Every Friday, TMINE lets you know when the latest TV shows from around the world will air in the UK
Gosh. What a lot of lovely new shows on our way. After the jump, we can talk about the shows that now have premiere dates, which are: APB, Little Fires Everywhere, The Great, Betty, Dérapages (Inhuman Resources) and Philharmonia.
CBS renews: All Rise, Bob ♥ Abishola, Blue Bloods, Bull, FBI, FBI: Most Wanted, MacGyver, Magnum P.I., NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans, The Neighborhood, SEAL Team, S.W.A.T. and The Unicorn…
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.
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.