You can’t help but stack this show up against the long list of police procedurals and dramas we’ve all been watching for decades. Based upon my own somewhat extensive viewing history, one show sets the standard for the genre: Hill Street Blues. There is a fairly short list of quality series that can even come close to that standard, series like NYPD Blue and Law & Order. Maybe it’s no accident then that Detroit 1-8-7 feels a lot like NYPD meets L&O … and there is nothing wrong reaching high.
But only if you live up to it. I’m a little surprised to say that yeah, Detroit 1-8-7 manages to do that, if only just barely. In a decade, assuming it lasts that long, it might even earn the right to be considered on the level of either of those shows. We’ll have to wait and see on that. For now, I tend to think that Detroit 1-8-7 is off to a pretty solid start.
Let’s face facts here though. There is a clear logjam of cop shows on primetime right now and countless other variations thereof. Everyone is trying to adjust the formula a bit, tweak the details, alter the presentation, whatever it takes to land a winner. Detroit 1-8-7 opens like L&O, with a quick narration about Detroit and murder rates; if it had aired on NBC I might suspect that the show’s genesis was L&O: Detroit. The title sequence recalls NYPD Blue. The editing/filmography falls into that mock-documentary/pseudo-reality show style we’ve already seen elsewhere. Detroit 1-8-7 manages to mix that all together without spoiling the stew. But no matter how good the recipe, we’re still left with a bowl of soup.
Eh … love those metaphors.
Recognizing that a key ingredient for any successful cop/detective show is a quirky lead, Detective Louis Fitch, played by Michael Imperioli, has been given his fair share. The most amusing (or simply odd) of which is his strategy for dealing with confrontation by calling people, even when they’re in the same room. Some viewers might confuse Fitch’s quirky behavior with uninspired acting by Imperioli … don’t. Imperioli is portraying Fitch as low-key and socially awkward; there’s nothing wooden about Imperioli’s performance that isn’t meant to be that way. The phone thing plays an important role throughout the pilot; I just hope Imperioli’s (and the deft touch of the writers) isn’t lost on their audience.
The rest of the cast is not exceptionally remarkable–that could be a good thing. A couple of standouts are Abby Ward and James McDaniel. Ward is the Medical Examiner and they do well in the initial episode to play down her hotness; if you caught her in AMC’s Spartacus, you know what I’m talking about. She doesn’t have much to do in the pilot, but when she is on screen, her character of Erin Cummings is quite appealing. She gets a couple of the more inspired lines as well. NYPD Blue fans will recall McDaniel as Lt. Fancy; it’s nice to see McDaniel back on TV. The role of Jesse Langford, a veteran detective close to retirement, fits him almost too well. I keep waiting for him to say “I’m too old for this shit!”
However, the most intriguing character thus far is the city of Detroit itself. It gives the show a look of its own instead of your usual NYC generic set piece. It remains to be seen just how much that do with that. Another strength of the show is going to be how all of these characters play off of each other. It was the best aspect of the pilot and I hope this ensemble gets a chance to gel as the series progresses.
Maybe there are simply too many cop shows to wade through lately. If so, Detroit 1-8-7 may not have that great of a chance to make an impact. That would be too bad because there is quite a bit of potential here … if we get the chance to see it.
Detroit 1-8-7 airs Tuesdays on ABC at 10/9c