Warren Ellis (“Stormwatch,” “The Authority,” “Planetary,” “Global Frequency,” “MEK,” “Orbiter,” “Transmetropolitan,” “Ministry of Space,” “Strange Kiss,” “Stranger Kisses,” “Strange Killings”), the most talented writer not named Alan Moore working in comics today, has reviewed Steven Bochco’s multimillion-dollar pilot to “NYPD 2069,” which Fox apparently did not pick up as a series.
The review is actually an installment of the absurdly prolific Mr. Ellis’ “bad signal” column, which he distributes via mailing list. Since the column is not posted to any Web page, we screwed up enough courage to ask this revered literary hero of ours if we could post it here. Here’s his reply:
Hercules, old son:
You're perfectly welcome to it. Here's a corrected version, in fact.
All I ask is that you run it in its entirety without editing, you credit me, add a copyright tag to me and note you're using it with permission, and run a link to http://www.warrenellis.com.
Do all that, and I'm glad to help out.
Here you go.
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I had the opportunity last night to watch a "screener" copy of the pilot episode of the new Steven Bochco sf policier series, NYPD 2069.
It's hard to be prolific in TV as a writer-producer, because the undertaking is so huge. The CV of a TV creator is always going to be spotty. And some projects have their own awful momentum that defeat the one upside of committee-creativity in Hollywood, which is that you have many minds assessing the viability of a concept. COPROCK, one of the most wrong-headed concepts in mainstream American television of the last twenty years, must've seemed like an asteroid flying towards Earth to many of the people involved. So when you get a new Steven Bochco show, there's a weird mix in your anticipation. Is it HILL STREET BLUES or is it COPROCK?
When you first saw HILL STREET BLUES... the crump-crump of the crappy old stationhouse garage doors folding up and the police cars moving out, the slow downbeat piano picking out the refrain as the cop car moves through a blasted urban cityscape, the hopeful misery of early-70s US film brought to early-80s US tv... you knew you were getting something with a little meat. The grime and grain of it, the jostled camerawork, the cacophony of overlapping dialogue, the sudden wild bursts of black humour and moments of absolute chill.
And NYPD BLUE; the tribal clatter of drums that opens it up. That first series had meat. The christ-like John Kelly on his confused downward spiral, and the depraved Andy Sipowicz trying to claw his way back up into the light.
NYPD 2069 opens up with a toppy 1983 synth that'd make Harold Faltermayer blush, full of whizzy sci-fi noises and a breathing sample that was old before you'd heard of "electronica". It's horrible. The display lettering is all plastic white and slanted, probably because someone decided it looked sci-fi. The credit-sequence visuals are just a pan around the protagonist in the chamber where he's reclaimed from cryogenic freeze, sleeping. Pure adrenaline, obviously.
In 2003, NYPD detective Alex Franco is run over at the behest of a rich murder suspect. His wife is told that he can't be brought out of his coma, but that there is a secret option; an experimental program offered to police and fire services where he can be frozen until such time as his injuries can be repaired. They estimate ten years.
Sixty-six years later...
That was the first time I smiled. We're about twenty minutes in.
Alex is given a spook handler to explain the new world to him. His wife's dead, his son is 77 and senile. The guy who had him killed is 99, super-rich and looks 50 thanks to gene therapy. Yes, his arch-enemy is still alive. His grandson is a detective in the NYPD. Spook guy says, we're here to reintegrate you into the world, do everything we can etc etc. Alex says he wants to be a cop again, and he wants to work with his grandson. For this, spook has to create him a whole new identity, For No-one Must Know etc etc. And he is Warned, the job has changed, it's been a hard sixty years for America but it's a Brave New World now.
Alex, now Alex Bolander, is assigned to work with his grandson, whom of course he can't tell anything to. This had me groaning, but to their credit they turned this around. Alex has been deeply instructed in How Things Are Done Now, but of course he's still all Buck Rogers, Doing Things The Way They Ought To Be Done, Like In The Good Old Days. The detective squad breaks down to the No-Nonsense Black Boss, The Asshole, The Pretty Woman and The Other One. They all have to wear glasses on the street that project head-up displays on the inside. There's a degree of good futurism in this, but I think it was an aesthetic miscalculation. Cops in spectacles don't project authority. Their vehicles have a cute little siren that goes zow-zow, which kind of defeats the object of sirens, which are supposed to SCREAM to command your attention. The show is full of aesthetic misfires like these.
I'm reminded of something Harlan Ellison once wrote. It was a bit precious, and I'm paraphrasing heavily, but it goes a bit like this: people who haven't spent any time with sf think it's easy. With no study of how the genre works, and with no deep reading of it, a lot of people come to sf for the first time, stick together all the obvious ideas that everyone had fifty years ago, and expect to be lauded to the skies for Having Done Sci-Fi Right.
That's what this reeks of.
The retrieval of a kidnapping victim, a combination of 2003 police skills and 2069 data-rich environment, works pretty well. The squad give chase to the perp, who has a microwave gun. They're wearing protective suits and helmets. Alex' grandson falls over, gets mud on his visor. Naturally enough, since it's the only thing protecting his head from incineration, he lifts the visor. And gets his head incinerated.
Dumb way to do it, but, yes, nice reversal.
There follows a JUDGE DREDD-like sequence where a judge and two attorneys are raised on videophone to pronounce summary sentence of death on the perp, and so Alex learns how different the job is today.
Alex goes to deliver the news to the grandson's family and, Christ, this had me squirming. Meet the family requiring Alex to make it good and wholesome and nuclear. The son, going through his dad's possessions, even finds a photo of Alex from 2003, looks at Alex and makes the connection.
You can hear someone in the back saying, "yes, but how can we say it *emotionally*?"
After an awful scene where Alex stalks and assaults the Arch-Enemy, he goes into a church, listens to a bunch of old people singing old gospel, and weeps.
Is it COPROCK? No. You can just about sit through this. Is it any good? Well, I didn't think so. Your mileage may well vary. It's all down to personal tastes, and every piece of art finds a different audience. My personal feeling is that this is a huge misfire; sets that MUTANT X would sneer at, a colourless protagonist, an empty depiction of the future, no standout performances. If it makes a second season, I'll be surprised.
It airs in September in the US, I think.
© Copyright Warren Ellis. Used by permission.