Review: Carter 1×1 (Canada: Bravo; UK: Alibi)

Not an unstoppable sex machine

(l-r) Kristian Bruun, Jerry O'Connell and Sydney Poitier in Carter

In Canada: Tuesdays, 8pm ET, Bravo
In the UK: Acquired by Alibi. Will start Wednesday, June 13, 9pm

Is there a difference between the police investigations you see on TV and the ones in real-life? The obvious answer is “Yes, significantly,” and over the years, many TV shows have been meta enough to address this thorny problem. Usually, it’s a line like “This isn’t a TV show – it takes five weeks to get the results back from the lab in real-life!” but other shows have gone deeper.

Castle is the most recent popular recent example, giving us a crime novelist ostensibly shadowing a police detective for research, so he can learn how crimes are investigated in real-life. However, YouTube Red’s Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* did similarly, with the eponymous Hansen playing a version of himself who teams up with a cop to solve crimes, while TV cameras follow him around for his own TV show. Meanwhile, both Pulaski and The World of Eddie Weary went one step further, adding to the meta to instead give us a TV show within a TV show, showing us both the actor playing a cop and then applying his skills to real life.

In all these shows, even if the civilian has been able to help out the cop, it’s been despite their fictional knowledge, rather than because of it, as they learn that the real-world doesn’t work by the same rules. However, Carter wants you to think that reality is just a TV script waiting to be filmed.

It stars renowned showkiller Jerry O’Connell (Sliders, CarpoolersThe Defenders) as an actor famous for his portrayal of a TV cop in Call Carter. However, after getting into a fight with the man who slept with his wife, he bows out from his world-famous role and returns to his home town in disgrace. There he hooks up with his childhood friends (Kristian Bruun and Sydney Poitier) when a friend of his is charged with murder and he tries to help cop Poitier to solve the crime.

Carter on AXN

The Carter administration

Given this is coming to Alibi in the UK, you won’t be shocked to hear that this is all genteel, formulaic stuff. Carter moves around from traditional crime-solving scene to crime-solving scene asking the sorts of questions you expect from TV crime shows, prefacing them with lengthy spiels about how these are the sorts of questions you expect in TV crime shows and how his vast knowledge of the genre means he’ll be able to solve the crime. And hey presto! He’s right. Every time.

Will the medical examiner – after a bit of protestation about rules, regulations and how if there had been anything unusual she’d have put it in the report – mention a useful clue if O’Connell presses her a bit because ‘this is the point where I ask, “Was there anything unusual?” and they say, “Well, there was one thing…”‘? Of course she will. Will there be a last-minute, final-act twist that O’Connell flags up as a ‘last-minute, final-act twist’? Of course there will.

This isn’t really satire – it’s ‘have your cake and eat it’ television that sticks rigorously to a nearly exhausted formula and hopes that if you point out the formula at every turn, you can somehow breathe new life into it and get away with it, rather than expose its flaws. O’Connell’s character is the only one with any real depth or even personality traits, with Kristian Bruun and Sydney Poitier there because O’Connell needs someone to talk to, rather than because they offer anything themselves. Carter‘s not even especially insightful in spelling out how police reality should differ from fiction before eating its cake; it simply knows how scripts are plotted.

Carter on AXN

Not an unstoppable sex machine

That said, Carter isn’t without a few surprises up its sleeve. O’Connell’s Carter isn’t the low-brained actor you might expect – he’s got a photographic memory and is actually quite smart, remembering medical concepts about stress-induced amnesia from a script and applying that to solve the crime. He and his pals also grew up together investigating crimes and they actually became famous for catching a serial killer, so it’s not as though he’s coming to this fresh.

There’s also the occasional flash of amusing dialogue, such as when Poitier talks about reality not having a ‘third act revelation’ and O’Connell points out that one-hour crime dramas are based around a five-act structure.

But honestly, beyond the amazing discovery that O’Connell can still sometimes be an enjoyable and even likeable screen presence – what happened after Sliders? – there’s so little to Carter than no one but the most avid crime drama fan will get much from this. Don’t get Carter if you can avoid it.