Saturday, December 11, 2010

Two Cop Shows--One Good, One Not So Much

This review is going to be about two new television cop dramas. One results in a minor rant, the other in a positive review. Pictured is the main cast of the new drama Detroit 1-8-7. The show sucked me in with what appeared to be gritty acting and a cast including some of my favorites such as Michael Imperioli, James McDaniel, and newcomer D. J. Cotrona. It didn't take me long to realize the show was manipulative, formulaic, and has a hidden agenda.

One reason I came back for the second episode is that the first episode had remnants of its original concept as a mockumentary. The attempted serious acting couldn't overcome the obvious hint of satire contained in the plot devices. By the second episode, all feeling of a little self-deprecation was replaced by stereotypical "working class heroes" who are just struggling to make sense out of their jobs, their lives, and their perps. I was amazed to find the totally original concept that "even cops have problems" which has only appeared in forty-eleven other cop shows.

They team the gruff veteran cop played by Imperioli with the naive and idealistic young black cop. Like that's never been done before. There's the old, wise cop who is near retirement, has seen it all, and still struggles with leaving the job that has been his life's work. Then there's the tough black female sergeant (or lieutenant, I'm not sure which). Etc, etc., ad nauseam.

The only thing that kept me watching (past tense--I watched my last episode this week) is the ongoing theme of racial profiling. Apparently, Detroit allows racial profiling of white males and has found it to be a highly successful tool. The population of Detroit metro is approximately 81.6% black, but on this show, the white male population commits approximateley 90% of the murders. The thinking of the squad apparently is that any white man who lives in Detroit must ipso facto be crazy, a criminal, or both. And since there is so much white-on-black crime in America, the white males must be there solely for the easy pickings.

Most of the white males are semi-moronic working-class racists, but rich white guys who have stuck around are also profiled since it's obvious that the only reason they are there is to exploit the black folks. And I must give honorable mention to the one old bad white cop who was responsible for the death of an interracial couple during the Detroit riots (there isn't enough current crime to satisfy the writers?). If the show were Beverly Hills 1-8-7, I could understand the racial makeup of the murderers. But Detroit?

Now don't take my figures as absolutely accurate, since I began to pay less attention to the show as the season progressed. The acting got more stilted, the plots evermore similar, the stretch that finally identifies the killers became progressively more obvious, and the murders of black folks by white criminals became unbearable. So here's my rough count. Each episode solves two murders. I've watched eight episodes. So far out of sixteen total murders, 12 have been committed by whites, 2 by blacks (one semi-justified, of course), 1 by a black man who was put up to it by a white man, and 1 unsolved (statistically, it must have been committed by a white man according to the profile established by the show's writers).

There isn't enough solid drama, personal interaction, forensic intelligence or realistic problem-solving to make this show worth getting past its ludicrous murder statistics. And what the heck's with calling the show Detroit 1-8-7 anyway? Only in California and the minds of Hollywood writers does 187 (the murder section of the California Penal Code) mean homicide with malice aforethought. 187 is often used by black gangs to describe a murder outside of California, but according to Detroit 1-8-7, there are no murderous black gangs in Detroit. In Michigan, the homicide statutes start at Section 750. As the great crime-solver Lt. Frank Drebin of Police Squad always said about a disaster like this, "move on--nothing to see here." Homicide--Life On The Streets, The Wire, Third Watch, or even Hill Street Blues this show ain't.

Now for the upside of new cop shows. I allow for reasonable cliches and formula (this is television, after all). That allowance doesn't help Detroit 1-8-7, but it covers the flaws in what has turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable cop drama--Blue Bloods. The cliche is the Irish family which has generationally been involved in law enforcement. But it's a cliche that has its roots in the real Irish cop families of New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.

Tom Selleck heads the cast as the pater familias who has assumed the family reins after his cop father retires. This is about as far from his persona in Magnum P.I. as you can get. He is quiet, determined, and honestly non-political as the New York City Police Commissioner. The supporting cast is just as good. Donnie Wahlberg plays the older son who is the old-fashioned, rough-hewed street cop. He has come a very long way since his pretty-boy days with New Kids On The Block. Will Estes plays the younger brother who graduated from Harvard Law, got engaged to a criminal defense attorney, then decided he really wanted to be a cop. His view of police work frequently clashes with that of his older brother, and there is some friction between the two over the death on duty of their oldest brother.

The older daughter is a by-the-book deputy district attorney who has her heart in prosecuting the bad guys, but occasionally comes into conflict with the rest of the family when it appears they may have cut a few procedural corners. As the season has progressed, the younger brother's relationship with his liberal fiancee is falling apart, and by the most recent episode, she has broken the engagement and moved to (where else for a liberal?) San Francisco. Nicholas Turturro does an admirable if formulaic job as the training officer to the rookie younger brother. The final personal plot line that could wear itself out is Selleck's intimate relationship with a TV news reporter who pumps him for information he doesn't want to get out during investigations (pun intended).

A leitmotif that appears regularly episodically is developing that could cause serious problems for the entire family. An FBI investigation of the department reveals that the murdered brother was part of an undercover sting to root out the members of a secret police society that doesn't play by the rules and occasionally gets rid of bad guys who escape the legal system. Wahlberg's character may be a member of the society as well as Selleck's father, but that hasn't been established yet. The FBI has approached the younger brother played by Estes to replace his murdered brother in the sting. He hasn't yet decided if he will do that.

The show always includes the old-fashioned and traditional once-a-week family dinner at Selleck's home. Everyone attends, it's usually enjoyably chaotic, with occasional strong disagreements that Selleck squelches saying "we have one night a week to get together as a family, and I'm not going to allow any of you to ruin it by fighting." That usually works, but not always. One of those extremely lively family dinner quarrels ended up with family unanimity on the demise of a nasty criminal resulting from questionable police tactics. That was too much for the liberal fiancee who excuses herself from the table and tells the younger brother that she found the family's attitude despicable, and along with his failure to pursue a corporate legal career, was the straw that broke the camel's back for her.

Not every episode is perfect, there are some stretches on the law, and some plot devices are merely slightly annoying. But overall, it's an enjoyable show that can keep you hooked with its ongoing episodic plots. And best of all, it's one of those rare shows that is good enough to survive any time slot, but has been put on the deadly TV Friday night schedule on CBS. It has developed a loyal and growing audience. I agree. And since the nightlife in Caliente is noticeably less than that of San Francisco, I appreciate having something to do on a Friday night.


Tennessee Jed said...

Good reviews, Hawk and I concur. For some reason, my sensors told me ahead of time that "Detroit" would be a b.s. agenda show and as such, I got out much earlier than you.

I have enjoyed Blue Blood episodes I've watched, but have several episodes stacked up waiting to be watched. Isn't it interesting how old curmudgeons tastes are so similar? ;D

AndrewPrice said...

I haven't seen either. I find Hollywood cop shows to be so ridiculously stylized and soap-opera-like that I just don't watch them anymore.

Anonymous said...

Tennessee: Birds of a feather, and all that. LOL I suffer from what psychologists might call the German mania for cataloging. Once I sensed the racial profiling, the genes kicked in and I had to start keeping a scorecard just to document that I wasn't imagining things.

Anonymous said...

Andrew: I probably have a lot more time on my hands than you, so I can waste some of that time checking out shows I probably wouldn't have bothered with just a few years back. But even back then, I often used TV as a bit of mindless escapism, so long as it was entertaining. At least with cop dramas I can relax and suspend disbelief from time to time, unlike lawyer shows that get me yelling and throwing things at the TV. Of the two shows I reviewed, Detroit 1-8-7 is like a burr under my saddle, while Blue Bloods entertains without requiring too much exercise of the gray matter.

Tehachapi Tom said...

You guys need to get a life. All the story type shows on tv are situational and the ending that surprise are rare. I would rather shovel snow or play solitaire on the computer for a mind less distraction.

Anonymous said...

Tehachapi Tom: Some of us don't have the right situation to pursue the purely intellectual and athletic life, so we have to settle for more mundane things. As the old saying goes, "there's nothing new under the sun," to which I would add "just new ways of viewing them." After spending most of my life matching wits with real toughies, I've earned the right to enjoy mindless entertainment. LOL

Anonymous said...

I'm not into cop shows but I was lucky enough to work as an extra on the Blue Bloods pilot - I watched it and I think I saw my sleeve on the edge of the frame. :-)

It was my second extra job I got after I moved up here. It was the pilot episode and they had 50+ extras for the NYPD graduation scene: cadets, family members, and reporters. They made me a "reporter" and the prop man gave me a pen and pad of paper. Others got cameras and mics but the production completely miscalculated the number of extras playing members of the media: for one thing, we were too well-dressed!

We shot on a cold gray day outside Madison Square Garden. The 2nd assistant director and most of the production assistants were female and it was quite hard to hear them at times. There were NYPD officers on set and all the extras playing cadets were told to turn their jackets inside out whenever we had to walk back to the holding area, which was the Hotel Pennsylvania across the street.

I did get to stand ten feet away from Selleck and the rest of the cast. One extra with whom I had worked before was even plucked out of the lineup to be Selleck's father's stand-in. He got a bump in pay and a better lunch!

Anonymous said...

Scott: I'm sure they'll repeat that episode soon. I'll be sure to watch for you. Any identifying marks I should look for? Too bad about you not getting the bump for playing Selleck's father's stand-in, but it would have cost them too much in makeup to make you look old enough. LOL

Anonymous said...

I wasn't the stand-in; another guy that I had worked with on another show was the stand-in. They'd never pick me because stand-ins need to physically resemble the actor they're standing in for.

(If you were joking, then please disregard that statement.) :-)

I just found a copy of the pilot online and I took a screencap. I labeled what I think is me. You'd never catch it unless you advanced frame by frame.

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