sipowicz start heading off in different directions to follow separate leads.
"Yeah, 10 seconds, sure," Sipowicz says turning back toward his partner with some irritation.
"You are a very attractive man," Sorenson says. "I don't know if you shed weight or what. But you are a very attractive man, Andy."
Sipowicz cannnot find words to express how strange he finds Sorenson's remark.
The investigation leads them deeper and deeper into the muck of urban life. Their star witness is a speed freak with skin burns under her nose from snorting crystal meth.
When they come to take her down to the station for questioning, she says she can't go because she's busy scrubbing the tiles in her shower.
Sipowicz sarcastically says they'll buy her a "new little brush" to do it with.
"Oral B, with the rubber gum tip," she says missing the sarcasm, "that's the best."
The squad room stuff in tonight's episode is great, especially Sipowicz's interrogation of one of the policemen under investigation, a hardnosed cop named Bradshaw.
But the very best moments come after Sipowicz and Sorenson head home -- the former to make supper for his little son, Theo (Austin Majors), the latter to make love to a fellow cop he locked horns with earlier in the day, Officer Mary Franco (Sheeri Rappaport).
The scene between Sipowicz and his son in the apartment that seems so dark and empty without Sylvia is both heartbreaking and life affirming in its touching, silly tenderness -- especially in contrast to the cold, hard ugliness and anger that dad wallowed in all day.
"I'm gonna kiss you," Theo says out of nowhere at dinner as Sipowicz tries to keep him from shmushing his mashed potatos all over the table.
"You're gonna kiss me right here in the middle of dinner?" Dad says, trying to put words between himself and the tidal wave of emotions he's feeling.
"Yeah, I'm gonna kiss you," Theo says.
Executive producers Steven Bochco and David Milch are known for getting nude sex scenes into "NYPD Blue," and the Franco-Sorenson scene starts out hot and sweaty. But their kissing becomes just as tender and touching when the lights are turned out on their bedroom scene and the curtain falls on this wise and winning hour.
Next week's episode is a winner, too, with a special treat for fans of "Homicide: Life on the Street." Remember Erik Todd Dellums as arch-villian Luther Mahoney? Dellums has a nifty role next week as a transgendered character named Inez.
(A note for "Homicide" fans and trivia nuts: Executive producer Tom Fontana says he wanted to use Dellums to play Luther's sister, Georgia Rae, in "Homicide," but NBC was uncomfortable with what it saw as crossdressing and said no.)
All of which is almost enough to make you forgive ABC for its handling of "NYPD Blue." But not quite.
I hate the ads they're running telling us that we're now going to get 20 straight weeks of new episodes -- like they did us some big favor by keeping it off the air four months. I think they're not only knuckleheads but shameless hypocrites, too.
But maybe that's just me plugging back into all that wonderful rage from Sipowicz.