NYPD Blue, Season 3, Episode 14
The Nutty Confessor
Story by Bill Clark & Gardner Stern
Teleplay by Gardner Stern
Directed by Mark Tinker
To skip straight down to the review, click here.

PLOT ONE: THE LATE SHIFT

The murder of the week has a certain twang to it - the stereo in the apartment of the latest murder victim is blaring country music when Andy and Bobby arrive to work the scene. One problem; the victim is black, and none of her preset radio stations suggest a hankering for Hank Williams. The walls of her bedroom (where she was stabbed to death) feature several messages written in blood, including "666" and "Dave and Jay made me do it," which Bobby takes to be an allusion to the late-night talk show wars.

The super says he saw a white man with a cut hand running from the building that night, but didn't spot any more detail. One of the victim's coworkers reluctantly tells Bobby that she (the victim) used to be on a constant husband-hunt at the law firm where they worked as legal secretaries, but had recently given up on uptight rich guys, largely due to her discovery of the pleasures of the drug Ecstacy. She mentions the names of a couple of honkytonk bars that the victim had started to frequent before she died.

The bartender at one of them - the Streets of Laredo tavern - isn't very forthcoming with information until Bobby offers to look through the pockets of the man's coat, which he abruptly shoved out of view when he saw a badge. To keep Bobby's hands off, he becomes a fountain of information, giving a very detailed description of a man he saw with the victim on the night of the murder, as well as finding a check the suspect used to pay his tab.

In the meantime, James and Adrianne (who are working backup) have found another potential suspect, a fellow named Puterbaugh who had his hand treated for a cut the night before at a local emergency room and who apparently gave a phony address on his admission form. A very nervous sort, Puterbaugh claims that he spent the night cooking a meal for an elderly shut-in as part of a community service program he belongs to, and that he cut his hand on a paring knife while washing her dishes. In addition, he says that he did write down his real address, but some dirt in a xerox machine apparently added a phantom zero to the end of it.

Andy still likes Puterbaugh for the murder - the shut-in lives in the same building that the murder took place in, but Bobby's not so sure. His hunch appears to be correct when the BCI sheet comes in on Clyde Fullner, their other suspect from the bar, loaded with priors.

The next day, they get a report that the victim's credit cards are being used down in Atlantic City. Because Andy has a court appearance, Bobby takes James. They spot Fullner going into the bathroom at one of the casinos, but he grabs a hostage before they can make an arrest. Fortunately, some fast talking from Bobby and a bit of amateur heroics from James diffuse the situation. Once Fullner realizes he's going to be arrested, his calm demeanor quickly vanishes, replaced by more demented spouting about how Letterman and Leno made him do it.

Bobby doesn't want Fullner to get off on some sort of insanity plea, but all his and James' attempts to elicit a coherent statement from Fullner prove futile. Eventually, Bobby decides to teach Fullner a lesson by staging his own little Precinct AfterSchool Special, and places Fullner in a holding cell along with what he claims is another nutball headed for Bellvue: Andy. Andy does a very convincing impression of a deranged, masochistic cannibal, and quickly scares Fullner into admitting to Bobby that he's sane.

PLOT TWO: SMOTHERLY LOVE

When Adrianne and James began their relationship, Adrianne quickly established that she wanted to wait before having sex, to make sure they got to know each other. But her announced two-month waiting period is over, and tonight's the night, a "secret" that the entire squad (and Donna) already seem to know about - largely due to the big mouth on Greg. Both are prepared - Adrianne has invested in several items from Victoria's Secret, and James has an assortment of condoms at his disposal (though he's having trouble picking a style).

As the shift moves along, the two start getting a bit frisky, even going so far as to talk openly about their dinner plans while brining in Mr. Puterbaugh for his interview. At Adrianne's apartment that night, they quickly abandon their dinner plans so that they can "do the other thing first."

And though things apparently go well, the next day at work reveals a side of Adrianne that's less than attractive: she's very clingy. When James announces that he's going down to AC with Bobby, Adrianne pesters him to find out when he'll be back, despite his protestations that he has no idea.

Later that day, as James is working on the paperwork for the Fullner bust, Adrianne attempts to apologize - she says that she gets nervous anytime something good starts to happen to her - but then promptly asks James what time he wants to go home. Again, he's not sure; again, she keeps pressing to get a specific time.

After Andy's theatrics in Holding lead to Fullner's confession, the rest of the squad engages in a bit of reminiscence over previous bits of acting they've done (including Medavoy's turn as a con man with the Black Box scam artist from last year). But the jovial mood is quickly brought to a halt by Adrianne, who very clearly wants James to leave with her then and there. James, ever eager-to-please, grabs his coat and follows Adrianne down the stairs.

PLOT THREE: THREE'S A CROWD

Medavoy and Russell work the shooting of Dr. Sidney Herman, a surgeon who was assaulted by two punks who stole his car. The married doctor is sitting on the steps of his (attractive female) office assistant's apartment building when the medics and the detectives arrive. While the EMT's take him to the hospital, Dale Epton (the assistant) tries to explain to the detectives that Dr. Herman was in the neighborhood trying to pick up some files from her apartment, but Greg and Diane suspect that the relationship is more than just professional, especially after Dale tells them about the custom wallet she gave Herman that was stolen.

Dr. Herman's reason for adultery rapidly becomes apparent when Jessica, his battleaxe of a wife, shows up at the precinct and demands that Medavoy arrest Dale immediately for causing her husband to be in that bad neighborhood. Greg tries to calm her down, but she refuses to listen and demands to speak to his supervisor. Fancy is a bit more blunt and tells her that there's no crime they could charge Ms. Epton with.

Meanwhile, a shoplifiting collar is found to have Herman's wallet on him, but he tells Russell that he picked it up after he some "dude" named Clarence drop it. He doesn't know Clarence's last name, but does know that he frequents a barbershop uptown. The establishment actually turns out to largely be a front for illegal craps games in the back, and the players don't appreciate Greg and Diane interrupting their game. One of them, though, a Norval Stevens, follows them outside, and offers to help them find Clarence if they'll help get his Cadillac out of police impound. Diane agrees, and Stevens takes them to Clarence's methadone clinic to help them make the bust.

Dr. Herman identifies Clarence in a lineup, but reveals that he wasn't the shooter. Clarence seems like the talkative sort - in the hallway, he rides Herman about having squealed like a girl when they shot him - and Greg and Diane are confident they'll get the name of the shooter. Dr. Herman's got troubles of his own, though - he's apparently going back to his wife for good, and Dale's not at all happy about it.

MISCELLANEOUS THREAD:

The Lieu, upon hearing that Bobby intends to go to Atlantic City, gives Simone five bucks and asks him to bet it on 22 at the roulette table. He also gives Bobby instructions for what to do if that wins - which prove to be totally unnecessary when the number doesn't hit.


Please forgive me if this review seems a bit disjointed. I'm fighting a nasty case of the hiccups, brought on by laughing so often and so hard while watching this episode.

Gardner Stern must be a psychic - he looked into the future, saw that Pat Buchanan would win the New Hampshire primary, and figured that we would all need something to brighten our day. Either that, or there's something in the water, because "The Nutty Confessor" was as far from the series' trademark decaying urban nightmare as you can get. (Well, that's not true - an hour of musical comedy featuring Kathie Lee Gifford would be as far as you can get, but that's neither here nor there.) From the parallel opening conversations where Adrianne and James each revealed what they thought would please the other (she bought sexy lingerie; he bought a ribbed condom) all the way through Andy's brilliant performance in Holding, I had a hard time keeping myself from laughing.

I certainly hope this episode assuages certain people's fears (you out there, Bruce Andre?) that the James/Adrianne relationship is going to be a soap opera. If this show is any indication, this office romance is going to be treated with a lot less gravity then, say, Bobby and Diane - you never would have heard those two awkwardly discuss whether they should have sex before or after dinner, that's for sure.

In addition, in a bit of a twist on the standard Blue romance, we have the woman being the overprotective sort. However, James seems to have much less relationship backbone than either Diane or Sylvia - how long he'll let Adrianne lead him around before he starts chafing at the bit remains to be seen. What I'm wondering is, was the fact that Adrianne didn't hear about James' stunt at the casino a writers' slip or a case of James not wanting her to find out? Now, I'm still not a big fan of the notion that everyone in the office (aside from Fancy) is dating everyone else - one office romance I'll buy, two is stretching the bounds of credibility, and three or four is just formulaic television - but I am at least glad that they're doing things a bit differently this time around.

Bobby's murder investigation, while fairly standard in terms of plot, had plenty of spice. We had two quirky witnesses/suspects early on in the victim's friend and Puterbaugh, whose nervous objections to James and Adrianne's dinner plans were handled perfectly. The highlight, though, was of course Andy's performance at the end. I had to rewatch that scene three times to catch all the dialogue because I was laughing so hard at Dennis Franz's genius. He makes you cry, and he makes you laugh - what possible flaw could you find in this man? :)

I'm sure some of you are wondering why I'm raving about this episode so much, yet constantly bitch about other comic relief stories/characters like Steve the Snitch. The reason I gripe about a lot of the others is that they feel forced or overplayed. Steve is a two-dimensional caricature. So, in a way, were the rabbis from "Torah! Torah! Torah!" Great comedy comes from taking fully-realized characters, putting them in a potentially absurd situation, and seeing how they react. In this case, we got a good comedy of manners about James and Adrianne's awkward attempts to consumate their romance, and it was all perfectly in character. So was Andy's bit of true crime theater. And while Andy was overplaying his part, Dennis Franz wasn't.

The third story, the investigation into the shooting of Dr. Herman, was the episode's only real weak link. I think I can see where they were attempting to go with it - a suggestion that Adrianne could one day turn out to be like Mrs. Herman - but it didn't work for me. For one thing, if my interpretation was correct, then it would have made a lot more sense to have James and Adrianne working the case - much like how Adrianne's decision to stop lying about being a lesbian was paralleled back in "Sorry, Wong Suspect" by the lying husband whose case they were working. For another, that final scene between Dr. Herman and Dale seemed to be missing a bit of exposition. If Herman was trying so hard to keep his affair a secret that he would lie to the cops about it, then why would she expect him to be at her place that night? And why did Greg and Diane seem so sure that Dale didn't realie how lucky she was to be rid of him? While Sidney was no prize, he's the unlucky one here, because he has to go back to his wife. I suppose an argument could be made for some sort of parallel with Medavoy's ongoing marital strife (with Dale as the stand-in for Donna), but that wasn't really brought up, either.

But a somewhat flat subplot is certainly not enough to spoil my immense enjoyment of the rest of this episode. Every once in a while, even the darkest show needs to lighten up a bit, as Blue did here quite nicely.

Shorter comments:

See ya in the funny papers...


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