In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox
There was never much chance that APB would ever be much good, but with Matt Nix (Burn Notice, Complications, The Good Guys) taking over as showrunner midway through the pilot, there was at least the possibility it might be. Fox’s attempt to do for policing what Iron Man did for World Peace, it sees Justin Kirk adopt the Robert Downey Jr mantel to become a billionaire playboy philanthropist engineer who discovers crime is bad and decides to bring his private sector technological expertise to bear on a problematic police district in Chicago. Can smartphone apps, drones and GPS information – as well as $120m of investment – bring an end to crime, or will it turn out to be a bit more complicated than that?
The first episode was phenomenally stupid and derivative, but with the occasional bit of fun. Episode two gave us a mix of stupids: on the one hand, we had Kirk once again back at HQ trying to bring to book a road racer who is smart enough to work out that drones can’t fly where there’s no decent signal; on the other, we have cops going dewey eyed over kids who have been mowed down and police dogs who have been blown up (“No!”). But it wasn’t quite as stupid, and there was an element of fun and excitement, with Kirk dicking around with motorbikes for most of an episode to give us his own version of Street Hawk, complete with street chases. We also had The Tall Guy from ER turn up, hugely probably, as a former pro-wrestler with an PhD in electronics, to give Kirk his own Jarvis to talk to when he’s doing some remodelling.
Just for a glimmering moment, it seemed like the show understood how stupid it was and was going to have some fun instead, giving us a piece of programming that teenagers can watch, be excited by and decided to become engineers. Because this is a show trying to make engineers look sexy. Even Justin Kirk.
Sure, there was the daftness of having the vengeful mayor of Chicago putting the husband of Kirk’s right-hand woman in charge of the anti-Kirk task squad, but soapiness we can ignore. However, episode three was simply moronic and soporific. While the first episode had Kirk giving us his solutions to existing problems and the show demonstrating how they’d work in practice, both episodes two and three flipped that formula: new problem turns up, Kirk devises a solution to it. And episode three’s problem was the age-old issue of interrogation – how to get a criminal to tell you the truth? Now here, people have already seen the problem and come up with a technical solution: the lie detector. And we know its limitations, as well as the civil liberty implications. We know reality and its nuances.
But since the format demands that Kirk be a brilliant inventor, he has to come up with a costly technical solution, too. Here, he gives us… the lie detector chair! You sit in the chair and people know your vital signs and therefore whether you’re lying! You don’t even have to touch any electrodes or anything! Just as long as you’re sitting in that chair, everything will be fine. It’s nonsense, of course, and probably illegal nonsense, too. It’s also a nonsense that any sane grown-up can watch, compare with reality and see it’s nonsense.
Coupled with that, we had a really bad attempt to give all of Kirk’s helper monkeys some characters and some background, with dialogue and plot devices that would curdle milk. And for a show supposed to be about the virtues of bringing private sector mentality to the public sector, Kirk’s employees have an interesting approach to time-keeping, the rule of law, chains of command and even not provoking people to commit crimes.
Three episodes in, with Kirk wasting millions on gadgets, discovering policing is more about people than technology and generally coming up with things that just don’t work in practice unless a billionaire CEO gives us running his rocket-making company indefinitely so he can sit and fiddle with a joystick all day, I’m starting to think APB is really just a paean to the public sector. We’re supposed to watch and enjoy seeing Kirk play with his gadgets, but ultimately discover that the police do things the way they do things for a reason and that they’re a lot more dedicated than someone just in it for the big pay cheque. So off he goes with his tail between his leg.
But I’m not sticking around for that, because I can’t bear any more of it.