The badge is back. Or so goes the ABC slogan touting its new series version of the touchstone 1950s cop staple “Dragnet.” And who to do such a thing other than the very person who has taken NBC hostage with the “Law & Order” franchise, Dick Wolf. It makes sense, considering how much “L&O” draws from the original “Dragnet” with the deadpan voiceover, the catchy transition sound effect and the just-the-facts narrative approach.
Like “Law & Order,” “Dragnet” advertises that it draws storylines from today’s headlines as well as Los Angeles’ rich crime history. However, it seems to be inspired by more than just that. Last week’s episode was almost an exact reproduction of a recent episode of NBC’s “Boomtown” – same disturbing homeless crime, same MacArthur Park location, same film-school perpetrator.
Though the show is anything but original content wise, there really isn’t anything quite like it on television stylistically. Nowadays, networks have abandoned straightforward storytelling in order to push more edgy, attention-grabbing fare in competition with the likes of cable programming.
The new “Dragnet” is possibly the most undemanding show on TV. The program essentially leads viewers along the path to its logical conclusion, leaving behind the twists and turns. While there are many other crime-based shows that are similarly conventional, like “NYPD Blue” for example, “Dragnet” solves the crimes in such a droning and obvious way that all the suspense is eliminated in the process, whereas watching Sipowicz working over NYC’s scum never gets old.
The “Dragnet” revival does jack it up a little, but the most enthralling part about it is the opening credits, a montage of the Los Angeles landscape set to a fast-paced techno beat, complete with the signature dum-da-dum-dum theme song.
Another of the show’s problems is the uneven rapport between the two main characters, Detectives Joe Friday, played by Ed O’Neill – who is, of course, best known for playing the dim-witted Al Bundy on “Married With Children” – and Frank Smith (Ethan Embry, “Sweet Home Alabama”). While O’Neill does a fine job as Friday in a subtle, low-key and witty performance, Embry makes boisterous, unintelligent observations and seems better suited for a revival of “90210” than he does for a classic detective series. In fact, the question everyone seems to be asking is how on earth did Embry’s 26-year-old Smith make detective already?
The answer: Network executives conveniently situated him there to attract a younger demographic that isn’t familiar with the original series. So as Embry meanders around in his hideous brown suits, posing for 13-year-old girls, O’Neill is left with all the work, and the show is left with nothing but mediocre.