“Public Morals,” TNT’s new period crime drama, has a lot to compete with. As a ’60s era show, artistic comparisons with “Mad Men” are inevitable; as a NYPD drama, “Public Morals” fits into a category where “Law and Order” still reigns supreme. “Public Morals” repackages generic plotlines and recycles well-worn and familiar dialogue. Though the cast delivers, breathing fresh air into a time period that captures current interest, the show is on a path to getting tangled up in its mess of subplots.
Officer Terry Muldoon (Edward Burns, “Saving Private Ryan”) anchors the show as the man running the NYPD’s Public Morals Division. The city’s corruption is revealed within the first seven minutes. Matt McGorry wears the same deer-in-headlights expression that he does as John Bennett in “Orange is the New Black” as he’s caught paying a schoolteacher turning tricks on the sly. Muldoon bullies him into parting with some cash, then palms some to his softer-hearted partner Charlie (Michael Rapaport, “Justified”), who is dealing with the doe-eyed schoolteacher flashing her union card to prove she isn’t a prostitute.
Muldoon and his partner are the first plainclothes officers we see willing to turn a blind eye to some pettier crimes in exchange for money, but it becomes apparent that half the squad follows suit. It’s harder than it should be to keep track of who belongs to which posse — one can only see so many fedoras before they all start to blur together. There are a few standout performances, especially from Brian Dennehy (“Ratatouille”) and Neal McDonough (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) as gangsters, but too many characters are introduced in rapid succession.
There’s a perfunctory amount of screentime devoted to Muldoon’s family drama, chiefly that his 13-year-old son is a wise-ass in school and his wife Christine (Elizabeth Masucci, “Shame”), who wants to move out of their Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Like Christine, the rest of the female characters are, predictably, only introduced and known by their relationships with the men — this one’s wife, that one’s sister.
If you’ve seen literally any cop show ever, you’ll recognize the nice cop/mean cop banter, the shady deals in smoke-stained booths in the back of the bar, the conversations muttered out of the corners of mouths, criminals’ greasy hair and practiced slouches. “Public Morals” is generic, but the New York accents aren’t too bad, and the soundtrack, even if it is a little anachronistic, fits perfectly. If the show pulls together some of its weaker threads and varies its pace a little more, “Public Morals” could prove more entertaining as the season progresses.