Cop shows have a long history on TV, and the best of them -- "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue," "The Wire," "Southland" -- find ways to reinvent the genre. The lesser lights, which would include CBS's "NYC 22," may suffice for some, but they do little to merit high praise.
"NYC 22" (10 tonight, KDKA-TV) lacks the family element of "Blue Bloods" or the dark humor of "Southland" or the quasi-complexities of political corruption in last year's late, lamented "The Chicago Code." "NYC 22" is very much a prototypical CBS show -- it lacks ambition but it's not terrible.
Still, it's an undisputable letdown, airing after "The Good Wife" and its sophisticated storytelling.
"NYC 22" follows NYPD rookie officers as they patrol the Morningside Heights neighborhood in Harlem. Most of them are given nicknames by the end of the first hour, and writer Richard Price ("The Wire") creates situations that allow character backstories to emerge.
Viewers learn Ray "Lazarus" Harper (Adam Goldberg, "The Unusuals"), the oldest rookie, was once a newspaper crime reporter and Tonya Sanchez (Judy Marte) comes from a family of crooks.
Jennifer "White House" Perry (Leelee Sobieski, "Joan of Arc") previously served as a Marine and member of the White House color guard, and Kenny McLaren (Stark Sands, "Generation Kill") is the latest in a long line of cops in his family.
Jayson "Jackpot" Toney (Harold House Moore) played professional basketball, and Ahmad Khan (Tom Reed) is an Afghani native who endures ethnic taunts from other officers who call him "Kiterunner," after the book and film about a boy in Afghanistan.
The rookies report to Daniel "Yoda" Dean, played by a mustachioed, puffy-faced Terry Kinney ("The Unusuals," "Oz").
In the first episode, many of the characters make literal "rookie mistakes." It's the one time a TV cop's failure to call for backup can be overlooked rather than driving a viewer to annoyance. But with so many characters, it's going to take many episodes for "NYC 22" to develop any of them with much depth.
"NYC 22" offers some continuing threads in its second episode but also deserves credit for shaking up the officer pairings, which allows for character development in a few cases but not in most.
CBS is sure to hype the fact that "NYC 22" includes Robert DeNiro among its executive producers, but viewers should not approach the show with DeNiro-sized expectations. "NYC 22" is no "Mean Streets." It's closer to "Perturbed Streets."
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published April 15, 2012 12:00 AM