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'The Good Guys': Fox's cop-buddy series needs to send for backup

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The action comedy series follows characters Dan Starks, played by Bradley Whitford, and Jack Bailey, played by Colin Hanks, and explores what happens when an old-school cop and a modern-day detective expose the big picture of small crime. The sneak preview airs May 19 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

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By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cop-buddy stuff -- perhaps it's coming around again, according to the always unreliable retro clock, with the mustaches, the Trans Ams, the South American drug lords and that crazy, rogue-cop behavior. (One more word outta you and I'm puttin' this in your permanent file, and all that.)

Seventies, '80s, '90s? Like our own society, "The Good Guys" doesn't know when it is. Turns out it's set in the here and now, even if it's a throwback to the days when the car chase was more important than the lab analysis.

There's the tiniest whiff of satirical potential in the pilot episode of "The Good Guys" -- airing as a "sneak preview" Wednesday night on Fox. According to the network, the series will run for a bit this summer and return in the fall, so at least they like it. The first episode is a sometimes energetic effort to rediscover some of that ol' mullety magic, but it's also got the clumsy problems of all pilots, including a tendency to overstate its premise.

The show was made by the creator of USA's stalwart crime drama "Burn Notice," which only makes me think of "Saturday Night Live's" funny sketch earlier this season about a game show called "What Is 'Burn Notice'?" ("All you have to do to win is tell me something, anything that you know about the highly rated USA network television show 'Burn Notice,' " the host announced, which, of course, none of the contestants could do.)

Here's what I know about "The Good Guys," having watched it: It's set and shot in the grimiest parts of Dallas, and it seems to take some of its visual cues (a "Starsky & Hutch" '70s homage) from the Beastie Boys' 1994 "Sabotage" video. It also turns to "Pulp Fiction"-y Dick Dale guitars (i.e., "Misirlou") when it's in a narrative jam and is ready for shoot-em-up scenes.

This nostalgic longing is personified in Bradley Whitford's portrayal of Dan Stark, once the macho hero of the Dallas police force, now a schlubby drunk who lives in a trailer at the Texas state fairgrounds and has been assigned to investigate petty-theft cases. With a Luddite's resistance and an urban cowboy's twang, Dan is disdainful of the police department's reliance on modern tools, such as the Internet. "It's nothing but lasers, robots and shavin' where the hair used to grow free," he sighs.

Whitford is doing everything he can here to erase our memories of Joshua Lyman, the White House staffer he played for seven seasons on "The West Wing." This role is pure caricature, all ham and doughnuts and swigs from a flask, and Whitford lunges at the role with an almost uncomfortable ferocity (and about 20 extra pounds), as if he's dying to show network executives his range.

Dan is predictably partnered with Jack Bailey, a strait-laced striver played by Colin Hanks. To his chagrin, Jack has been assigned to the petty-theft beat instead of bigger, high-profile cases. Hanks (son of Tom) has had a charmed career playing supporting roles in films; here, he's much flatter than the script calls for.

While investigating a burglary, Dan and Jack blunder into the episode's larger caper, with Dan stopping every so often to expound on the wisdoms of old-fashioned crime-solving -- the kind with shootouts where a man has a gun in each hand and a bosomy babe to rescue. "You drank a quart of bourbon in the car," Jack tells him.

"It was a fifth," Dan replies.

Quickly enough, the episode trots out its shaggy dog, a convoluted plot involving a cocaine runner who forces a plastic surgeon to make him look like Erik Estrada; hired assassins; a golf bag stuffed full of cash; pawnshops; convenience stores, etc.

"The Good Guys" wants first and foremost to be a comedy more than a crime drama . . . at least I think it does. That's my answer to "What Is 'The Good Guys'?" and I'm sticking to it.

The Good Guys

(one hour) premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Fox


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