In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, TNT
We are living in a post-The Wire, post-The Shield age. You can't get much grittier than those two police shows did. Cops are one of the staples of US television, so it's telling that most cop shows have stopped trying to be gritty since they know they can't match them. Hence, we have The Mentalist, Numb3rs, The Unusuals et al, whose proximity to gritty is measurable in light years rather than centimetres.
So it's a brave show that tries to do gritty right now. Then again, what choice does a programme have on TNT - the home of dark, gritty TV that couldn't quite make it on FX or HBO?
Dark Blue stars that lovely Dylan McDermott - you know, from The Practice and Miracle on 34th Street - as a dark, gritty undercover cop who handles even darker, grittier undercover cops in an off-the-books, top-secret unit way. It's not a bad attempt at gritty and it's not without merit, but it's very hard to believe that this is anywhere close to cinema verité for two reasons.
The first is that it's a Jerry Bruckheimer production and pretty much follows the standard queues of any police drama, from long-suffering wives to cops who give up everything for the job. The second is that it stars that lovely Dylan McDermott.
Here's a sneak preview. See if you can avoid laughing at him being dark and brooding.
In Dark Blue, Dylan McDermott is Carter Shaw, the leader of our crack undercover team of police officers whose relentless pursuit of LA’s worst criminals has cost him any semblance of a personal life; Omari Hardwick is Ty Curtis, a recently married cop who struggles to maintain his dual existence; Logan Marshall-Green is Dean Bendis, a shoot-from-the-hip officer whose activities make fellow team members question his loyalties; and Nicki Aycox is Jaimie Allen, a green patrol cop with a hidden past.
DARK BLUE comes to TNT from Warner Horizon Television, with prolific producer Jerry Bruckheimer (the CSI series, Without a Trace), Jonathan Littman (the CSI series, Cold Case), Danny Cannon (the CSI series, Eleventh Hour) and Doug Jung (Big Love) serving as executive producers. KristieAnne Reed (Eleventh Hour) is co-executive producer. Cannon directed the pilot episode. The series co-stars Logan Marshall-Green (The O.C.), Omari Hardwick (TNT’s Saved) and Nicki Aycox (Supernatural).
Is it any good?
In many ways, it's better than it sounds and the promo suggests. Most of those ways are the cast - with the exception of McDermott - and the direction, rather than the script.
The first episode concerns McDermott's attempts to discover whether one of his undercover cops, Dean, has flipped and become a crim. To find out, he sends in another cop, Ty, and a new recruit, Jaimie.
The show tries to depict the difficult situation undercover cops find them in: pretending to be crims so much, is there a temptation to become crims? And if they see a crime committed, what should they do? Stop it or take part in an attempt to stop larger crimes?
It's not bad at that, in an "all tied up in 40 minutes" kind of way. On the plus side, we do have some interesting antagonism between cops and the FBI and Logan Marshall-Green is really good as the ambivalent Dean.
But it's awesomely ridiculous for the most part. The music couldn't make the show less tense if it were the theme to Magic Roundabout. We have crims shooting traffic cops in the vest and no one wondering if they might not want to finish the job they probably haven't completed. We have the standard computer geek who can hack into anything from a computer in a back office somewhere. And we have no undercover cop doing anything genuinely bad that can't be explained away later.
It comes close to the edge, then backs away quickly, basically.
It's a slick bit of work, but ultimately it has the same old problem cop shows always fell for before The Wire and The Shield: there are good guys who are cops, bad guys who are crims and that's that. There's no real grey - just some shadows.
I doubt it'll get better. At the moment, it's a brisk, slightly dark way to spend an hour with a group of slightly tortured individuals, who are really good deep down. But it lacks depth and believability - and it has Dylan McDermott as a bad boy. Need I say more?
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