Good Cop/Good Cop: CBS's Lukewarm 'Flashpoint'
Friday, July 11, 2008
Cops, cops, cops. How network television loves those cops, especially in prime time, where they've never had trouble finding air space. At CBS, executives sensed a crying need for more of the same old thing and here it is: "Flashpoint," the story of a lovable SWAT team going righteously about its business in a big North American city.
That city would be Toronto, where the series is filmed -- although little attempt is made to pinpoint a location. It's just supposed to be Anytown, USA, where cops struggle nobly against the usual suspects and assorted forces of evil. In an online promotional spot, one of the producers says the show is concerned with "the toll that it takes to be a hero every day." Every day? That seems extreme even for a fantasy.
In the premiere tonight, heroism is defined by the team's resident sniper going about his business from the rooftop of a downtown office building. Far below, a crazed Croatian, for reasons not delineated, has taken a woman hostage, pressing a gun to her head and babbling hysterically in his native tongue, which nobody in the scene speaks. He might be making demands, he might be asking about the weather -- we're in the dark along with the cops.
But we do get the lowdown on sniper angst, as experienced by Hugh Dillon as Ed Lane, a quiet and tightly wound sort of guy with a pate full of stubble, a rock-steady grip and -- his only hint at a flaw -- a questionable sense of timing. To reveal more plot details would perhaps be unfair, especially because there aren't many; the show is another victory for style over substance, slickly visual but essentially empty.
The tension one would expect from a hostage situation is oddly slack. The director cuts perfunctorily among the various points of view, with the central focus being Enrico Colantoni (a Robert Duvall look-alike) as Sgt. Gregory Parker. His negotiation with the lunatic consists mainly of saying "Put the gun down" over and over, with the gunman shouting back in Croatian. He's presumably saying something along the lines of "No."
To stack the deck, the producers have made him the meanest Croatian in all creation, a snarling and even growling monster who certainly has a thing or two to learn about manners. The police, however, are exemplary in their every movement and gesture, and that would include Amy Jo Johnson as Julianna "Jules" Callaghan, the Perky Girl of the group who keeps perking even after running up 12 flights of stairs only to confront a dead end.
They're all happy in their work, but Callaghan is ecstatic. The attempts at bonhomie and bouncy banter are lame, however, and getting to know the members of the team proves considerably less than a privilege. Making matters worse is the arrival of David Paetkau as novice Sam Braddock, the cocky, overconfident kid who walks into the hostage situation on his first day with the force. He's Stubble Boy (his is on his face, not the top of his head), perhaps a romantic partner for Perky Girl in future episodes.
Some of the filmmaking is moderately crafty. When sniper Lane drops in at a retirement party for an old-timer, camera angles and soundtrack tricks deftly simulate the feeling of being alone in a crowd -- there, but not there. A few other nifty details brighten up the show, but not enough to elevate it from "just-another" status.
In the fictitious police department depicted, a representative from internal affairs is on the spot immediately after the hostage situation is resolved to sequester the sniper, and he's portrayed as being a meanie with a grudge, as if it's wrong to examine and question police actions. The lawyer assigned to take the sniper's side is definitely of the sleazy sort, adding to the impression of the sniper as martyr and victim of The System.
Hideous errors of judgment and outright police brutality, of course, barely and rarely exist in TV's alternate universe of crime and punishment. If it had something truly new or provocative to say about such matters, the essential redundancy of "Flashpoint" could be overlooked -- but it doesn't, and so it can't. These good guys are too good for their own good. And ours.
Flashpoint (one hour) debuts tonight at 10 on Channel 9.