We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to 1994 where we bore witness to a groundbreaking show that influenced a generation. Twenty years ago this week Executive Producer Dick Wolf and FOX Network launched the first episode of New York Undercover, which starred Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo as Detectives J.C. Williams and Eduardo Torres. In Part 2, myself & Headley Bent wonder if this show can work in 2014, our favorite episodes, and the one and only……. Danny Cort.
Danny “Danny Up” Cort
Cee: The 90s version to Avon Barksdale. Safe to say this was the best villain in the history of the show. They had some pretty good ones too. John Santucci & his mafia, Adolfo Guzman and his gang who beat Torres up when he kept messing with his Dad. Those were just small tremors compared to the contempt Cort & JC had for each other. Their relationship was the definition of a blood feud. Quick rundown of the beef: In one of the earlier episodes from Season 1, Cort ran an elaborate CAT drug lab that communicated through ghost emails & pagers (as high end as technology got back then). Torres helps break up the operation being undercover & puts Cort behind bars. Once Cort got out, he tried to run another operation again that ended up being foiled by JC & Torres in a wild shootout. JC ends up killing Cort’s younger brother with the monster afro. Oh & let’s remind you, this whole shootout all happens a couple of days before JC gets married to his fiancee Sandy. This is where everything flips on its head.
Normally with these network shows, maybe the villain would try to exact revenge by maybe holding the cop’s loved one hostage or something, but usually the good guys prevail at the end no worse for wear. By having Cort run up in JC’s apartment (after his right hand man Big Dawg tracks down JC’s address), impersonating someone making a delivery to Sandy & then shooting the living daylights out of her with a machine gun…. I’m not even sure if mind blowing is the right term to describe it. Anyone who watched that episode remembers, you were left stuck in your chair with the air completely sucked out of you. Like someone sucker
punching kicking you hard in the stomach right when you’re swallowing some food. Outside of Dwayne Wayne breaking up Whitley’s wedding in A Different World, & Optimus Prime actually dying in the Transformers movie, I can’t remember a time when a TV show threw me for a loop like that, but this was so brutal, you felt for JC like it was your brother. Right then & there, I became a fan of Ice-T.
Listen, as a rapper, I really wasn’t the biggest fan of Ice-T. I know I’m supposed to hold Colors in high regard, but maybe I was too young to fully appreciate it or it just sailed over my head back then. To be honest, I’m still not crazy about his songs. But Ice-T the actor? Two thumbs up. His start in New Jack City was great, but I’ll always associate that movie with Wesley Snipes, who in this movie was at the height of his powers with his charismatic forceful personality & his dark-skinnededness. He was raising the flag for dark-skinned brothers everywhere at the time, and of course I had to ride for that! Not to say whenever I think of this show I think of Ice-T, but he had a major impact on the show that you couldn’t shake. It forever changed JC’s character on the show, even made him slightly crazy after Sandy’s death (which was amazing by the way). Ice-T was ruthless, relentless, & was one of the most underrated & overlooked villains of our time.
Torres: “Listen, you’ve gotta take this kid with you. He’s gonna die if he doesn’t get to a hospital!”
Cort: “Look, I would if this was a ‘saving the kid’ kind of a day, maybe. But unfortunately, today’s turning into a ‘save my ass’ kind of day.” – Quote from Season 1, episode #19 “CATS”.
This was the kinda guy Danny Cort aka DannyUp was. To put it lightly, he was a drug kingpin, but accurately, he was a psychopath. Like Cal, I’m not the biggest fan of Ice-T’s rap career, but I give due where due is deserved, and he’s a pioneer. Even Ice T admits he wasn’t the best rapper but he was Tupac before Tupac. He put out tracks we only thought about. If Ice T was indicative to what kind of music that Danny Up would be listening to, I’m sure Original Gangster, New Jack Hustler, Midnight and Cort’s favorite Cop Killer would get so much play it would cause his yellow Discman to smoke. DannyUp was only in three or four episodes?!?!?! I swear I thought he was in more. I remember him like he was a pivotal part of the plot. That goes to show how his small role was impactful. I’ll say this much: had they spread that storyline the whole series, it would have been on par (okay not on par) of drug lord Gus Fring in Breaking Bad season 2-3-4. Fring and Cort did their business completely different, all I am saying is that Cort could have had his own Wikipedia page had it developed more. But as it stands, nothing touches Gustova. NOTHING! That’s for another time. But I find it timely to mention the actor that played him in Breaking Bad (Giancarlo Esposito) also guest starred in New York Undercover as Adolfo Guzman. He was an associate to the John Santucci mafia you mentioned Cal. Well it was Guzman’s character that had a long brewing feud with Det Torres and temporarily took over Natalie’s from Eddie’s pops!!! I’m telling you, this series was the catalyst to a lot of great acting. We just had no idea what we were watching. As we know, Ice-T also became better known as Det. Fin on Law & Order: Special Crime Unit from 2000 to the this very day.
Interesting Note: Ice-T also won the NAACP Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 1996 for his Danny Cort role. See, it wasn’t just hyperbole, he really did knock that role out of the ball park. Not sure who he competed with that year but let’s not pay any attention to that.
Cee: The aforementioned Danny Cort one where he kills Sandy is really close to being my favorite. My favorite one personally is the episode when Cort comes back out of jail & terrorizes JC until they meet to the death. Sending JC two human middle fingers by way of his son Gregory aka G., leaving a dead body in his car, having Naomi Campbell (who played JC’s new woman in the show) help kidnap his son & Chantal (Mother of JC’s child). I’m not sure if you can hit the mountaintop of the blood feud any higher than Cort playing Russian Roulette with JC’s son and laughing. I’m sure some people turned the other way in real life when they saw Ice-T coming. He played that shit a little too good.
Underrated favorites are the first 4-5 episodes of Season 2 when JC comes back on the force after Sandy’s murder/JC-Cort Round 1 & was mad at the world. He snapped on everyone, beat up criminals way too aggressively, even smacked around Torres at one point. Every time he flipped out, my cousin Brian would call me & we’d freak out about it like Jordan came down the lane & dunked on somebody. And vice versa. If you’re thinking it, you’re right: we were idiots.
Headley: I’m going to simplify this and bring it down to one episode. This might not even be my favourite episode but it’s the most memorable. What’s reminiscent is the scene with Det JC Williams chasing down Danny Cort by the docks. It’s the one singular scene which captures a genie in a bottle. For those playing at home that haven’t caught on yet, it’s the same episode that Cal mentioned earlier about Danny Cort cocking his gun to G’s head.
Before I get into it. Let me give you some interesting facts which we never realized before the lineage that was forming. We always talk about the heavy hip hop influence on the show. Reggie Rock Bythewood who wrote the episode and one of the main writers of the series went on to write the biopic Notorious on the acclaimed life of Notorious B.I.G. Also Cal, you make a reference to legendary villain Avon Randolph Barksdale of the infamous The Wire series.
Get this: Actor Steve Harris who plays Terry Ellers which has a longtime fued with JC. Ellers early on in this episode walks into the precinct accusing JC of harassment, and later on ends up dead with his finger cut off. Danny Cort has his finger gift wrapped to JC delivered by his own son G, Cort is nuts. Well, Steve Harris became a larger star in the American legal drama The Practice , playing lawyer Eugene Young. To this day, that acting is one of the best played out characters I have seen on the small screen, and Steve Harris has the awards to back it up. One of my all-time favorite dramas too. We were privy to a preview of his discovery on New York Undercover. And Cal, guess who Steve Harris kid brother is? You give up? None other than Wood Harris. Yes, the same Wood Harris that would later on bring Avon Barksdale to life on The Wire. He actually had a cameo in season four on New York Undercover too. Okay, school is out.
The reason why I love this series is because the storyline of Danny Cort was finally coming to a climax. The build-up was intense, like I’mma ‘bout to pop that…. lid (trying to keep it PG people). As Cal said, Danny Cort had already solidified himself as a maniac, you just wanted to see him and JC finally square off. And nothing becomes more apparent with Danny Cort’s mindset then when he explains the mental torture he wants to put JC through when he’s in the car with his right-hand-man, CoCo. And the twist of finding out that JC’s girlfriend played by the lovely Naomi Campbell is a double agent who is really in Danny Cort’s camp. You knew something was up when she accused Torres of hitting her. You realize Danny Cort is one sick, but smart ass dude. Finally, when JC is praying for his family’s life and Danny’s yukking it up, you forget Danny Cort is just a character and start to think Ice-T might be nuts. But when JC get’s the upper hand and the foot race is on…. I swear to you, I watched the scene on my feet when it first happened. You’d a thought I was watching 90s playoff basketball…. I WAS AMPED. I had been waiting for this showdown to finally happen like prize fighters, the time for talk was over. And when JC catches him, and Cort goes on that rant from his back saying:
“Listen, this thing ain’t neva gonna end, not until you’re dead, not until Chantal’s dead, and not until I kill your kid. I’ll be back before you know I’m gone. PULL THE TRIGGER YOU LITTLE BITCH!!”
J.C’s eyes bugged out. Episode just ends with a single gunshot heard. You could have heard a pin drop in my basement. Oh yeah, and to top it all off….Al Green was the musical guest at Natalie’s. **drops mic**
(** But I have to say watching the episode again, it’s not as nearly at mind blowing as I first remembered but neither are eye candies in old 2 Live Crew videos either. It’s the times. **)
Can this show be remade in 2014?
Cee: I don’t even see how that’s possible. Seriously. First of all, on the musical side, the music has changed so much since 1994, that hip hop today mostly sounds the same. Meaning that it doesn’t matter what region you’re from, most of it has that same trap music sound. The best part of New York Undercover musically was that with the distinctive New York flavor (where most of the rappers rarely sounded alike even though they lived in the same city), the show just felt like a New York city show. Right now the show would have to be called Miami Undercover or Atlanta Undercover or even Louisiana Undercover. But not New York.
Secondly, who would even play the role of JC & Torres? Who pulls that off? Or do they just come with different characters altogether, like Detectives Ronde Jenkins & Benito Santiago? Most importantly, they have to not only be female eye candy, but also have enough swagger and sense of style that the guys want to follow as well. In the social media world & all the distractions and avenues that it can take you on, I’m not quite sure how that happens. Unless…..
….you put this show on HBO. This show would have to be darker, sexier, more violent, and whoever plays Nina Moreno or her equivalent has to be hot & willing to be naked. A lot. So much so that I’m tweeting about it, posting her pics on Instagram, and definitely talking about it non-stop with my peoples on WhatsApp. That will pique my interest for starters. Overall however, the show would have to become even more grittier than its predecessor. This may be fine, but then you kind of lose its coolness factor of the show too, & that kind of defeats the purpose. You know how some songs are sung so well that they should just be left alone? Some songs are meant for that time, in that era, & to be sung only by those original artists. Well, this show might fall into the same category. Yoba & DeLorenzo had a natural chemistry that’s not easily repeated. That’s the thing about chemistry with regards to any kind of relationship. It’s not something that happens often, but when it does, you know it right away. Sometimes it lasts forever, and there are times it doesn’t, but when it does, you always know for certain that recreating that feeling is impossible once the elements change. That’s why Season 4 never worked once Torres & Lt. Cooper were gone & all the new castmates replaced them. The chemistry died once the JC & Torres dynamic was altered. It couldn’t be done in 1998 & it’ll be hard to do now. That memory needs to remain in our minds & on segmented Youtube clips forever….
…..unlike Season 4 because we’ll always pretend like that shit never existed.
Headley: I disagree with some of your points. The chemistry between Torres and JC isn’t something that was made in a lab and is now buried in a time capsule. It can happen again. The problem is when they killed off Torres, we couldn’t fathom seeing anyone else as JC’s partner. This isn’t Chicago PD or Game of Thrones, or The Wire era. We weren’t use to main characters being off’d. Almost like the series was better off with them both dead and starting two fresh lead characters. Although the series still didn’t do any better, but could you imagine if Derwin and/or Melanie started messing with someone else while their other character moved away in The Game?!?! Those two were corny but their corniness worked together. And I never knew about Malik Yoba or Michael DeLorenzo before New York Undercover, so for a remake, it doesn’t need named actors, the history of the show, and not the actors, is what will draw past viewers, and attract new ones.
With all that said… my simple answer to this question is still “NO”. Lol. Not with how attention spans are now, and to the great lengths shows have to go for originality and plot development. This show would get swallowed up. You’d need a Danny Cort-type character in every season or it wouldn’t have the same impact. Just like RUN-DMC not being able to duplicate its run in the 80s if they came out now. But the same way I would love to see them in concert, I’m not sure I want to hear a comeback album. There’s a meaning to “the right place at the right time”. I won’t say it would have been impossible but DeLorenzo destroyed that.
The rumors were that DeLorenzo got into a contract dispute with the Executive Producers/FOX and completely annihilated the show after only three seasons. I understand him wanting to cash in on the popularity but when they wrote him off, this series went right off the cliff. We talk about this series and it was on only three seasons (the last season like the Arsenio Hall and MJ returns are so unmemorable, I try to block it out my memory). And the worst thing is, you never saw Michael DeLorenzo again, this was his apex. At least when David Caruso walked away from NYPD Blue after one season, he resurfaced again with CSI Miami. I have literally never seen DeLorenzo again!! Is he doing community production stage plays of New York Undercover now?!??! The joke is, he left because of cash and the royalties they could have made if he had stayed was probably more than he would have ever made afterwards. His bluff got called and he didn’t even have a pair of twos. He’s no better than Shereè leaving RHOA (from what I am told. I don’t watch that… ummm… ever. Really. Really). But let me digress, I know this wasn’t the question but if this series would have gone eight plus seasons strong, it would have had a Miami Vice rep and we’d be talking about big budget movie options like they had (which was horrible by the way). Point being right now with a short-lived series and over saturation of cop dramas, it won’t happen.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Just recently a few years ago, a New York cop series premiered with a Jay Z song “Heart of the City / Ain’t No Love” as the opening jingle. I had the show PVR’d before you could spell out PVR. I had the memories of New York Undercover spinning in my head like your HS sweetheart when I saw the commercial. Show looked to have some potential swag, following rookie cops in the Upper Manhattan side of NYC. The show lasted one season and it was one season too long. Can’t be duplicated.
Cee: That DeLorenzo holdout point you made was very depressing. He single handily may have killed the long-term potential of the show. I think I actually saw him as a dance instructor teaching Duane Martin to dance on the show All of Us about 10 years ago. Maybe that was his way of taking it back to his Fame roots, who knows? Either way, that was a sobering way to end this blog. Thanks for killing my buzz.
Cal Cee // South Shore Ave
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Thanks for such a brilliant article. I was the costume designer for New York Under Cover while it was on the air. You brought back good memories of some great times. I don’t think I ever realized what I was doing with the wardrobe on the show had such an influential effect on a culture. In fact what I was doing was expressing what a powerful influence a culture had on me and translating that to the characters on the show.
Thank you very much for reading, it’s an honor. You did an incredible job with the custom designs on NYU. As I mentioned in the post before, the wardrobe had a huge influence on my generation. Very much appreciated for becoming a follower of the blog, I hope you enjoy the posts that come out in the future.
My pleasure man, I’ll be in New York the first week in August taping an episode of Unsung for TV One. The episode will be about New Your Undercover. Your blog brought everything full circle for me. Greatly appreciated, Richie
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No problem. I’ll definitely look out for that episode of Unsung for sure…
The Unsung episode is scheduled, as I heard last week, on March 16, 2016 on TV One, 5pm PT. As creator of the show with Dick Wolf, I interviewed for several hours for this Unsung episode trying to recollect and piece together what happened to a show with enormous potential and why it was cut so short. I gave up what I knew (and then some), but it became clear to me that many of my colleagues on the show had things to contribute I knew nothing about, especially since I left the show after the first season. I’m dying to watch this Unsung episode to find out what happened on my own show! This is the perfect time for this episode in the midst of all the “diversity” controversy because, in my opinion, to the power structure of Network TV at the time, New York Undercover just wasn’t “Kappa.”
I really appreciate you letting me know when this episode of Unsung will air, and it is something I will definitely look out for. Also, I am honored that you would even let me know about the episode, and holding the title as Creator of New York Undercover, I’d like to thank you personally as this was one of my favorite shows back in the 90s. As I mentioned in the article, it had a huge influence on my generation, and more importantly, seeing people of color on TV in that way was a very important image for us to absorb. So much like you, I can’t wait to watch this either, and couldn’t understand why it only lasted four seasons!! Once again, thanks for the heads up…..