Thursday, June 24, 2010
ABC unveiled Rookie Blue tonight, it's new debut drama detailing the gritty, mean-street realities facing five young cops fresh out of the academy. Or, more accurately, ABC launched its new bubble-gum, family-friendly cop show featuring Missy Peregrym, which promises to shine a mag light on generic cop-show themes as it bores and loses viewers over the age of 25 and hopes to reach enough viewers under the age of 25 through it's network platform that it has a shot at being picked up by the CW for a second season. I'm sorry to be so harsh, but it's true. Nonetheless, I plan on watching the show, and you should too. Consider the following:
I know, right? The moment I learned that Missy Peregrym had a new show I decided to watch that show, and though I may be betraying the very founding principles of TV Warrior in my resolve to watch a show that I think is likely to be, um, not good, my first loyalty is to Missy, and I'll not abandon her, especially not now, in her time of greatest need, as she's just starting on the force.
When Stick It! debuted at the Cannes film festival in 2006, I heard the name Missy Peregrym a few times, but once I saw her I thought that she was likely just another athletic girl with a pretty face, chosen to headline a gymnastics movie because of her smile and her balance, not her sense of timing and ability to emote on screen. By the time of the Sundance Festival, buzz was already circulating about her performance, and once the Golden Globes rolled around, that buzz was nearly deafening. The verdict was in: in her first major role, she nailed her routine and stuck the landing. "Come on judges, give her a 10!"
Shockingly, Peregrym didn't win a Golden Globe or an Oscar for her acting gymnastics, though she went on to wow us in Heroes for a brief time before starring in the quite loveable show Reaper. After a brief time apart from us, she's back, and we don't want her to leave again. If watching Rookie Blue is what it takes to keep her from leaving again, then that is what we need to do.
The initial problem with the show is the simple fact that Missy Peregrym is too hot to be a cop. (Don't believe me? Compare 'em.) I don't feel I need to justify this statement, and in fact, I would like to see it proven wrong. Please, someone prove to me that somewhere on the planet there is a more attractive female cop. I beg you, nay, I dare you! But we routinely suspend our disbelief for shows and movies with regard to these sorts of things, so let's not get sidetracked by details. So she's too hot to be a cop, so what? That hardly means that we don't want to watch a cop show starring the girl that's clearly too hot to be a cop, right? On the contrary, as I'm sure you agree.
The pilot starts with our batch of new cops all in handcuffs in a bar - first one to uncuff themselves drinks for free. Seems like fun so far, though it appears that Ms. Peregrym does know how to get out of handcuffs, which one hopes is merely a special effect. But on to the plot.
So...to be honest, it's not worth giving you the play by play. The plot is very generic, it's safe, predictable, sometimes downright laughable. One thing it isn't is hard-hitting. Early on there is a scene where Andy McNally (Peregrym) has to give CPR to a girl who is overdosing on drugs and has stopped breathing - cut to commercial. During the break I felt like this OD'ing girl would set the tone for the show. Does she die, i.e. is this show going to start out dark, a rookie cop learns a hard truth the first day on the job, the omnipresence of death in the life of a street cop. Or does she save the girl, play the hero, it all works out, she, and everything, are going to be fine? Answer? She saves the girl. Girl's just fine. Which is fine. But throughout, there was a very palpable scripted, 'this is not real' feel to the lines, the scenes, the characters, and ultimately, the show.
The real problem one faces when making a cop show is that the bar is set pretty high. A new program has to compete with the legacy of some truly great shows: Law & Order, Law & Order's kids (SVU and Criminal Intent), Homicide: Life on the Street, The Wire, The Shield, 24, and those are just recent shows that I consider to be downright great. (Though I was never a Criminal Intent fan, I'm assured that it is on par with SVU, which I consider the crown jewel of the three. Yeah, that's right, better than the original. I said it, deal with it.)
Hmm, what am I leaving out? How about the current spate of shows that are wildly popular and downright good, maybe even great: Fringe, Monk, NCIS, CSI (and its many children), Bones, The Closer, Castle. Now that I think of it, I wonder if I am still leaving shows out, maybe shows that were before my time...such as CHiPs, Columbo, Kojack, Cagney & Lacey, 21 Jump Street, In The Heat Of The Night, Magnum P.I., Matlock, Miami Vice, Dragnet, Hawaii Five-O, The Commish, TJ Hooker, and no, I'm not about to forget Chuck Norris, in his seminal role as Walker, Texas Ranger. Don't worry, I realize I'm leaving out a ton of shows, including the one(s) you are currently annoyed that I left out, as well as shows so closely related that they are more or less cop shows (such as The X-Files, Alias, Psych, etc.).
Honestly, I don't think there is another genre with more titles than the "Cop Show" scene. We've seen it all, and we've seen it done well. Why would we invest in something subpar when there's 'plenty 'a gold to be found in them hills'? The short answer is, "We," meaning America, probably won't. It is tough to imagine this show making it, thus tough to invest the time in watching a show you think may be cancelled, thus helping to ensure that it will in fact be cancelled. It's a vicious cycle! But who knows, stranger things have happened. I think that shows like this can make it, often through an odd confluence of events, but there are legitimate ways that I can imagine this show demonstrating some value.
For starters, I don't think this show for a second plans or pretends to live up to the legendary status of the bigger names I rattled off above. There's more than one way to cultivate an audience, and putting together a well-written, well casted, authentic (authentic seeming, that is - who knows how authentic even the shows that seem the most real are) crime world drama is one way, but not the only. Another is to land a loyal audience amongst the, one imagines, multitudes that don't insist that their cop shows be gritty and authentic in the vein that people who do have come to expect. Good writing will nonetheless be a prerequisite, but on its back, I think it's possible to make an admittedly formulaic and generic concept come alive by developing endearing characters with compelling storylines overtop engaging and exciting story arcs. Simple, really.
There was one scene in the pilot where a female is called over to frisk a woman in custody, only to find out that she's transgender. After they argue over the correct gender of the "woman," and who has to frisk her, they decide the issue by looking at her license, which still says "M" for male, since "she" has yet to update it. In addition to being amusing, I thought this was a clever nod to an actual phenomenon that surely does come up on a routine basis in police stations the world over, and which most of us have probably never thought about. It gave me some hope that Ilana Frank, the writer of the pilot, may have some more witty tricks up her sleeve.
That Rookie Blue will succeed in this alternate route to success strikes me as unlikely, but 50 years from now, when we are watching Missy Peregrym receive her lifetime achievement award at the Oscars, the Meryl Streep of her generation, we'll think back and be glad that we were able to catch a glimpse of her early in her career, before the scripts caught up to her talent. And for telling you where to look to catch that glimpse, you will in turn thank me.
Your humble bringer of truth,
[For more on Hot Cops, see Hyperion's Second Banana and other TV Theories]