Dark Blue premieres on TNT

darkblues1previewI’ve been a fan of Dylan McDermott since way back. Back when I couldn’t quite keep my Dylans and Dermots straight ((I’m not the only one.)) I still knew when I saw him that I’d probably enjoy whatever he was doing. I put up with The Practice long past its DEK half-life, ((The number of episodes it takes until half the ideas are still original and half are rehashes of Ally McBeal and Picket Fences story lines, a value calculated by telephysicists at Fermi labs using science to be 21 episodes.)) when it had degraded into a self-referential stew of inanity, because of his dark, brooding charm.

So I was looking forward to his take on a broken cop, walking the line between law and lawlessness in LA’s dark underbelly with a good deal of anticipation. That, despite coming from Jerry Bruckheimer and a slew of his disciples – five executive producers and a co-EP. I knew it would be slick and fast and loose with reality but hoped McDermott would keep it afloat.

TNT has done a good job to this point of rolling out shows that fit tonally. Even when they broke the pattern of “woman tougher than the men around her” shows to air Leverage, it wasn’t with a deep, dark show. This time I think they’ve pushed the envelope a bit much, as this makes a very uncomfortable pairing with Leverage on Wednesday nights.

But how was the show?

I found the pilot an awkward and unpleasant affair but thought the second episode was just enough of an improvement to give the show a (short) chance.

McDermott plays Lt. Carter Shaw who runs “a unit that doesn’t technically exist” of undercover officers. He used to do deep cover work himself and it effected him greatly. While that’s a fairly common trope, it could still be interesting if it were used to say something new or deep about the human condition. In this case, it feels like a character checkbox was filled in. That might change in the future; right now it’s hackneyed.

Shaw’s team is small. Tiny, in fact. He’s got one officer under cover and a second who just came off a long assignment and is on R&R at home with his wife. When an FBI agent is shot and left for dead on the side of the road, the heat is turned up on Shaw’s man inside, Dean Bendis (Logan Marshall-Green). The FBI has to dig deep to break through Bendis’ cover and tie him to Shaw. Meanwhile, Shaw recruits a new fourth for the team, Jaimie Allen (Nicki Aycox), a patrol cop who has fabricated a past to cover up her criminal youth.

So, we’ve got a team of four – a player-manager and three cliches – with no tactical support and apparently only one man in all of the LAPD who knows they exist. This stretches credibility to the breaking point and telegraphs the big mid-season/end-of-season event…When their captain is shot and falls into a coma, the team is left out in the cold!

Yeah, I’m picking. The show, as written, is dark in the way many comic books of the ’90s were dark, ie: dark for the sake of it. The characters are humorless, there is a deep undercurrent of paranoia in each player’s actions, and its claims on realism are countered by the unreality of the setup.

Those claims are most tellingly countered by the episodic nature of the show. I don’t know if it was a decision on the part of the creators or of TNT, but having deep cover agents finish assignments in one episode’s time is inane. Had the creators taken a look at the greatest show about an undercover operative ever – Wiseguy, for those of you too young to have basked in its glory – they might have considered adopting the long arc model to give us an opportunity to get to know the characters and the pressures they’re under over time. Instead we get shorthand and lazy characterization.

Lazy, like Ty Curtis (Omari Hardwick) slipping out to see his wife in the middle of an assignment. Which stupidity is actually the driving engine for the plot of the second episode. It’s a credit to the actors and a fine guest turn by Gregg Henry that I found the second episode less grating than the pilot, despite the Shield-light ((Carter Shaw is Vic Mackey, Dean is Shane, Ty is Curtis…)) behavior of the team.

Like I said, there was a noticeable uptick in quality from the pilot to the second episode and I’m willing to give the show a few more weeks to try to show me it has something important or original to say. I just don’t know if they’ll get there.

Dark Blue premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. (ET/PT) on TNT.