Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pilot Reviews: Gang Related & The Night Shift

Gang Related (Thursdays at 9:00 on Fox)

If you weren't sure this show was even a thing, I'm not surprised; hardly anyone did, if the premiere ratings are any indication. And you're probably better off pushing this back into the recesses of your mind, or better yet forgotten completely. Gang Related is passable at best, dull as dishwater at worst.

Ramon Rodriguez (The Wire) is Detective Ryan Lopez of the LAPD's Gang Task Force. He grew up in a rough neighborhood and had a hard time of it after his father's death. Fortunately for him, a crime boss named Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis, Body of Proof) takes him under his wing. You'd think he grew up to be a police officer because he saw the inner workings of gang life, but no... he's actually still working for Acosta and his thugs. Lopez's partner ends up executed by Acosta's son, Carlos, so Lopez must decide with whom his allegiance truly lies.

There's the spark of an interesting symbolic debate here: which "gang" does Lopez align with? The gang of police officers or the gang of criminals? Where's the line between the two? But that idea doesn't really get explored at all. Instead the pilot sets up the division between the police and the gangs, drawing on their similarities for dramatic effect. Acosta's police foil is Lost's Terry O'Quinn, who has the worst luck choosing new shows to star in, or else was just a fluke Emmy winner years ago. He's flat set dressing here to Rodriguez's flat A-story. The B-story of Lopez's friendship with Acosta's straight-as-an-arrow son Dante (Jay Hernandez, who would have made a better Lopez than Rodriguez) has more soap opera dramatics to play off of, but it's nothing new; take your pick of any divided community storyline, hell even all the way back to Romeo & Juliet, and you'll know what's going on with these two characters. It's a very standard, very predictable story of morality and loyalty and where we cross the line of one to remain true to the other. Nothing in Gang Related takes the story beyond these ideas. The acting is pretty wooden across the board, and rapper RZA is downright terrible, while the direction was going for a gritty Southland feel but ends up just looking dark and melodramatic. It's rarely slow or boring, though some of the expository scenes are painfully dry, but it's never really exciting either. Gang Related is supremely middling: hard to care about, easy to forget.

The Night Shift (Tuesdays at 10:00 on NBC)

Compared to Gang Related, The Night Shift is wonderful. On its own merits, it's fairly cookie-cutter. But whereas Gang Related moves at a snail's pace, the first five minutes (and I'm not exaggerating) of The Night Shift gives us a wartime flashback, a doctor hopping off his motorcycle to save a man impaled by a tree, and an emergency room rush to save a dying infant. Yes, that's five minutes into this new medical drama, and the pace doesn't let up for the next forty minutes either. Every few moments there's a new emergency, and when the doctors aren't running around removing bullets from gangsters' butts or extorting their fellow co-workers into giving away free medical imaging in exchange for plastic surgery in exchange for a date, they are playing pranks on each other and shooting hoops in the "night shift only" rooftop lounge. This is Grey's Anatomy for the ADD crowd.

Surgeon TC Callahan (Eoin Macken, Merlin) was let go from the US Army due to his lack of regard for authority and his unpredictability, despite his unrivaled brilliance. Now he's working at a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, the only one in ten counties with a trauma unit, with a former flame, Jordan (The Good Wife's Jill Flint), who is also now his boss, and a hospital executive who wants him gone (Freddy Rodriguez). There are a host of supporting players, many of them ex-military as well, and they're all their own kind of quirky or crazy.

It should tell you enough about the intention behind The Night Shift to know that it was created by Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah, who have previously written together on the 90210 remake, Just Shoot Me, and the king of all quirky TV series, Freaks & Geeks. The Night Shift isn't designed to take itself or its material too seriously; it's somewhere between Scrubs and Grey's, akin to the tone of NBC's failed Mercy from a few seasons back (actually, now that I think about it, these two shows have a lot in common). The performances reflect the tone. Macken's rebel doctor is so absurdly over the top that it works, and he's matched by Flint's much calmer, more focused potential love interest. The always dependable Ken Leung (Lost) is... well, dependable as always, and Brendan Fehr's (Roswell, CSI: Miami) closeted Army doc Drew has a lot of potential for future storylines. All of this, the quick pace and the strange emergencies and the energetic characters and the silly performances, work to make The Night Shift a fun watch. It's not all that good or all that investing, but it's good enough for a summer show.

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