Review: APB 1×1 (US: Fox)

Robocop meets Blue Thunder and Iron Man, but without the brains

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox

Although crime rates have been falling for years now across the US, the fear of crime hasn’t. Neither has the number of TV shows about crime. Are these two facts related, I wonder? We can discuss that some other time.

One of the results of that fear is that people want to know not only how to catch even more criminals but also what’s wrong with the current system. On the whole, one might argue that nothing major is wrong and there are all manner of minor, systemic issues that need fixing. Sit down and watch The Wire and Homicide from start to finish and you’ll get an idea of how complex an issue policing drugs and murders is.

A simple, easy fix? There isn’t one.

That hasn’t stopped TV shows suggesting that there might be and APB is the latest in a long line of cop TV shows that do just that – in this case, privatisation.

If that sounds familiar, you’re probably being reminded of Robocop, a classic 80s action movie portraying an horrific dystopian future that believes technology and the private sector is the solution.

But unlike Robocop, which was a cautionary tale, APB thinks it’s onto something.

Taking not just a leaf but more or less the first two chapters out of the book, Iron Man, it gives us billionaire playboy philanthropist and engineer Justin Kirk (Animal Practice, Tyrant) showing off his new tech to assorted billionaires, before heading off with his token black friend. On the way home, though, he’s attacked and his friend dies saving his life. 

Weeks later, with the killer still to be found, Kirk dares the Mayor to give him Precinct 13 (yes, another reference to a better TV show or movie – there are lots) to run. In exchange, he’ll fund the Precinct with $120m of his own money to pilot a new, better way of policing. One that involves lots and lots of technology.

Now immediately, you can see this is nonsense, in exactly the same way anyone watching Pure Genius could see it was written by someone who knew next to nothing about healthcare but liked the idea of tech billionaires, private sector innovation and shiny things. The annual Chicago police department budget is $1.3bn so all Kirk has done is boosted the budget by 10% for one year. Not insubstantial, but transformative? Probably not and if all it took was money to end crime, the war on drugs would have been won long ago.

More to the point, all his tech consists of is minor improvements to existing technology, many of which are already being used or in development: taser guns with more than one shot; better bullet-proof vests; better-armoured, faster patrol cars; a 911 system based on a smartphone app that can send pictures and location information; GIS systems for mapping crime patterns; and drones for surveillance.

But as Kirk himself points out, there’s one cop for every 212 inhabitants in the city, yet he makes no new hires, merely installing a kooky tech support girl (Caitlin Stasey) and himself in the precinct, so he can fly his drone about and watch what Natalie Martinez (CSI:NY, Under the Dome, Secrets and Lies, Kingdom) – ‘Officer Murphy’ no less, Robocop fans – does in her investigations. One drone for the whole precinct and one pilot. Hmm. Even more hmm when you realise that during this pilot, all the other cops sit around watching Kirk flying his drone, rather than trying to solve the 10 unsolved murders per month they get.

Maybe there is a show to be made about how innovative, disruptive, private sector thinking could be used in policing, but it’ll have to involve things like ‘change management programmes’, and APB isn’t interested in actual private sector methodologies or anything below the surface. It just likes gadgets. 

Even so, as with Pure Genius, by the end of the first episode, APB itself has realised that actually, its entire premise is ludicrous. Too much of police work is about human interaction, there will be privacy issues aplenty with drones flying around and peeking through windows (one particular drone scene is a clear reference to Blue Thunder, in fact), and none of what Kirk is planning can scale up in the slightest. When the show itself realises it’s so ludicrous it points them out itself, that show has problems. And that’s even before the audience starts wondering if maybe shooting innocent civilians with tasers is such a good idea.

APB is a bog-standard, not particularly smart cop show that tries to cover up the stupidity of its own premise and limited ambitions with a decent cast and whizzy shiny things. But when a bunch of 80s action movies are more intellectual than you are, you probably need to think again.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.