The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: Invasion of the Cop Shows

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageIn between moving and not having an internet connection at home, this TV columnist has had a hard time keeping up with current events in TV land lately, but finally I am somewhere resembling a place called “caught up” not only when it comes to returning shows but also the ones just breaking onto the screen. And I have to ask: what’s with all those new cop shows?
I know, Americans have always loved some good old police action/drama/crime shows, but it seems this time around there are a lot of networks trying to put a “new” spin on an old genre.

I’m not even going to get into the new legal dramas, which are adjacent to cop shows and also still on the rise (Law & Order: Los Angeles, The Whole Truth and Outlaw). If I were trying to count all the cop and legal shows currently on the air, I would run out of fingers before I would even have to think hard. Personally, I think they are a bit of a disease. So let’s take a look at whether the freshmen cop shows of Fall 2010 aggravate the cancer.

NBC is trying their luck with U.S. Marshals and Jesse Metcalfe in Chase. It’s a nice change of pace from all the cop shows set in big cities with high crime rates. Basically you have Kelli Giddish as Annie Frost running after bad guys who have crossed borders illegally or are generally just on the run. Her recipe for success: she doesn’t care where they have been, like normal cops, she cares about where the bad guys are going and that’s how she is always one step ahead. She has a partner, of course, Jimmy Godfrey, who constantly gets kicked out of his house by his wife or girlfriend or something, but he really isn’t a compelling character at all. Cole Hauser was just better when combined with Casey Affleck. Jesse Metcalfe as the newbie who makes every mistake you can make provides no entertainment either. So the overall effect of Chase is “eh”. The pacing is good and the show doesn’t waste too much time with exposition, so it’s bearable to watch, but it strikes me more as a summer show not meant for the competitive fall schedule.

ImageThe only thing new about Detroit 1-8-7 is the setting. It was about time a cop show took on America’s No. 1 crime city, but other than that there is nothing, absolutely nothing new, exciting or surprising about Detroit 1-8-7. There’s a plethora of homicide detectives running around you can’t tell apart or care for all at the same time. The “central” character is Detective Finch, who is a mixture of Monk’s weirdness and House’s irreverence for authority and optimism. This makes him neither very interesting nor very likable, he’s just kinda there and weird. Furthermore, Detroit 1-8-7 is a slave to its formula, with two cases to be solved each episode and every step of the investigation conveniently displayed to us by captions, as if we were too stupid to know that if the two investigating cops are cruising the street they are doing what they talked about in the previous scene and looking for the person they consider their best suspect.

The show could have a smudge of interesting stuff to say if it focused more on the politics of Detroit, the problems the city has that everybody has been trying to tackle for years. Remember how great The Wire handled this? How the cops worked and worked their asses off and Baltimore still kept going to hell in a hand basket? That’s what Detroit 1-8-7 should focus on instead of the pseudo-emotional back stories of the detectives, who solve every single case, when supposedly the most “normal” part of being a cop is that there are too many cases you just cannot crack. There are a few good actors on the show, but all in all ABC cannot reach the level HBO has set for crime metropolis shows.

ImageWhat Detroit 1-8-7 does right though, having all our main characters serve in the same unit on homicide, CBS’ Blue Bloods does wrong. The pilot episode was a hot mess with so many family members introduced at once, it was impossible to remember who of them worked as a state attorney, who was still in law school and who just got promoted on the police force. I didn’t even bother to watch Episode Two, even though I probably will at some point, but the twist at the end of the pilot just had me groaning in my seat. Apparently, in the New York police there is a secret society only very elite people get to be in. Remember the movie Skulls? Yeah, it’s like that, only with cops. And now the youngest brother is supposed to investigate this secret society, a job which already got his older brother killed. Since this is TV and CBS, it is very likely the young brother is going to find out his dad (a ray of hope: Tom Selleck!), who is a big fish in the police pond (Commissioner, I think), is somehow involved as well and is doing bad things or being corrupt and then the sister, who is an assistant state attorney or something will face the decision whether or not to reveal this info to her boss and prosecute the dad and so on and so forth. You know where this is going.

In the meantime, the oldest brother, who works in homicide if I remember correctly, and is portrayed by Donnie Wahlberg, will continue to bully and abuse suspects and criminals and keep getting away with it, because “he is just that good”. Of course he is either not going to want to believe the dirt about the dad and the secret society, or he is also going to be a part of it, an integral part at that, because no one would ever believe a wild buck like him being able to conform to any kind of secret organization.
The scenes at the big dinner table with the legal conversation between the entire family come across a bit like Brothers & Sisters minus the abundance of wine and annoying Calista Flockhart, but are actually the best part of Blue Bloods. The family ties are what set this show apart from other cop shows, whereas the cases are just as standard as every other show and hence not fascinating.

If I had to put my money on one of these shows making it to a second season, right now I would have to put it on Blue Bloods, because there is something there the makers can still dig out and polish up. Chase, much like Leverage or Burn Notice, has a high entertainment factor and therefore might do well with a certain audience, I am just not sure NBC is the right place for it (USA might work better). Detroit 1-8-7 will rise and fall with viewers’ reaction to Detective Finch. If they love him like House and Monk and the show realizes this and focuses in more on him and his story as well as the politics of crime-ridden Detroit, this may have a shot. Right now, it’s a long shot though.
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