It’s pretty weird that in the annals of 90s television, New York Undercover is rarely talked about. Aside from being a great series, this American police drama marks one of my favorite childhood memories. While coming home from a doctor’s appointment, my dad and I stumbled upon the series being filmed.* The series’ two main stars, Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo, were being mobbed by fans but DeLorenzo still took the time to give me an autograph. That’s always been a great memory for me!
Best described as Law & Order meets 21 Jump Street, the series followed police detectives J.C. Williams (Malik Yoba) and Eddie Torres (Michael DeLorenzo) who would go undercover as gangsters, teachers or students, often finding themselves at risk of falling too deep into their roles. Naturally, their jobs only further complicated their already troubled lives as family men (much like Law & Order). Williams especially had a hard time throughout the series, suffering from a divorce and struggling to raise a son headed down a wrong path.
Broadcast on FOX during the mid-90s, the series quickly became a big hit for the network—it helped that Dick Wolf was a driving force behind the show—and while it’s a little dated by today’s standards, New York Undercover should be commended for casting a Latino and an African American as the leads (while similar series were filled with Caucasians). The supporting cast and soundtrack were equally as progressive, featuring a variety of R&B and hip hop songs and a bunch of notable guest stars that included Aaliyah, The Notorious BIG, and Mary J. Blige (just to name a few).
As undercover cops, Williams and Torres would occasionally need to bend the rules and be put in harm’s way as a result. In fact, many of the dangers they faced bordered on controversial, such as confronting societal issues like gang warfare, class warfare, poverty, and drug abuse. A lot of times they’d be directly affected, as when Torres is held captive and turned in to a drug abuser by a gang leader, or when Williams is stalked by a vicious drug dealer and recurring villain played by rapper Ice T.
New York Undercover was a hit during its initial run, dominating Thursday ratings for FOX for several years. It lasted four seasons, ending in 1998, after which its stars went on to varying degrees of success. It thrived in syndication on various Ameican cable networks for many years and, sadly, has yet to see a DVD or Blu-Ray release. I’d wager that’s probably due to rights issues involving the hip hop and R&B soundtrack. Nonetheless New York Undercover is a fun relic of the 90s and while it’s not an enduring franchise like Law & Order, it’s definitely packed with nostalgic value.
*A lot of the series was filmed in major locations around New York city which added to its authenticity.