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'NYPD Blue' looks ready to retire


I must be getting old; I can remember when showing bare behinds on "NYPD Blue" was a big deal.

"NYPD Blue" returns tonight for the start of its eighth season, and the hour ends with the bare behinds of two regular cast members. It's no big deal.

As much as I loved and still like "NYPD Blue," thanks mainly to Dennis Franz and the character he plays, Detective Andy Sipowicz, I have to admit there is not one new note played in either of the first two episodes I've seen.

Tonight's season premiere, which picks up the story line of Internal Affairs investigating the squad of the 15th precinct as to what they knew about the drug dealing of the ex-husband of departed Detective Jill Kirkendall, opens on one of the finest notes the series has ever played: Sipowicz's tenderness toward his son, Theo. Sipowicz, who is sweating out the possibility that his son has leukemia, is convinced the boy is looking better and wants a blood test that doctors are reluctant to give.

The first time Franz was nurturing toward Theo after the death of Sipowicz's wife, Sylvia, it was incredibly moving. The second time, it was still touching. Now, seeing it for what seems like the 10th time, you can still admire Franz as an actor, but the emotional well has been tapped one too many times.

There is action tonight. In addition to the Internal Affairs probe, Theo's illness and a budding romance among two detectives, the squad is investigating a triple homicide in which teen-age fast food workers were killed during a late night robbery.

And, yes, there's a big scene in the questioning room where Sipowicz and his colleagues vent their rage against life, death and the system by verbally beating up on a low-life. It's the "NYPD Blue" version of Det. Frank Pembleton pounding away on a suspect in "Homicide: Life on the Street."

But that's a very old note, too, for "NYPD Blue" - older even than bare behinds.

Tonight is not only the start of a new season for "NYPD Blue." It looks to me like the beginning of the end for a once-great series.

Season premiere

What: "NYPD Blue"

Where: WMAR (Channel 2)

When: 10 tonight

In brief: Only true blue fans will find much pleasure left in this series past its prime.

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