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'Detroit 1-8-7' is murdered by cop drama conventions

Courtesy of ABC
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BY IMRAN SYED
Daily Arts Writer
Published September 26, 2010

There are two kinds of cop shows in the world — those that came before “The Wire” and those that came after. Before, TV police dramas could get away with simplistic characters and stories and smooth, easy solutions neatly packaged into each self-contained episode (any CBS drama is a good example). But “The Wire” completely redefined what the genre could and should be.

In this new world, even network shows are held to higher standards, and “Detroit 1-8-7” fails to meet those standards — just like most things in the real-life Detroit Police Department, whose now-defunct crime lab, for example, bungled evidence testing for years, causing countless false convictions.

There’s very little about the show, which is set and will be filmed in Detroit, that doesn’t scream convention — tired, defeated convention. Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos”) plays Louis Fitch, a jaded veteran homicide detective. Embodying a predictable persona seen in a hundred other shows before, Fitch is a rude, demanding, quirky loner who bristles at the thought of working with a young, inexperienced partner.

Alongside Fitch are a handful of other detectives, racially diverse, and all quite capable of spouting off tidbits of lame, over-baked native “wisdom” that would make real Detroiters cringe (“Fight ‘em here so we don’t have to fight ‘em in Ferndale;” “This is why you don’t go looking for bullets in Detroit;” “We may be the last assembly line left in Detroit”). Together they fight crime and close cases — with the same mind-numbing, superficial, hackneyed commotion you might find in any number of reruns on USA, FX or TBS.

The pilot episode sets the format of the show: Each episode will feature two separate crimes, being investigated by two separate detective teams. While there was once supposed to be a documentary format to the show (a dramatic twist on the technique employed in “The Office,” I imagine), that had to be abandoned. What was left behind in the pilot was a rather boring story feverishly told, with an overbearing soundtrack that would make Michael Bay proud (not a good thing).

There is, I suppose, enough here to create a good show, should the writers and producers decide they want to present a complete, thorough drama that looks at characters as players in a grand conception (which need not always open and close with each episode). Such was the majesty of “The Wire:” Characters were built up to the point where simple plot points no longer drove the show. Admittedly judging only from the first episode, it seems that “Detroit 1-8-7” has no interest in being that type of show.

All this said, it would be wrong to overlook the show's ambitious undertaking, even if the first episode is hardly worth watching. Setting and filming a cop show in Detroit may be thematically perfect, but it’s also a monumental impracticality that ABC must be commended for backing. The pilot episode was shot in Atlanta (with limited re-shoots in Detroit), but the producers plan do all future filming in Detroit.

Perhaps with the authentic setting will also come a deeper, richer, more creative show in future episodes.


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