In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, A&E
A&E has something of a thing for Benjamin Bratt at the moment. As well as starring in the colossally expensive The Andromeda Strain remake, he's now starring in the not-as-expensive-as-its-own-marketing-campaign The Cleaner.
Yep, in an effort to get away from being known as the “channel that likes to show Sopranos re-runs”, A&E is spending up to $8 million just on promoting The Cleaner, one of its first original drama series in a very long time.
Building on the dark and gritty image the network already has, The Cleaner explores the world of addiction, whether it's addiction to drugs, gambling, sex or alcohol. Bratt, in a role “inspired” by reality, plays William Banks, a man who attempts to get over his past heroin addiction by weaning others off their addictions.
Unfortunately, “inspired” seems to mean “converted into something a bit like every other television series you've ever seen - and about as realistic”.
Each week THE CLEANER follows Benjamin Bratt as William Banks, a recovering addict who helps others get clean by any means necessary as he struggles to maintain his own rocky personal life. William works with an eclectic team. Swenton is a wily smart aleck who is great undercover and always jealous of Akani, the beautiful, manipulative, and mysterious woman who always seems to get the best assignments and might just have a romantic past with William. Darnell is the newest member of William's crew. Darnell is deeply indebted to William for helping his younger brother get clean, but he must balance his deep religious convictions with the kind of work required as part of William's team.
Together with this eclectic group, William works week-in and week-out to bring addicts of all kinds to the point where they are ready and willing to get help and begin the difficult process of getting clean. With every success and every failure, William wrestles with his own demons through an unusual relationship with God. He's a man caught between an unwavering commitment to his work, deep love for his family, and the ghosts of his own addictions. Bad for his personal life, perhaps, but these are the tensions that make William the one you want helping a troubled loved one, the one you trust to do whatever is necessary, the man you want by your side in your darkest hour. In the face of tragedy and addiction, William Banks will risk everything to be The Cleaner.
Is it any good?
For most of the episode, you'll be stuck in two conflicting states. State one is you thinking to yourself that this is something quite interesting and original. It's a show about addicts and how to help them. Shows like this don't pop up very often.
State two, however, is you thinking you've seen it all before. Bratt is at odds with his family over the commitment his calling requires. Naturally, that involves plenty of arguments with his wife.
Bratt also can't 'clean' people by himself, so he's assembled a team of ex-addicts to help him. Cue cuts to every Ocean's 11/Hustle/Heist/Thief ensemble crime drama you've ever seen.
Grace Park from Battlestar Galactica is the femme fatale who lures men in. She's (apparently) a sex addict with a trust fund and is pretty much undifferentiated from every other rich girl with the horn you've ever seen on TV. About her only intriguing quirk is her desire to see Banks making out with the other guys in the team.
They, however, have even less going for them, since this is essentially Bratt's show, with one team member clearly “the muscle” and another “the arsey screw-up who's there to bicker”. No background on them yet - let's see what happens as the show develops, since the cast aren't bad at all and are relatively appealing, even if their characters are lacking at the moment.
Still, quite why Banks needs this team of people with different skills isn't clear, since he basically locates addicts who have gone missing then kidnaps them, before dumping them in a hospital or rehab. He doesn't seem to do any actual cleaning. Clips from future episodes suggest this might change.
Throughout the episode, Bratt spends considerable time talking to God. And by talking, I mean explaining the plot or providing story background.
It's a device that's both interesting and clumsy at the same time: interesting because his son is agnostic and hates that his Dad is putting all their futures on the line for something unproveable; clumsy because it appears to be making the writers lazy in the rest of the scripting - show, don't tell, as they say.
Still, let's see how the show treats this since we might have some honest to goodness stimulating discussions in the future if the writers don't bottle it.
The first episode clonks away doing nothing too remarkable for the first half hour or so. But the last ten minutes have a couple of unexpected twists that hint at a much better, darker show than we'd been led to believe. I won't tell you what they are, for obvious reasons.
With its unusual theme, it might be worth sticking with, just to see which direction the show goes in: unexpected and dark or predictable and light. But the first episode doesn't suggest an addictive show yet.
Here's a shiny YouTube vid for your delight. It might ruin one of the twists if you watch it though.
- July 31, 2008: Third-episode verdict: The Cleaner
A verdict on the first three episodes of the A&E series The Cleaner, starring Benjamin Bratt,