Both Brooklyn South and Michael Hayes are NYPD Blue bloods. Brooklyn South is overseen by Emmy-winning NYPD executive producers Steven Bochco and David Milch; Michael Hayes is the TV comeback vehicle for former NYPD star David Caruso. The two shows strive to be hard-boiled, tough-minded, loftily principled dramas. But from there, they immediately peel off in opposite directions.
Brooklyn South is a high-intensity street cop show, familiar yet fresh, as if Hill Street Blues had been sampled and remixed by a televisual Sean ”Puffy” Combs. Bochco and Milch are fully aware that we know this police-officer-on-the-beat genre as thoroughly as they do, and they acknowledge that familiarity by having their flatfoots shamble through the precinct house with a combination of weariness and wariness: Like us, these cops have seen it all.
Except we haven’t. Brooklyn South‘s pilot commenced with a shoot-out filmed with the blood-spurting precision of a prime Sam Peckinpah movie — and, I guess it needs to be said, I mean that as a compliment. The gun-toting crazy (Cyrus Farmer) is taken into custody after being shot, and then manhandled by the police. The starkness of this image — African-American perp surrounded by white boys in blue — sets off a firecracker string of racial themes that Milch has said he wants to explode in this series.
Preventing the proceedings from turning into a noisy sociology class are some fine, convincingly potato-faced cop characters, played by Jon Tenney (see box on page 64), NYPD‘s Michael DeLuise, Dylan Walsh, and the rather more hot potato Yancy Butler, who bust heads and look into their own souls with equal thoroughness. (Milch has promised there’ll be more black cops in prominent story lines, pronto.)
The backbone of South is the notion that police work is a noble endeavor forever tested by grimy, crack-fumed reality. Walsh’s Jimmy Doyle has a kid brother played by Patrick McGaw (why do I get the feeling this series will be more wall-to-wall Irish than anything until the movie of Angela’s Ashes?) who’s just joined the police academy. It’s already clear that we’ll be seeing some of South‘s action through his dewy-lashed, idealistic eyes, and that’s good, because without some contrasting innocence, the artful excellence of South might corrode from the very cynicism that makes the show so compelling.
One thing South and the Haggis-ized Hayes have in common is a stylistic paradox: They tell tales about bright, shining good guys but cast those tales in dark hues, with a despairing tone; they’re the TV version of film noir. Geoffrey O’Brien, the executive editor of the Library of America, who subspecializes in hard-boiled fiction, recently remarked that ”the noir tradition…really is the dominant style of the American 20th century.”
Once the province of cult pulp books and B movies, noir, O’Brien asserts, is now mainstream, and shows like South and Hayes, as well as NYPD and The X-Files (oh, heck, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer) have brought this bruising style — call it noir et bleu — to prime time. The thing is, while most TV viewers like style, they prefer content: good stories told clearly. That’s what will push South and Hayes out of the murk of new fall shows and into the bright spotlight of popularity. A-