Dark Blue: Wanted meets The Handler
Undercover cops have been done and redone by television for decades. Some successfully, others much less so. The only thing “new” that Dark Blue really brings to the table is the idea that this undercover squad doesn’t officially exist. But that is also a fairly common gimmick for such shows and in almost every movie about the subject from The Departed to Raw Deal. TNT has never really been about originality. Look at the junior net’s schedule for any given day … originality doesn’t exactly jump out at you. But, occasionally, they still manage to deliver something with just the right combination of formula, concept, and casting. The Closer, for example, is not much more than Columbo in a skirt. But it works, thanks to casting and some very solid performances.
The things is, I’m not entirely sure that Dark Blue has that winning combination. Back in 2004, TNT brought us Wanted, a show about a cross-section of specialists from a variety of law enforcement organizations forming a unit that “didn’t really exist” and “operated just outside the rulebook”. That show I liked and I can’t help but see Dark Blue as a paler shade of Wanted. Dylan McDermott leads the cast as Carter Shaw, your brooding, sexy with a touch of angst hero type. Joe Pantoliano did it better in CBS’s The Handler, another short-lived cop drama from 2004. McDermott is no Joey Pants, but then, he isn’t David Caruso either. He is the leading man type, which is maybe enough to lead the rest of the lesser known cast beyond one season.
The best thing Dark Blue has going for it is the name Jerry Bruckheimer in the credits. The plot and acting are both a cut above certain other Bruckheimer productions (ref: David Caruso mentioned above). Even when Bruckheimer projects are lacking in depth, they often make up for it in production value. As astonishingly shallow and silly as CSI: Miami might be, it looks good. Dark Blue is not nearly as glossy, but maybe that means they can throw some of that Bruckheimer money at better writers. Unfortunately, there is little to be seen in the first episode to support that theory. One can hope this series will get stronger with age. If it doesn’t, not even the Bruckheimer name will save it for a second season.
Leverage: The Equalizer meets The A-Team
This time, TNT isn’t even pretending to be original. Anyone remember the A-Team? How about The Equalizer? Leverage has all the character humor of the A-Team (including their own version of the conman archetypes) with a healthy dose of The Equalizer’s ideology. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it also can pay off in certain circumstances … such as network TV. This must be one of those circumstances since Leverage is into its second season. Of course, TNT managed to leverage an audience share from a strong lead-in last summer with The Closer, landing Leverage some pretty nice numbers for cable. This time, the show is paired with Dark Blue and now it is the lead-off hitter, neither of which suggests much of a chance for a repeat ratings performance.
Timothy Hutton (long removed from his Oscar) is the mastermind of a team of con artists and reformed crooks. This team doesn’t have Mr. T, but they do have their own Hitter (Christian Kane). They also have a Grifter, a Thief, and a Hacker to round out the team … it says so right in the opening credits. The con jobs are all pretty straightforward fare, with the standard plot point these shows always fall back on: the original con will almost certainly go wrong, but our team is too good to fail and there is always another con right around the corner.
So it’s been done. But think back to the A-Team. You didn’t get any more shallow or derivative than that. Every episode was unfailingly just like every other episode. Yet we watched five seasons worth of it back in the 80′s. And, coming soon to a theater near you, we get a theatrical version. We didn’t watch this stupid show for the plots. We watched for the characters … and how those same characters played off each other. This is where Leverage might actually succeed. Here we have just the right balance of tom-foolery and tongue-in-cheek to make these characters humorous without being cartoonish. The whole ‘Robin Hood’ shtick only works if you can put together the right band of merry men. I kind of think they have.
Leverage airs on TNT Wednesdays at 9/8c followed by Dark Blue at 10/9c