Why New York Undercover Is Still My Favorite Dick Wolf Show
New York, New York, it's a hell of a town.
Ask most people, and they'll likely tell you that they got into Dick Wolf TV shows because of Law & Order, or one of its myriad spin-offs, like Law and Order: SVU with its popular Benson and Stabler characters.
But me? I found out about the producer through Fox’s New York Undercover, as it was my introduction to the famous television producer. Sure, I would later go on to sample other Dick Wolf shows like Chicago Fire or FBI: Most Wanted. And, I want to talk about why New York Undercover is still my favorite show of his, even today.
Oh, and spoilers up ahead just in case you haven’t seen it yet and want to stream the series on Peacock (opens in new tab).
The Diverse Cast Really Resonated With Me
Honestly, I must applaud Dick Wolf, since diversity has had an imprint on most of his shows, at least when it comes to the casts, but let me just tell you something. I didn’t grow up watching NBC, ABC, or CBS, where you might have found other cop TV shows. I grew up watching Fox, home of The Simpsons (which now also counts Disney+ as its home), Married…with Children, and Beverly Hills, 90210.
I’ll get into Fox a bit more later, but this meant that a great deal of the content I was consuming usually had a certain edge to it. So, when it came to cop shows, I didn’t really know what to expect when it came to my favorite channel. Cops, for me growing up, were almost always white males. That didn’t bother me or anything at the time. It just was what it was.
But then, here came this cop show on Fox with two male leads, one Black detective played by Malik Yoba, and one half-Puerto Rican played by Michael DeLorenzo. They had a white woman commanding officer played by Patti D'Arbanville-Quinn, and in later seasons, there was a female Puerto Rican officer played by Lauren Vélez, and an Irish-Italian police officer played by Jonathan LaPaglia. Since the cops were undercover, you wouldn’t see them wearing the traditional black and blue, but rather, baggy street clothes.
I mean, man, if there was ever a cop show that was peak ‘90s (and I’m all about sharing memories about the ‘90s), then it’s New York Undercover, and its diversity was top notch.
It Felt A Lot More Street Than Other Dick Wolf Shows At The Time
Now, I know how I just mentioned that New York Undercover was my introduction to Dick Wolf TV shows, but I just mean that it’s the first of his shows that I actually sat down and really watched. I saw bits and pieces of Law & Order as my dad occasionally had it on. And, you know what I got out of it? A lot of people in suits talking. Most of the time they were either in courtrooms, or just leaving the courtroom.
BOOOOORRRRIIIINNNGGG. I mean, not really, and as an adult, I’ve come to respect the slower-paced, methodical approach to the show. But, back when I was a kid, I didn’t want to watch all that. It was like how my Mom used to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. That was a show that used to put me to sleep, not keep me up at night like our very own Mick Joest.
But, New York Undercover felt a lot more street than L&O, and really, any other show he's done since. New York Undercover had stories about drug deals gone wrong, and bank robbers, but it was more the personal lives of the characters that made it feel closer to home than what I was seeing over my dad’s shoulder while he watched L&O.
Like Det. Torres’s (DeLorenzo) struggles with his drug abusing father, and Det. Williams (Yoba) raising a kid he had with his girlfriend when he was still a teenager himself. It struck a chord with me that still resonates today because of the struggles that I wasn’t seeing on any other shows.
It Also Felt A Lot More Action-Packed Than Other Dick Wolf Shows At The Time
From the very first shot in the opening theme of New York Undercover, we see Det. Torres and Det. Williams running through the streets with their guns raised, and a lot of that action did make its way into the show.
Though it wasn’t really all about gunfights in the streets or anything like that, in a lot of ways, the combative nature of how the characters would respond to each other, even within the police force itself, made it feel like sparks were always flying, even when the guns were holstered.
That said, it COULD get very action-packed at times. For example, I’ll never forget when a detective was shot and killed at the end of Season 3. This was especially heartbreaking as another was blown up in a car explosion in the very same season, which rocked me to my very core as a child.
I definitely wasn’t seeing any of that on his better known series back then. His other shows, like Chicago Fire, might have “explosive cliffhangers," I don’t think I’ll ever get over that car explosion death. Never ever.
It Was On Fox, So It Fit Nicely With Other African-American Shows At The Time
I love Black sitcoms from the ‘90s, and some of the best of all time were on Fox. Martin, Living Single, Roc, and hell, the sketch comedy show, In Living Color, were all Fox stables. Well, I’m not sure whose bright idea it was to put New York Undercover on the same night as Martin, and Living Single, but…it was a pretty bright idea, indeed!
As a Black person growing up in the ‘90s, I’ll always associate the cop show with my most impressionable years. And, I love the fact that New York Undercover was obviously catering toward a Black and Hispanic audience, so it felt like a show that was marketed directly toward somebody like, well, me…even if I WAS probably too young at the time to be watching it. That’s why it still feels like my Dick Wolf show. And it always will.
Watching It Probably Led Me To Eventually Watch The Wire
Lastly, without New York Undercover, I likely wouldn’t have watched The Wire. Or, at least not as early as I did. Let me explain. I didn’t catch the HBO classic when it first debuted back in 2002, and a lot of people didn’t, apparently. It was definitely the kind of show that was highly revered while it was still on, but became known as one of the greatest shows of all time after it ended.
I watched it around 2008, but only because I actually stumbled upon it one night on HBO, and its Black cast made me remember New York Undercover. This was in the final season, which wasn’t the best season to start with, and I knew this. So, I vowed to watch the series from the beginning on DVD (Remember those?), and of course I fell in love with it. But, I likely wouldn’t have decided to invest my time – at least back then, anyway – if it hadn’t reminded me of my favorite Wolf series. So, I definitely have New York Undercover to thank for that!
Those are just five reasons why New York Undercover is still my favorite Dick Wolf show, but for more info on all his dramas be sure to come back her often.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.