TELEVISION REVIEW / Policemen's partners and readers' wives

NYPD Blue (Channel 4) was strong enough to make some concerned Americans choke. The Reverend Donald Wildmon, one of those quixotic types who obligingly advertise the very programmes they disapprove of, declared 'TV has gone too far' even before the first episode had been broadcast, thus guaranteeing record viewing figures. This actually tells you more about the airbrushed sanitation of American networks than it does about the show because the truth is that NYPD Blue is a dilution.

To British viewers, who have already seen Barry Levinson's Homicide on Channel 4, it will come across as a slightly watered-down version of the new-style police procedural, with its appetite for the frayed edges of law enforcement. In the old style cop shows you would often get a grooming credit ('Mr Savalas' wardrobe by Botany Bay') - here the detectives look as if they shop at Oxfam.

The parallels are easy to spot: a scuffed, jagged style to the camera work and editing; lots of blurred pans across city streets; an urgent, percussive soundtrack; the odd self-conscious trick of photography which plays against the documentary feel, a gamey script, strong on black humour. Other echoes probably have more to do with the immutable commandments of American police shows than with emulation or coincidence - thou shall have a partner going through a rough patch, thou shall have a wife who hates your work, thou shall be mean to the rookies and (this is actually written in to the American constitution as the 28th Amendment) all superior officers will be black, irascible and have inner offices lined with Venetian blinds, in which they can chew out the brilliant but headstrong young detective.

For all the fuss, NYPD Blue is more conventional than Homicide, far more routine in its plotting and less exciting in its visual style. The difference was illuminated by a sublime continuity error in the first episode, in which a dramatic face-off between the hero and his alcoholic partner was undercut by the fact that the two men kept changing places at the bar. In Homicide, you would wonder whether they were up to some sort of fancy deconstruction; here it was just a goof. Even so I would guess that NYPD Blue will attract a bigger audience and it is certainly good enough to remind you that without Steve Bochco's previous ground-breaking exercise in police procedural, Hill Street Blues, Homicide itself would have been impossible.

Hundreds of young documentary-makers were probably kicking themselves on Saturday evening wondering why they hadn't thought of making a film about Reader's Wives, that section of cheap porn mags which is filled with half-exposed snaps of fully exposed spouses. It was a gift of a subject, but Susanna White had got there first and her unsniggering, careful film for Short Stories (C4) proved that she deserved her prize.

She recognised that most people would giggle, even gently encouraged it in a couple of scenes - as in the opening tracking shot which, to the sound of the Birdy Song, led you past the V-reg Vauxhall, past the wheely-bin and the glassed-in patio to discover Gaynor from Cambs, spread out in all her glory under the gaze of an inebriated garden gnome. But the film didn't sneer at its subjects and by witholding its own judgement allowed for some surprising revelations. At least one of the relationships you saw on screen appeared edgy and doomed - you wondered about coercion. But the motives of those involved were too various to allow you to be simply priggish. The women whose legs had been damaged in a car crash had obviously found a new confidence through publication and Gaynor herself was shyly cheerful about posing (she hid nothing from the camera but made her husband collect the prints up). The conventional reason for disapproving of such pictures is that they turn women into objects. By revealing the emotional nuances behind the flash-frozen crudity, White reminded you that tutting liberals are just as capable of objectification

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Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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