Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hadley Ajana Writes on the INFJ John Kelly

[photo fair use from wikipedia]
An Appreciation of Detective John Kelly, NYPD Blue: Treasure the INFJ

Before I tell you how much I love John Kelly, how he’s different from all the other television detectives, and why I think he is an INFJ, let me start with a little background.

NYPD Blue: A Groundbreaking Show

John Kelly is a character on the ABC television series NYPD Blue (1993-2005) played by David Caruso. Steven Bochco and David Milch were co-creators of this drama set in a Manhattan police precinct. Each hour-long episode, which typically covers one day in the life of the detective squad, contains scenes of characters’ personal lives while also telling the story of a crime investigation.

When the show debuted in the mid-1990’s networks were struggling to retain viewers in the wake of a growing cable audience. NYPD Blue was the product of this changing environment. Successful television producer Bochco (Hill Street Blues, LA Law) convinced ABC that his new series should contain colorful language and more sexuality to keep viewers interested. The resulting NYPD Blue pilot was considered so racy that some ABC affiliates refused to run it. When the show did air on the majority of ABC stations it was met with critical acclaim and became an instant hit.

David Caruso: The Show’s Breakout Performer

Though NYPD Blue is known now as an ensemble piece, it was meant originally as a vehicle for actor David Caruso. Caruso had already delivered some stand out performances in films like Mad Dog and Glory, and had appeared in Bochco’s Hill Street Blues in the 1980s. Caruso, too, added to the controversy surrounding the early years of NYPD Blue when he left after the first season to pursue a career in film.

Denniz Franz became the center of NYPD Blue, winning many awards for his nuanced performance. His character, Detective Andy Sipowicz, was voted the tenth greatest television detective of all time in a 2000 TV Guide poll. While the attention lavished on Franz over the years has been well-deserved, Caruso’s Kelly has been all but forgotten. Perhaps it’s because he appeared on the screen for such a short time, just one season and four episodes. But what a run it was. I saw enough in those twenty-six hours to declare John Kelly my favorite television cop of all time. Move over, Jim Rockford and Frank Pembledon (both in TV Guide’s top five by the way)! John Kelly has stolen the heart of this police procedural addict.

Detective John Kelly

Allow me to tell you about the man I love. Kelly was raised by a widowed mother after his father, an Irish cop, was killed on duty. It’s clear as you get to know him that Kelly is both angry at his father for leaving him and at the same time trying to please him. Though the topic is never raised, it’s always in the air.

Following in his father’s footsteps Kelly advanced quickly through the police ranks and made detective at a young age. His mentor and partner is Andy Sipowiz, a seasoned alcoholic.

The job has taken a toll on Kelly’s six-year marriage which is on the rocks at the beginning of the series and never recovers. Shortly after he separates from his wife, John finds himself involved with a fellow police officer who -- we can’t blame her -- pursues the newly available detective with a single-minded determination. It’s difficult to gauge his depth at first, but time proves Kelly’s passion a slow and steady burn. Even after his girlfriend’s corruption is exposed and puts his career in jeopardy, John fends off advances from a rich, beautiful widow to stand by his lady love as she heads off to jail.

A New Type of Hero

Critics often described Detective Kelly as sensitive and moral. Consider Joyce Millman’s appreciation of Caruso in Salon magazine which sums up his NYPD Blue character as “[a] good Catholic kid whose faith had taken a few knocks, trying to do the right thing in a system where the right thing was often not enough.”

Kelly’s morality is often on display. In one of the first episodes, the detective testifies at the trial of a child-killer. The judge has ruled that a key piece of evidence cannot be presented to the jury because of a legal technicality. On the stand Kelly tries to sneak in some testimony about the banned item. When told he’s going to be held in contempt of court, Kelly responds to the judge with smoldering outrage: “I hold you in contempt. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Caruso portrayed an emotional yet strong man. This was the heart of his character’s appeal. Millman calls Kelly “the ultimate stand-up guy, the peacemaker who defused ‘situations’ with calm appeals to good sense, the caretaker who shouldered everyone’s burdens. ‘Are we okay with this?’ was one of his soothing phrases.” She also thinks such a sensitive badass is unusual, calling Kelly “a new breed of TV cop hero, a wounded-inner-child Clintonian mediator.” GQ saw something revolutionary, too, proclaiming Kelly “The Hero as New Man.”

Women Love a Man Whose Available

Kelly’s – or should we say Caruso’s -- sensitive yet strong nature belies a man comfortable with his own masculinity, something rarely seen on television, let alone in a crime show. In an interview with GQ for the “hero as new man” article, Caruso was asked his view on relationships. “All men fantasize about is a true equal,” says the actor. “At the end of the day, you really want to be with someone you get along with…you want to be in a situation where you can be yourself.” Caruso’s understanding informed a new interpretation of the tough Irish cop stereotype. Unfortunately, this type of genuine respect for women is still “new” in television and, one fears, in life.

Not only did Kelly respect women, he understood them. I, and I suspect millions of other women, love him as much when he was “escorting” a drunk to the door as when he listens – with an intensity you seldom experience in real life – to his date’s problems. Kelly manages to walk that fine line between husband-protector and boyfriend-lover.

Jim Rockford, number one on TV Guide’s list of greatest television sleuths, broke new ground in the 70’s by showing sensitivity, but he also avoids confrontation and is sometimes downright cowardly. He certainly lacks Kelly’s “badassness.” Columbo, TV Guide’s number two detective, is thoughtful yet short on social skills. Certainly he was not a romantic lead. Number three in TV Guide’s ranking, Frank Pembledon, is a brilliant, deep, and brooding man whose integrity is rigid, more terrifying than inviting. Only NYPD Blue’s hero is perceptive, strong, decent and emotionally available.

John Kelly, INFJ

The combination of traits found in Detective Kelly is most women’s dream. It is rare in the real world. Why it’s not seen on television more I don’t know. I believe that Kelly’s characteristics are reflective of the personality type INFJ, a personality type found in less than two per cent of the population. Perhaps the lack of these “types” on television is a matter of art imitating life.

Sipowicz refers to Kelly as the social worker of the century who still manages to get the job done. Women flock to him for emotional support. Even his ex-wife leans on him when she feels threatened because he is so good at what he does. Men, too, seek Kelly out for advice. When fellow detective Medavoy contemplates divorce, Kelly is consulted. Caruso’s character is there for everyone, at the office and on the street, while still being competent. This is typical of INFJ’s, known as “counselors” for their strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others but who are also noted for their ability to navigate complex situations.

A special characteristic of the INFJ is his ability to “know” others, to feel their feelings and read their thoughts. An interesting NYPD Blue scene is one in which Kelly explains his behavior to a new detective, James Martinez. The rookie investigator wants to know if Kelly beat a confession out of a suspect as he had threatened to. The veteran says he did not in this case but wouldn’t hesitate to if he knew the suspect was guilty, not just suspected but knew of his guilt. This is the sense in which you will often hear INFJ’s use the verb know. They know as others do not. They know to a moral certainty and they feel secure in that knowledge. It is one of their special gifts.

Like most INFJ’s, Kelly is not a leader but rather someone who chooses to exert his influence behind the scenes. It is not a vision that guides him, nor a desire to motivate others, but rather the need to connect, to fix what is broken, to empathize with those he knows. That describes the INFJ and is reflective of Kelly’s role in the squad room. He fights to give junkies a second chance, sets crooked cops straight, and anchors Sipowicz as he makes the transition to sobriety. He sorts the good from the bad with an understanding that no one is perfect. Kelly does not give orders nor martial the men to action; he is simply the soul of the group.

Another INFJ Walks off the Job

INFJ’s give so much and expect so little in return, but they do have their limits.

Though they are strong in many ways, INFJ’s cannot abide an emotionally disruptive environment nor public criticism. The NYPD Blue writers arranged for Caruso’s exit by having Kelly leave the police force in a typical INFJ fashion. It’s not unusual for an INFJ to take on trouble for a friend. When his girlfriend is put on trial for a murder stemming from her corrupt dealings, the Bureau of Internal Affairs begins to investigate all Kelly’s old cases. John accepts the snooping but rails with indignation at the public manner in which it is done. Unable to abide his demotion to radio operator, Kelly leaves the police force. Public criticism is just something an INFJ cannot tolerate.

INFJ’s are also infamous for their struggle with finding the right career and are known for being perpetually “disappointed” with their superiors. Kelly’s exit from the show certainly parallels the real end of many an INFJ’s job.

A Rare Pleasure

While his departure was aptly crafted, it’s sad that Caruso forced an end to Kelly’s appearances on NYPD Blue. He really was a new man, both strong and warm, and I miss him. One does not often encounter a character of such quality. On screen, as in life, INFJ’s are rare. We should treasure them wherever we find them and enjoy their company for as long as it lasts.

Read other articles by and for INFJs at

and Hadley's film review, an extensive collection indexed here: "I Watch for Introverts"

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