Monday, February 25, 2013

Pilot Review: Golden Boy

Golden Boy (Fridays at 9:00 on CBS; Premieres Tuesday, February 26 at 10:00)

Welcome to the schedule, Golden Boy, yet another police procedural from CBS. It's an example of the tried-and-true formula CBS has perfected over the years: a show about a policeman solving a crime each week, with a slight twist in the design. Blue Bloods has the family dynamic, Elementary has Holmes's deductive skills, The Mentalist has the "psychic" (or whatever) angle, Criminal Minds focuses on the profiling rather than the crime itself, and the list goes on. Golden Boy's angle is that the lead is the youngest member of the homicide squad, and via flash forwards, we know that he eventually becomes the youngest police commissioner as well. The pilot is about as one-note as that description makes it sound.

In a dizzying opening sequence, we are introduced to Walter William Clark, Jr. (Theo James), a beat cop who saves another officer's life. When he is offered a reward for his bravery, he requests to be put in the homicide division. Flash forward to seven years later and Walter is now the youngest police commissioner New York has ever had. He is being interviewed for a retrospective on his meteoric rise through the ranks... which brings us back to seven years ago and his first day working homicide. His new partner is Detective Don Owen (Chi McBride), a wise mentor for the young sensei; the other members of the division aren't quite as keen on having the new NYPD whiz kid join their ranks, among them Detectives Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro) and Diaco (Holt McCallany).

Golden Boy isn't bad; it's just boring. First-time creator Nicholas Wootton (an Emmy winning producer for NYPD Blue) just doesn't have anything new to say. He may have a "new" way to say it (I use quotes there because it's not exactly a revolutionary idea, just something CBS doesn't currently have on tap), but the story is the same thing we've all seen a hundred times: ambitious rookie, enlightened mentor, hardened detective, etc. There are a multitude of familiar tropes in cop dramas at play here. There are some interesting directorial choices from Richard Shepard (Ringer, Ugly Betty), both successful and not so much, that give the tired story some flair, but they ultimately can't elevate the material. The flashing back and forward is an interesting way to approach the story, but it gets really old by the pilot's end; I can't imagine how tedious it will become down the road. The script is heavy-handed as well. It's pretty obvious what the show's themes are when you're beat over the head (more than once) with the story that all men have two dogs living inside them, one good and one evil, and the one that survives is the one you feed the most. Considering how often we see Walter manipulate people to get where he wants to be, it's not exactly a subtle suggestion that it's also how he ended up becoming commissioner.

The performances aren't anything to get too excited about either. Theo James, making his US television debut, can brood with the best of them, but he's just not interesting enough to carry the show. With a script so uninteresting, a charismatic leading man is a must (the role was originally given to Ryan Phillippe, a much more inspired choice). Chi McBride is as reliable as always, delivering the pilot's only truly funny line (it's the Driving Miss Daisy reference you've seen in the commercials) and bringing his trademark gruffness mixed with that teddy bear quality he has. His character is the one I actually cared about. Alejandro and McCallany are better than their throwaway roles suggest, despite getting the brunt of the bad dialogue ("It's colder than an Eskimo's nuts.") and almost no characterization.

Once it's all over, I had a hard time feeling anything for Golden Boy. It's typical and expected in every way. In fact, this same episode could have aired as an installment of CSI, CSI: NY, Blue Bloods or any of the other police procedurals on CBS, and it wouldn't have felt any different. It's unremarkable, with only a slightly intriguing "twist" on the cop formula that plays itself out in the first hour.

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