CBS' latest police procedural, NYC 22, which is centered around a freshman class of rookie cops at the titular New York precinct, sports plenty of prestigious names above the title. For starters, the show was created by novelist and screenwriter, Richard Price (author of one of the best crime novels -- and Spike Lee movies -- ever, Clockers) and produced by New York lifers Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. The ensemble cast, meanwhile, includes such recognizable faces as Adam Goldberg, Leelee Sobieski, Felix Solis and, best of all, Oz's Terry Kinney. So what do you get when you package all that talent together? As it turns out, a fairly ordinary New York-set cop show. But in this case, ordinary is totally okay, because what NYC 22 lacks in groundbreaking storylines and characterizations, it makes up for in basic meat-and-potatoes storytelling gravitas. That may not sound like much, but compared to the sheer laziness on display in certain other CBS procedurals (we're looking you Unmemorable... uh, we mean Unforgettable), it's enough to make NYC 22 worth checking out if you're at all a fan of the genre.
One of the things that distinguished Clockers was the close attention Price paid to the little details of street life, details that put the reader on the corner next to Strike and in the police precinct with Rocco. That same eye for nicety was on display in last night's NYC 22's pilot, from the opening montage of the six rookies making their way towards the Harlem-located Precinct 22 for their first day on the job (scored to the driving beat of "New York Groove") to the frosty animosity between the veterans and the newbies to the way the episode's central case -- a potential gang war -- escalates from a rumor to a full-blown attack over the course of one afternoon. It helped too that so much of the pilot was shot out and about on the New York streets. Although the show's portrayal of New York City didn't equal The Wire's Baltimore in terms of vividness, it possess far more of an NYC vibe than, say, CSI: NY.
Price and the cast have also done a good job sketching out characters who are familiar types, but still have a few convincing quirks up their sleeve. Goldberg, for example, is Ray Harper, a former journalist that joined the NYPD after being laid off from his newspaper gig and going on a lengthy bender. (In a nice character touch, he still acts like a journalist during the morning briefing, whipping out his Steno pad and scribbling down notes as if he's about to dash back to his desk and file the story.) And then there's Harold House Moore's Jayson Toney, a former high school basketball star from the area that never saw his hoop dreams come true and is now patrolling the neighborhood he used to rule. You've also got Judy Marte's Tonya Sanchez, the daughter of a criminal family that joined the force to rinse the stain away from her last name; Stark Sands' Kenny McLaren, a fourth-generation cop and not entirely proud of it; and Tom Reed's Ahmad Khan, a refugee from Afghanistan who came to New York via Pakistan and then England. (Sobieski, meanwhile, brings her typically steely gaze to the role of Jennifer Perry, an ex-Marine that previously worked for the White House before donning NYPD blue; it's sensible casting considering her limited range, but it doesn't change the fact that Perry is by far the least interesting member of the ensemble.)
Watching over all of them is Kinney's stern, but fair-minded father figure, Daniel Dean, who goes by the nickname "Yoda"... but don't call him that to his face. Again, although you've seen all of these characters before, the actors are personable enough to make these particular iterations feel like more than the sum of their familiar parts. Price also smartly seizes the opportunity to mix up the onscreen pairings as much as possible; we've seen the next three episodes beyond the pilot and each one has the rookies swapping beat partners, thus putting new dynamics in play.
But those successive episodes also reveal what's holding the show back from evolving into something more than a pretty good procedural, a series of rules that can be summed up in acronym form as the CBS SOP. This approach generally outlaws complex ongoing storylines in favor of episodic cases and mysteries that always end with the crime being solved and the perpetrator brought to justice. It's a simple, straightforward and clean approach to crime fiction that's somewhat at odds with the more sprawling (and deliberately less satisfying) approach to storytelling that Price employs in his novels. Even in the pilot, you could see the seeds for a more expansive portrait of contemporary cop life being planted, ideas that aren't really followed up on (at least not yet) going forward. It's a shame to have this kind of limitation placed on the author, but at least he's skilled enough to have figured out a way to work within it and produce TV that fits the model built by his corporate masters but has just enough personality to feel like it wasn't built on the CBS assembly line. Of course, that probably means it's a dead show walking, so check out NYC 22 while you still can to see what a professionally-made procedural looks like.
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