TELEVISION / NYPD - so good you'll watch it twice

ONCE a fun-loving, party-going type, I now stay in on Saturday nights to watch NYPD Blue (C4), a programme I humbly acclaim The Best Thing on Television. Hang on, isn't this what the VCR is for? Yes, but experience suggests that if I don't watch a programme 'live', I won't watch it at all. NYPD Blue is a show you record anyway, so you can watch it twice.

Slickness and economy are crucial to its allure. The opening credit sequence is a small drama in itself, a racing collage of inner-city snapshots, among them a bleak, beautiful glimpse of a building in slo-mo collapse. The camera then hustles us into the police station, a restless opera thronged with lowlifes, scuzzballs and supercreeps - and they're the cops.

One of the show's strokes of genius is the unlikely casting of its two leading men: Kelly (David Caruso) may have a great Bogart grimace, but he's also got ginger hair, which is definitely not heroic. Mind you, he's an oil painting next to his partner, Siepowicz (Dennis Franz), a barrelling fatty with an ear-popping line in invective. 'Hey, ipso this, you pissy little bitch,' he snarled at a district attorney back in the first episode. He is now dating her, which just goes to show: love is blind and deaf. The writers haven't made Kelly and Siepo wicz 'maverick' cops - the lazy Hollywood fallback - but they have made them fallible: Siepowicz is recovering from a drink problem (they could easily have called it NYPD Booze), while Kelly has got entangled with his girlfriend in a Mafia payroll racket.

Driven by a turbo-charged script and a camera that sharks close behind it, the series takes on issues of class and race and ethics with a minimum of preachiness, allowing the actors to relax into their roles rather than simply nudge the story along. Last night's episode tied a neat ironic bow on the payroll plot strand, but also had time to focus on Lieutenant Fancy (James McDaniel) dealing with a custody trauma, rookie detective Martinez (Nicholas Turturro) breaking his first case and Siepowicz getting on the wrong end of some nasty verbals from a Mafia moll: 'Hey, Gina, d'you eat with that mouth?' 'It's one of the things I do with it.' Ipso that] People keep on saying that it isn't a patch on Hill Street Blues, but I wouldn't know - that dates from the time when I used to go out of an evening.

After the debacle of A Year in Provence, you might have thought programme-makers would steer clear of any more British-larks-in-France. Undaunted, Channel 4 served up A French Affair, a two-part documentary about couples who had upped sticks for a slice of bucolic bliss in the Dordogne. What unfolded was largely a tale of woe. Amanda and Mark abandoned jobs in the music biz soon after they'd had their first child, buying a rundown farmhouse in the Dordogne. They dug vegetable patches, ploughed fields, bought hens and goats, while the whiff of The Good Life became overpowering. There's Tom and Barbara, you thought, now what about Margot and Jerry? The obvious candidates were James and Patricia, toffs who had bought a vineyard because it sounded 'terribly romantic'. But the caricature didn't fit, first because James fell seriously ill and had to return to Blighty, and then because Patricia turned out to be a trouper, learning French and running the wine cellars almost singlehanded.

My favourite couple was Nell and Paddy, who were honest enough to admit that their dilapidated chateau was an impulse buy. Troubles followed faster than merde off a shovel. The holiday guests they'd hoped for stayed away in droves, a September rain threatened Paddy's sunflower crop, and soon the bank was threatening repossession. Paddy conceded that the strain on their relationship had been severe, but said the experience had 'been worth every minute'. Nell looked doubtful. 'Has it? Every minute?' The camera caught a gift shot of a child's pencil case, on which the words WILD VENTURE were stencilled. In the end their luck changed and the house was saved. On the cosmic scale of things the foreclosing on a Dordogne farmhouse doesn't rate terrifically high, but it was to the programme's credit that these middle-class dreams of fulfilment didn't have you reaching for the zapper.

This being Holy Week I tuned in to The Easter Stories (BBC1), featuring jokey impersonations of all your favourite Crucifixion stars: Helen Lederer playing Mary Magdalene as a cheesy chat-show guest, Mike Harding as the barkeeper who rents out an upstairs room for the Last Supper, Craig Charles seeking a retrial for Judas Iscariot, and so on. I couldn't see whom these 'irreverent' portraits would appeal to. Non-believers presumably had no interest at all, while comedians doing party-turns around the New Testament are hardly the stuff to provoke the faithful either to laughter or to umbrage.

In every way superior was James Runcie's Omnibus (BBC1), a touching vignette about Hildegard, a multi-talented 12th-century nun, tenderly played by Patricia Routledge. Her hostile Abbot was Peter Vaughan, who will ever be venerated as Harry Grout, the hard man in Porridge. Here he used spiritual muscle as intimidation, but Routledge fought her corner with a beatific eloquence. Even Detective Siepowicz might have approved.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing