Sunday, June 24, 2012

my 27 favorite episodes of my favorite tv show

True story: my favorite television show of all time, is not on any major cable channel’s rotation.  Worse yet, only the first five seasons are available on DVD, meaning my three favorite seasons (six, seven, and twelve, the last one) aren’t available anywhere.

Until I discovered Amazon’s instant access queue, where for a small price, you can rewatch television classics as nature intended them – unedited, in their original format.  (And a huge “Hell To The Mo Fo Yes!” to the Supreme Court this week for ruling the FCC unconstitutional.  Quick, somebody (re)start PTV in a hurry – we all need more “Cheeky Bastard” and “Dogs Humping” in our Tuesday night viewing rotation!) 

Or if Peter Griffin and his loyal sidekick Brian are feeling really frisky, bring back the greatest show television has ever offered the viewing public: "NYPD Blue".

After searching this site and realizing that I’ve yet to do a post devoted to my favorite show?  Let's rectify that.  Below are my 27 favorite episodes of “Blue”, and why.

(If you weren’t a “Blue” fan, stick around – maybe you’ll become intrigued enough to at least give the top five rated episodes a look.  Especially number two.  You won’t regret doing so …)

27. “True Confessions” (season one, episode four).

Why: Honestly, it feels wrong rating this one as low as I did … but that’s how much more I enjoyed the other 26 appearing in this countdown.  If the Pilot episode gave you arguably the most stunning start to a show in television history (we’ll get to it), then this one certainly let viewers know that this show held nothing sacred, that everything was capable of happening, up to and including killing off one of the major air-time characters as the show began.

Best Scene: Josh “4B” Goldstein, played by a pre-“Friends” David Schwimmer*, decides to take matters into his own hands in the laundry room … and is promptly blown away by the men who mugged him in the pilot episode.  For a show not even a month into its run to off a pivotal character (at least initially) was unheard of up to that point.  For a show that nearly 100 ABC affiliates initially refused to air to take that chance?  Was balls of steel.  It was Steven Bochco and David Milch’s ultimate test of their viewers faith in them to deliver a quality show.  Our faith was well deserved.

(*: and post-“Wonder Years”.  Yes, Mr. Schwimmer was Karen’s boyfriend turned husband the last two years on that awesome show, his first big break in television.)

26. “The Vision Thing” (season twelve, episode six).

Why: because everything about John Clark and Sipowitz’ relationship (and Clark’s refusal to deal with what happened in episode 13 on this list) finally comes to a head, thanks to some divine intervention.

Best Scene: without question, it’s Sipowitz finally asking for help from the one source he distrusted more than anything (God) … and God responds by having Bobby Simone appear to talk him through the crisis with his partner.  Scene ends with Simone fading to black as Sipowitz reassures his partner that he’s got his back, no matter what.

Should Also Note: if not for ABC spoiling this two minutes into the episode via the opening credits, this would rank at least ten spots higher.  Seeing Jimmy Smits as a “special guest star” gave away the ending.  The fact that you knew what was coming, and it still ranks in the upper 10% of “Blue”’s episodes, indicates just how great the payoff was.

25. “Voir Dior This” (season six, episode twenty one).

Why: because the show known for shocking turn(s) of events, pulls the ultimate stunner, as the Cullinen trial for the murder of PAA Mayo reaches its apex.

Best Scene: I know I should say “Sylvia getting shot by Mayo’s father, and dying in Andy’s arms, yet another in a long line of tragic events in that poor man’s life” … but honestly, it’s just a moment that does it for me – when PAA John Irwin emerges from the bathroom in that bright yellow sweater covered in blood, after being shot by Mayo’s father.  The contrast in styles is haunting – the bright yellow outfit, the blood red stain.  Beyond haunting.

Honorable Mention Scene: the entire Sinclaire / Sipowitz showdown in the courtroom.  Sinclaire features more heavily in episodes coming up … but this was something nearly five years in the making, and it pays off beautifully.  (I know I’ll say this more than once in this post, but screw it, anyone who loved “Blue”, “Deadwood” or “Hill Street Blues” knows where I’m going here – David Milch (and Steven Bochco) might take four years to return to a seemingly one-off subplot … but they always got back there.  A tactic David Chase stole brilliantly on “The Sopranos”.)

24. “Taillight’s Last Gleaming” (season four, episode fifteen).

Why: because while it took two years for the setup to pay off, holy God did it pay off (the payoff is in my top two favorite episodes, keep going).  And this episode isn’t half bad either.  The basic premise: Lt. Fancy and his wife (black folks) are pulled over by a white cop in the Bedford section of Queens for “driving while black”.  Fancy is incensed and wants the cop transferred to an area of the city with a heavy black population as punishment.  Instead, the cop winds up being transferred into Fancy’s precinct.

Best Scene: when Fancy and Captain Bass have it out over where the sleazy cop should wind up.  Fancy ultimate sees Bass’ point of view, and signs off on transferring the guy into his unit, if only to try to “protect” him … but you can see in the closing scene that the rage, the anger, is still there in the lieutenant, and it ain’t going away.  Again, it took two years to pay off, but man, just wait for it.

23. “Aging Bulls” (season three, episode seven).

Why: because like the previous entry, this one launches a theme that takes a while to pay off (in this case, three years).  But the best shows do that – and nobody does it better than David Milch.

Best Scene: Bobby and Patsy on the roof, with the pigeons, as Bobby realizes his personal hero’s Alzheimers is robbing him of the memories they had.  Few people can do grief as well as Jimmy Smits, and he nails it here.

Also: in the interest of full disclosure, if I was ranking these based on how much I’d watch them before getting tired of them, versus how good the material was, this would rank second.  This episode never gets told to me, probably because I was going through the same thing (sorta), in that my grandma was being robbed of her mind by Alzheimers at the time this episode aired.  Watching her dissolve from calling me “Steve”, to calling me “Drew” (my brother), to calling me “Brent” (my cousin), to eventually not knowing me at all, still makes me sad.  It’s why you won’t see any taunting of broncos owner patrick j. bowlen’s condition on this site.  I may hate the man, I despise his franchise, and I cannot wait to piss on the tombstone of his franchise quarterback … but no one deserves to spend their final years like that, not even mr. bowlen.  Let’s move on before I am accused of having a conscience and a soul …

22. “Two Clarks in a Bar” (season nine, episode three).

Why: because watching Sipowitz and John Senior (played by Joe Spano, who you may recognize from “Hill Street Blues” or more likely, as Agent Fornell on “NCIS”) square off in a turf battle over John Junior is epically fun television.

Best Scene: the funeral and burial of Danny Sorenson (played piss poorly by Rick Schroder).  Let me put it this way – you KNOW you’ve created an incredible cast and show structure when I rank you as my favorite show of all time … and for three seasons, the apex of the show (seasons 6-8 of 12), I HATED the co-lead of the show.

21. “Lost Time” (season eight, episode eighteen).

Why: because it marked the departure of my favorite female character on the show, Diane Russell (played by Kim Delaney).  In real life, Delaney was leaving to star in a new Bochco show “Philly”, a show that deserved far better than a one-and-done season.  On the show, it was written to where Russell was finally going to take some time to grieve over, and deal with, the loss of Bobby.

Best Scene: Diane’s phone call to Danny, to inform him of her decision to leave the 15th Precinct.  Truth be told, the Sorenson character started out very well (the third episode of his tenure ranks in my top two episodes coming up).  But when Milch left after season seven, Bochco went down the road Milch did his damnest to refuse to touch, and really tried to pair up Danny and Diane.  It was a disaster, as Milch (I suspect) knew it would be.  Bochco’s only solution was to write both characters out of the show, the move had backfired so spectacularly that neither character was salvageable.

20. “Closing Time” (season three, episode twenty one).

Why: because of every “Blue” episode to ever air (all 261 of them), this one jerked your emotions the most, even more than number one on this list (which, in the interest of full disclosure, is my favorite 90 minutes of television ever broadcast to an audience).

Best Scene: arguably the finest scene in “Blue”’s history – Andy, finally hitting rock bottom – off the wagon, refusing to deal with his son’s death, drunkenly getting beat up and assaulted outside a dive bar – uttering those four haunting words of reply to Bobby request / demand: “will you help me?”  It took Milch and Bochco three years to completely destroy Andy … and it’s not like they were dealing with a lovable guy from the outset.  The next nine seasons, watching them (and after Milch left, Bill Clark) redeem him?  Was / is well worth the investment of time.

19. “Dress for Success” (season twelve, episode one).

Why: because even though the show was entering its twelth (and ultimately final) season, Bochco and Bill Clark still had a few tricks up their sleeve.  Enter Lt. Bale.

Best Scene: Andy sitting at his desk, realizing that Bale has been sent to clean house in the 15th, realizing his days on the job are now certainly numbered … and having no idea what to do, as Medavoy asks him what their plan to outlast the new Lew is.  For the first time, Andy didn’t have an idea how to proceed.  And the look on Lt. Bale’s face (played by Currie Graham) as he watches Andy?  Is devilish in nature.  It set the table for a really fun run of episodes … that paid off with a shocking finish.

(And since said finish does not appear on this countdown, it’s season twelve, episode eighteen, “Lenny Scissorhands”.  I won’t give it away, in hopes you’ll send a few cents towards Dennis Franz’ (and especially Currie Graham, who played Lt. Bale)’s retirement fund by purchasing a few episodes at Amazon … but you will NEVER see the demise of Lt. Bale coming.)

18. “In the Still Of the Night” (season eight, episode 10).

Why: because the main storyline of Captain Bass’ wife being stabbed is really good.  Because for the first time all season, you can see there was a plan on what to do with Danny post-Diane (albeit a sh*tty one).  And because the Baldwin Jones / ADA Valerie Haywood hook-up had serious potential.

Oh -- and because every die hard fan of the show knows why the title elicits a smile every time you think of the episode’s title.

Best Scene: D and Valerie, dancing on their first date, to “In the Still Of the Night”.  At the risk of sounding racist, I’m just not into black chicks … but Garcelle Beauvois is SMOKING hot.  She can’t out-act a corpse, but SMOKING hot.

(In case you aren’t a die hard, there’s a scene in one of the early seasons, I believe season two, but might have been three, where Sipowitz and Simone are on a stakeout, and “In the Still of the Night” comes on the radio, and they burst out into song … and not only do they pretty much lose it, but Bill Clark (at that point, the advisor on the show, later the lead writer) is seen losing it as well.  It’s one of those comical blooper moments you always laugh at in the outtakes … only Milch and Bochco left it in the first run material.  It’s great stuff.  So great that both Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits, in the lookback at Blue before the finale, named it their favorite moment on the set.)

17. “For Whom the Skell Rolls” (season two, episode two).

Why: because in an embarrassment of riches, Bochco and Milch didn’t have anything for Amy Brenneman to do … so they wrote off her character (Janice Licalsi) by having her found guilty of offing a mob driver in a revenge act.

(And in the ultimate act of irony, the show that hastened “Blue”’s demise in the Nielsen ratings?  Was Brenneman’s “Judging Amy”, airing opposite “Blue” for its final six seasons … and which actually is pretty damned decent in its own right.)

Best Scene: when her attorney, James Sinclaire (played perfectly over multiple seasons by Daniel Benzali) turns to Janice after the verdict and deadpans “not bad for a shyster lawyer!”  (Licalsi got six months for murdering a limo driver.  Not bad indeed.)

16. “Oh Mama” (season nine, episode twelve).

Why: because other than the story arc in seasons eleven and twelve dealing with the fallout from Clark’s father’s and girlfriend’s suicides, this was John Clark’s finest hour.  Mark-Paul Gosselaar has arguably never had a better hour of television credited to him that this one, especially the last ten minutes of this episode.

Best Scene: when Clark and Sipowitz leave the molested son in the holding cell, to be fed into the NYC penal system, and Clark turns to Sipowitz in horror and says “what the hell have we just done?”  Which is exactly the reaction of the viewer as well.  Sometimes, there is no black and white, there’s only an ugly, ugly shade of grey.

15. “Along Came Jones” (season seven, episode seven).

Why: because of all the later additions to the cast, Baldwin Jones was probably my favorite.  This was his debut episode.  Also, it explains all the cheap non-funny “whoa, along came Jones!” jokes I used to drop at “former employer” about DJ when he’d arrive for work / walk in the room / insert scenario here looking as self-confidently full of himself as Henry Simmons does in the hysterical meeting with Medavoy in the locker room (keep reading).  They weren’t funny then … they’re even less funny now.  Although I still think “Dustyland” can bring the hosue* down.  I mean, house, pardon me, house.  (rimshot!)

(*: along with “Zues”, the name of his dog; “criminitly”, I guess to describe an act that is criminal in nature, “contriciptin”, which he apparently has managed to practice better than he spells it so far in life, “the Frye!”, a band best known for butchering the National Anthem at the Title Game this April … and my favorite, “grouse”, to describe something repulsive.  Yes, all of these are verifiable gaffes.  As our buddy Damien put it: “grouse is a bird”.  Who needs Joe Biden when you have your own gaffe machine in-house!  Oh, God love ya, what am I talking about?!?!)

Best Scene: and one of the funniest in “Blue”’s history – Medavoy walks into the locker room and sees his new partner shirtless, and nearly has a coronary on sight.  Let’s just say, D is built like a freaking tank.  (Kinda like DJ is.  Between him and Frank (aka “Tony Gonzalez”) in their prime, I had no chance at the best random hookup when we’d hit up a bar on a Friday night.  NO.  CHANCE.)

14. “Pilot” (season one, episode one).

Why: because when 100 plus affiliates refuse to air the first episode of the most hyped show of the 1993-1994 season, it’s probably worth tuning in to see.  And man, was it.  TV had never seen a character like Andy Sipowitz before.  Those of you who love “The Sopranos”, “The Wire”, “Justified”, “Breaking Bad”, “Sons of Anarchy”, hell even “Rescue Me”, none of those characters existed prior to Andy Sipowitz.  He revolutionized television overnight.  For the better.

Best Scene: I have two.  First, when the perps break in and shoot Sipowitz while he’s in bed with a prostitute, the “holy f*cking sh*t!” ending to a pilot of a lifetime.  Secondly, when Sipowitz tells off his future wife to “ipsa this you pissy little bitch” as he grabs his crotch.  NYPD Blue was the first show to truly show real life crime and punishment as it actually is.  We’re all better for it.

(Side note: when I left for college, I had to confirm that WFAA, Channel 8 in Dallas, was finally showing “Blue”.  WFAA refused to air the first couple seasons.  Thankfully, by the time I got there for seasons three through six, cooler heads had prevailed.  Otherwise, I’d have been reimbursing my folks for Fed-Ex’ing a video every Wednesday morning to me.)

13. “Nude Awakening” (season ten, episode sixteen).

Why: for two reasons.  First, the FCC levied the largest fine in broadcast history ($1.4 million) against ABC for airing the nude scene to open the episode.  (ABC appealed, and won the appeal).  God, the overreaction of the religious right to anyone having fun in life just never fails to amaze me.  Secondly, the best scene was so out of left field “what the f*ck?!?!” mind-blowing, that it has to rank somewhere in the top 10 percent of “Blue” episodes.

Best Scene: when Clark Jr and Sipowitz go to check on Clark Senior … and see that he’s blown his brains out, unable to cope with copping to the IAB investigation into Junior.  The look of horror on MPG’s face as Clark walks into the scene is as genuine as it comes.  And to ABC’s credit, they actually managed to keep this stunner under wraps (unlike Jimmy Smits’ return in “The Vision Thing” a couple years later).  I can still remember sitting in the old recliner on the back deck on 53rd Terrace, enjoying a cigar and an adult beverage, and screaming “holy f*cking sh*t!” when this scene played out.  Well done guys.  Well done.  (Plus, it set up the final stage of Sipowitz’ march to redemption: saving his partner, just as Bobby had saved him.)

12. “It Takes a Village” (season five, episode five).

Why: because of all the episodes “Blue” ever aired, this one might be the most horrific, particularly regarding Simone’s story with a mother who will do anything to support her habit.  But mostly because:

Best Scene: the interrogation of the child rapist.  Watching him play Andy against Andy’s natural reactions … is probably why “Criminal Minds” is a hit show.  (I wouldn’t know: I refuse to watch it.  If I want to look into the mind of a sadist, I’ll just walk across the street and see what low-class of life is frequenting the strip mall.)  A fascinating look into the mental makeup of a horrific human being.

11. “Guns and Rosaries” (season one, episode twenty one).

Why: Blue’s resident historian, Alan Sepinwall of and formerly of the Star-Ledger, argues this is Blue’s finest hour.  It’s certainly amongst its best. 

Best Scene: Andy attends his first AA meeting.  The first of many steps in a long journey that winds up with …

10. “Bale to the Chief” (season twelve, episode nineteen).

Why: because the redemption of Andy Sipowitz was complete, as Andy passes the sergeant’s exam, and is assigned to replace Lt. Bale as commander of the 15th Precinct.

Best Scene: when Andy is saluted by his fellow officers on his way to the promotion / swearing in.  But not because of Andy’s recognition – what gets me in this scene is that Clark Junior is the one who organized it, and is the first to salute, then applaud, as Andy makes his way down the reception line.  Just as Andy’s redemption from the brink was complete … so was Junior’s.

9. “Lost Israel (Parts One and Two)” (season five, episodes eight and nine).

Why: it’s like the “Across the Sea” episode from the last season of “Lost”: either you love this, or you hate it, there’s no in-between.  (Ironically, I hate “Across the Sea” … and love “Lost Israel”.  Goes to show you …)

Best Scene: when Andy asks Fancy to take him off the case, after he comes unglued when Brian is found dead, and Israel commits suicide.  One of the first times Sipowitz manages to check his emotions at the door, so to speak, rather than take them out on the suspect.

Also: the ending, where Simone gets the confession out of Brian’s father, is eerily addictive television.  For once, Andy isn’t the heavy beating the crap out of the perp.

8. “This Old Spouse” (season seven, episode twenty).

Why: because it’s season seven’s finest hour.  In the interest of full disclosure, I probably like season seven, start to finish, better than any other season.  And for one scene in particular:

Best Scene: when Diane turns down Denby’s offer of a drink.  The interaction between Russell and Denby was fascinating to watch play out over a couple seasons (culminating in Russell offing Denby midway through season eight).  Denby knew every one of Russell’s demons and exactly how to push her buttons.  The scene here, with them in the booth table at the bar?  Is so creepy its outstanding.

7. “In the Wind” (season eight, episode twenty).

Why: because Danny Sorenson dies.  Enough said.

Best Scene: the final one, where the bar / strip club (appropriately named “Tailfeathers”) has been shot up, Sorenson is missing, and the search for one of the 15th’s not-even-remotely-finest is on. 

Should Also Note: in a sick, sick way, “Blue” caught a break here, in that they didn’t start airing until midseason (“Blue” was the first show to do the “non-stop” airing schedule with no reruns, starting in season seven).  9/11 happened just as filming on season nine was beginning, and it gave Bochco the out from Sorenson he needed – he had Sorenson’s body found in the rubble of the WTC.  Led to a sad episode to open season nine, but unlike “The West Wing”, where Aaron Sorkin had to hastily throw together a sub-rate episode to deal with the tragedy, at least “Blue” got to diagram out how to incorporate it into their world.

6. “Moving Day” (season twelve, episode twenty).

Why: because it’s the series finale.  Because Bill Clark and Steven Bochco throw us a fun look back at the start of the series with two rookie cops that are obvious carbon copies of Andy and John Kelly (played by David Caruso).  And because it’s the last hour of greatness this show ever delivered.

Best Scene: when Clark and Jones (now paired together) say their final goodbye (of the night) to Andy.  None of the three actors can hold it together, although they try their best.  In their defense?  Every fan of the show is visibly shaken as well watching this.

5. “Honeymoon at Viagra Falls” (season five, episode twenty two).

Why: because it’s the last time all is right in Bobby’s world, as he marries his girl Diane.  Andy gets good news from his doctor regarding his battle against prostate cancer.  And ADA Cohen finally gets a meaningful storyline.

Best Scene: the wedding, of course.

4. “Brothers Keepers” (season six, episode four).

Why: because rarely, if ever, does the “set up” episode to a finale actually do anything other than set up the action.  David Milch so wonderfully wrote “Blue” that, by the time this hour was done, you still had no idea if Bobby would live or die, and you were leaning towards live, based on …

Best Scene: when Lt. Fancy convinced the cop’s widow to donate his heart to Bobby.  I don’t want to imagine how painful losing your partner in life would be, especially via a violent act.  But to somehow, as a complete stranger, figure out the exact right words to say, to get her to sign off on letting the doctors dig out her husband’s heart (meaning, there’s no doubt about it, he’s dead), and give it to a fellow cop you only know by reputation, takes balls of steel.  And for Lt. Fancy, to do this task for a man who you’re not completely fond of, and whose partner you are four episodes away (two in this countdown) from literally throwing down with as racial bombs are hurled around the room?  Awesome. 

And this scene is so freaking good, that if you watched this show live at the time, you were pissed you had to wait seven days for the resolution.

Footnote: I realize not a ton of “Blue” fans will rate this episode as highly as I did, and that’s cool.  This is the “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead” episode of “Lost” for me – I so thoroughly enjoyed it, so loved it, that it rates far higher with me than with an objective observer.  (Most “Lost” fans would rate “Tanaka” at best in the 50-60 range (out of 121) … I rate it in my top 10.)

The remaining three, in some order, are not only my favorites, but the best “Blue” ever cranked out, and even if you never saw an episode of the show, you’d have your emotions tugged watching them for a first time … but I think I like the order I have them in.  Definitely one on top.  But two and three I could be debated into switching, starting with …

3. “A Death In the Family” (season three, episode twenty).

Why: because for most “Blue” fans, this is either your favorite, or second favorite episode.  For me, it’s third, because I like the one I put at two slightly more.  But being 3rd out of 261 is a helluva achievement.

Bochco and Milch were setting you up all spring for a “major death” in the Blue universe.  The one person every fan of this show prayed said death wouldn’t be, was Andy Junior.  Finally reconciled with his father, finally forging a relationship with Sipowitz … only to be gunned down outside a hamburger stand in the middle of the night, a senseless, no-reason-for-it drive-by homicide that finally drug Andy to rock bottom – off the wagon, back on his mean streak, and set up the awesome scene mentioned earlier, when Bobby demands Andy ask for his help before he’ll give it to him.

Best Scene: when Andy shows up on Katie’s doorstep.  If you don’t get at least a little choked up as his ex-wife (and Andy Junior’s mother) realizes her son is gone, you don’t have a conscience.  Also, this sets up (in typical Bochco / Milch fashion) a storyline that takes 2 ½ years to pay off … but it pays off big time, at least for me, when we get to number one.

2. “Raging Bulls” (season six, episode eight).

Why: the fact that three of my four favorite episodes of this series aired within a month of each other, somewhat surprises me … but also shows just how dialed in Milch, Bochco, Clark and company were come the fall of 1998.

This episode picks up where “Taillight’s Last Gleaming” left off two years earlier, sorta kinda.  While pursuing a fleeing suspect, a black cop is shot by a white officer responding to the scene.  The black cop had failed to wear the “color of the day”, to clearly differentiate an undercover officer from the actual suspects.

OOH, a special “racially charged episode”?  Those always fly well!  But even better?  The white cop who shot the black cop … is the one who pulled over Lt. Fancy three years earlier, that ignited his racial frustration.

This time, though, it’s not the officer Fancy is gunning for.  Nope, the fight that’s been 5 plus years in the making is about to break out, as Sipowitz takes the white cop’s side … and Fancy takes the black cop’s side.

After arguing in the boss’ office, Andy and Fancy take it to the locker room, where a full on brawl develops, as an appalled Sorenson (only two weeks on the job) attempts to keep his boss and his partner from killing each other … but only after Sipowitz drops the(unedited) N bomb to his black boss. 

And as if that isn’t good enough, Fancy and the cop (who works under him now, Officer Symanski) finally get around to discussing the situation, and Fancy and Symanski nearly throw down.

Needless to say, on a couch in Lake Arlington, this (at the time) hot as hell, 5 days away from college graduation senior sat on a couch with my jaw on the ground … and considering I lived with two minorities, it was probably best they weren’t home.  This episode rocked your view(s) of racism to their core … and then some.  Especially the ending.

Best Scene: I know I should pick the brawl(s) … but honestly, the almost ending -- Symanski putting Fancy in his place is the best scene.  When Symanski explains the reason for his apprehension of black people (he was beaten up in a park by three black guys on one of his first days on the job), and then notes to Fancy that really, this is all on Art, because if Art hadn’t transferred him to his precinct, none of this would have happened?  That’s a frank discussion that sadly probably wouldn’t make network television today. 

But -- the look on Fancy’s face as he realizes he’s every bit the racist that Symanski (and Sipowitz) are, is one of Blue’s finest hours.  Leading up to:

Second Best Scene: Fancy trying to reconcile with Sipowitz as they leave for the night.  Both know they’re in the wrong for the brawl, but for totally opposite reasons.  To see two bigoted individuals of different colors try to find a common ground to co-exist, was one of “Blue”’s finest hours.  (And to their credit, the writers never let go of this, all the way until James McDaniel’s Fancy left two years later … and replaced him with Esai Morales’ Lt. Rodriguez, ensuring the racial dialogue would continue.)

But one episode stands above all others … and it is my favorite episode of television ever broadcast, ninety minutes of perfection (for the most part) …

1. “Hearts and Souls” (season six, episode five).

Why: because it was Jimmy Smits’ exit from the show.  Because it showed Sylvia and Andy’s relationship at its core.  Because it brought full circle the emotional reaction of both Katie and Andy to Andy Junior’s death.  Because it brought full circle the Patsy and Bobby “hero and worshipper” storyline from “Aging Bulls”.  And because if you aren’t a tearful wreck as Andy grabs Bobby’s hand and notes “I’ll take care of her” as his final goodbye to his partner and best friend, to say nothing of Bobby then realizing he can “let go”, and giving the “I quit” hand motion to Dr. Carraras and Diane, then you have more control of your emotions than I do.

And because rarely, if ever, does an episode of television as heavily hyped as “Hearts and Souls” was live up to the hype.  It did, and then some.

Best Scene: there’s quite a few to choose from.  Patsy “setting Bobby free” certainly qualifies.  Ditto Andy, sitting in Katie’s apartment, realizing that his ex-wife is an alcoholic just like him, because she can’t deal with their son’s death.  (The scene will get to you, trust me, especially the footprint mold.)  Bobby and Diane’s hysterical exchange to open the episode is a keeper.  Dr. Carraras risking his career to give Bobby the dignified exit he deserved.  Bobby himself waving the hand at the end, to indicate he was done fighting, and Diane’s final acceptance of that.

But my favorite scene, and I’d argue the best, is when Sylvia enters the 15th, and approaches Andy regarding Katie’s DUI case.  She’s managed to work out a plea, which relieves Andy … then sends him into an emotional outpouring that culminates with his tearfully noting: “I never thought I’d make another friend … and now he’s going to die.”

Sylvia’s response: “you don’t know that.”  Andy’s reply: “he told me in his eyes”.  To see Sipowitz moved to depressed emotion, well hell, that happened all the time on this show.  To see him go there WITHOUT hitting up a bar, hitting up a perp, or offering a couple twenties to a hooker?  Was unheard of up until now.  In “Blue”’s darkest hour, Milch and Bochco began to write their main character’s ultimate redemption.

And that probably explains why I love this show so much – no matter how dark life gets, it can get better.  So please, TNT?  FX?  (Both of which used to air “Blue”).  Hell, ION?  Bring this show out of retirement! 

If only so I can stop paying $1.99 every time I want to see television at its finest …

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"Here you come again. Just when I'd begun To get myself together. You waltz right in the door, Just like you've done befor...