NYPD Blue, Season 3, Episode 11,
Burnin' Love

Story by Bill Clark and Leonard Gardner
Teleplay by Leonard Gardner
Directed by Perry Lang

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PLOT ONE: FIRESTARTER

Sipowicz and Simone (with a bit of help from night shift detective Vince Gotelli) handle a case that may be arson or may be murder. A dead female body was found horribly burned in the basement of an empty apartment building. The only distinguishing mark on the body is a unicorn tattoo on her right shoulder-blade.

The two pore over the missing persons reports and find out that a man named George Garabedian reported his adult daughter Angie missing several days ago. They find an exhausted Mr. Garabedian out in the streets, handing out "Have You Seen My Daughter?" flyers to passersby. He claims that his daughter didn't have a tattoo, and that he would know if she did. However, Johnny Arcotti, a friend of Angie's who was staying with her while his apartment was being renovated, is helping Mr. Garabedian with the search, and he confirms that Angie did in fact have a tattoo.

While Mr. Garabedian goes to get Angie's dental records, Andy and Bobby take Johnny back to the station to interview him. Something about Johnny bothers Bobby, who asks James to run him through BCI. Johnny seems a bit overeager to find out details about the case, so Bobby, just in case he was involved, lies and says they found fingerprints at the scene. Johnny suggests that Bobby check out Dmitri Goloff, a Russian guy who was fixated on Angie. As Bobby sees him out, he asks Johnny if he's ever been in trouble with the law. Johnny says no and leaves, at which point James tells Bobby that Johnny had been arrested for auto theft and pimping in the past. Andy gets a call from the coroner's office saying that the dental records match - Angie Garabedian is the dead girl. In addition, there was carbon in her lungs, which meant she was alive when she was lit on fire.

Dmitri - who once had a unicorn tattooed on his bicep in the hopes that it would get Angie interested in him - doesn't appear to be much of a suspect; when Andy tells him that Angie's dead, he bashes his head against the interrogation room table and weeps. Johnny's looking worse and worse, especially after one of his old partners in crime is shot dead while Andy and Bobby are interviewing Dmitri.

Johnny's wife (who was also staying with Angie) provides an alibi for him, for the murders of both Angie and Johnny's ex-sidekick. Mr. Garabedian, who gave Angie permission to let the Arcottis stay with her, refuses to believe that Johnny played a role in her death, and asks why more isn't being done to investigate Dmitri.

The phone dump from Angie's apartment pokes a few holes in Johnny's story, and also helps Andy and Bobby track down some of Johnny's other girlfriends. The first one they bring in was badly beaten, and she gives a confused account of her last few meetings with Johnny. According to her, Johnny was apparently going to get a lot of money from Mr. Garabedian, but then freaked out because one of his partners screwed up on some phone call.

The detectives unearth a day-old security videotape from a gas station that shows Johnny and his two ex-partners (including the one who got murdered today) buying a can of gasoline. That's not enough even for a warrant; they're going to have to break down Johnny in interrogation. The problem is, Mr. Garabedian has returned to the stationhouse with his lawyer, attempting to help out Johnny. Andy and Fancy manage to keep him distracted in the lobby while Bobby goes upstairs to talk to Johnny.

Johnny, ordinarily hyperkinetic, is particularly jumpy now, and Bobby repeatedly demolishes his story by carefully mentioning some new piece of evidence they have. Each time, Johnny changes his story some more, only to dig himself deeper and deeper. He claims that his two ex-partners kidnapped Angie in hopes of getting a ransom demand, but one of them completely botched the ransom call, at which point the two of them killed Angie and called up Johnny for help. Then, according to Johnny, he panicked and suggested they burn the body up and get the hell out of there. One problem, Bobby informs him: Angie was still alive when they lit her on fire. He tosses a yellow legal pad in front of Johnny and suggests he start writing.

PLOT TWO: MEDAVOY GETS A JACKPOT

Despite Marie's latest attempts at trying to make the marriage work, Greg has been spending more and more nights sleeping on the cot in Anti-Crime. Figuring that Medavoy has the free time, and could use the extra money, Fancy offers him a special double-shift detail, guarding noted numbers runner "Good News" Gates, who police recently discovered has a contract out on his life.

Greg arrives at Gates' apartment, and is quickly talked into a poker game with Good News and his gambler buddies. Greg has a fine old time, winning a good deal of money. As night dawns, though, he gets a call from division, informing him that the drug dealer who put out the hit on Good News has been murdered himself. Good News and his buddies greet this info surprisingly casually, especially Bob, a mammoth bodyguard-type who showed up late in the afternoon, and who tells Greg that he was shooting pool all day and has plenty of witnesses who'll back him up.

Greg reports his suspicions about Bob to the detectives handling the case and returns to the 15th precinct to crash. He proudly brags to Bobby that he won over three hundred bucks, playing against professional gamblers. Bobby deflates Greg's ego balloon by suggesting that maybe Good News and his friends were just trying to keep Greg happy.


As a by-the-numbers, business-as-usual episode of NYPD Blue, "Burnin' Love" was actually not all that bad. Had it aired at a different time - say, as the third or fouth episode of the season - I might possibly have given it a positive (or, at least, non-negative) review. But this episode has two strikes against it: 1)It aired right after what was by far the best episode of the season, "The Backboard Jungle," which would make almost any episode suffer in comparison; and 2)It failed to carry over *any* of the tensions built up in that previous show.

All I really would've needed to be satisfied would be a few moments of tension between Andy and Fancy - Andy tries to run the case for the Lieu, only to have Fancy ignore him and ask Bobby all the questions and leave Andy to glare at him, that sort of thing. If a viewer had missed "Backboard Jungle," they would have no hint whatsoever that there were any problems between the two. Heck, if it wasn't for the brief mentions of Medavoy's latest marital problems, this episode probably (as someone else has already pointed out) would've fit in much better as an early season 2 episode illustrating Andy and Bobby's gradually evolving partnership.

Now, I realize that every show has to have completely stand-alone episodes once in a while, but this isn't Hunter we're watching every week - no episode can be allowed to totally exist in a vacuum, which, for the most part, this did.

That being said, let me talk about the things I liked, most notably Bobby's interrogation of Johnny at the end. Bobby can be a very smart guy in the interrogation room (remember Webster?), but too often that gets downplayed as both he and Andy wind up playing Bad Cop and bouncing suspects off walls. Remember, as one of my professors used to say, "crime makes you stupid," and if you give a guy like Johnny enough rope, he'll hang himself. "You were with your wife at the time? Then how come our phone records show you calling her beeper while she was at work?" "Oh, you haven't seen those guys lately? Then how come we've got a videotape from last night showing you buying gasoline with them?" "Oh, you only helped them burn her after she was already dead? Then how come she had carbon in her lungs?" That's the value of having evidence - it gives you interview ammunition besides the old standards like "Your buddy gave you up," "Help clear your conscience," and "You don't want to get the death penalty, do you?" I hope we can actually see more varied police work like this in the future.

The rest of the storyline tread fairly familiar ground: horrible death, grief-stricken parent, etc. And Medavoy's storyline, while somewhat entertaining, really didn't seem to have much of a point - it struck me as one of Bill Clark's shaggy-dog police stories that they used to pad out the episode.

In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that they didn't intend to do this episode originally - it's just so strange to see an episode with only two storylines, both of which were relatively slight, and no real personal plots whatsoever. Maybe this was a last-minute episode cobbled together because of a deadline problem, or a scheduling foul-up, or because they wanted to avoid showing a major episode before February sweeps start. Then again, if that's the case, why would "Backboard Jungle" have been scheduled to air in January?

Sweeps start next week, thankfully - I'll tolerate a mediocre episode once in a while, but not on a regular basis.

Shorter takes:


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