NYPD Blue is back with a bang

After a long layoff, NYPD Blue returned to ABC Jan. 9 with a bang-up season premiere that resumed storyline threads from last season and unfurled new ones.

The squad at the 15th Precinct braced themselves for an internal-affairs investigation. Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) clung to the hope that his young son might not be terminally ill. (How much pain must one man endure?)

Once again Russell (Kim Delaney) hit the sack with Sipowicz’s partner — only this time the cop in question was Sorenson (Rick Schroder), two seasons after the death of her husband, Bobby (Jimmy Smits). It was an exhilarating climax to the sexual tension that had been building between these two for some time. The episode was compelling, fast-paced and ably offered both a suspenseful case and plenty of personal angst.

Some have complained that NYPD Blue has lost its bite — that hard-edged drama has been replaced by sudsy melodrama. It’s a valid point. It’s been a couple of years since the show could be called groundbreaking, but unlike last season, when the series went through a serious identity crisis, the creative team seems to have a definite game plan, even with the loss of executive producer David Milch.

It may be more soap opera than hard-edged cop drama, but that was always a strong part of the show’s appeal. And no series that’s endured as many cast changes as NYPD Blue can sustain eight seasons without undergoing some significant shifts in focus.

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