NYPD Blue Summary/Review by guest reviewer Alan Sepinwall aka sepinwal@stwing.org
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

"Take My Wife, Please"
Season 11, Episode 13
3/9/04
Story by Bill Clark and Keith Eisner
Teleplay by Keith Eisner
Directed by Dennis Dugan

Amanda had to take some time off for a personal matter, so it's time for my annual pinch-hit review. But first, as always, we have the...

SUMMARY

THE RIGHT CALL

Andy and John catch the murder of Alex Palmer, an investment advisor shot in the head while jogging through Tompkins Square Park. A group of British tourists turn out to be lousy witnesses, though one takes the time to snap a picture of the detectives and their DOA. Palmer's wife Kelly is distraught, but the only enemies she can think of are investment clients who might be mad at losing their shirts in the dot.com bust a while back.

Alex's partner Gavin McCulloch is a bit too inquisitive about the status of the investigation, and eventually admits that Alex was having an affair with a woman named Janet Grafton... who turns out to be a uniform cop from the 5th Precinct... who happens to be in the process of getting separated from Scott Grafton, a hot-tempered uniform cop from the Two-Five.

Scott, who has refused to divorce Janet, or even move out of their home, is angry to be questioned by the detectives alibis that he was at the gym at the time of the murder. A phone call from Connie to the gym disproves that, and Scott then claims that he was tailing Janet in hopes of catching her with another man. He says he had no knowledge of Alex Palmer, but the veins in his forehead are on the verge of bursting whenever he discusses Janet's "cheating" and his own revenge fantasies.

Tony wants Andy and John to alert IAB as soon as they decide that Scott is their guy, but John has a more pressing call to make: he's convinced Scott is a danger to himself, Janet and others and wants to place a call to the department's Early Intervention unit. Andy warns him that this is a big step: lots of cops have to blow off steam, and if you reported all of them to Early Intervention, the entire department would be assigned to the rubber gun squad. But Junior is still hung up on his father's suicide. If he had called Early Intervention when he saw his dad slipping away, they might have taken his guns away and Senior would still be alive. Andy doesn't want his partner torturing himself and suggests he place the call just to improve his peace of mind.

John makes the call, and sure enough, Scott is placed on modified assignment and ordered to turn in his weapons -- and he wants to take a swing at John for doing it. Andy defuses the situation temporarily and tries to focus on the case.

They catch a break when a single mother named Marilyn Grabber brings in her teenage son Evan, who came home this morning with a gun in his knapsack that matches the caliber used to kill Alex Palmer. Evan tells a story about finding the gun but keeps changing the details, until Andy figures out that Scott isn't their shooter: Evan is. Turns out he bought the gun from a kid at school to get back at some older guys who mugged him; after spending a week in the park waiting for revenge, he fired the gun to see what it felt like and accidentally hit Alex. Andy advises Mrs. Grabber to get her son a lawyer.

That night, John gets a page from Bellvue: Janet and Scott were both brought in, Janet with a mashed-up face, Scott with a bullet to the shoulder. After her shift, Janet started packing to move out, Scott beat on her, and when he came at her with a baseball bat, she shot him. "If he'd had his gun on him, he would've shot me," she says. "He would've killed me." Junior, glad he alerted Early Intervention, stays to comfort her.

MEET THE NEW BOSS, DIFFERENT FROM THE OLD BOSS

It's Tony's last day as boss of the 15th squad, but no one knows who'll be replacing him. John Irvin is passing around an oversized farewell card, but Andy, still sour over the news of T-Rod's retirement, only scribbles "Hope it works out." (Junior and Connie eventually guilt him into adding "Good luck.")

As the shift moves along, uniform cops start carting box after box of the new boss' personal effects into Tony's office. As Andy is complaining about the mystery man's gall, Eddie Gibson shows up, flips a salute to Rodriguez and asks, "Permission to board, Lieutenant?" To everyone's shock and dismay, easy Eddie is the new boss, thanks to an old friendship with a high-ranking official in the personnel office. (There aren't enough lieutenants with detective bureau experience, which is how a sergeant like Eddie wound up with the gig.)

He tries to assure the detectives that he knows their talents and plans to stay hands-off -- "unless one of you steps on your Johnson."

Andy spends the rest of the day praying that this is some colossal practical joke, but it's not. Eddie trails after Tony, trying to pick up as much practical knowledge as anyone can in a single afternoon. When Tony has to console Mrs. Grabber about Evan's situation, Eddie isn't sure what to do. "Go in and learn, Gibson," Andy sighs. Andy doesn't want to spend the rest of his career teaching Eddie how to be a boss, but Connie suggests the alternative is far worse: Eddie making it up as he goes along.

At Tony's retirement racket, Andy makes a toast that doubles as an apology for his recent crabbiness: He wasn't so much angry at the reasons for Tony's retirement as he was frustrated to lose a good boss, especially since he knows they'll lose touch. Tony insists that he's made too many strong connections to lose touch (he and Rita share a knowing look at this) and thanks everyone for their time in the squad.

DEADLY DUNKLEMAN???

Baldwin and Greg catch the murder of Sam Rubicoff, owner of a comedy club called The Laff Pit, who was found dead in the trunk of his (stolen) car. Sam's wife Lois tries to downplay a recent distrubance where uniform cops were called to the club, explaining that some of the comedians were mad that Sam had cut off their food supply after he caught them lining their pockets with cold cuts.

Baldwin gets a list of the comics who performed the night of the incident and finds a criminal record for one Lonnie Cutler -- much to the delight of Greg, who's seen Lonnie's act and declares him the "funniest comic I've ever seen. Oh, this is gonna be fun."

Lonnie is considerably less funny in interrogation than he is on stage, and has nothing but nasty things to say about Sam up until the moment he's told about the murder. He pleads ignorance and presents a plausible alibi.

The detectives bring in Lois after finding an unusual hit on Sam's credit card roughly coinciding with the time of death: a hardware store bill for trash bags, duct tape, gloves and all the other elements of what's known in cop-speak as "the murder kit." She says that Lonnie killed Sam and then forced her to help him dispose of the body, and as proof, she hid his bloody shirt in her office.

Lonnie, naturally, tells a different story: Lois (with whom he'd been having an affair in order to get more favorable stage time) beat Sam to death when he threatened to divorce her, then called Lonnie for help with corpse disposal. And he has better proof than Lois: an answering machine tape of her calling him about the bloody mess.

The case is solved, but Greg is so disillusioned by the seamy, unfunny side of the comedy business that he decides -- to Baldwin's great relief -- to dump all the jokes he had planned to tell at Tony's retirement racket.

REVIEW

Gosh, aren't I lucky to be filling in on a week where nothing controversial happened, and nobody threatened to quit watching the show because of a cast change?

Oh, wait. Nevermind.

Ordinarily, I'd review the main crime story first, but in this case I have to directly address the elephant in the room (hello, elephant!): namely, one Edward "Eddie" Gibson as the new boss of the 15th squad.

So let me see if I've got the complaints straight: "It destroys the show's credibility to put an idiot like Eddie in charge," "How can a guy go from the verge of retirement to a command position?," "How can a guy go from Detective 2nd Grade to boss of a squad so fast?," and, most frequently, "What the hell were the writers smoking when they came up with this one?"

Now, I can't testify to the quantity or type of pharmaceuticals available in the writers' room (or the lack thereof), but I'll put myself out on a limb here and say I kinda like the idea. I'm not as in love with it as I was when I heard about, say, Rick Schroder replacing Jimmy Smits (another casting move that was considered the show's death knell in some online circles), but on paper, and in what little practice we've seen so far, it has some merit.

Look, in a fair and just world a guy like Eddie would never get within a marathon's distance of a position of authority. And if any of you live in such a world, I'd sure love an invitation to move in, because in this one, incompetents get undeserved promotions all the time. It's called The Peter Principle, and if any of you have never worked for someone who didn't know half as much about how to do the job as you, then consider yourself very, very lucky.

In terms of Eddie's rapidly-changing career fortunes, he wasn't preparing to retire when he transferred back to days: he was afraid he was going to die from cancer and wanted to make sure he was on the books as a Detective 1st just in case his wife and foster kids had to live off his pension. Obviously, he had been coasting on the night tour for years, but it doesn't surprise me at all that his brush with death made him re-evalute certain things in his life and decide, say, that he wanted to move higher up the department ladder. We heard that he passed the sergeant's exam a few episodes back, and in the real NYPD, some detective squads do report to sergeants rather than lieutenants.

But let's get past the plausibilty question and move to the larger ones: Is putting Eddie in charge of the squad a good idea? Will it hurt the show? And to those I counter with this question: When has the quality level of the show ever rested on the identity of the guy in the corner office? As "Blue" was constructed a dozen years ago and as it's been written since, the squad boss is really a nothing part, someone who's there to help move the plot along by giving the detectives someone to deliver exposition to. Sure, James McDaniel got an occasional spotlight story, but it was rare. (And usually only happened whenever David Milch had Something Important To Say About Race.) The writers tried a little harder to give Esai something to do, but the stories were usually pretty silly. (You want to talk implausible? Fraker is the most paper-thin villain the show's ever had.)

If anything, I think Gibson may be an improvement over Rodriguez in that the writers seem to have a very clear idea of what they're doing with him. He's there for background comic relief -- say what you will about John O'Donohue, but the man is funny -- as well as for an arc about learning how to be a boss. Early on, they tried doing some of that with T-Rod (who had never been in a position of authority before taking over the 15th), but that didn't last. I think there's genuine potential to use Eddie, both in serious and funny ways, to show what it takes to lead cops.

And, frankly, I think the guy's off to a good start. Eddie's dumb, but he's no fool. He's worked with Andy, Connie and the rest. Like he said in his clumsy speech, he knows what they can do and he knows that he's best off just staying out of their way. It takes some leaders years to figure that out, if they ever do; Eddie knew it going in. If the writers had tried to bring Eddie in and have him be overbearing and an obstacle to the detectives doing their jobs, ala Lt. Dalto, then we would have a serious problem here. But the idea of having this inept but well-meaning guy doing his best not to trip over his own feet while he essentially lets his subordinates tell him what to do has real potential. And it's not like Gibson can ruin the show long-term: next season is the (planned) last season, so at worst you get a season and a half of him. I intend to give the idea a chance, because this show has made far, far worse additions to the regular cast over the years.

As most you know, this was originally planned as a surprise by the producers until the NY Post spoiled the fun, and I wonder if reactions would be different if everyone hadn't had weeks to work themselves into a lather about it. Again, I'm not saying this is in the same league as casting Ricky Schroder, but I remember how upset people were getting at the time, and when they saw "Danny Boy," most of the complaining died away quickly. So I'm going to be watching the fan reaction to this very curiously.

Before I move on to the case stuff, let me say a few words about Esai Morales and his alter ego. As I said above, the boss on "Blue" is a thankless role, but Esai did what he could with it, especially early on when the writers gave him that quiet, snarky sense of humor. (I miss those scenes where he would tell a joke so subtly that his audience didn't even realize there was a joke at all.) If he wants to try for a role that's either more challenging or better-paying, more power to him; he's shown in plenty of venues that he's capable of really interesting dramatic work when given the right script. It's been nice having you around, Esai; good luck to ya.

THE RIGHT CALL

Whew. Wrote so much about Gibson that I'll try to be brief with the cases. I liked this one, not so much for the murder mystery itself, which was pretty standard, but for using it to revisit Junior's feelings about his father's suicide. Any chance to crack the facade of this seemingly perfect character and let MPG show some vulnerability is a good one. I understand the desire to not make Junior into Danny 2.0 (now with even more inner torment!), but Mark-Paul is usually at his best when John is at his lowest (losing the badge, Senior's death, etc.). More, please.

I usually favor a "less is more" approach to this kind of personal storyline, though, and I wish the two key scenes (Andy and John in the locker room, John at the hospital) hadn't spelled things out quite as blatantly. But at the same time, I'm not sure how to draw the parallels between Scott and John Sr. any subtler than they did. A little clunky or not, the last scene got me choked up, which the show doesn't do that often anymore. Nicely done by all involved.

DEADLY DUNKLEMAN???

A clever parallel here with the other case. In one, what looked to be a murder sparked by infidelity turned out to be something else entirely; in the other, a murder that looked like something else entirely turned out to be sparked by infidelity.

Two issues of note here: the Greg/Baldwin interaction and the casting of one Brian Dunkleman as Lonnie.

I can't pinpoint exactly when it happened, but somewhere in the last season or so, Baldwin went from enjoying Greg's company to just barely tolerating him, and it's a change I don't like at all. The worst moments of the Medavoy/Martinez partnership was that later period when James would roll his eyes at every third sentence out of Greg's mouth, and we're in that territory again.

I've always been very protective of Medavoy, who's been around practically since the start and, when handled properly, is one of the most unique TV cops of all time. But it's just so easy to make him out to be a clown, and the easiest way of all is to have the other characters -- especially his partner -- treat him like one. If all of Medavoy's actions in this episode remained unchanged, but we had Baldwin not be so dismissive of Greg's comedy fetish, they might have seemed like an endearing if inapporpriate distraction for Greg. Instead, it's another case of Greg being an idiot and not focusing properly on the job. I don't know if the interaction between the partners was as strained here as it was in "Only Schmucks Pay Income Tax," but I didn't review that one, and I wanted to make the point. Greg can be funny without being a moron; it just takes a little extra effort on the part of the writers, and I wish they would try more often.

Second... Dunkleman. What can you say about Brian Dunkleman? No, really: what can you say? I'm not ashamed to admit (okay, maybe a little ashamed, but I've written about it enough in my newspaper column that I can't hide) that I'm a fan of "American Idol," that stupid, badly-produced, cheesy yet somehow riveting talent competition that Dunkleman used to co-host with the equally ridiculous Ryan Seacrest. Dunkleman either quit (the official line) or was fired (the more likely version) after the first season, and as annoying as he was then, watching Seacrest and his ego fly solo has been much more disturbing. So I'm glad to see the Dunk-ster working again. And he was thoroughly believable as a bitter, semi-talented stand-up hack. Who knew?

QUICK HITS

* Correct me if I'm wrong, but at Fancy's farewell racket, didn't he also thank whoever invented The Job? I'm guessing that's a pretty standard line at these things. In going back over Amanda's summary of the Fancy/Rodriguez transition episode to check, I was also reminded that Tony declined the invitation to attend Fancy's party, not wanting to draw attention away from the guest of honor. Obviously not Eddie's MO, though he does have enough of a history with Rodriguez and the squad that his presence was more understandable.

* The initial meeting with Scott Grafton may have contained a "Blue" first: a cop said he's heard about Sipowicz -- and mean it in a positive way. Usually, that kind of line leads to references to drinking, bigotry, etc. It's only fair, I suppose: Andy has been on the wagon for nearly a decade.

*I'm not a legal expert, nor do I play one on TV, but it sure seemed like Evan's confession -- which came without the detectives getting permission from his mother to interrogate him -- is the kind of thing that would get thrown out of court in a heartbeat. (And definitely if it was a case on Law & Order.) Also, what's the charge? Manslaughter? Discharging a firearm? Nothing at all?

* J.L. Garner's Cast Legacies are below, as usual, but I did want to comment on a couple of bits of casting other than Dunkleman. Lana Parilla, as Janet, just can't get out of uniform these days. First she was a paramedic on "Boomtown," and then when NBC retooled the show into oblivion, they turned her into a rookie cop. She's probably used to the polyester by now. And as her ex-to-be Scott, Kirk Acevedo got to play a man of the law for once after so many years on "Oz," as Miguel Alvarez, the crazy gangbanger who kept shuttling between the infirmary and solitary confinement, depending on whether he'd stabbed someone or been stabbed that week. He was terrific playing Scott's rage; I've interviewed the guy up close in person a few times, and I never noticed those forehead veins before.

* Back to Gibson for just a second. Two great funny moments already: Eddie, off-camera, accidentally breaks the glass on one of the many, many, many pictures and certificates he's hammering into his office wall; and Eddie bumps into Tony while following him around the squadroom and quickly says, "Apologies. I'm not even here." All in the delivery.

* So where do things stand with Tony and Rita? They shared one of those Meaningful Looks at the racket; do they keep dating, with her on the show and him not? With Rita as a relatively minor character, I suppose that's not as big a problem as it was when Sylvia was still alive but Sharon Lawrence was off doing sitcoms.

* Speaking of next season, the producers are still trying to figure out how to make the show work at a reduced license fee, and if there is a cast purge, it looks like Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon is going to be first on the chopping block, given her screen time of late. I thought it was a good idea to have Valerie apologize for losing that trial -- as well she should have, since even with James Sinclair's gift for oratory, I can't imagine any jury falling for Fraker's self-defense argument -- but it felt a little clumsy in execution.

* The best moment of the Dunkleman subplot may have been the details of Lonnie's alibi (which, by the way, we never got back to in the story): specifically, the description of the sitcom Lonnie's roommate was auditioning for. Something to do with Chasidic cops, "and there's a chimp involved." Why does this sound like something that's actually part of ABC's comedy development this year?

CAST LEGACIES

By J.L. Garner
Previously on NYPD Blue...
John F. O'Donohue as Eddie Gibson. Welcome aboard (permanently), John. :-) (ALAN'S NOTE: As Amanda has mentioned many times in her reviews, John was a 20-year veteran of the real NYPD, including a stint as a lieutenant. I interviewed John recently about his time on the force, and will be running the interview in my column next week; I'll make sure to put the link in next week's review, regardless of who writes it.)

Previously on NYPD Blue as someone else...
--Stuart Fratkin (Gavin McCulloch) -- played a lawyer in the 3rd season episode "A Tushful of Dollars."

--Gerry Del Sol (Uniform #1) -- appeared in 2nd season episode "The Final Adjustment."

Not previously on NYPD Blue...
--Heidi Dippold (Kelly Palmer) -- you've seen her on "Navy NCIS," "Alias," "L&O:CI," "The Sopranos," and "Angel."

--Max Baker (Ian Braithwaite) -- he's made appearances on "Angel," "Son of the Beach," the infamous UPN turkey "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," and the atrocious 2002 remake of "The Time Machine."

--James Grimaldi (Pete Warren) -- had a part in the TV pilot "Living Straight."

--Lauri Johnson (Lois Rubicoff) -- guest spots on "Angel," "Frasier," "JAG," and "ER," as well as voice work on some of the 1990s animated Batman series.

--Lana Parrilla (Janet Grafton) -- played Officer Teresa Ortiz on "Boomtown," as well as roles on "Spin City," "The Shield," and "JAG."

--Brian Dunkleman (Lonnie Cutler) -- showed up on episodes of "3rd Rock," "Friends," "That 70s Show," and was a host for the first season of "American Idol."

--Kirk Acevedo (Scott Grafton) -- played Miguel Alvarez on "Oz," as well as roles in "Band of Brothers" "Third Watch," "L&O," and the film "Boiler Room."

--Terri Hanauer (Marilyn Grabber) -- resume includes roles on "Six Feet Under," "ER," "LA Law," "Seinfeld," "Quantum Leap," and "Beauty and the Beast."

--Anton Yelchin (Evan Grabber) -- has played in the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries "Taken," episodes of "Without a Trace" and "The Practice," and the film "Hearts in Atlantis." (ALAN'S NOTE: He was also on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" this season as Larry's magician nephew.)

--Terry Logan (Uniform #2) -- roles in the films "National Security" and "Summer School," and the soap operas "One Life to Live" and "Search for Tomorrow" way back in the day.

--Jeff Padilla (Uniform #3) -- a small role in "Daredevil."

LINES OF THE WEEK

Andy, after getting a look at T-Rod's giant farewell card: "Are there going to be pony rides?"

Eddie's introductory speech to the troops: "I'm well aware of the abilities of the personnel in this squad. I've got no intention of fixing what ain't broke. My management style? Hands off -- unless one of you steps on your Johnson." (Looks at Connie) "Kidding."

NEXT WEEK

The detectives investigate a gang kingpin, a man reports that his daughter may have been kidnapped, and Sgt. Gibson gives the squad the bird. But does he keep his eye on the sparrow?

It's unclear who'll be doing the bird-watching (and reviewing). It may be me, it may be Amanda. Until then, see you in the funny papers...

-Alan Sepinwall