Wally Holland leveled a charge at David Milch at the end of the Q&A that concluded the mic’d conversation between Milch and David Thorburn at MIT’s Bartos Hall a few years ago. Holland’s accusation was remarkably bold for flinging down the gauntlet of feminist underrepresentation in NYPD Blue at someone Wally described as an iconic, personal hero. He flung it, nonetheless, with considerable clarity, charity and a willingness to listen. Surprisingly, David Milch responded seriously, charmingly, and without much hesitation, but by the end of a long and unsatisfying dissertation in recognition of The Place of Woman in American Culture, Milch, with breathtaking humility concluded that his female characters in every series for which he’s credited are comparatively hushed relative to “monstrous” males like Benedetto, Kelly, Sipowicz, Simone, Swearengen, most notably. Sissy Yost wasn’t even in the oven.
I’ve been cruising NYPD Blue again in preparation for Deadwood. Jason Mittell’s recent devaluation of the latter series deserves rebuttal, whether or not I’m qualified to provide it. Revisiting this series is a seminar in humility largely because the density of telegraphic, nuanced information delivered onscreen is amazing in its economy, and also because the depth of complexity in human situations is unbelievably understated.
I think the underserved Det. Jill Kirkendall character was most representative and resonant for me of Holland’s claim that David Milch hadn’t written women as rich, depraved and complex as his men. This evening I caught Yes Sir, That’s My Baby (S4E6 of NYPD Blue) in which Kirkendall is introduced and brings a wealth of female and parental expertise to a potentiated shotgun wedding objection raised by the prospective, reluctant groom that eventually result (by the end of the episode [note Sipowicz’ and Simone’s standing ovation delivered in droll statistical references]) in Kirdendall’s discovery of a stolen newborn infant and an unreported mother-murder in behalf of an unattractive girl whose brother killed the mother and threatens a local lothario with mayhem if the lothario doesn’t do the right thing by the killer’s unlovely little sister, who is now saddled with the lothario’s theoretical kid. That wasn’t even a simple sentence. I felt I never saw enough of Kirkendall, but upon reflection, I feel complicit in the oversight. She may not have been given as much screentime as other people in the squad, but my willingness and readiness to evaluate the packets of information entrusted to her was not commensurate with the gravity and immensity that was packed in the lines she read. Somebody failed to greenlight NYPD Pink. I have a share of responsibility and remorse for that failure to listen more attentively, turn on the subtitles, watch for subtext and, most importantly, think through every last one of these shows. They roll on law and order, but they spin with an English that’s more humanely explicit, culturally relevant and humanly universal than what passes these days for journalism.
Detective Lesniak’s failures in romantic relationships take a long time to “fully” reveal themselves. In the fullness of time, they manifest in conjunction with everyman James Martinez, casting fascinating light on the peculiarity of her neurotic bond with turmoil that began in an earlier season. Det. Russell’s ability to function is complicated by her upbringing, attractiveness, alcoholism, sham, sincerity and her vulnerability.
It’s presently 03:51 on a working Tuesday morning. For now, it’s got to be sufficient to say that I wasn’t ready for the dynamic complexity of Michelle Obama in 1997 (season four of NYPD Blue), and judging from the vapid press she’s receiving in 2009, neither was the entertainment market. David Milch gave eloquent voice to male characters who broke the mold set by Ozzie Nelson. I think the ear we lend to his women characters is still in the process of evolving, and that people will one day be utterly amazed at the understated, subversive clarity with which Donna Abandando, Gina Colon and Sylvia Costas brought unflatteringly complex reflections of a blindered culture to the sacramental crucible of the confessional, NYPD Blue, where circumstantial evidence may influence the investigation, but the motherload of information, conviction and remorse for personal choices rests solely on interpersonal truth as revealed in conversation.
08:20 Omar Little’s television debut preceded his appearance on The Wire because David Simon’s Ferdinand Hollie (played by Giancarlo Esposito) showed up in the 1-5 Precinct in Hollie and the Blowfish (S3E17 aired 26 March 1996), preceding The Corner and The Wire which spun award-winning tails (tuxedo) of Baltimore streets from cotton picked from executive (and audience) ears by NYPD Blue.
I admire Wally’s courage in asking an honest question, and Jason Mittell’s statement of an equivocal evaluative opinion (while polling peers regarding the range of opinions about Deadwood — something in that mindset smells of decay). I wonder how many generations of study will be devoted to the works (and influence) of David Milch in fields at least as diverse as those utilizing Shakespeare. And whether we’re going to get Milch sufficiently to effect constructive change in our individual belief systems, our collective moral and cultural infrastructure, our personal precincts. I think that whatever vital (engaging or must-see) aspects of human life are deemed conspicuously missing from the works of David Milch should be sought beneath the cotton in the ears of his detractors.
There’s also this phenomenally detailed and strenuous description of the discipline that results in LiebfrauMilch:
Six weeks later: Detective Jill Kirkendall was portrayed by Andrea Thompson in NYPD Blue in 63(!) episodes from 1996-2000. Thompson’s also worked quite steadily from 1986, a couple of seasons of Babylon 5…some of 24…through recent episodes of Heroes, according to IMDb. If seasons 5- 12 of NYPD Blue are ever released on DVD, I’ll probably have a little more cockeyed stuff to say in this post that seemed reasonably well-informed and justified when I started writing it. Now?…not even kinda.