Tuned In: New cop, spy series watchable if not fresh; 'Glee' makes fun return
September 21, 2010 4:00 AM
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe are married spies in "Undercovers."
By Rob Owen Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In a television era that's post-"The Wire," post-"NYPD Blue" and post-"Hill Street Blues," it's tough to be the new cop show on the block and bring anything new to an exhausted genre.
ABC's "Detroit 1-8-7" (10 tonight, WTAE) does not succeed in offering a fresh take on a police drama, but thanks to some strong performances, particularly from Michael Imperioli ("Life on Mars," "The Sopranos") as detective Louis Fitch, it's certainly watchable for viewers who are not tired of the genre.
Like the superior "Southland," the "Detroit 1-8-7" pilot employs bleeped profanity, but that disappears by the second episode. The original construct of the series was to shoot it documentary-style. That has since been dropped in favor of a traditional drama format.
As Fitch, Mr. Imperioli makes a strong, favorable impression that's only occasionally thwarted by writers who make the character a too-perfect cop. In the premiere alone he stares down a perp to coax out a confession and then diffuses a hostage situation through empathy. He's a little too good to be true, always knowing more than anyone else in the room.
When: 10 tonight, ABC.
Starring: Michael Imperioli.
When: 8 tonight, Fox.
Starring: Jane Lynch.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, NBC.
Starring: Boris Kodjoe.
"Are we done here?" Fitch barks impatiently in next week's episode, sounding exactly like the TV cop he is. "Because there's a dead football player whose murder I should probably be solving right now."
In spite of these writing deficiencies, "Detroit 1-8-7" is most interesting when he's on screen.
Other notable characters include a veteran homicide detective close to retirement (James McDaniel, who previously played a lieutenant on "NYPD Blue"), a newbie detective (Jon Michael Hill) expecting the birth of his first child, a narcotics undercover cop (D.J. Cotrona) and a boss (Aisha Hinds).
Like too many other new series this fall, "Detroit 1-8-7" is disappointingly generic. It's not a show that compels viewers to tune in on a weekly basis, but die-hard cop show fans may be satisfied.
When a TV series is coming off a much-discussed first season -- and there have been few that have generated as much ink and chatter as Fox's "Glee" -- there's always the chance for a real or perceived sophomore slump. If "Glee" (8 tonight, WPGH) is going to have one, it's not apparent from the second-season premiere.
The episode effectively updates viewers on the status of the original characters' relationships, introduces three new faces and makes time for five musical numbers and lots of comedy, most of it courtesy of Sue Sylvester (Emmy winner Jane Lynch) and dumb Brittany (Heather Morris), who always says the most ridiculous things under her breath ("People thought I went on vacation, but I actually spent the summer lost in the sewers").
Sue and glee club director Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) have reached a truce and gang up on Coach Beiste (Dot Marie Jones), the school's new female football coach.
Glee club regulars try to recruit new members, leading Rachel (Lea Michele) to concoct jealous schemes to keep a potential new rival, Sunshine Corazon (Charice), from stealing her spotlight. And Finn gets a new-to-the-school football player, Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet), to try out, too.
The "Glee" season premiere is more plot-heavy than some of the late first-season episodes, which offered more musical numbers. This episode strikes a good balance. The musical numbers are fun, but if they're not balanced with stories that develop the characters, viewers would more easily lose interest.
There's no fear of that with this episode that allows Sue to make her over-the-top observations while turning up her nose at Coach Beiste's nonsensical declarations, giving fans of the series reason to be gleeful once again.
NBC already has one lighthearted spy show on its schedule -- the low-rated "Chuck" -- so decent as "Undercovers" is, the series also feels redundant and only on NBC's schedule because of its pedigree -- JJ Abrams ("Lost," "Star Trek") executive produces, co-wrote and directed the pilot.
The most remarkable thing about "Undercovers" (8 p.m. Wednesday, WPXI), which in this day and age should not be notable but is, is that the series has two African-American actors in the leading roles, something viewers see too rarely on broadcast network television.
Boris Kodjoe ("Soul Food") and Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Dr. Who") star as Steven and Samantha Bloom, who must be the most genetically gifted spies ever to work for the CIA. He's dashing, she's beautiful, and the show is fairly entertaining. But "Undercovers" adds nothing to the spy show genre.
As the series begins, the Blooms are five years out of the CIA, running a catering business with Samantha's slightly irresponsible sister, Lizzy (Mekia Cox, "90210"). When another CIA agent, Leo Nash (Carter MacIntyre) goes missing, agency liaison Carlton Shaw (Gerald McRaney, "Jericho") guilt-trips the couple into returning to their old line of work.
The search for Nash takes the Blooms and adoring field agent Bill Hoyt (Ben Schwartz) to Madrid and Paris (re-created in Los Angeles), and there's a decent amount of derring-do. "Undercovers" marks the latest attempt by a broadcaster to ape USA Network's successful "blue sky" approach to likeable but bland prime-time series.
TV writer Rob Owen:
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