Lesbian Characters Get Promoted on Fourth Season of NYPD Blue

Lacking the existential angst of Andy Sipowicz or the charismatic style of Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits), Greg Medavoy is the Cop as Everyman, whose problems are immediately recognizable and whose approach to policing is that it is a job for which he is only sometimes well-suited. Throughout NYPD Blue‘s run, Medavoy’s struggles “such as his season one affair with curvaceous civilian aid Donna Abandando (Gail O”™Grady)– are mostly depicted as lightly comic, a welcome contrast to the frequently brooding arcs of the other characters. Season four begins on the same note, opening with Medavoy fretting about his recent weight gain and determined to do something about it.

“Moby Greg” introduces Abby Sullivan (Paige Turco), a cop in the anti-crime bureau located upstairs from the detectives”™ squad. She first encounters Medavoy in the gym, struggling more than a bit with the weight equipment. The scene is, in romantic comedy terms, a typical “meet cute,” only the positions are reversed. Instead of Abby being the hapless female floundering about in unfamiliar territory, she is the confident one who knows her way around the gym. She compliments a flustered Medavoy on his commitment to improving himself and off-handedly offers to work out with him sometime.

At first it seems that the Abby-Greg encounter will follow the typical NYPD Blue romantic formula in which any female character will immediately become involved with the first male cast member with whom she has a scene. Through several episodes, Greg and Abby are shown jogging and working out, her cheerful presence unwittingly encouraging Greg’s growing crush until he finally works up the nerve to ask her out to dinner.

He is thrilled by her immediate acceptance, only to be flabbergasted when she tells him that she doesn’t want to mislead him. That she is gay.

Except, as the season three Lesniack storyline demonstrates, sometimes a woman coming out to man doesn’t exactly mean she’s really gay. Martinez points out as much to a despondent Greg who feels awkward about going out to dinner with Abby now that his romantic hopes have been crushed. Nonetheless, he follows through, and discovers that Abby is just as friendly and open to him as she was before he knew she was gay. The problem “if there is one “the text seems to be saying, is Greg’s.

Medavoy’s positioning as the most “ordinary” detective in the squad allows the straight audience to identify with his bewilderment and disappointment that this woman is unavailable to him, while lesbian audiences identify with the unspoken “See? I haven’t changed” comment implicit in Abby’s consistent characterization. For a show whose major lesbian presence before this point consisted of one scene where a lesbian bar owner tells Martinez, “Anything involving a man is rough stuff in my book,” it seems to be a major turning point.

Heterosexual hopes die hard, however, and when Abby invites Greg to have dinner at the apartment she shares with her lover, Kathy (played by Lisa Darr, who went on to star as Ellen Morgan’s girlfriend Laurie Manning in the fourth season of Ellen), Medavoy and Martinez can’t help but speculate about the kind of “special” dinner that Abby wants to have. The narratives that unfold from NYPD Blue are always told consistently from the point of view of the detectives in the squad, so at this point, the audience has no idea what is in the minds of either Abby or the heretofore unseen Kathy.

The scene where Abby confirms their dinner plans unfolds awkwardly, with Abby seeming almost on the verge of excited hysteria. However, when read as an amplification of Greg’s point of view “Greg is reading into her behavior what he wants to see “it makes far more sense, particularly when Greg arrives at the women’s apartment. They are relaxed and comfortable in their own space, while he is as awkward and nervous as ever.

Depictions of domestic spaces on NYPD Blue are fraught with meaning. Most frequently, when the audience (following the detectives) enters a home, they are entering a space that has been violated; its inhabitants have been assaulted or murdered, broken or left for dead. Thus, the detective’s homes become places of sanctuary and solace, infrequently seen and never violated. By bringing Greg, and hence the audience, into Abby and Kathy’s home, the writers open up a window into the character of Abby Sullivan and invite a certain amount of identification with her.

The main point of view, however, remains Greg’s; and the audience takes in the apartment through his eyes, seeing the predominantly white apartment with art scattered around the room and on the walls. Dinner progresses, the women casually bemused by Greg’s continued nervousness, while the audience learns that Kathy is an advertising copy writer with dreams of becoming a novelist and that the two women have been in a long-term committed relationship for some time.